“Promise me you gon’ shut the fuck up and recognize what you holdin’ ain’t really broken.”
I know I’m slipping when I start to point fingers. When I make up excuses. Tell myself life would be different if only this or that. Little structures are built up in my head and I cannot move around them. Can’t seem to move forward. Make progress. Focus my time and energy the way I want to. It’s just because work, relationships, sleep. There are hundreds of people, activities I can peg my shortcomings to, but eventually it has to come back to me.
So I take a step back and tell myself honestly what it is I’ve made important. And I ask myself if it’s the right things. The things I want to be a vital part of me. Priorities are so often created without any input from my logical self. Without any input from me at all. They seem to conjure themselves out of a few days of bad habits and a poor night’s sleep. Before I even started paying attention to what was happening I hadn’t been exercising regularly for close to a year. Hadn’t even gone grocery shopping this month. I found myself floating again. Living unintentionally.
There are few things as frustrating as realizing you haven’t been paying attention to your existence. Fell asleep on the couch and woke up with the upholstery imprinted on your face, drool down your cheek, and no idea what day is it. What happened to me? How is September over halfway over already? It’s almost Q4 and I haven’t made real progress toward anything. And it’s not because I’m heartbroken. And it’s not because I don’t have time. And it’s not because I’m tired and in love and devastated and vibrant all at once. It’s just because I failed to notice my life in front of me.
My life is not a disaster. I am not broken. This is not what treading water looks like. This is simply letting go of the steering wheel and seeing what will happen. We never accidentally turn into the people we want to be.
Stop pointing fingers. Stop blaming a lack of forward motion on anything or anybody but that person you haven’t been paying attention to in the mirror. She still wants the same things she did before and she’s really starting to wonder why the fuck you’re not listening.
Photo courtesy of Hannu-Pekka Peuranen.
They’re coming. Due dates and anniversaries. Reminders of where we were this time last year. What changes. What doesn’t. I ask Tanya to talk me down and she refuses. Tells me that I can’t shy away from the person I am anymore. It’s time.
She tells me I’ve been trying to squash it out. Ignore it. Pretend it doesn’t wrap itself around my heart and squeeze. Tells me she’s been hearing the words between the lines for years now and she’s tired of me not listening. I’m reminded of the time Chuck asked me if I ever had maternal instincts and I flinched, held my breath, gave the answer I felt was right, even though it wasn’t honest. “No. Never.”
And I leave the room when they’re talking about babies. Ignore the swelling bellies of those closest to me and work hard to build up excitement instead of jealousy. I think about holding my nephews. Burying my face in the smell of them and knowing they’re mine even though they’re not. Tell myself being close is enough. I get this part of life by proxy and that has to be okay. Things are different than I thought they’d be, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t all beautiful and lovely. It’s not that I’m not happy, it’s that there is an ache in the bittersweet.
I think about the year spent planning to get pregnant. About the appointments with a midwife and giving up caffeine. Therapy and tracking everything. I try to not resent Mason for leaving me. Try to be glad I’m not bound to him eternally by a child he wasn’t ready for or maybe just didn’t want in all honesty.
My mother drove me to my first therapy appointment after Mason and I split up. I don’t remember if it was before or after he’d officially asked me for a divorce, but it doesn’t matter. I knew on the winter solstice of 2015 that my marriage was over. In the car my mom started talking about family friends and their new baby. I thought about the life he promised then denied me. Thought about how hard I’d tried to convince myself I didn’t want it anyway. I’d rather travel, write, keep my freedom. Keep my marriage happy. Keep everything the way it was. Hold on to anything. But in a moment of clarity I realized it was all bullshit. That I do want to be a mother. The world calls me. So I sobbed. In my mom’s car with her staring wide-eyed at me. The only time I ever showed any of myself honestly during the course of my divorce. Transparent heartache for the life I’d no longer be living. Not out of missing Mason, but out of missing what I thought the two of us would make together. A life. A family.
But the strings I tied to him are coming back to me. And I get to tie them to whoever I want. I have the option to tie them to nobody. The bell that called is still calling me. And I don’t have to be dishonest or feel guilty. I’m still dreaming the same dreams and now all I’m counting on is me.
Photo courtesy of Gabriel Garcia Marengo.
He sleeps in bed as I stay up writing. I can feel my stomach churning over the familiarity of it. Wondering if curling up on the floor and sobbing is what’s next. This is too much like it used to be. But I can catch myself on the edge of it now. Talk myself back down gently. Coax back in the breathing. Anxiety that is bubbling purely out of habit. A reminder that I’ve been scared of showing myself for so long that I don’t remember what it’s like to be seen. Held. And he rubs my head and tells me he doesn’t want my feelings to be ignored for his comfort. He wants me to speak honestly. Radically. Tells me my hurt is never an inconvenience. He asks if I need him and I finally have the nerve to say, “Yes. Please.”
Nadine tells me it’s okay to not know how to be okay. That this, as with everything, takes practice. I learned how to be broken. Became exceptionally good at thinking I needed fixing. That I was secretly unlovable and it was only a matter of time before everyone figured that out. Before those I cared about truly saw me and exited my life accordingly. A lifetime devoted to perpetuating the idea that other people somehow know what they’re doing and that I am doing this all wrong.
Close to midnight a stranger from the Internet parks in front of my duplex. I usher her inside and give her the tour of my new apartment. Pour a glass of water for each of us and go sit on the patio. The warm night air clinging to our shoulders and shrinking the space between us. We live in different worlds. Separated by years and lives of doing it all different. But in this city, on this day we both just needed someone to sit and talk with. Human interaction. A hug. Someone to laugh with about how ridiculous it is that life is so hard to live. A reminder that none of us do this uniquely. That none of us do this alone.
At lunch days later a friend I managed to keep after the divorce asks me if he can tell me a secret. “None of us know what we’re doing. There is no right way to live.” And we talk about how we fumble along and find good people to share it with.
That night I whisper into Andrew’s chest that I’m afraid I’m going to make the same mistakes I made before. That I will get wrapped up in feeling like I’m not enough and eventually exhaust him. Tell him I’m afraid I’ll need more than he can give and he’ll start to feel helpless. I replay every relationship I’ve ever been in. I relive my entire marriage in an instant. But he does not flinch. Just pulls me close and says, “I’m not going to let that happen.” And bit by bit I start to believe him. And bit by bit I start to see myself as the people around me see me. And bit by bit life turns back into an adventure rather than only misery.
Photo courtesy of Samuel Zeller.