Monday, February 13, 2012

Love


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. 

Love survived.     
               

11 comments:

  1. First of all, bravo to you -- on the story and recuperated marriage. I do, however, have to take issue with your portrayal of feminists. Certainly the message was out there in our youth that we should not be defined, take care of, or subsumed by men, but there was never any prohibition on companionship or love or connection. I think there was more of a feminist stance against domesticity, particularly in the 70s. Second wave feminists felt that true independence for women could only happen outside of the home. Now, this didn't mean they didn't marry, it just meant that to be equal with their husbands they needed achievement and progress in the world outside of their home. We now, I suppose, are into third wave feminism (although that is debatable) and a proposed backlash against the sentiments of the 70s -- that women can have it all (which is, I assume, what you feel). Personally, I feel that there are still issues both in the world and in the home that are difficult for women. However, most importantly, I think many of your initial sentiments can actually be building blocks for an equal and healthy marriage. My husband is not responsible for my well-being, my sense of fulfillment, or my level of happiness. I take care of those things myself. But working together we are certainly stronger and more happy than we are on our own.

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    1. Your dissertation involves some of this, right? I think my portrayal of feminists is my portrayal of my own tainted and messed up self. I consider myself a feminist. So part of me was cheering and booing myself. And your portrayal of feminism perhaps is grounded in research and literature and any number of other things that go beyond mine.

      I don't feel part of a backlash. Maybe what I really mean is that I don't want to be a member of the man hater club - which is another issue and may have nothing at all to do with feminism? I have always struggled with seeing men as the potential - or in some cases very real - enemy, and yet being involved with one who appeared to be honest and kind...how in the world could I reconcile the two?

      I still think I can have it all. Not easily and not without pain and tears and sacrifice - and not without guilt and sometimes feeling selfish. And maybe some of it comes with getting older -- I don't know. But I certainly appreciate your views on this and welcome them. It's not easy, this being a woman thing or this marriage thing.

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  2. The Kate I knew and loved in high school was not what I considered a feminist, but strong willed. You always listed to others opinions, but always did what was best for you. I always admired you for that. I only briefly met one of your sisters. Although she was very nice, she would not do anything without approval from you, teachers, your parents ... this I think you saw at a young age. I also remember you wanting but never having your mother's approval. It was sad for me to watch. Reading that your mother and sisters disowned you, saddened me,but did not surprise me. You are still one of the strongest women I know. You are stroner than you think. You also have people close and far who love and support you.

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    1. Wow-za, Lisa! Thanks for your comments. It is eye opening to hear from someone who knew me in high school with that perspective. Thanks for the kind words.

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  3. Your story is a success story. It brought tears of joy to my eyes as I focused on the new love you and John found. Life is hard. No one can escape struggles this side of Heaven. We'll each face our own unique journey of sorrows and celebrations. And if we allow, they are what will teach us how to feel things more deeply. We'll acknowledge and cherish what escaped our attention before and it will bless us and those around us... just the way this love story that you've written has. Love, it's worth fighting for. Congratulations you two!!

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    1. Thanks - your support means a lot.

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  4. Enjoy your Valentines Day and his safe return from sea.. :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZAlOJ3fJBQ

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    1. Love that Alanis song - thanks for the link!

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  5. Love survived, indeed. Nicely done. And many thanks for the boost of my blog post. Write on.

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    1. Thanks - loved your recent sister/sister perspectives and love your work.

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  6. Honey all I can say is wow. I sit here crying (of Joy) reading that now that I have returned from 55 days at sea.
    Love Ya. Its good to be home.

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