The longer I live, the more I discover that things are not always what they appear to be. Nor are they as black and white as we wish they were.
It’s important to remind myself of that when I’m tempted to judge others (or myself) too harshly.
When friends and family look at the trajectory of my life and the demise of my marriage and ask “What happened?” I wish I could give them a quick and easy answer. But there isn’t one. What happens between two people in an intimate relationship is far too deep and mysterious to be captured and summed up in a single sentence.
I have a hard time explaining why I did what I did, why I left when I did, what caused me to go in such a different direction with my life.
It’s not that there weren’t good reasons (there were) or that I don’t know what they are (I do, mostly).
It’s just that rehashing the past in order to find a culprit and assign blame is usually a fool’s errand. What I will say is this: if there is blame to be laid, the lion’s share of it is on me. We both made mistakes. We’re not bad people. We’re not perfect people.
We’re also not the two people who joined their lives together in 1998. Those two young kids are long gone. So too is their sense of invincibilty and boundless optimism. I miss that sometimes; that confidence that you will beat the odds. Once that’s gone it can be difficult to get back.
We were the last two people you’d expect to get divorced. Seriously. At times I look back and can’t believe that all of this has really happened. At times I’m as shocked as anyone else that things turned out the way they did.
By the time we parted ways in 2015, we could no longer reconcile the widening differences between us. What had started as cracks in our foundation had spread out in several directions. There were dozens of little earthquakes, and everywhere I turned it seemed things were crumbling — in my work life, at home, with my health, with our finances. The cracks became canyons. In the end too much had happened, and we had changed so profoundly that we were unrecognizable to each other.
You know how something can look fine from the outside but be falling apart on the inside? You can’t always see the cracks, especially when they’re plastered over and well concealed. I myself denied their existence for quite some time, until I couldn’t anymore. Then I pretended not to see them. But there are some things you can’t un-see.
I tried to fix the cracks by filling them with everything I could think of: work, food, drink, sugar, caffeine, yoga, meditation, exercise, more work, nature, reading, counseling, journaling, self-help books, spiritual groups, house projects, family cheer, everything. I went on a macrobiotic diet. I completed a marathon. I lost 30 pounds. I volunteered at my kids’ school. I took Spanish classes. I tried a lot of different things, but could not outrun the truth: something was nagging at me. I could not keep going in the direction I was going.
There was and still is a restless force within me, a powerful drive to explore new vistas and learn new things. This came hardwired into my DNA. I can’t apologize for it any more than I can apologize for having green eyes. There’s a bit of the rebel in me. In different circumstances I might have been a revolutionary. (For instance, in Cuba in 1958. But alas: I was born too late.)
I never felt like I fit the conventional mother mold. Often I’ve felt like an imposter, and have wondered how soon the rest of the world was going to figure that out. I figure the real parents — the legit ones who actually know how to do this kind of thing for real — are going to show up any minute to relieve me of my duties because I clearly don’t know what I am doing.
I have not been a bad mother, but I wish that the forces and events that transformed my life had not uprooted my boys from the life they had known up to that point. Change is part of life, and we cannot spare ourselves or our loved ones the pain of it, as much as we might try. I know that. But still. I never wanted them to suffer, least of all as a result of my actions.
I hope my children will forgive me for the upheaval I have wrought in their lives. The children’s father, my former husband, a generous and gracious man, forgave me long ago. He says he hopes I can forgive myself, for my own sake. I hope that, too.
Have I done the right thing with my life? I don’t know. Is there such thing as a “one right path” for a person’s life? If so, how is that determined? And by whom?
For some people, organized religion provides the answers to these questions. For others, a communal code of ethics establishes what is right and what is wrong. My own spiritual beliefs are eclectic; my cathedral is more likely to be a grove of pines than a bricks and mortar type place. I respect the beliefs of people of faith. I think we’re all trying to do what we think is right, whatever we think”right” is. We’ve each got our own little pieces of truth.
But I don’t accept that there is one truth, or just one “right” way to do things. I do not believe that things are black and white. I’ve seen too much of the world to buy the lie that any one of us has cornered the market on right versus wrong. “You divorced a good man? Then you are a bad woman.” I know plenty of people who hold that view. Most of them are no longer speaking to me.
That’s okay. I never expected anyone to understand why I did what I did, or to forgive me. If you’ve never had the bottom fall out of your life, never stood amidst the rubble and wondered “How the hell did I end up here?” I can see how it might be easy to judge that kind of mess as “something that happens to other people, bad people who make bad choices — but not to me! I’ll never end up like that.” I used to think that way, too. Until I became one of those people. That’s how I learned — the hard way** — that things (and people) are not always what they seem.
Looking around, though, I find myself in pretty good company. Turns out there are a fair number of us who haven’t lived perfect lives, who aren’t blameless, who have stumbled. And among us are those who have dusted themselves off and gotten back into the arena to give it another try. And another.
That’s where I hope to be. Bruised, shaken, unsure, still covered in the dust of a dozen little earthquakes, but damn it, still in the arena.
*Except when they start crusades, or go on jihadist benders, or shoot up Planned Parenthood. That’s just messed up.
**Is there any other way? Seriously. Do you ever hear anybody say, “Oh, I learned that the easy way”? Me neither.
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