I thought things were so much better between us but it feels like we are headed downhill once again. The distance between us has re-appeared and it makes us wary, circling one another, both waiting for the other to make the first strike.
The distance between us varies. Right now it feels like a ship off course from its intended destination. Off course because a storm is tossing it about in rough deep seas and as I look out of the window all I can see is gray skies and rolling waves the size of skyscrapers. And the smell sticks to you like wet, moldy grass. But it is the smell of fear that fills the room. Fear of sinking and fear of knowing you can never swim hard enough or fast enough to plant your feet firmly on the ground.
Sometimes I associate this distance with my GGG Grandparent immigrants. That last kiss, that last hug and that last wave knowing that all of it would be the last of everything and everybody you knew and that you would never see those who were left behind again. It feels conflicted…excited at a new chance, scared about what the unknowns were before you, and sad for all you were leaving behind. Sometimes our distance feels deeper than this sort of distance.
Often the distance between us feels like we are across from one another, standing in a sunny meadow. I reach for you and I find I am stuck in concrete and that I cannot move. Sometimes you see me and make your way towards me. Other times you turn your back and walk away. It feels confusing and leaves a terrible taste in my mouth like dry burnt toast.
And sometimes this distance feels like we are just feet away from each other on a bridge but we both fail to take off our blindfolds so we can see that the other is right in front of us. This is even harder…so close…yet so far apart.
Since B stated 18 months ago that he might want to divorce we have done a lot to try to save our relationship. This includes a Marriage Encounter weekend, his therapist, my therapist and a joint marriage therapist. I have decreased my yelling to a trickle, have kept the house in good shape and have lost weight. Frankly, things had been improving for close to a year but lately I have noticed that we have been regressing. More grudges, less sex, 66% less dialoging, etc. I am a very intuitive person and I “feel” these changes and recognize them for what they are and lately I have been feeling really anxious about them.
I have never been an anxious person even when I have had plenty to be anxious about. For 57 years I have kept most of that anxiety stuff swept under the rug. But lately, it has occurred to me that as B distances himself my anxiety rises. It is an uncomfortable place to be. Sometimes it even makes me question my sanity because I tell him I am feeling the distance which he denies but then three weeks later at a therapy session he uses the words and admits that when x happened he distanced himself all the while denying my concerns for the past weeks. It is a crazy way to live.
Recently, we had a dialogue question that asked each of us to talk about our partners best qualities as a parent. In the allotted 10 minutes I wrote about 7 qualities that B has that I think make him a great parent.
Now I know in dialogue you are not supposed to judge the other’s response because they are based on “feelings.” And feelings may be factually true or not but the bottom line is that they are what they are. So when B wrote about the qualities he admired that I had as a parent it basically came down to the fact that “I cared for my children.” To say I was hurt that this was the only quality he listed was an understatement.
Everyone cares for their children. You care for your dog. You care whether you have enough toilet paper in the house to last the entire week. Caring for your children really doesn’t get any accolades in my book. It is something we all do… even badgers, skunks and probably even one-cell amoebas.
So I took this to my therapist. She wanted me to write down what I wished he had said about my good qualities as a parent. Here goes:
- I wish he had said that I am good about seeing or initiating those deep soulful and meaningful talks when they need them to boost their confidence, understanding of life or just need to express their concerns. I wish he had said he knew that most of the time they seek me out which shows that they trust my love and advice.
- I wish he had said that I love my kids fiercely and deeply and that they know that they can count on that love and can trust me to be there for them forever.
- I wish he had said that my children know I believe in them and that I think that they can accomplish whatever it is that they set out to do and that by knowing this it will take them far in life.
- I wish he had said that he knows I am their biggest fans and that I cheer them on with encouragement when they are lacking the spunk to make that “final touchdown” in whatever it is they are doing.
- I wish he had said I am a “good” parent far more often than a “bad” one and that even when I fail it is not intentional or malicious.
- I wish he had said that raising six kids, two of whom have autism, would be a tough job for anyone and that it is amazing I don’t lose it every day.
- I wish he had said that my kids had experienced so much of this world thanks to me and that if it was left to him they would not have.
- I wish he had said that I try my best to teach them the important things that they will need to navigate their lives now and in the future.
- I wish he had said that I am “good enough” parent some of the time (which is okay) and a great parent when it really counts.
