The Ogre has gone around the clock. I tremble to think that it has, at last, won. Both ends of the day meeting, without a single interruption to the Ogre. I had a husband once, but he is buried now under the Ogre’s brooding. A husband could be inspired to smile, from time to time. Not the Ogre. There was a way to break through… but that was before the work season. Once the work season begins, my husband goes to work and returns. Goes to work and returns. Goes to work, returns. His humanity gradually beaten into mulch by the day-to-day of it. Only an animal could withstand such a day as my husband withstands day after day after day. So it is, that an animal would come home. Not my husband, exactly. And I watch anxiously as, slowly, his humanity is traded for a livelihood.
Do I dare call it the law of least expression? This most catch-22 of affairs? The law of least expression, yes, I do believe it applies. Be it slovenliness, laziness, grumpiness, anger, melancholia… once the lowest expression is shown to be acceptable—even for the briefest of windows—it trumps all else; all good-will and best intentions. It becomes the new normal. The path of least resistance. And everything else, including the old normal, becomes a chore. Extra work. Especially to the overworked.
Why else would my husband hide the Ogre when others are around? Why else would he reserve it only for me? I, who am closest and most deserving of his love? Now, surely, you understand. It is precisely because I am the most forgiving of his lowest expression. A mistake? A character flaw? I cannot be sure.
Oh, but it is not all bad and divisive. There are certainly unique ties that unite us—a marriage is full of such ties and shared experiences and secret understandings, allowances… sacrifices. These are responsible for making me stay and endure; whereas his friends would simply leave and deny the Ogre its fullest expression.
The Ogre is suppressed at such a tremendous cost, you see? And my husband is too noble a person to let it surface around others. And so it is that the Ogre only surfaces when there is trust and familiarity. And so it is that the Ogre is reserved for me. At once the most and least deserving. And if the Ogre is suppressed too long, it broods and roils. I see it, in there, even if others can’t. I can see it bide its time until we are alone. Until, with a sigh, my husband, as others perceive him, disappears. Gains ten years in appearance, in weariness.
It is love, in the end, that is responsible for the law of lowest expression, I know. It is my fault in a way. Unconditional love, acceptance, understanding, support… A person, after all, needs someone with whom to be their true self. Is that not what love is? To be that someone, for someone.
So, I take comfort in knowing that the Ogre can be an ogre around me. But take from the fact very little solace. For, in truth, I do not take anything, neither solace or satisfaction; but rather, gather it like a thumb and gathers crumbs. Can one get by on crumbs? Pigeons do, though they are so small. I am not so small. Or, perhaps I am when I live in the Ogre’s shadow.
The brunt of his frustrations is mine to internalise. It is a sore gift. If a gift, at all. Should I cherish that I am worthy of it? I do. I can. Yes, I can, for I still hold onto the hope that the Ogre might recede to its inner-cave faster, if I only allow it its Ogreisms. I go towards in the hope of one day going through, of transcending. Yes, I believe it is the way of these things. A clogged drain does not get unclogged unless your fingers share in the filth of its condition. It takes a certain wisdom to know these things as they are. These things that get worse, must get worse before they get better.
And now I say again, the Ogre has gone around the clock. What could that mean? That I should now expect my husband to break through, as once, in the off-season, I had expected the Ogre to break through? That is to say, in brief intervals of time? I fear that, through my acceptance of lower and lower expressions of my husband, I might have, myself, lured the Ogre out to stay. And to stay for good. Or, rather, for ill. Who can predict the ways of these things? They are weighted all wrong and at the least shift see-saw into their most opposite. But, not to shift is not, is never the answer. Not to shift is to die. So if everything is thrown suddenly of kilter, even by the best of intentions, at least it is still motion, at least it is still life.
‘Love me not at my best, but at my worst.’ This is what he sometimes would say. Not the Ogre. There is little coherence to the Ogre. No, it is my once husband that used to say these things; trying, bless him, to coach me where my intuitions failed. Love is knowing the truth about someone and not being scared-off, I think. So, I am patient with the Ogre. Even as it wants me to believe that it—the Ogre—is the truth of my husband. I know better. Never doubt. I listen to it bark and grunt itself into circles. Circles that often spiral too low for me to follow. Does that constitute neglect? I’m not sure. Perhaps, but not for one who finds solace in crumbs.
The Ogre can really hurt, sometimes. But I guess it is to be expected. It says, ‘Why don’t you love me?’ even though I do, and, ‘I am like this because of you.’ And, every time, I find it within myself to accept that it is, somehow, true. And I believe it, too. But, perhaps not for the same reasons.
The Ogre is hard to love, after all. I don’t believe it is harsh of me to say. The Ogre is right that I don’t always succeed. And, as to why the Ogre is the Ogre, well, that too I must admit that it is my fault, in a way. Ogre though my husband has become, he is, after all, the one who brings the money home.
Is it such a noble thing? Yes. Yes, of course. Of course it is. I can be forgetful. After all, he supports me, and I, I do spend a lot of his humanity. Not carelessly. But certainly, at times, I spend his humanity to salvage mine. A little bit, I do. But, that is his love to give, is it not? No, not the Ogre. The Ogre has little to give, if anything at all. No. It is my husband’s love to give. And he does. Generously. Perhaps too generously. And I, I can be a chasm at times, so that there is no true end to me. To my needs. And how he could ever glance into my abyss and think to fill it, and what’s more, methodically; I do not have it within me to grasp. Has he so much humanity to give? And more to the point, is it worth the price? For him? For us? For me?
