The Book of the Beloved, Ch. 2, Truths about love.
What follows is the book I am writing for my six year old grand daughter to read when she turns thirty. I may be long gone by then and I want her to have a credible source to tell her what she might need to know for the next part of her life. I want to give her the irreverent reality of a woman in authenticity. If I don’t do it, I’m not sure who would. Even though you are not my grand daughter I am sharing it with you in case you also find it helpful or amusing.
All human stories are really about one thing: love– finding love, losing it and finding it again.
Here’s my story of love and tragedy. You were there for much of it but I don’t think you remember so I’ll try to tell it accurately for you now. Maybe it will help you.
February 1986. I remember what he was wearing the first time I saw him. Powder blue, cashmere v neck sweater over a crisp,white cotton shirt and tan corduroy pants with brown and white saddle shoes. His curly hair had so many shades of color and thick ringlets that it was hard to believe real people had hair like that. I’ve always been a freak about beautiful hair. It has a mythical quality like the mane of a unicorn or a horse in full gallop with its tail glistening in the sun as it gathers speed. His skin a golden brown and his azure sea blue eyes framed by long, dark brown lashes. Honestly, he was quite beautiful to me, beyond anyone I had ever seen before. He bounced when he walked. Everything about him smiled. I could not remember a single thing before I saw him. My mind stopped and locked in place. I could not stop looking at him. He was art and song in one second combined. That really happened.
I pursued him mercilessly and he agreed. Within a month of knowing each other he showed up at my studio with a television and an arm full of clothes. He never left.
We married at Saint Angela’s church in Pacific Grove, California on a perfect July day with our friends and family gathered around us. That November your mom was born. He had a dream that she should be named Angela so she could always find her way home. Two years later Claude was born and our family was complete until, beloved, you arrived in your mother’s arms some twenty years later.
There could never be days as happy as some of the ones we spent and never days as sad and difficult. That is what comes of partnerships which last a long time.
I don’t remember what he was wearing twenty four years after I first saw him when he said he found someone new. I asked for the divorce, actually insisted upon it, despite the fact that I still loved and needed him in so many ways I didn’t have words for it anymore. He and I were habits of being. I did not plan on either of us finding some one new. We both said it would never happen. But never can change.
The day we went to a Notary Public to get our divorce paperwork stamped and finalized, I cried. He held me while I sobbed. The notary forced us to continue. She asked questions about our son a month short of twenty one which still fell into a custody matter of support. Hearing his name on her lips like a subject of business opened wells of dark, viscous pain that hurt as it came out in small tear drops with pressure building behind my eyes. I should have drowned in it–a wall blowing out in a force of nature strong as a volcanic eruption- but instead just one tear at a time fell like the feeble attempt of a middle aged lady trying to re-build herself.
I signed forms while blurry from tears and exhaustion and had to hold the arm of my chair fearing I’d faint. Nothing had been harder to that date-not twelve hours of labor, nor illness nor losing the job we all depended on–not even leaving our family home after losing that job. All of that wrecked me but it worked out. We rebuilt. There was no rebuilding now. This finalizing our divorce dismantled what was left. I felt like leaving my body on the hard folding chairs and picking it up later when I could stand to be put back together if “…all the king’s horses and men” could even do it. Never had the little fairy tale been more true of anyone, I thought. I saw myself like the picture in my daughter’s little book I read to her as a baby, Humpty Dumpty was among her favorites. It pictured an egg fallen off a wall with a gathered crowd wondering what to do. They didn’t seem to know anymore than I did as I signed forms that I could not identify to this day–a broken egg spilling my insides all over the page.
The sun came through dusty blinds in a building half the size of a gas station with files crammed and spilling over two messy desks in an open room. Every file had someone’s story. I wondered how many were like ours. I thought of custody paperwork for children, death notices for creditors, houses lost, lives torn up that ended with a tidy raised stamp underneath the name and signature of a person none of us knew. It’s odd how some of life’s most important moments are silent and unassuming.