- I give good hugs.
- I wish he had said that I encourage my kids to take risks which creates opportunities for them to believe in themselves.
- I wish he had said I am an honest parent in dealing with my kids and all the people we have to deal with because of their interests and their issues and that my honesty helps provide desperately needed clarity.
- I just wish he had said I am a good mother and he could not manage without me.
And while this exercise was difficult because I kept wanting to explain or add in the negative to balance it all out, I didn’t because this is my gift to myself and a tribute to who I am as a parent. I don’t NEED B to validate it…but it would have been nice.
A month ago B told me that he was going to China for 10 days. I wasn’t invited and I was hurt as going to China has become somewhat of an annual pilgrimage for us. Besides, although it is for “business”, in truth, he doesn’t really need to go. His partner can take care of it and B doesn’t speak Mandarin anyway. It is really an excuse to just get away from the daily grind of home, office, family and me I’m afraid.
Then about 10 days ago I asked if B was going anywhere else besides the town he usually goes to because it seemed to me that 10 days in that one spot was unusual. He replied “Oh, I am also going to Taiwan” Really? When did you think you would inform me of this news? Oh, and not with your partner…by yourself. How interesting! Oh its part of your business plan now to tour facilities? So are you really going to do something different because of this knowledge you will acquire? Well no. I didn’t think so.
When I mentioned to B that I was hurt about not getting an invitation to accompany him his reply was that I was taking Gracie to Florida for a diving competition. Really? That’s the best you can come up with? I get to go somewhere with bitchy back-biting diving moms and worry about schedules, practices and hauling around a 12-year-old who has recently decided to get strung out on teenage girl hormones while you have 10 days basically to yourself. Hmmmm. Someone is getting the better end of the deal and it isn’t me.
So I asked B if this was the start of us taking vacations apart from one another. He looked surprised and said no. But I feel like this separateness is saying something in and of itself about us, about him, and about our relationship. It worries me. And so, after much thought on my part, I told B that I think it is the start of something new for us because I will also be going on vacation alone just like he is. That I need time alone and adventure too.
Now part of me feels guilty about this. The woman who doesn’t value herself enough thinks that perhaps I am not deserving of this time alone. Most mothers don’t get it so why do I need it? The devoted wife thinks…come on…there is a difference between going somewhere on “business ” which B is doing and going just to go which is also what B is doing. There is the financially responsible person in me who says you need to save your money…you have been plenty of places so don’t be a bitch. The weary mother of boys with autism and a marriage that is still mending says…go…recharge your battery. Use this as a time of self discovery outside of the usual daily carpooling routine.
And so I am torn. Trying to decide if I am just seeking a kind of perverse tit-for-tat “revenge” for the disappointment I feel at being excluded, if I am trying to make a statement, or if I am looking out for myself in the best possible of ways and giving myself what I need to grow spiritually and emotionally. Maybe a combination of all. And as I contemplate this I am perusing the internet of exotic places…India, the Seychelles, Africa…dreaming of what it would be like to have the freedom and the guts to take a trip for me, myself, and I, with no remorse or guilt on my part. Can I do it? I’m not sure at this point but I think that 18 months of therapy and a marriage that was teetering on the brink might have taught me a few things… the primary one being is that I matter. That my dreams, needs, and thoughts matter and for some foolish reason I let go of that strong confident ball-busting young woman I once was… and that I miss her…a lot… and that I want her back. And I also wonder that if I take a chance… if I just step out and up…if I might find that confident, intelligent and oh-so-sure of herself slightly older and more colorful woman again somewhere in India because I haven’t yet found her here.
Does going somewhere new and doing something different change you? Does challenging yourself help you grow balls? I’m not sure… but I think I would like to find out and if I do I can only hope that I will bring back so much more than I left with.
This morning I had a long overdue coffee date with a wonderful woman. We are about the same age and are both on the road of discovery about ourselves while deciding what we want the second half of our lives to look like. We have a lot in common in many regards and I hope she is on the way to becoming a good friend.
After coffee was over it occurred to me how much I miss having close female friends. Sometimes I miss it so much it feels like a piece of me has been ripped away and left abandoned out on an isolated road. Alone.
