I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’ll tell you that up front. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. And my Valentine – Husband – is at sea. Has been for the past 40 days.
This is the longest he has been gone with his new gig as Fisheries Observer. He started last summer and loves it. What he doesn’t love is being separated from his family for so long, especially with all we’ve been through in the past year. We spoke on the satellite phone yesterday for the twenty minutes allotted, which isn’t much when it’s divided up between three eager boys and me. They re-enacted assignments from school, singing to him over the phone, and I knew he smiled hearing them. Those weekly phone calls are bittersweet – we hear his voice and that is good. We relay everything he’s missing and that is bad.
Last Valentine’s Day we did not exchange Valentines. He gave some treats to the boys and so did I. I had moved out of the master bedroom and was living downstairs in the guest bedroom, next to the boys’ bedrooms, sharing their bathroom. It was awful - not sharing a bathroom with three boys (although that certainly was no picnic), but the fact that I had made up my mind to leave my husband. He was days from filing for divorce. I was days from taking the boys and moving in to the same apartment complex as my older sister and not showing up to his grandfather’s funeral. Can’t take it back. Too late for that.
I really don’t want to take it back, either. We had to go through this nightmare to get to where we are now, which is a very good place. We have seen the other side. We have lived without one another. We can both do it. But we don’t want to. And that is the key.
I finally confronted that voice in my head that has always been there: “You don’t need a man. Be financially independent. Don’t depend on anyone. Support yourself. Be strong. You are smart. You are beautiful. Don’t settle.” I think now that the voice is my mother’s, but I don’t want to attribute all of it to her. I think it is also every mentor’s and teacher’s voice that I have come in contact with over the course of a life. So many voices throughout my 41 years. And I know I’m not the only one hearing them.
I think it’s my generation of women that hear this. The men don’t hear it for the obvious reason that the message is kind of a defense against them and our male-dominated culture. The message was a call to action; a game plan; a battle cry. We were raised in the 70s and 80s, constantly hearing the message that women are strong, powerful, and can do anything. That’s all great and wonderful. Really. I have kicked some ass in my lifetime because I had this attitude that I could – and should – do anything I set my mind to. It got me through the tangled mess that is high school, then college, then graduate school. It propelled me through my first jobs, into my first career, and – when the painful time came – out of that career and into another. I have had success again and again at the things I decided to do. And I know it’s because I’ve had this “Go ahead – bring it on - I can handle it” attitude.
But that attitude doesn’t work so well in a relationship – in a marriage. In fact, it works against it.
I lived with one foot out the door throughout most of our 15 year marriage, and certainly was poised to spring during the seven years of our relationship prior to getting married. I think the fact that I remained first, in a long-term relationship and second, married disappointed feminists everywhere. I certainly feel now – today – that it was a disappointment to my mother and two sisters. They have always questioned my commitment to this man, but I didn’t want to see it. Until I did.
When I called upon them – my family, my support system – when my marriage was crumbling, they were there. In their support of me to leave the marriage, they revealed their apprehension and distrust of my husband that had been there since day one. This was further fuel to the fire for me – further justification that I was doing the right thing in getting out. These were my people, after all. They knew me better than anyone else.
Only they didn’t.
I was the only one who could feel the gut wrenching panic that gripped me when I drove away with the boys for some “time alone” during the summer, knowing that there was potential for me never to return. I wanted separation. I needed time and space to think. But it didn’t feel right. It gripped me now and again – this paralysis as deep as my soul. But I ignored it. I kept going forward, kept making decisions that led to more and more separate lives and had repercussions for my children that I would not admit but that would slap me in the face regularly. And the thing that I had feared most – that I was being selfish and was irrevocably changing the people around me so that I could fucking think, goddamn it – had indeed come to pass.
It was all so sad. The boys were sad. I was sad. Husband was sad. I had so much anger and resentment that it took a while to burn through it all, but I eventually did. And I was left with only sadness. Overwhelming, debilitating sadness.
So I decided to throw a little love out there. For so long, I had nothing more within me to give. But when everything else had been thrown out of the barrel of my soul and I scratched my hand around inside the bottom to verify that yes, indeed, it was empty, I grabbed on to a tiny string of love. I sent it out in the next conversation I had with the now ex-Husband. He balked. Then he grabbed on to that tiny string. Then I balked and tried to back track. But it was no good. I’d had a taste of what love could do. And the hate came tumbling down.
So we’re back to being Valentines. The divorce didn’t take – there were some legal t’s that didn’t get crossed, I’s that didn’t get dotted – and the case was dismissed, leaving our marriage intact. No one is more amazed than I. I equate it with a near death experience – this near divorce. Those that have survived such things often describe the sky as a deeper blue, the sun a little brighter. The little things that I used to obsess over – like housework and kid care and should we go to the party or not and I don’t think that person likes me so you shouldn’t like them either – it’s all gone. Poof. Those things really are little. And they simply don’t occur to me any longer.
I made my bid for freedom and then decided I didn’t want it. It’s not that I can’t live on my own – it’s that I choose not to. I could be an independent, no strings attached, make all my own decisions woman. And the feminists would cheer. But I don’t want it. I choose love. So the feminists boo. My mom and sisters disowned me when I announced my decision to return to my marriage. And that didn’t just affect me – it impacted three boys who no longer have relationships with their aunts and grandmother. Through no fault of their own, my boys found themselves in the middle of first one war between their parents and now another war between their mother’s relatives. A war of silence. But I have love left. I send it out to them now and again and I hope they feel it.
I choose to be with the person who has known me since I was 18, who tells me I’m beautiful and really believes it. He is the man who insists that I am a great writer and will one day know success in that endeavor. The one person who knows the worst I can give – who was rejected by me and labeled the enemy so that I could survive this metamorphosis. Who went through this madness that we evidently had to go through so that we could both grow and both come out the other side. The one who is now at sea, supporting his family, so that I can sit here and type this. I choose him.
So I have a Valentine’s Day card, only slightly cheesy, that I’ll pour love into today. I’ll tuck it in its red envelope, seal it, and leave it on his bedside table to await his return. And I’ll put some heart shaped chocolates in the boys’ lunches tomorrow – eating entirely too much of them myself - and shower them with love. I’ll get through the day feeling slightly less sorry for myself knowing that he’ll be home soon and we will have uninterrupted time together. Because our family survived.