Turning Around

Loser by Shel Silverstein

This post is dedicated to everyone who has lost someone, whether through death or divorce.

In other words, it is dedicated to you.

I left Maine almost a month ago, and so much has happened that it feels like much longer, and yet, like yesterday. I remember the stillness of late summer there, the warmth of the sun and the bite of the first autumn chill in the evenings. I remember long walks and quiet rides in cars, looking at mountains while racing down a small highway. When I return next week, I return to a new-to-me house in a new-to-me town, in much colder temperatures and earlier sunsets.

But. For now. For this moment.

Last year, when I felt very alone one evening while walking to the bank in South Philadelphia, I realized that I had created a life for myself so out of balance that I was now living in a city that scared me at a job that was not fulfilling, and that job was all that I really had. I have never felt more alone than at that moment, and that inspired to change the course of my life to make it better. It was in that moment that I realized that all I had in my life was love for others and for myself, and that love was really all that mattered. It sounds simplistic, but I think it is true. I remember one of the reasons that I became divorced was because we had lost each other in all the stuff of life: the house, the car, the jobs, the junk. I realized that if I was to throw everything we owned onto a pile and burn it, would we have anything left? And the answer was no. Last year, I realized that my life was still not balanced, and I have been working on that balance ever since.  All we have is time, and sometimes we have so much less than we would think.

Lately, I have been thinking about my divorce, and the divorces of others. I am divorced and it seems to mean more to me than it does to others. I can’t really explain this, except that I have spoken to other people who are also divorced and we share the same sense of failure or shame or whatever you want to call it. Some people are able to move through it fast, make a clean break, wash their hands they’re done! But others, like me, even though we may look as if we are over it, take a little bit of time. Almost 4 years to be exact. I feel like, at this moment, I am finally becoming over with the divorce, as if it has passed through me and my time with it is finished.

I got married when I was 23 to a lovely person and we thought we should get married and that we would just work out everything else. And we did, for a short time, until life got in the way. We owned a house together, and once we bought it, we stopped being together. We would physically be in the same house but rarely had substantive conversations. We stopped being a team, we drifted apart, and eventually split apart permanently. Resentment had bred early and festered over a few years. Looking back now, I can see where it was born and how it expressed itself in the eerie quiet that were our discussions.

I remember learning the importance that you come from similar backgrounds during this experience: my ex came from two parents who had been married and divorced three times each, and my parents are still married. Unlike my family, where things get, well I am not going to say worked out but at least tolerated, in his family, divorce was rapid, rip off that BandAid, wash your hands you’re done. One day, after volunteering at the garden in my neighborhood, I came home to find a house almost empty of furniture with divorce papers on the counter. Within weeks, the house was sold and that was that.

Or so I thought. Turns out that I felt a lot of pain and shame and failure about that divorce, even though I know it was best for me and I think, for both of us. Turns out that it is not just like breaking up, although a huge part of it is that pain and that loss and frustration and panic. Turns out that I felt a ton of external pressures looming over me that I had failed my family and my community by not “sticking it out” and by getting divorced. I felt that my family judged me (they didn’t), that some of my friends judged me (but only a few), but more importantly, that my ever-present conscience, or committee in my mind,  disapproved of what I had done. I felt like I had let someone down (I had) and broken a vow (yup, did that one, too). I felt like maybe I would never be good enough to prove that it was the right decision, even though I knew that it was.

I think the problem with divorce is that it is so painful you can be downright terrified to ever risk having it happen again.  It hasn’t been til this week, this transition between Southern California and New Orleans, that I feel like this breath that I have been holding inside my body for three years has been breathed out. For some reason, I held on to that divorce, that pain and that shame and disappointment, for so long. For years! No one held on to it that long, not even the other person involved.

When I get home, I will be part of a small but strong community, and that is a hefty responsibility if you think about it. In Austin, I could get away with being anonymous sometimes, sometimes not wanting to be a part of my community because I was feeling somehow antisocial. In my new town, this will not exactly be possible. Everyone will notice me walking to the post office. Everyone will know I bought milk and cocoa at the store.

