Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


A Marriage

One day he tried too hard and broke it.
He patched it up
and it still worked,
though not as well.

The wheels still went round.

No one noticed any change
till one day it fell to pieces
and they all wondered why.

27 June 1982 – 23 September 1982

When is something finished? As writers we face this problem all the time. With my poems it’s when they get their number and go in the big red folder. Then they’re done and, with a couple of exceptions, never touched again. Nowadays the time between conception and completion is not long and if a poem sits in my draft folder for too long the odds are it’ll never get finished. At the moment there are 72 poems and bits of poems there. The oldest dates back to 2008. There are more in notepads lying around the flat that go back decades. Every now and then I’ll open up a document at random and see if I can do anything to make it work. Mostly I can’t. Or I’ll change a word or two and save it again. A friend lost her mum in 2011. The day I heard I wrote her a poem which I’ve still not sent to her. The last time I looked at it was in March 2014. On that date I made my 59th change to the poem. So far I’ve spent five hours on it and I suppose one day I’ll let her read it in whatever state it’s in by then but not yet.

On 23rd September 1982 my first wife left me. She’d told me some weeks beforehand that she wanted to and I begged her to reconsider, to give me time to change but it was an impossible task. She said to me, “I don’t know what I want but broken-heartI know I don’t want you.” So what chance did I have? I walked in on her and my best friend sitting in the dark listening to music, the guy she’s now married to. Of course she insists there was nothing going on at the time and it was all in my head. Of course she does.

For some years after my wife divorced me our daughter would periodically ask me why we broke up. Once she got old enough the question changed. She wanted to know what the two of us were doing together in the first place. It’s a good question and a much easier one to answer: people—and by ‘people’ I mean our parents—said we shouldn’t be together and so we decided to show them. Parents can be dumb.

‘A Marriage’ was first published in Kissing the Sky #1 in 1990.


PhilipH said...

I think this is really good. I really do.

My elder daughter Karen suddenly upped and left her home, marriage and young daughter one Boxing Day. Everyone was stunned. She never totally 'loved' Pete and they didn't marry until their daughter was five years old.

Karen was infatuated at age 16 with Lee, a lead guitarist in a band. She is now back with Lee in the south east of England. She is much happier now. I have forgiven her as we all know how strong the bond of a first love.

Pete has remarried and seems to have recovered from the shock of the wheels falling off.

Your poem is kinda 'one size fits all' and so true.

Jim Murdoch said...

I had a very simplistic view of love when I got married the first time, Philip. I also had a simplistic view of marriage. What this experience taught me was how little I understand other people. I really had no idea what was going on right in front of me until it was too late and by then the inevitable was unavoidable; she was going to leave me or, I suspect, try to push me out the house. My coming home early that Friday—I’m pretty sure it was a Friday—just ensured that the breakup was far uglier than it might otherwise have been. Her leaving me for another man I get—I don’t like it but I get it—but her leaving me because of who I was, well, that was a lot harder to swallow. All my life I’ve been an attainer. I set goals and meet them. Marriage is about maintaining and I found that a lot harder. At first it was us against the world—we were a project—but once we proved the world wrong, what then? We should never have got married and all the evidence was there. If only other people hadn’t made an issue out of it then it would’ve probably burned itself out. The issue was religion—I was one thing, she was something else—and that was still a big deal back then. I guess it’s still a big deal in some places.

Ironically our daughter left her husband just over a year ago and I was the understanding one. Her mother was not pleased with her at all.

Gwil W said...

Only time will tell. I once met a man who left his wife on the day after the wedding. He never told me why.

Jim Murdoch said...

I think love is like sex, Gwilliam (although the two should not be confused), in that they both suffer because of the hype surrounding them. I remember clearly how disappointed I was after my first experience of actual coitus. It was nice, don’t get me wrong, but that was the problem. I’d expected something mind-blowing because that’s what I’d read about. And it wasn’t. And my experiences of love have been much the same. Marriage is a different thing because we all spend years in close proximity to at least one marriage and base our views of what marriage should or could be based on that. The one thing I was sure of is that I didn’t want a marriage like my parents and so I set out determined not to make the same mistakes they had; instead I made my own. Well, that’s not really true. The first mistake was one we shared: I married the wrong person to start with. I can see how a person could walk out of a marriage after a single day and all credit to them. Why drag out the inevitable? The problem most of us have is we have to get over the novelty and that takes time.

Kass said...

