Reinvention is Hell
Whether the point of departure is planned or inflicted, the journey to arrival has no clear timeline and feels down right jarring as I fall howling into the unknown. As much as the death of my first husband felt like a dismemberment, and the separation from my current husband feels like an exorcism, the re-invention of self is no immaculate conception. It is a messy, hellish adventure into the repressed known.
The sudden loss of my beloved was akin to the severing of a healthy limb, leaving me with a loss that can never be whole again. Sure a substitute can be strapped on in some cases, but you never get that feeling again and only some of the functions work.
Despite the missing, my brain still sends me random signals that he is here and I move and behave in ways that were unique to us. So much of how I developed as an adult, how I learned to navigate life’s triumphs, and smack-downs, and how I delegated my strengths and weaknesses, had evolved in tandem with my first husband David over the course of twenty years. We developed a love for each other through multi-sensory discoveries in voice, letter, touch and rhythm.
Each of our strengths compensated for the other’s weaknesses. He walked without the ability to see his periphery and blindly from dusk to dawn. With our palms clasped together, he avoided obstacles that only I could see, by a slight tensing from my palm or a barely audible slowing of my soles on the edge of the pavement. To atone for my dyscalculia, he was adept with mathematical and analytic data, taking care of all financial matters when I struggled to dial phone numbers correctly. Together we navigated obstacles without barely a thought, it was as natural as taking a breath. When the body loses a function, it becomes all the brain can focus on, and seventeen years after the severance, my palm still tenses when I approach obstacles in my path.
Separating from my second husband has followed years of performing elaborate rituals for the sake of honoring our nuptial oaths. First came the adrenaline rush of connection, then marital anticipation, invincibility, then resignation. This inter-tribal marriage involved years of practice, on both our part, evicting demons from other entities in our individual life histories under the elusive guise of raising each other’s children. But when the kids had all aged-out of the blended nest, the spiritual entities that once threatened to possess us, resurfaced.
In many of the days since Rodger’s pre-Valentine exodus, I have felt overtaken by sporadic spells of negative energy which consume my emotional mind with a dissonance of incongruity, threatening my spiritual ardor and physical health. I found my spirit constantly plunging into temporary darkness in the wake of his persistent stonewalling (shutting up and shutting down), which left me two choices: attack or retreat, neither of which bridged the widening gap.
It is undeniable that trauma, crisis management and problem-solving are what ignited and framed our relationship, keeping it bubbling along. When I look back, I recognize that we never quite got down the habit of practicing common courtesy with each other. Although I persisted in beginning and ending every encounter with “I Love you”, it seemed like such behavior cramped his style. I have been able to identify three major problems that occurred in our relationship which were evident from the beginning:
1. All along the way, we experienced fits and starts of enthusiasm. In the early years of a long-distance relationship, we would engage in planned rendezvous, then not communicate for several days. Tickets were purchased then plans were changed last minute. We got hooked on the rush of joint projects casting an illusion of what we could be together, causing me to speculate entirely on the future. I banked on hope.
2. Rodger has a circular existence. Work, rotate tires, load the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry, fall asleep to cable reruns, Friday “date night”, only if I mention it, and total absence of social gatherings with other couples. Perseveration and isolation have a way of sucking the fun from a balloon, and eventually we stopped having fun.
3. Our differences have been more pronounced in the confines of the bedroom. Before we knew it, near five years had gone by without any intimacy at all. Anton Chekhov must have known all about this when he quoted—“If you’re afraid of loneliness don’t get married.”
Being a couple felt like a hindrance, not to mention an illicit dissonance. To our surprise when our intra-marital collusion was revealed to others, they tended to respond with biblical reverence, assigning our union as divine. I even began to believe it myself.
Could it be that my beloved Dave had taken matters into his own wings and planted his brother in our nest, getting us all through the stormy days ahead. But I can’t help to wonder if perhaps we had taken it too far.