Don’t get me wrong I have some wonderful friends. But due to our constant moving or their moving; these women that I cherish and love are scattered throughout the United States. There is N… my been with me forever friend who has seen me through my youthful indiscretions and has nursed me through the past year. There is C who knew me as a teen and with whom I share a birthday. There is L who makes life something to laugh at and enjoy to the fullest even when I am whining like a baby. And there are several other special ladies who I know would be there for me if I picked up the phone. But what I need at this juncture of my life, and what I miss most, are a couple of good girlfriends to go to coffee with every Thursday to catch up on each others lives.
It is hard making friends at my age. It’s an art really. The type of art I have really never possessed in sufficient quantities… because I don’t do acquaintances. I do… “I’ll save your life if you’re in a raging river”… types of friends. I would do anything for them and they would do just about anything for me. These are the plunging off a cliff, Thelma and Louise, kinds of friends. Frankly, there are not a lot of people I want to risk my life for or go down with at my age. But I am still willing to try to find those kinds of inspiring and fun people and offer them all that I have to give… which is quite a lot.
There are other reasons I find making friends difficult. Sometimes when you have special needs children with challenges it makes it difficult to make friends. Most people have no clue of all the things you have to do to make your life work. They don’t understand when you have to cancel at the last-minute because of a major meltdown that is occurring ten minutes before you are supposed to meet. And being around others whose children also have challenges can be draining for both people because it seems as if too often you are both drowning at once and just holding on by the thinnest of branches. While things have improved in my household sometimes I feel like past behaviors hold me back because I am unsure when those issues will rear their ugly heads again. It makes me afraid to risk “those” looks and “those” whispers from someone I thought was special only to find that they really aren’t. Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t how my sons with autism feel.
There is also the issue that most women’s lives are so full that they barely have time for the friends they currently have much less making time for someone new in their lives. With old friends you know what you have and how to relate. Most people just don’t have the energy to figure out the quirks of a stranger. And I get all of this. I truly do. But damn, it just means that so many of us are missing out on something that is so good.
But really, I don’t want a lot of friends. I just want a small group of coffee klatching Thursday morning women to hang with. Some 40-60 something gals who won’t try to convert me. Won’t try to change me. And will love me despite all my idiosyncracies.
With all the lonely people out there you would think it wouldn’t be that hard to find but it is. Which makes me thankful for all that I do have in my life. Yet, I am greedy and I want more. Much, much more.
At 10:00 p.m. the first night I dropped her off at camp I received the call I had been dreading.
“I’m homesick,” sob, sobbing harder, and then louder.
“My roommates didn’t show up.” SOB, tears falling so hard and fast as they hit the phone it sounded like rain hitting the roof.
“You don’t have roommates?”
“Yes, I convinced two other girls to join me.”
“I hate it here!” WAAAAHHHHHHHHH
“Don’t you like the pool?”
“No, its horrible!” Sniff, sniff, sniff
“Are you learning any new skills?”
“N-o, I h-a-te it h-e-r-e” hicup, hicup, hyperventilate.
“Are you wanting me to pick you up?”
“Yes, come immediately!!!!”
“Honey, by the time I would get there it would be 3 a.m. and I just drove home from their today. I can’t do that and I won’t do that!”
And the longer we talked the worse it got until I finally realized I was in a no-win situation and she would keep this up until Sunday, the battery power on her phone died, or at the very least until the sun rose.
In exasperation I said to my littlest
“Honey, I have to go, so put on your big girl panties and tough it out. Here’s the thing, you have the ability to choose what this weekend will be for you. You can choose to be miserable or you can choose to be happy, to have a great time, learn lots and create a bunch of memories. It’s your choice. Personally, I would choose happy because that is the only REAL choice you have if you want to have a good life. Start practicing making good choices.”
And then I hung up the phone before it got wet as the salty drops started to splatter around me.
It’s been going on for over a week now.
“I won’t know anyone there!!!”
“What if I get lost???!!!!!!”
“What if there is nothing there for me to eat?”
“What if I land wrong on the board and hurt myself?”
This is what I have been hearing from Gracie lately and it intensified as the day drew closer for her to attend diving camp at a large university four hours from home. These are the words of a child whose age is between the first double digit and her teens. Excited but scared to death especially because she knew no one who would be attending camp with her.
