Lucy blinked in the dim morning light as her alarm clock sounded a shrill awakening. 6:15. Time to play…the game, that is. She had been playing it for so long that it was almost automatic. There was a time in her marriage, she remembered, before the game. Those first few months were actually pretty good.
“Hey, hon, where do you want to eat tonight? We’ll go wherever you want.”
It was difficult to say when it began. It was slow, but steady. She knew he was precise, orderly…borderline perfectionist, but gradually his focus turned more and more toward her.
“This house is a total wreck, I can’t find anything! Don’t you ever clean?"
She didn’t do this right or that right, didn’t look or dress right, and when she gained weight after having a baby, the ugliness escalated.
“Did you exercise today? Come on, don’t you ever want to look good?"
She just couldn't understand...he was so nice to everyone else. And it wasn’t just the complaining, but his lack of involvement in anything that wasn’t self-serving, the increasing 'I want, I want' attitude…what happened to the kind and generous man she thought she married? She tried for a long time to keep up with his demands, but his constant complaints and criticism were like being punched relentlessly in a boxing match. Answering back in self-defense only made it worse.
“Why can’t you dress like you’re not 100 years old?”
“Don’t be so boring.”
“Did your hair look like that all day?!”
Each time it grew harder and harder to get back up. If there had only been a few words of encouragement or support or, dare she dream, an apology…it would have made all the difference. But nothing except jabs and upper cuts. Until the day she went down for the count. Her love and respect for him had been battered to death and she couldn’t resurrect it. Thus began the playing of the game:
“Of course I missed you today, honey.”
Lucy kept a mask under her pillow and grudgingly pulled it on every morning. It was the mask of a happy, content wife. It looked good on the outside, but the inside was suffocating - like a corset on her soul. She hated it, but it was necessary to play the game. And now, although she never seemed to win, she was very good at playing the game. She played it on Monday, taking the kids to school. She played it on Friday, when friends would come over. And she especially played it on Sunday at church. How could she not? What kind of wife felt like she did about her husband? After all, she had made a promise and had to figure out a way to keep it.
“For better or for worse. For better or for worse. For better or…”
A few times, she had taken off the disguise in front of him, praying that, for once, he would look beyond her outward appearance and notice the deep wounds and scars his scathing words had left. But he only got angry and attributed any problems she had to her own weaknesses and shortcomings.
“I’m not yelling! You’re just too sensitive!”
He refused to be accountable for anything and she discovered, sadly, that as long as she played according to his rules, how she felt really didn’t matter to him.
It wasn’t lying, not really. She preferred to think of it as speaking by faith. Hopefully, one day it would be true. Hopefully, one day she would love and respect him again and feel loved and respected herself. And hopefully, he would once again become the friend and lover that she needed and she wouldn’t have to search everywhere else for support to get through another day.
“Thanks, Jim, I really appreciate your encouragement. It means more than you know.”
Her prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling, but she prayed anyway. God was the only one who could soften his heart, the only one who could heal her wounds and permanently remove that prison of a mask. He was all she had.
Lucy carefully reached under her pillow and felt for her happy face. Taking one last breath of fresh air, she pulled on the stifling façade.
“Can you get up already? I need breakfast!”
Time to play again. Maybe, just maybe, today she wouldn’t lose.
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