I got caught in the undertow and maybe if I hadn’t been overwhelmed with calculating my losses, and claiming bone fragments, I would have recognized the wave breaks. I’ll never know the answer to this question because I can’t go back and re-live the alternative. Despite the relationship ending near two decades later, I have to believe that Rod and I were drawn together to push through the storm of surviving with children, living within the footprints of 9/11, accepting our role in that particular waypoint in human history. There’s a quote that goes like; “People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” Sometimes we have to learn to recognize when people may be holding you back in ways that are no longer productive in your life. We have to look in the mirror and ask the big question; is my life moving in the direction I want?
If the answer is “no”, then we have to decide when to let go and continue on our journey. The truth is, I want Rodger to be the sole designer of his future. Any intervention on my part has led to rifts and detachment. We have entered into a long-range emotional deadlock, becoming buried under relationship repression.
But hey, I’m only responsible for half the attitude of this couple. I’ve always measured the depth of my connections by thoughts shared. Every action I’ve taken in the life of our relationship has been yoked to my need for meaning and connection, rather than what it appears; mean and disconnection. Unsaid thoughts and withheld gestures, aka stonewalling, make me panic. Rod has little fear of silence and has never felt responsible for sustained dialogue. I am done being the designer of dialogue. I don’t want an arrangement, I want engagement. I don’t simply want a man who is willing to live with me, I want a man who will not live without me.
In death, the family came together in a strong atmosphere of support, consequently in separation, the extended family has frayed and taken position. It is interesting to note the contrast of the homophonic cousins; Frey referring to the god of peace, prosperity, and marriage and fray referring to fight, battle and noisy quarrel. Some members have declared to reside in Switzerland, but is this really plausible in a banded house of cards?
I feel like I live an alternate universe in my head. I replay what happened, what my role was in the situations that led up to Dave being in the towers on that day, at that time. And the faults that led Richard out the door. And I imagine how things could have turned out differently. I recently learned that there is a psychological term for this mechanism; “counter-factual thinking”.
With regret and pain, we keep rewinding and pressing play, like the day before 9/11, when the sitter finally called back after several days to say she could babysit Tuesday, altering our original plan, which was for David to stay home with the boys on the first day of my new career move.
Dave laid restless in bed that Monday night, repeating “something feels strange, I don’t know what it is, I just want to hold you all night long.” His mind was distant during our intimacy and he made me stop my advances, but the love was intense, as he looked in my eyes and drew me to his chest, saying “I love you dear” over and over, as though he had begun re-writing our story right then.
Sometimes I fantasize of another ending that I want to be true. Had I made another choice…David lives. My world remains intact. But I know I cannot change the facts, nor can I bring my husband back. The more I am alone, my brain struggles to make sense of this. I am uncomfortable, but I cannot alter my story. I can’t bring David back, I can’t make Rodger want me back, but I can conceive myself within the clearing of solitary quietude.
At 54, I have become unframed. The cacophony of activities associated with raising and feeding children, keeping an organized home, planning vacations, making perfect holidays, washing dirty uniforms and pleasing others, has passed through time. The roles that once framed every minute of my days for over forty years have unfurled onto a threshold of solitary bewilderment. Although the lines in my coloring book have faded and the page bears no shape, the colors remain in brilliant afterglow, drawing me into the next page. Perhaps holding onto old frames long past the images within them are relatable, dulls the way in which we conceive our own lives, blocking growth. We hold onto our garbage like empty boxes with no hope to contain what they once had nor fill up with anything new and usable. Just more useless junk.
I wish we could cast out our own internal garbage, the way we do onion skins. Eventually, we might stop crying and get on with it. With progression of the unstoppable years, I feel like my life is becoming condensed. If I could only water it down a bit, stretch it out, reduce the saltiness without compromising integrity, I might feel my soles on the path of my destiny.
I can conceive of only one way to counteract compression, stepping forward and taking action.
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