Viva la Vida [Part IX]

By Haven Lindsey  in  blog  on  11.27.2022

In one of many hits by Coldplay, there is a particular lyric penned by Chris Martin about how he used to rule the world, and how he now sweeps the streets he used to own. From the first time I heard it, the line, like the entire song, resonated with me. Its title was inspired by Frida Khalo’s final painting of the watermelons before her death, ‘Viva la Vida’. Long live life. The full name of the song is ‘Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends.’

Back when I ruled my world and long before I started sweeping its streets, I never understood how a woman could be beaten and battered by a man, only to hide the bruises he left behind with long sleeves and heavy makeup – enabling him to hit her another day. I often thought if someone left a bruise on me, I wouldn’t hide it. Yet, later in my street-sweeping years, when my myopic vision began to improve, I could clearly see how I had done the same thing. My scars were easy to hide – they didn’t come in the form of bruises and broken bones and it took years before I realized the scars were even there – having formed from the inside out.

I suppose it started with the middle school food fight I was not involved in but paid a price for – being humiliated and made to feel hungry at the hands of my mother. The only constant was unpredictability and just like the woman trying to avoid the next punch, I walked on eggshells and learned to live a life of damage control.

Then husband and I technically met in college – me the student, he the football coach. It was fun and exciting and we ‘came out’ at my graduation – since he would have lost his job for dating a student. We dated for nearly seven years before we got married. The first time I remember him having trouble with money he was coaching in Gainesville, Florida. It was big-time football and since I lived in Virginia at the time, we spent a lot of time on the telephone. I don’t remember the details, it was something I never understood, but he had gotten into trouble about unpaid phone bills. He asked me for what seemed to me like a lot of money and when I hesitated he calmly changed the subject. It was never mentioned again.

Like the home in which I was raised, then husband was great at not seeing things and not talking about things that were in the middle of the proverbial room. It was familiar behavior to me and I never questioned it. Certainly not in those ‘rule my world’ days when we had successful businesses, and a happy life filled with all the things people strive for while watching Justin grow into an increasingly well-adjusted young man.

Justin had just joined a national reserve program for high school students. I wanted nothing to do with it and as much love and energy I had put into that kid, I couldn’t pretend to be happy about his interest in it. He was getting stronger and loved showing me how many pushups he could do. He had started talking about wanting to be a teacher and I thought, like all the preceding phases, this whole military phase would pass. After all, he wanted to be a teacher.

Then husband always called me a “math atheist” and I always agreed. For as good as I was becoming with words, I was the opposite when it came to numbers. Having decided to stop coaching, he was a budding, brilliant financial advisor. He was charming and in Maine, with his slow-cadence and midwestern drawl, even the staunchest, distrusting Yankees grew to trust him. Because of my undisputed and agreed-upon math atheist status, we easily evolved to having the financial advisor in the family handle the finances. We’d walk the dogs and he’d explain how well we were doing, how he signed me up for long-term care health insurance, and how he was handling my personal investments. I felt safe, secure, and loved. Every part of my being trusted him – it never occurred to me not to.

Despite my slight concern about Justin’s current military, pushup phase, I thought it would pass. I was happy in my marriage and I loved my life. Invariably a bill would arrive in the mail stamped in red, block letters, OVERDUE or PAST DUE. Sometimes there would be credit card bills that would arrive – thick envelopes – clearly out of the ordinary but they weren’t discussed. Then husband was handling that aspect of things while I handled other things.

Yet, the errant envelope stamped PAST DUE or FINAL NOTICE would continue to arrive and then husband would continue to say nothing was wrong. The first time I decided on a whim to open one of the ominous-looking red, stamped envelopes I read words that scared me – explaining we owed thousands upon thousands of dollars and thousands more in interest fees. There were words about debt collectors and class-action lawsuits and I simply did not know how to respond. I was scared. The words I was reading completely conflicted with the words he was saying.

And just like the battered woman who I could never understand what could compel her to hide her bruises – I started hiding my own scars. Just like I had learned to hide similar versions in my youth. And just like the woman with the throbbing hematoma who loved her husband and wanted desperately to believe him when he said, “it was just this one time” I did the same thing. I believed my charming midwestern then husband with the slightly slow speech cadence when he explained, “I had some unexpected business expenses.” “I promise, this will never happen again.” “Something went wrong at the bank, the check must have gotten lost in the mail.”

It continued to happen and we each played our role – a common pattern in every relationship. One always had the excuses and promises and one followed up with the enabling behavior. Rather than naming and claiming the big ugly thing that was erupting in our marriage, like the woman trying to hide her bruises, I kept adding more and more makeup to hide the scars – scared to say anything out loud (because that would make it real).

Increasingly concerned about Justin’s escalating interest in the military, much of my attention was on his future. “Did you know if you join the Army they’ll pay for your college?” he said one Saturday afternoon. “It’s called the GI Bill. I can go to college for free.”

My heart was sinking. I was no longer ruling my world. The scars were getting harder to hide, then husband seemed to be turning into someone I no longer knew, and ‘Death and All His Friends’ were making a beeline for everyone and everything in my life.

Much later, I took solace in learning to play ‘Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends’ on my violin. One minute I held the key, next the walls were closed on me. I discovered that my castles stand upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.

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