Of course, that is not all that love is. Can be. Love can be to see past. To recognise the windows in time when the Ogre falters. Is not quite itself. When the Ogre is not the Ogre around the clock. Oh yes, there is more love in this, than I too would have believed at first. More humanity. Love is to allow my husband a way back, redemption. And to recognise these momentary returns for something more than what they seem. As highest expressions of virtue. However pitiful it may seem from the outside to simply not be the Ogre around the clock—something most of humankind can do without too much effort—my love to give, is to recognise that this represents, in fact, a most gargantuan exertion of will. It is his fight to fight. Just as we all have our fights to fight. Where another might simply see someone swimming, I have conditioned myself to see someone undrowning himself. Unburying himself.
Love is to never have forgotten that the Ogre did not always go around the clock. What’s more, love is to believe—as others choose to believe in fantastical creatures such as ogres—that, once upon a time, there was a husband. Love is to nurse my husband back. Like a wild, frightened fox. Little by little. Whispering kindnesses. Leaving crumbs behind. For it to eat. For it to follow. And in doing so, I show that I am not so easily scared by wild beasts. That I can weather their lashing out. No matter how many times the Ogre wins back terrain, I am there for when it is ceded.
This is the most crucial and truest love I can give. Not in life, perhaps. But to him, my husband. Trust me, it is no easy thing to maintain faith, this deep into the experience. No matter how wounded, how shunned or alienated. I must be firm in my conviction that the storm can rage on. That I could weather it around the clock, were there to be the need. It is my way of showing that I understand that my husband too weathers the Ogre. That the Ogre does not only happen to me. And that if anything, it happens to my husband most of all. For what are barks and snarls and bared-teeth when compared with having to bark and snarl and bare-teeth at someone you know you love?
This time, I am confident the Ogre can be banished for good. For my husband is an ingenious creature. I realise, now, that I have not talked much about him. But just watch! Oh, how he returns! This time… Yes, this time, it seems he has undermined the Ogre with foolishness. Crafty man. I see him, as I tip-toe around, I see him making faces in the mirror. Many mornings in a row, now. Reminding himself to be silly first. Oh, yes. He is creative, even in this.
Little by little, I take heart, if only privately. It would not do, after all this time and effort, to openly undermine the significance of his fight by thinking the matter so easily resolved. But I do. Take heart. For the Ogre can indeed be quite a goof. Sometimes. I have often thought so myself. If only in those moments when the Ogre did not wound me so, that I could not see through my tears. And while we’re on the subject of tears, have you not once pondered how crying can be often subverted into laughter? In children especially? Well, the same is true with grumpiness: the way it can be subverted by foolishness. Oh, the Ogre is intimidating at times. But never be fooled, the Ogre is nothing if not a grumpy child at heart. A grumpy child that can be, needs to be, coaxed out of its own misery and self-pity. And the trick is to know when to humour and when to put one’s foot down. Perhaps you too have noticed that there is this immaterial gap between grumpiness and silliness, that can sometimes be so effortlessly bridged. As effortlessly as one bridges the gap between sobs and laughter. When the time is ripe. And only when there is trust. And only when the Ogre wills it first. That is what I mean when I refer to a gargantuan exertion of will. I am powerless to originate these moments. Powerless. The same way one must first allow a person to drown before attempting a rescue. Reach first, and I too might drown. The way must be found from within. The will to surrender. To seek help. And I have to be there. Treading water. Ready to seize the opportunity and encourage it with all my heart.
The transition is subtle when the-Ogre-not-going-around-the-clock becomes the-husband-not-going-around-the-clock. But my love is acute now, and I am so keen to see him succeed. The moment does not, could not, escape me. I would never allow it. My husband always recovers his humanity. I don’t know how he does it. Time after time. And every time he does, he transcends into something more. By way of my acceptance. I allow his lowest expression to play itself out. And once my husband truly accepts this, he is instantly nobler for it. For, inside him, now resides the knowledge that I accept his lowest expression. And it is precisely this acceptance that will remind the grumpy Ogre that he may come out, but that he will not scare me off. Not this tough cookie. Try as it might. I will surround it with patience, every time. Just you watch.
‘The Ogrito is not so bad, you see?’ I tell him when the time is right. Only when the time is right. ‘Nothing little old me can’t withstand.’ Off-hand, I will remark this, too. Even though the emotions concealed behind these words are burdensome and deep.
And that is how love becomes family. Oh, it is not so sudden as that. But behold the effect on the soul. Family is something much more akin to empathy than love. In love, one still desires most of all to be loved. Whatever shape our lowest expressions can take, however much my husband and I can become monsters to one another, we are family now, and so we weather. And so we give our love to give. And are made better for it, every time. For in family, the thing we desire most is to love. And that’s as powerful a tether as could ever be woven from the stuff of souls. A tether strengthened by our lowest expressions. No less. Which in turn allows us to, together, reach our highest expressions. That is my belief.
© 2022 Etienne Robert. All rights reserved.