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That Time You Scratched the Surface--The perfectly imperfect truth of conflict

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

04/04/18


By day three of marriage, my husband had already screwed it up.


It was a blue skies and sunshine November day in Puerto Vallarta. I was lounging on the brown Pacific beach, nose in a book, and nursing a Cielo Rojo while the surf flirted with my toes, when emerging from the waves was my husband—tall, dark, dripping in salt water, and looking incredibly guilty. He’d lost his wedding ring—that custom-made white gold, diamond cut band that felt too loose when I slipped it on his finger three days prior. What idiot needs to be told to take the damn thing off before jumping in waves?! MY idiot. I sipped my Cielo Rojo and fumed. Was day three too early to separate?


The next day we walked around town in search of life beyond tourist traps. At a jewelry store I eyed a spectacular Mexican fire opal. Outside, Bill stood with a peddler selling silver rings for thirty pesos. When I emerged, having purchased said opal because, apparently, I am that spiteful, Bill had what amounted to a five dollar ring on his left hand. It was supposed to be a quick fix. Over time we would save up for something like the original. But nearly 15 years later, he still wears that simple silver band, now with scratches dug throughout its diameter. I recently asked if he wanted to replace it for a newer model. His response: “Nope. I like the scratches.”


To me, the ring was imperfect, but to him the imperfections made it perfect. The scratches perfectly represented the very real truth. Like the ring, we’d been through numerous beatings, but we’d survived.


Any relationship, whether romantic, platonic, or just the very complicated one with ourselves, requires a certain realism. And although I’m not so jaded to think life will always be ideal, I am among those who hate dealing with the unideal. That requires willfully scrutinizing myself and others and going to that very uncomfortable place where what is revealed is not as perfect as I presumed it would be. For me, it’s easier to scrub away at the scratches, hiding them from existence.


Everything begins fresh. We are born innocent. We fall in love expecting nothing but the same love in return. We set out for private adventures, hopeful. Over time, the beauty fades. Our innocence succumbs to life’s failures and weaknesses. Romance is pricked with disappointment and frustration. Adventure is unmatched against the struggle to stick with it. And like that very simple ring, what was once smooth is racked with complication.


The irony is that many imperfections are the result of desiring perfection. I have a thing for Jackson Pollock paintings—the haphazard waves, the structure of no structure, and how whimsy somehow leads to gravity. I’ve tried creating my own replications without success. Obsessed with the idea of completion, I’m never satisfied with them being just right and the result is always an over complication of something that had potential. Like art, humans are never exactly complete. There’s always something more that can be tweaked. But when does that desire for perfection shadow authenticity? One more stroke and Mona Lisa’s eyes might not have been so speculative. Don’t we all deserve to be abstract?


The outcome of examining another is as ambiguous as the subject itself. We never know what the result will be when we face the complications of relationships. Will there be understanding at the end or will we be met with so much opposition that we surrender? When we surrender, for whose benefit will it be? Relationships require sacrifice. Sometimes we give in in order to ultimately get more, but sometimes we also simply give up. To be real, we must ask the questions: what do we want and what are we willing to do to get it? Do we honestly want perfection? Or do we just want to be valued? And in order to be valued are we willing to go to battle?—pain, struggle, scratches and all? We may come out scarred, but the scars are a symbol of survival. We spoke out, we spoke within, and hopefully, we found harmony—even if only with ourselves. Denial avoids. It never learns, and it certainly knows no peace.


I know enough to know that try as I might to hide the notches, my surface is scratched. My imperfections are unique to me and represent the private battles I have fought. They also are a sign of endurance, persistence, and a reminder that even until my last breath I might never be a finished product. To be incomplete is a perfectly human imperfection, beautiful in its complicated reality. Hiding that only makes us less approachable, less human.


I’ve only scratched the surface of understanding all that makes me. Why should the complexity of others be any different?


Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.

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Annie D. Stutley

the short story

Back in 2017, “That Time You” took its first steps—a blog that humorously and inspiringly chronicled the chaos of everyday life. It was a canvas for what I referred to as “gaffes with glory” (what others may call hot mess success tales) and also resolutions for how to tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges, plus personal victories within the daily hustle. I've never had all the answers, and truth be told, I still don't. Yet, I spoke the language of the Hot Mess and Walking Disaster, understanding that we don't need to have it all figured out or succeed at everything to truly grasp our purpose.

However, 2021 brought a drastic turn: I faced a Stage 3 cancer diagnosis and tragically lost my mother during my sixth round of chemotherapy. My path forward seemed impossible. Stumbling took on a whole new weight—it became a burden I struggled to carry in a place where trust felt elusive. “That Time You” evolved at that point because I evolved. Stripped of my plans and the future I had envisioned, I found solace in my one constant: my faith.

Since surviving cancer (and the loss of a parent for the second time in a two-year period), I transitioned into a full-time editing role and also poured my energy into contributing monthly to three different magazines. “That Time You” was put on a purposeful pause—two years for recovery, rediscovery, and revision. I'm gearing up for a relaunch. This time around, whatever I share with you will be rooted in the wealth of experiences I’ve gained over the past three years, because sometimes stumbling becomes an essential part of our path, forcing us to dust off our fuzzy socks and bravely venture forward, wiser.

“That Time You” lives on, on this site, and I do promise to continue to share my misadventures with meaning and celebrate blunders alongside triumphs. Yet, I’ll be chronicling the certain enlightenment amidst life's darkness—a testament to faith and, hopefully, a guide for uncovering God's presence in every situation, whether it's the mundane or the profoundly challenging.

 

Thank you for being a part of this journey.

Much love,

Annie

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