After we limped out of there holding each other up, he did what he so often did from our first date until then, “You hungry?” He asked. Just like I had done from our first date to then, I said, “Sure,” even though I wasn’t. We drove somewhere I can’t remember and got what he cutely called ” a bite to eat” and I drank wine-a lot of wine. He looked at me with his tired face, “We don’t have to do this if it’s not what you want. I don’t want it. It’s not too late.” I couldn’t answer. I left him hanging with the question in the air and changed the subject. So maddening. But I didn’t answer because I didn’t have an answer that made any sense. I had a hunch that his and my life would eventually be better separate than together. I stopped sleeping and took to walking around the house at night looking out different windows for some other answer or view. I locked myself in closets with my hand over my mouth yelling while I muffled my own sounds, “I don’t want to be married. I don’t want to be someone’s wife.” That’s all I could come up with. I felt un-free, not jailed- just not free. I had a recurring dream of walking by myself, of sitting with my dusty shoes up on a railing, packing for a trip, walking with a backpack and every other image you could imagine of being alone. It didn’t feel personal. I didn’t divorce out of anger but more out of despair. I couldn’t see myself anymore as the life I lived. So I struck a match and burned twenty three years of history on the belief that my path moved a different direction than his without knowing what direction that might be.
On this day three years after that day in the Notary office he decided his path would take him up a different hill holding hands with someone else.
He fumbled with his long, tan fingers which had held our children, our grandchild and me as he spoke. Those hands had planted flowers under the tree in front of our dining room window, had taught the kids to swim, had cradled kittens and dogs and had carried box after box during our countless moves for my career and restless spirit. I had put us through so much. I stood motionless observing the details of him knowing this was the last intimate conversation we would share. Like the first time I saw him my mind stopped and locked in place. I could not stop looking at him or loving him.
I remember the stillness of the air in his little house and how the light came through his window and played with the dust as it twirled around him. Our dog slept lazily on what had been our “big bed” as the children called it. The dog, the bed, him–all part of a life I wouldn’t be living anymore or even seeing.
I thought us moving to separate houses would leave me without breath the year before when I watched his small U-Haul pull out of our shared driveway alone. I felt like I couldn’t get my heart to beat. But it did beat, I did breathe and nothing happened. I watched the truck go without a sound. I watched what had been my life driving away. I did not die, the earth did not stand still. I grieved. That’s all. I don’t think anyone but me even noticed.
The cottage he rented, where he drove that little U-Haul was the neighbor to the house my daughter and I rented. Though we didn’t live in the same house we were still close. The comfort of that gave me hope that maybe somehow it could all be put back together but feel differently. The years of sharing everything had worn us into the same person and we liked the same things–even when we moved separately we did it together without meaning to. When he told me his place was actually next door to mine, rented without knowing where I was going, he thought I would be mad. I found it to be a sweet fate. We shared a driveway again. I was delighted. I could go through with this but not have to lose him. We stored our commonly held items, the kids old papers, files of former house deeds, tax returns, birth certificates, two hundred pictures drawn by the children and three hundred essays with “Nice Job!” scrawled across the top in some teacher’s hand in my daughter, grand daughter and my garage. He would walk over and grab things as he wanted. He pulled our trash cans out to the curb for us and hung out in the back yard on weekends. Our son would visit and roam between houses in basketball shorts barefoot. Nothing changed that much. He still had me and I had him.
Until I didn’t have him. It was right around the time I lost your mom and you. You moved away. I lived alone for the first time in my life. I felt afraid and unsure. I believed I would never recover. I went through the motions of work without knowing how I got there. I lost myself to a kind of blankness. Weird fears cropped up, I feared my shower, I had no appetite, I hoped for car accidents that killed me. I secretly ran red lights at night.
I got what I dreamed. I was not married, not belonging to anyone and I fell through deep space into the frost of a dark and unknown world. There were no dreams but nightmares.
I didn’t see it coming. I got the divorce but he ended the relationship. I knew your mom was an adult and would take you away one day–but one day seemed a long time from now until it was now.