Things falling to pieces. What a strange metaphor. Was it ever really together? Held by insufficient glue? - I like the poem. Obviously, it made me think.

My children can't see me with their dad, and yet they still wish they had an intact family.

blogoratti said...

Everything happens when we least expect, and people change for the right or wrong reasons. Relationships these days are defined by society and is a whole different ball game when one is actually in it. Really food for thought. Best wishes.

Jim Murdoch said...

It seemed a very obvious metaphor to me, Kass, and still does. There came a point in the marriage around about June although probably earlier when I realised it was broken. I wasn’t sure what I’d done to break it but me being me I was sure I was the one at fault and there had to be someone to blame. But a marriage isn’t a toy car and that’s what I had in my head (either a car or a train), something you could open up and repair, and then I pictured the kid some months later playing with the toy—vroom, vroom—and it literally comes to pieces in his hand. The connection between the repair and the disintegration is tenuous at best; that’s not why it fell to pieces. And so it was with us. What I thought was the fault and tried to fix was not the underlying problem. I’d fixed the plumbing and a sinkhole had opened up and swallowed the house.

Kass said...

Jim, I wasn't being critical of your use of the metaphor - something falling to pieces -
I was examining how so many things fragment, break apart. How we pick up the pieces and move forward is the mystery. Maybe "strange" was the wrong word to describe the metaphor because the analogy is quite apt. I guess I wonder what holds anything together. I'm reminded of this William Butler Yeats poem (first stanza):


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that, blogoratti. Always nice to see a new name in the comments box. The nature of change is something that has fascinated me for a long time. I remember by dad telling me once that every seven years our body renews its cells and so we are literally a different person. I wrote a poem in 1988 about that. Hope you stuck with me long enough to read it. What I am finding reading these old poems and looking for something to say about them (not always easy) is that it’s very clear I’m not the same man who wrote these. I’m also taken with reason. It’s one of hundreds of words we toss around and think we know what it means. I think we reason far less than we believe we do and so when we look for reasons why we do things we come up short. Mostly we do stuff because of feelings. We make up excuses afterwards like my wife did on our divorce papers. I minded less her leaving me than the things she said about me which are now in black and white for ever and ever.

Jim Murdoch said...

I see, Kass. Yes, this is clearer and a problem deserving some thought. Why do people stay together? I know with me duty is a big thing, stronger than love which I’ve become disenchanted with over the years; it starts off strong—too strong—and mostly burns itself out after a few months or years at best. Of course I’m talking about passion and I’m not sure I’ve ever been the most passionate of people unless intellectual passion is a thing. I truly believed that my first wife and I were in love and was confused for a long time afterwards—I’m not sure I ever recovered—as to the nature of love. I say I love my present wife and I’m sure I do love her and she loves me and after eighteen years I don’t see her up and leaving me although that was something I was genuinely fearful of in the early years but what binds us is an amalgam of things. Love alone isn’t enough or if it is it’s a different kind of love to what we read about in the classics.

Kass said...

Jim, the strength of a beginning is something that most of us are addicted to and only learn about it's limitations later. For some, MUCH later.

I like what you've written about Carrie (although sparse) and I can see the love between the two of you.

Jim Murdoch said...

It’s the whole novelty thing, Kass. I’ve had the same mobile phone for probably about nine years and I’ll probably still be using it in another nine years. It does all I need it to do, it makes contacting my wife and daughter while out of the house possible. It’s not an exciting phone but when where phones supposed to be exciting? They’re tools. No one replaces their hammer every six months for a cool new super-hammer. It’s just silly. And marriage is like that. Of course there are a lot of poor quality phones and hammers out there (and marriage partners) and they do need to be replaced which is annoying but if you shop carefully—my mother’s war cry in later years was, “I don’t buy rubbish”—you should be set for life.

Carrie and I have been together now for some eighteen years. I forget exactly how long. After a certain point in time counting becomes meaningless—is a marriage that’s lasted fifty-one years better than one that only clocked up fifty?—and we’re an odd couple but I don’t think things would’ve worked out as well if Carrie hadn’t adapted to life here in the UK as well as she has. It makes doing all the other stuff so much more pleasant. Of course it helped that we weren’t young when we met—she was fifty, I was thirty-eight (an old thirty-eight it has to be said)—and we started out as an old married couple. Our rocky years were spent married to other people; in a couple of years Carrie will have been married for fifty years, just not to the same guy That we work so well together is nothing short of a miracle—we are different in so many ways—but something works and I really don’t care to analyse it too deeply.

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