Friday, May 18, 2012
*Warning this post is not funny, but it is honest*
We had married in the woods at 19 years old. It was the warmest October day. The sun shone though the leafy wedding canopy like the light of a God we wanted to believe in. We built our love on top of teenage photos pinned to a cork-board, fragile but perfect in its innocence. For a decade, like children wearing superhero capes, we believed in our invincibility. Slowly changes happened, as change does, changes I didn't notice as we busied our lives with children, work and school. I'll never know if he changed and I stayed the same, if I changed and he stayed the same or if we plain old grew apart. Slowly, though, we removed our capes and instead donned villain's masks. The last year was chaos. I hurt him. He hurt me. I battered him with words, infant fists he refused to feel. He swatted at me like annoying fly, fucking up his day. I begged him to save me. He begged me not to let go, but constantly turned his eyes. On his 30th birthday we set a tent up on a hill, determined to throw the party to save us. Just after midnight I came upon it, rhythmically moving in the moonlight. I screamed and hit the canvas bodies. I kicked the outline of his feet against the zippered door and the body, that was not mine, moving his. He refused to stop. When he finally emerged he smirked, his eyes holding a blank, coldness that never left. Nobody cared as I sat in the grass and screamed. They were all drunk. Nobody saw me as the ground cracked open and swallowed my soul. Happy Birthday.r
With my blood I traced the letters across my bathroom floor:
"Nobody sees ME."
I didn't know where she had gone, my best friend, the drunk. Here I was, an hour after I had a seizure on the sticky floor of the bar, while laying in a pool of my tequila vomit; now on my bathroom floor, half dressed and sobbing, my body covered in snot and blood. Some stranger had driven us home, some stranger who thought I was just some drunk girl, some stranger who didn't know I had seizures, no alcohol tolerance and was in mourning. He probably thought I would fuck him, not knowing I had refused to let anyone touch me in a year and a half. I figured my best friend was probably somewhere in my house fucking him right now. She had left me too. Alone. She had her excuses, she was an alcoholic. I was just fucked up. Fucked up and unable to let go.
The kids were at their daddy's. It was his 32nd birthday.
We both moved away, leaving our home to the wild grass and rats. I had always told my daughter, "our house may be small, but it is FILLED with love. We are love rich." Without love, it was vacant, like his new eyes. He moved in with a faceless woman. The children and I packed 11 years into a U-Haul and went north. But I refused to let go. I instead decided to "be the change I wanted to see." I decided he would love me if I could prove I was good enough. I decided there was nothing more important than my children having their father. Despite the unopened boxes stacked in our new apartment, I unpacked my cape and tied it on. I didn't bother him or beg him, because I didn't want to be controlling. That would be imperfect of me. Instead I began to dedicate my life, silently, to a marriage that had died long before. I thought Karma would be enough. I believed with my childhood innocence that it would work out, simply because I believed marriage was the right thing. I refused to get divorced and thus, defined myself by purgatory.
A year and a half later I ended up on my bathroom floor, cutting my arms like an emo teenager and painting my thoughts in blood. It ended up karma IS a bitch. She doesn't care if your very, very good. She won't reward you with your hearts desires simply because you tried hard enough. There will always be birthday gifts for the wicked and not even an alcoholic best friend can teach you how to kill the pain.
I stood up, walked out of my apartment and drove myself to the hospital.
I walked into triage, wrote down my name and my reason for visit "I've gone crazy."
It is difficult to explain that you only want to live to people who think you want to die. They look at you with literal eyes, eyes that see a breathing person sitting before them. They do not understand the desperation of a sunken soul, wanting to FEEL alive. Pain is life. Feel me, see me, validate my existence. I want to live again. Help me escape purgatory.
The counselors sympathized and bobbed their heads in comforting agreement as I told my stories. Sexual affairs by both parties, check. Physical violence, check. Traumatic events, check. Inability to let go, fear of rejection, abandonment, loss... check. Fucked up father, check. They scribbled down notes as I told them my abridged story, but I knew I couldn't make them feel the truth. They couldn't remember the dream. They couldn't feel the sun through the canopy, the sand beneath our feet as we climbed the hill and jumped. They didn't know how his hand fit in mine or that when we were 99, on our 80th anniversary, we would hold each other and breathe our last breaths. They didn't remember how we floated in inner tubes, when my belly was 6 months pregnant, the sun beaming down on us, laughing at how perfect life was. They didn't see us, laying with our newborn daughter, beneath a fan, in our 90 degree tiny home, poor and complete. My abridged story left out the perfection of love and the promises of forever that were weighted ghosts in my heart. They didn't know who he was before he changed.
