Hard Candy: Small Town Marriage

By Cathy Salustri

I would like to first and foremost express my condolences for the families of Thomas Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz, the two St. Petersburg officers killed earlier this week while trying to serve a warrant on a fugitive. I appreciate their commitment to making our lives and our communities safer.

I was married once, in another life. To the rest of the world we had a good life. But we would have these disturbances: a fight where words went too far, threats to leave over seemingly minor things. Every time seemed to me like the end of the world. In time, of course, I would push the incident aside and go back to telling myself how great we had it. It was easy to do, really. My family, his family, all of our friends- they all wanted to believe we were happy. But it turns out marriage isn’t all public relations: when things go wrong, you have to dive into the marl and muck and somehow drag out the good to save it. Turns out, those disturbances were cracks.

A small town is a lot like a marriage. It wants to put its best foot forward to outsiders and keep its problems its own. It wants to keep all the bad stuff to itself, because if anyone else finds out the bad stuff, maybe they won’t love our small town like we do.

Gulfport has one hell of a cheering squad, between the chamber, the merchants, and the mayor himself. I think it’s great that so many people love Gulfport- I do, too; this community has been very good to and for me. However, the city can’t continue to stick its head in the sand about material threats to its survival. No one who’s paying attention can tell me that the city doesn’t seem to have a certain level of divisiveness at its core. Over the past few years I’ve watched the city divide itself into two camps. It’s evident at council meetings, informal discussions, and on the web. There seems to be a lot of cracks in this small town’s happy facade, but no one’s willing to admit it.

What’s causing the cracks? A lot of people have a lot of different answers, but I think it all boils down to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Remember that from school? It says that humans must meet our basic needs like food, shelter, and safety before we can worry about falling in love or being creative.

Gulfport has oodles of creativity and plenty of opportunities for spiritual enrichment, but at the root of our divisiveness is a fundamental lack of safety. Oh, Gulfport’s got a great police force, don’t misunderstand. All the same, we have a crime problem. It comes from the next town over.

Monday’s shooting was a prime example. How many of you saw the helicopters? Who heard the shots? I know people in the Stetson area who could hear gunfire. Does it really matter what legal boundaries the shooting fell inside? That’s just a line, and an imaginary one at that.

St. Petersburg is a much larger city, and it has much larger problems. Gulfport has some trouble spots, whereas St. Pete has multiple troubled neighborhoods. We want to insulate our small town from it, but it doesn’t work that way. We drive behind the kid smoking crack on 22nd Avenue South. We buy our seafood from clerks who live with drug deals around the corner from their Child’s Park home. St. Petersburg’s road runoff slides into Clam Bayou; the children of the drug dealers share a classroom with our kindergarteners. We are not insulated.

We want everyone to think that we’re happy, that it’s all good, but in doing that we’re glossing over some big problems that aren’t going away. We can be as artsy and loving and creative as we want, but until we have a safe community – note that I didn’t say city- we’re going to be trying, on some level, to get back to that, but we’re not going to admit it.

Perhaps you can think of a time in your own relationship when something was bothering you, but you couldn’t admit it. Perhaps you felt as though it was a big deal, and if you admitted to it, it could jeopardize your relationship. So when your loved one asked, “What’s wrong?” you answered “Nothing.”

Except it wasn’t nothing. It was something, and it wouldn’t go away. You ignored it; it festered. Soon you found yourself picking, and turning every small thing into a big thing. That’s how I’m seeing our community operate right now- we’re picking at the little things because we’re afraid to address the real issue, the big one.

My marriage didn’t just end. It collapsed. Spectacularly. All those little cracks? They were trying to warn me that there was this gigantic fault line running under our core, but I was too busy convincing myself and the world around me that I was happy to pay attention.

Gulfport has cracks. And we keep covering them up instead of talking about them. It’s scary, I know. But we can’t keep ignoring them.

It’s time to start talking.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com, or become a fan of Cathy Salustri’s Hard Candy on Facebook.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.

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