Making the choice to live in this magical place, my new-old-summer-now-all-year home is a huge one. It is a commitment to changing the pace of my life, and changing the priorities. I have spent so much of the last 3-4 years (we separated in early 2009) just spinning, confused, and trying to process something that happened that I think just had to have some time pass before it was going to feel better. At some point last week, I realized that only I can stop myself from spinning, can change my perception of myself as rootless and lacking direction. Now I can say, here is where I will be and put down some rootlets into new, rockier, colder soil.

The lurch of divorce is that your whole life was spread out before you and all the people who knew you knew that your life was spread out before you and there was a sense of calm and security when it was good, like, you knew that things were basically going to stay the same and there was someone to support you if things went bad. And you see, when you get divorced, all that flies out the window. All of a sudden you realize that the life you thought you were going to have is either gone or never existed anyway. You realize that the calm and security you felt was inextricably linked to another person who was as flawed as you. You realize that security is gone once that person is also gone. You realize that the person who was supposed to support you really wasn’t able to and now is gone when they were always supposed to stay. So, divorce is disappointing and also earth-shattering and painful and then you have to always say, from now on, that you are divorced. No matter what the reasons or root causes, or how much of a good thing divorce can be after time has passed,  it shakes your world at the core and that shaking is a painful process that can send you spinning off to new schools, new cities, new relationships, and new discoveries about yourself.

I believe I was much too young to get married at the age of 23. I believe now, that if I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would give one piece of advice and one only: take a deep breath and slowwww down. Had I done that, I might have saved myself some of the pain that I have felt over the last 3-4 years. But then again, if all things hadn’t happened the exact way they did, then maybe these realizations would never have happened, I wouldn’t be sitting in a living room in New Orleans really late at night, and wouldn’t be about to start living in Maine.

What have I learned on this trip about myself? I have learned that I am feel more experienced, or older than I thought I felt, and that I want a place to call home. I have learned that I really love cooking in my kitchen for friends or for myself. I have learned that I need to slow down this year and really think about everything that I am doing and how it impacts me and others. I have learned to forgive myself for my mistakes and try to move on. I have learned that I need to take deep breaths and brave steps from now on, looking forward and not desperately reviewing the past looking to change something that is already done. I have learned that I am an almost 32 year old woman who is stepping out onto a vast new plain of life with everything I know holding me up against the unknowns that, no doubt, are hurtling toward me during this new phase, and that I will be more careful with myself and with others, will be more true to my word and dedicated to myself and my friends and community.

I learned quite young that I had to depend on myself. There are lots of reasons for this, and they really don’t matter anymore. What I took from that discovery as a young girl was that I had to do everything myself, no matter what. During this trip, I have seen almost everyone that I really truly love in many different places all over our country. I have spent time with some amazing people and I have an incredibly diverse family of friends who make me happy and fulfilled and inspired. They helped me realize that I don’t just have to depend on myself and I don’t have to do everything myself. They have helped me realize that they love me for who I am just as I love them for who they are, unconditionally. They have helped me realize that new friends or old friends are just simply that: friends. People who are in your life. Who stretch out their arms to hug you or give you their ear to listen. People who will give advice or take it as needed. People who see you at your best and at your worst but most often think that you are at your best, and you them. It is a lovely thought to think that life is changing, that new friends will appear in this life, and that they will be this way, too. That no matter what changes life throws at us, there are a few amazing people that we wander into, and who change our lives by making them that much richer. Each of us as individuals fundamentally change those people we connect with, and all of those connections contribute to the richness of this life.  And no matter what bad things are happening, or how fast this life passes before us, the friendships and the people are the ones who are there to share this crazy trip with us. And that means that none of us are alone, but always surrounded by a beautiful, strong but silky web of people who love us.

I have a daydream quite frequently lately. The daydream takes place at dusk, and the sun is setting behind the bare trees. The light is golden near the sun itself but the rest of the air is crisp, winter blue. The blue you see and feel and know that snow or ice is coming. I am sitting at my front window and there are candles on the windowsill, adding a warm orange glow to the blue outside. Sitting in the window, looking down and out at my quiet little street. Sitting and looking, out and above at trees and fog and birds and clouds. Looking down to discover someone waiting for me to see them, standing there with their hands outstretched, saying hello.

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