Friday, October 07, 2011

At a threshold



One of the funny things about my job is that I get asked a lot of "Mrs. P, how did you...?" kinds of questions.  Kids always want to know how I met E or how I got engaged or why I ended up at my college.  I spend a lot of time thinking about what I wish I knew then just because I get asked my opinion so often.  Of course I can't do much more than to tell them that this was just my own unique experience and ultimately they have to figure this out for themselves, but it is interesting to have to examine life with the benefit of hindsight.

I don't wish I could do any of it differently, but I do try to look at how I was changed by my decisions.  Sometimes, like now, that musing spills over from school life into real life.

To that end I've been thinking a lot lately about my separation from E in 2007 and 2008.  For long after it happened I concentrated on what it meant to our marriage that we moved apart, redefined our relationship, and came back together on new terms.  I'll admit I thought of it mostly in that vein--how we were different together because we had to choose to find a way to make things work (because what we were doing before was destroying both of us).  The reaffirmation of our vows and the subsequent year or so of difficult work to repair our marriage did have that effect.  Marriage went from being something we just did because it was the next step in our relationship to a daily set of exercises in working together toward a common goal.  It was entirely different.  It was entirely better.

But I'm beginning to see now how that separation changed me as an individual, too.

Separation meant living alone, managing a house, two kids, four pets, four trashcans, one mailbox, a whole system of plumbing, a plethora of bills, and a host of creepy crawlies.  At 20 I had gone from living with my parents to living with my husband.  I never lived alone until I was almost 30, and at 30 it scared me.  While I'd been a teacher and was a competent adult, the solitude of all that managing weighed on me like a brick.  It wasn't the doing that overwhelmed, but the sense that I alone was responsible for all this shit and if I should forget to do any of it, the whole deal might go to hell in fifteen minutes.  In the beginning that was paralyzing.  But having to do it and then knowing I did gave me a sense of accomplishment not unlike running the marathon or giving birth:  I did that, and I know I can do it again if I have to.  I think everybody should be lucky enough to have that confidence.  It didn't show me that I didn't want another person around--because I did--but it showed me that I was strong enough to deserve my place in the adult world.

The other part of being alone that bothered me was just the empty space.  It wasn't until I had to accept that emptiness that I learned it is actually good for me, and eventually I'd find that I really savor being alone.  For years I'd been filling rooms with conversation and I thought I needed to be with someone, when in fact the being alone actually allowed me to recharge.  I had to get through my discomfort to figure this out, though.  Some nights the empty house scared me.  Sometimes I missed physical contact with another person; I discovered how much I really rely on the physical presence of other beings--I like to be hugged and loved on.  The nights seemed so long when I was alone in the house.  I learned that I will always feel emptiness deeply, but I needed to come up with other ways to handle it (that didn't involve E being my security blanket).  It confirmed for me the necessity of children and pets, too.  That time has served me well; I know now that being alone is a beautiful thing and that if I need others then I need to go seek them out.

That time also showed me not to trust people as much.  I know, I know...  How can that possibly be a good thing?  Because in not trusting everyone I learned that there really are people who I can trust.  And I learned that trust has nothing to do with someone letting you down--really, we all do that to people we love if the relationship is good enough for us to get to hang around for enough time.  I learned that trust is most clear in apologies and forgiveness, in how persistent someone is in caring for you.  Before we separated I handed my trust away too easily to people and to the world.  I trusted that things (like marriage) would just work out because that was what things did.  I had to look around to see who I could really rely on and I had to place my trust in action rather than words. I don't know if I'm more guarded, but I've learned where to place my faith.  I am not likely to give away a piece of my soul unless I think it's going to be handled gently.

It also made me selfish.  Before then I gave away all of my time to other people.  I was always saying yes to things I didn't really want to do because I thought they were what I should do.  Some of that was a necessary evil at work, but I took on more than I could handle.  My marriage suffered.  My sleep schedule suffered.  My kids suffered.  When I was faced with divorce I finally gained the guts to tell people no.  No, I won't hang around if you're going to treat me like that.  No, I don't want to coach that team.  No, I don't want to go to that meeting.  No, I don't want to be in charge of that project.  No, I can't make it. No, I that isn't what I want to do.  By saying no I was able to say yes to things that made me happy and made me healthy.  Yes to cooking dinner more often.  Yes to planting a garden.  Yes to running.  Yes to creating a blog, writing, finding my voice.  Yes to a very regular and demanding sleep schedule.  Yes to parenting my children more.  Yes to enjoying my home.  Yes to more time with E.  I've said no enough that I can now say yes to an entirely different venture and it's all for me.  Delicious.

What spurred the topic about our separation was a passing thought that I wouldn't be starting grad school right now if it weren't for that time.  Oddly enough I know I also wouldn't have started running if I didn't have to find a way to deal with my anxiety.  It's a strange thing to say out loud that something negative had to happen for a reason.  It seems weird to say that I wouldn't be as confident as I am now or as willing to go the direction I'm headed if E and I wouldn't have headed for divorce.

As I stand at this threshold and continue to think about the new life experiences that school will bring, I'm also looking back into the few years that brought me here.  I can't say that time was good.  It sucked.  I was so miserable (and I think, rightly so).  But I know our marriage is better for it.  I know I am a fuller, more adult version of myself because it happened.

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