Monday, May 26, 2008

the incredible shrinking man and the really dumb dog

My husband is shrinking. I've been through much of what he is going through here and then some. The language, the feeling that you're stupid when you're really just trying to speak and understand everything that goes on around you in a different tongue. The feeling of being so tired inside your brain in the evening that the thought of having to say one coherent thing, of having to understand one single word bowls you over.
I was much younger than he is now when I went to Italy. But I didn't know even a smattering of Italian. We lived on the top of a mountain where the bulk of our clientele had rarely seen a foreigner, much less an americana, and where most didn't even speak Italian anyway, but tongue tied, rough dialects which changed depending on which side of the mountain they came up to get to our lodge. There was no Internet to watch American television or to read American newspapers. It was full immersion at its purest and scariest. When I look back on that time I don't remember shrinking like my husband is. I remember reacting. I remember making a lot of mistakes. I remember laughing at myself.
So why is he shrinking? It's as if I can see him becoming smaller and smaller right before my eyes. He is suddenly doubtful, where he was once so sure of himself. He is suddenly gray in the face and exhausted. I know that no matter how we try to think it doesn't matter, being a man is indeed different. And it doesn't matter how we like to think we are ready to leave our home and our comfort zone to seek out the new. It is still treacherous.
I know this will pass. I just hope it's soon. I'm empathetic, but I'm certainly not sympathetic. Maybe I should be, but my experience won't let me be. It's one of my faults, probably.
And then there's the dumb dog. The really dumb dog. Wildlife in Italy is so scarce, even living in the mountains like we did, that the smorgasbord of wild animals here has turned my already comical dog into an idiot. Whether he's trying to charge a moose (which will kill him and us) or swimming after a beaver (infamous dog drowners), he just can't get enough. Here the snow is finally melting, and little did I know the porcupines spend the entire winter in the tops of pine trees. As not one, but two big fat porcupines tried to lumber out of their winter slumber, the really dumb dog decided it would be fun to bite them. With his dumb dog mouth. Hence our first trip to the vet, who as he yanked out the quills from Lucky's mouth assured me that most dogs don't learn their lesson the first time around. I wonder how many quills it will take for this really dumb dog to learn his lesson, and how long it will take for my once bull headed, strong husband to stand up straight again and stop shrinking.


jen said...

this is very interesting, this concept of shrinking.

Rebecca said...

I Get what you mean by the shrinking thing. I lived in Indonesia for a couple of my years in my twenties, with an Indonesian man - when he was with his own people and speaking his own language he was confident, funny....desirable. Somehow, with English-speaking people he kinda disappeared. It's mostly the language barrier, I suppose, and it's so much harder to have'character' when you can only just communicate. I feel for your husband too - the exhaustion and displacement of being foreign.

Hope he finds his groove soon. :)

Jennifer said...

It's harder for them than it is for us. Hang in there. He'll grow back up again.

anno said...

It may not just be the language. Sometimes I think men do this when they're worried.I think Rebecca and Jennifer have it right: just wait; he'll grow back up again.

cathouse teri said...

Well I wouldn't say it's necessarily harder for men, but it's certainly different.

I love the way you call it "shrinking." Your observations are always exceptional. It is ever a pleasure to read every word you write. I can only imagine what it would be like to sit and talk with you!

My boyfriend is moving here to Virginia. He grew up in Southern California. He left for a couple of years to go to tech school in Arizona, and he's sure that this qualifies him as a world traveler. He has no clue.

I know he is going to experience this shrinking. It will be nothing like as intense as what you and your husband have confronted. But to him, it just may be. You see, he's a man born from another time. He's not even supposed to be in this time. It's the oddest thing.

But we know, don't we. We know that what we're really really made of comes out during this type of trial. It assaults every single thing we thought we knew and owned about ourselves. Every shred of what we were standing on as the things that made us strong in our own eyes. And when that's gone, we become the kind of strong that is unshakable.

I do understand your inability to be sympathetic. And that's good, too. Because the last thing he needs right now is sympathy. He just needs those old boot straps. :)

jennifer said...

"But we know, don't we. We know that what we're really really made of comes out during this type of trial."
Wow Teri- that's so exactly right. I wish I could talk face to face with you, too. I know it would cheer me up...
I'm working on patience. Tolerance. Love.
Working on it.

cathouse teri said...

Actually, patience is working on you. It's never the other way 'round. :)

Betsy said...

You know, it might be an age thing, too. Like you, I left the States at a young age and bumbled my way into fluency in a foreign country. It wasn't always easy, but it was always an adventure.

We've moved four times internationally since then, and although I don't regret any of them, each move seems to get harder and harder.

As college students we're more flexible, more adaptable, more open to the unknown. Now that I'm pushing 40 I seem to have solidified in ways that I'd never expected. The act of learning a new language hasn't gotten any harder, but the part about not being understood, (whether it's language or humor) has become much more of a burden.

Add the emotional demands of a family and a new job to the mix and you've got the perfect recipe for exhaustion and shrinkage.

I eventually found my groove here and my confidence and energy have returned. I'm sure that the same will happen for your husband, but for his sake (and yours! :-) )I hope it happens soon...