She’s good at what she does so I wasn’t worried about that aspect. She has accomplished in three years of doing her sport what it has taken of most of her competitors 6-8 years to do. Learning and practicing wasn’t the issue but being away from home was.
Gracie has always had difficulty separating herself from us. I often wonder if she would have been this way if she had been born to us or if her adoption has played a role in it. Not knowing if people will come back to you or if they will stay with you does tend to put doubts in your head. And as we spent last night together in the city she looked as if she might cry. But I knew that she needed this camp to teach her about courage and accomplishment not so much in her sport but in life in general. That’s what we are suppose to do as parents. We should give our children experiences which allow them to separate with confidence so they will be able to be independent adults when they go off on their own.
Waking up this morning was hard. Her nerves were bouncing all over the place and I was watching as a “bad hair day” started to unnerve her even more. I said all the right things and did all the right things. I asked if she was okay and told her since she could do double rotations she had nothing to be afraid of. Finally, it was time to go and check into the college dorms. Now, I was getting a little hesitant.
We drove over in near silence with Gracie taking in everything around her. After unpacking and making her bed I saw that Gracie was beginning to get her groove back. Her confidence began to soar (or at least she wasn’t going to let anyone know anything different just like she does when she dives). Just before she was to go to the pool with her group she remembered she had left her water bottle in the car so we dashed off to get it. As we walked back I took her into my arms and said, “You’ve got this baby. You will be okay.”
And with that she lifted her big brown eyes, looked up into mine, let go of my hand and said, “Geez mom, you worry too much!!!”
It was at that moment I knew she would be just fine and that in releasing my hand she was letting go of so much more.
For the first time in about 30 years I am alone. I am by myself with absolutely no one near. For once I am completely and utterly alone. It feels strange and I am not really sure I like it. I wonder…is this what divorce feels like?
I thought being alone would feel wondrous…and it does. Walking around in my underwear has its perks. Sleeping alone naked in bed does too. Having a clean kitchen when I woke up just like I left it the night before seems analogous to some sort of religious experience. Eating when I want, if I want, brings new meaning and new tastes to food. I can sit and type all day or take a nap with no schedule to tether me to the world’s beck and call.
Yet, being alone feels uncomfortable too… like a woolen sweater meant to keep you warm but instead of the comfort it is suppose to provide it drives you crazy with an itchiness that you just cannot scratch. It feels raw like a Chicago wind in the middle of winter or that elusive pebble in your shoe.
The silence here is deafening. I hear the hum of the refrigerator and the click of the heater as it turns on. Every noise is amplified because of the stillness and as I sit outside sipping my coffee it sounds like I am on a school playground with the calls, caws, and swoops of the birds flying about.
The freedom to do anything I want is almost like a noose around my neck….so many things to do with so little time. I count the hours until I have to leave as I wait for the telephone repairman to show up so I can get on with my day. I have cliffs to climb, trails to follow and things to discover. I want to know if these things are as meaningful when discovered alone or is there a greater meaning when it is a shared experience with someone you love?
Alone is freeing. Alone is confining. Alone is amazing. Alone is lonely. Alone is what I want to be right now and I am thankful that I get to experience what it feels like to be alone. Just me, myself and I.
Later as I walk the cliffs I discover that I really am not so alone after all.
Sometimes I look over and see the silhouette of B moving against the morning sky, purple and pink, rising over the peaks of the mountains as morning escapes from yesterday’s grip. I see a man, handsome still, in the middle of mid-life crisis trying to make his way towards tomorrow and whatever that looks like; a life he can no longer define nor see for the house of cards he built has fallen and taken him down with it.
I sneak a peak, my eyes heavy with sleep, as his pants slide over his lean legs, over that smoothed over scar that he got when riding his bicycle, pedaling as fast as he could before flying over the handlebars and landing on a sharp rock along the creek. That was a 5 stitcher and he wears it like he owns it because it is now part of who he is and has been for some time. With a swift tug on his pants I see what I imagine to be that same sense of determination and the speed with which he rode that bike but using it now so that he doesn’t have to slow down and make those hard decisions. About himself. About me. About what he is doing or not doing with his life.