They deemed me well enough. They saw me as strong, like every one else. Strong, independent, a dedicated, working mother who lacked support, who was emotionally exhausted and anxiety ridden. Like a rock star they admitted me with anxiety and exhaustion, for a weekend stay. I still thought I was crazy. I still thought I was weak.
Its not only the strong who survive. Everyone who doesn't die survives. We don't make it through because we are tougher than anyone else. Let's face it, everyone has to deal with what life throws their way. Some people might do it with more finesse, but its not about strength. There is no choice. We put one foot in front of the other and we keep pushing on. Or we die. If it was strength that got us through, well then, every person who wakes up the next morning and survives to see another day is strong. My measure of strength lay in my unreasonable expectation that I could will my future. And I was failing.
I lined up each morning with the other residents of the 5th floor and swallowed my anti-anxiety medication like a good nut job. I fidgeted, restless, without kids to take care of, work to go to, a house to clean or meals to prepare. I read a book. I memorized the fascinating stories of the people around me. I led exercises up and down the hallway to get us moving. I tried to be productive, inquired about implementing health regimens for us inmates, asked to vacuum, inquired about donations for games and art supplies; I was programmed to be perfect, to be change, to establish good karma. And then I stopped. I took out a box of chalk and I began to draw. Nothing in particular. A face. Flowers. I did nothing useful for the first day in 10 years.
I began to let go. Of my expectations OF ME.
The nurse came into my room on Sunday. "I know you're probably leaving tomorrow, but I have a group therapy project I want you to be part of, because you are an artist. So don't miss the next group." She told me. I wandered into the common room with the people with "real" problems and sat down. She took out pencils and markers and handed us each a piece of construction paper. We stared at her like eager to be entertained kindergarteners.
"Draw a dock. This dock is everything that is holding you back. Label it: abuse, drugs, alcohol, whatever. Now draw yourself in any boat you want. This boat is you leaving those things behind."
I drew my dock. And then I thought about my boat. The man next to me, who had stopped eating when his wife left and had been admitted to the hospital, dehydrated and homeless, 30 pounds later drew a cruise ship. The drug addicted old man, who had let his friend's daughter die of a heroin overdose in his flat, drew an enormous vessel armed with cannons. The fidgety guy in the corner drew a symmetrical rowboat. I wrote "expectations" on an anchor and set it on my dock.
I love the water. I love to kayak. I enjoy feeling the coolness rush up under my legs and the satin smooth waves beneath my fingers as idle down a river. Like everything, I need to feel it with everything I have. I want to experience my life. So I drew myself in an inflatable raft. I don't know how to draw a motor, so I gave myself oars. I am comfortable with oars and besides they are good exercise. I want to be strong. But my picture was not accurate yet.
I thought back to the month before that I had taken my kids kayaking. My daughter was in her own small sit on top and my son was tucked in front of me. We went down the river easily, traversed fallen trees and even got out and had a picnic. Then as the sky darkened, we had to turn around. Traveling upstream was not as easy. My daughter didn't think she could make it. So I tied her raft to the back of my boat and paddled. When it was shallow I would get out into the murky, dirty river and drag them. One foot in front of the other was what it took to finally make our way back. That was how we rolled.
So, I looked at my drawing and I added two round life boats and tethered them to the back of my raft. Oars in hand I prepared to row.
The nurse walked over and picked up my drawing. "That's a mighty unstable boat! You need something stronger!" She told me. But it was my truth. I didn't need to be stronger, I just needed to get away from the dock. I smiled and told her I'd fix it. I took the page back and drew a distant shore. On the shore I drew a tiny building with a big sign that read "boat store." "I promise I'm on my way to a better boat. This is what I have right now, but I promise that's where I'm headed." And I meant it.
I walked out on Monday with a prescription for an antidepressant and a doctor's order to get divorced. Some 2 years after my marriage died, I knew I had no choice. I had done everything I could do to hold on, it was time to let go. The next day I saw a lawyer. Two weeks later I met the man who would show me I could dream bigger than I ever had before, a friend I had known all along. Everything just finally clicked when I pushed off to sea.
Today I have been divorced 1 month. It was a legal process that occurred 3 years and 4 months from when I first knew the end was near. It occurred 2 years and 5 months after we split. Now I stop counting. Now I have finally let go, not just of what was, but of what will never be. And I am alive.
And willing to be seen.
**I want to add, my BFF is now over 6 months sober and thriving in a supportive and stable relationship. Our struggles were as tangled as our paths to healing. I couldn't be more proud of her.