As I lay in bed I hear the coffee pot downstairs start to gurgle and come to life. He sits quietly reading the Bible until I hear the pull of the yoga mat and the PLOP it makes as it lands squarely on the floor. Now he will exercise for 12 minutes. No more, no less. Then in go two slices of toast which magically pop up and in 2.5 seconds they will be slathered in warmed butter topped by a generous helping of tart thick lemon curd. The coffee cup I bought him in Michigan drops softly to the counter like water on stone and the refrigerator door softly opens, the coffee creamer in the impossible to reach left hand corner. It never fails.
Sometimes I wonder how it would feel to leave him? Would I miss him alone or would it be all the familiar sounds that accompany his particular way of doing things…fast, precise, and predictable that I might someday long for? Or are both so interwoven one cannot be thought of without being accompanied by the other? Would I think of him every time I heard a toaster pop from now until eternity? Eternity is a long time, after all. Is it something as simple as a toaster that makes you stay?
Leaving seems like such an easy thing to do. We leave our children, we leave our friends, and we leave our co-workers but most of the time we have the luxury of knowing we are coming back. How do you put one foot in front of the other if you are closing the door forever? Leaving scares me because I know without a doubt that if I left the loss would be immense, carrying me downstream like a river that has jumped its banks. Can you grab onto something to save yourself when you are being swept away so fast or do you just go under? Do you scratch, claw, and cling until your own blood is shed before moving on or do you step lightly onto the nearest rock with your dignity and grace intact?
Of course, I also know that if I left there would also be relief. Not in leaving him per se but in finally being out of the limbo that has wrapped itself around my windpipe for the past 9 months, squeezing so tight that air can neither come nor go…stuck somewhere in that thin membrane that separates life from death. To taste the crisp air and to rid my lungs of the stale would be a blessing.
Yet even with all the questions and angst, I know that I would miss B desperately. His humor, how he takes care of my sexual needs before he worries about his own, and the shine in his eyes as he watches our children grow into themselves. I would miss all that we have shared and created…the houses we built, the closeness we had that once knew no bounds, and the walks we have taken through fallow fields in order to start anew. I would miss my best friend, my travel buddy and the man who I watched tenderly hold each child, some born of him, some not; and give them the life and love that each person deserves. We have mostly had an amazingly rich life together and for that I am thankful.
While I stand on this precipice I also think about my own transgressions. I realize that in the past several years I have been so deep in my own pain and worry that I couldn’t recognize the extent of his. His fears about his job, getting older, providing for children with special needs, and living with a woman he doesn’t understand and who no longer understands him. And I confess that even if he could have told me his hurts, sorrows and pain, that I may not have been in a place to hear him and to understand that the depth of his pain was so old and so deep that it had turned to crude.
And so I wait. Trying to act and not react. Trying to find peace within myself before looking for anything from him. And in the back of my mind I wonder that if that time comes to leave…will I know it? Will I recognize it for what it really is or will I see it through my own imperfect and distorted lens… pushing things forward at a pace that makes us fly over the handlebars resulting in a patchwork of stitches; the resulting scars forever visible for all the world to see. Or can I just decide to stop pedaling and make the decision to coast; in an attempt to find contentment with where I am at this point in time and in no hurry to reach some unknown destination? For one thing I have discovered is that we often meet our fate on the road we take to avoid it and truth be told, I am in no hurry to find out precisely what it is.
You ask me why I have a need to control things. The short answer would be my sister’s severe illness when I was such a young child. A young child whose parents thought she was too young to know all that our family was facing. I remember being snuck into the hospital (back then siblings were not allowed in) and seeing my sister, after many months of absence, now reduced to a human skeleton, not the happy normal-sized kid I was used to seeing. The guilt I felt was tremendous because I did not understand the situation. I was not told. I guessed a lot and interpreted things wrong. Guilt at wondering why bags of presents were being delivered to our home for her and not understanding why I was not thought of which in my young mind =not loved and not noticed. And how, I wondered even then, could I feel that sense of hurt and jealousy when she looked like death. There was also the guilt at hearing her scream when her shunt was cleaned daily and knowing I was okay. And even all these years later that guilt that rears its head in my professional life and makes me pass out on the floor when I hear a patient scream. I can look at anything but don’t let me hear the pain or I am a goner. In my book guilt can sometimes=need for control= if I am in control less chance of guilt/suffering/pain. I know its wrong but sometimes my mind still takes me back to that little lost/confused and sad child.
I remember during this time of sickness and confusion, being moved from place to place while my parents sat a bedside vigil. That sense of unconnectedness does things to you. I understand the need to do that now…as a parent…but I didn’t as a child. Yes, my parents were sure I was in good hands. I knew most of the people I was with but some were strangers. It made me scared because back then I didn’t know for sure what was happening and no one thought to tell me. And being left and having no control in where you are going invoked feelings of jealousy that made me wonder why my sister was so special and I was not. Everyone knew where she was…did anyone know about me?
Being so aware of death/illness makes you acutely aware of the little control you actually have so I guess I have spent my years trying to control all aspects of my life which we all know is an exercise in futility. Some people handle it by drinking. Others have sex with strangers trying to make a connection that somehow they feel they missed. Others drive too fast, take too many pills or eat too much. Others show no obvious issues with it at all. Mine is control. And control, and the lack of it I feel in our relationship, makes me frightened to death and sometimes I push for a resolution because I feel like that little girl again. Her world chaotic. Her world upside dow. Her world with no forthcoming answers. Her world in control of others and now the master controller is B. And I feel like 1,000 little scattered pieces laying about, disorganized, without the glue of control to hold me together.
You wonder why I feel the need for control.
I watched my parents divorce. All the heartache and stress that went along with a cheating husband. My mother’s pain written in a note I have to this day. And then they divorced and within three years my mother was dead at 50, killed, I believe rightly, by all the stress which took her, a non-smoker, in the form of lung cancer. And I look like her. I have the same moles. I have the same body type. The same nose. And I don’t want to become a statistic like her. Illogical I know. But still dead after all this upheaval… after all the pain none of which was her doing…though that is not the case with me. I have caused some of my own pain. But this I know: stress kills and I am sure it is killing me. Maybe like it did her.
I have enough stress with two children who have significant challenges in their lives. Autism = stress. And now my marriage teetering on the edge of HWY 1 with no guardrail and a 1,000 ft drop to the ocean below. And sometimes I wonder if I will just drop dead of a heart attack or will it be a slower more painful way to contemplate the end of life as I know it because this much stress is like a IV drip of poison creeping into my veins. And so I want to take back control from B in a misguided attempt to avert what was my mother’s fate and not have it be my own. Because I want to live free of heartache, being responsible as much as humanly possible for my own pain, when I must endure it, and not have it foisted on me like a drunken sailor grabbing me from behind and taking what is not his to take.
The mind is a funny thing. We know that what we may be thinking is be wrong.Screwy thoughts that we recognize as inaccurate. But those feelings are what trip us up and make us believe things that we know in our heads don’t make sense but to our hearts don’t matter. Our hearts often have a mind of their own, too busy working to keep the blood flowing, rather than worry about correctness of how it is being done. Yet, my heart hears unsaid words. It sees hidden emotions on a persons face. My heart squeezes the truth that goes coarsing through my veins and it ignores the science of it all. My heart stings. It whispers with every whoosh. And for the past few days, I would bet my bottom dollar that it has cracked in two, blood leaking into my drowning sticky soul.
You ask me why I feel the need for control. It’s because I no longer trust you to take care of my heart and the love that it holds. You have held my heart in your hands and you have not been gentle with it. You have treated it as callously as a hooker treats her next trick.I no longer trust you to take care of me the way I felt I was not taken care of when I was a child. I no longer trust that my pain is just pain and not leading to something more deadly as in the case of my mother. I no longer trust your words or your actions because you don’t love me and trust is the glue that holds love together.
You wonder why I feel the need for control? Because parts of that little girl remain behind and while I may be a very strong and capable woman sometimes that little girl is stronger when she faces what she perceives to be danger. And she tantrums and pushes for resolution while trying to gain control. Because she is unsure. Scared. Feels unloveable. And somehow she incorrectly believes that control will give it back to her and make her feel whole again. Strong again. Capable once more.
Someday I hope that someone somewhere will take that little girl her by the hand, thrust a mangy stuffed gray much loved puppy into her empty arms, and along with a great hug; tell her that it will all be okay. And maybe someday she will understand in her heart of hearts that control is an illusion and that the only thing she really ever controlled was herself and, finally, that will be enough and she can just let go and get on with living and playing hopscotch again.