I suffered and didn’t seem to be healing. I sat in your empty room and let the hours pass. I heard your voice. I smelled the softness of your hair after a bath, I slept on the floor where the side of the bed I occupied for story time had been. I bought food you and your mom liked. I cooked it and poured wine. I drank the wine and threw the food away. I slept in my clothes and woke up for hours in the night afraid to move.
I lost myself to grief in a way I didn’t understand as possible. I had no one to blame but me. I wanted to hurt myself and I often did. I stood in front of my mirror and slapped myself-hard-across the face. I pulled my hair, I called myself ugly names and I drank until I passed out. I lived with the grief and hate of me and the knowledge that I should have seen it coming. Why didn’t I see it? Why didn’t I know that without the life I understood I would be…nothing?
We are set up for this as women. We are raised on Disney Princesses and the prince who saves us, awakens us with love. We are told our wedding day is “The most important day in a girl’s life.” Our father’s give us away as if we belong to everyone but ourselves. Marriage is a patriarchal and religious construct. It’s how property gets transferred, how work is exchanged and monetized and how value is set. Women are taught that we are better and more valuable in a union than on our own.
Without knowing that I believed that I must have. Everything in me said I had made the worst, most unforgivable decision of a lifetime.
But I still did it. I couldn’t remember why anymore.
I just knew I wanted to be free. When he introduced me as “his wife”, sometimes without my name, my blood would boil, “So that’s who I am? Your wife? That’s it. No one but your wife?” He didn’t understand, “Don’t you want to be my wife?” Without answering openly I knew the answer was that I did not want to be his wife or anyone’s “wife.” I wanted to be a human without a title that defined me as the second sex.
I could not win. If I stayed home and looked after the house and kids I had no say in my life. If I worked and earned the income I had no say in those best parts of home and family either. As long as I played along I would perhaps benefit someone but not me. Long term I wondered what that said to our children and to me about being a full person. I wanted to be equal but I could not be. Not in the traditional confines of our marriage. No matter what we did it always defaulted to that.
You can have a lot my dear one but it turns out you cannot actually have everything. I chose what I needed most but it didn’t stop me from being broken by that decision because I was–I was broken for some time.
I gave notice at my job which was the one thing holding me together. I wanted to get it over with. I knew if I kept that job instead of shattering all at once I would do it piece by piece year after year and it would be too late to put me back together–if that could even happen. I didn’t know at the time if it could. I lacked evidence but some healthy part of me must have hoped. I talked a good game about self discovery while I beat myself literally at night alone. But that talk was still in me. It still existed or I couldn’t have spoken it. I still aspired to a sort of freedom I couldn’t describe. Deep under that madness I had belief in me.
I’ll tell you something else. If it wasn’t for smoking pot I might not have come out the other side. When I pulled out my little bit of weed and let my body relax, the pain was manageable. Marijuana also lightened my mood. I could laugh at myself when I smoked and I could eat. I drank less wine and smoked more. It got me through. I noticed when I had weed I didn’t hate myself as much, the beatings stopped. I had empathy for my situation. I could get up the next day and feel okay.
I started to find the courage to ask myself the questions I avoided and feared: when all our stories don’t matter anymore, when we have no one to tell them to, what is left? Did they happen? If you are the last one-who is left to hear you? Who bears witness? My memories attached to nothing. They were kites without string which flew far above the see-able sky. No one could talk about the things that held me together. The children moved on, my husband moved on, my dad died and my mom had dementia. The scribes left to write their own stories. I only had me to tell my secrets to.
Twenty three years, two children, one grandchild, three houses, countless jobs, family, friends and a garage full of hand painted ceramics and coffee cups, a collection of little houses, a thousand little scraps of paper with notes and pictures all belonged to an emptiness so heavy neither my former husband nor I could hold it. We had carried it together and now it belonged to no one. He spent so many weekends sorting it all out and labeling boxes. So many times he moved those things across the country.
There was the little plug in Christmas tree which had googly eyes and an awkward mouth singing Christmas songs. He named it “Doug Fir” and we loved it. He bought Doug on a snowy night in Santa Fe for our hotel room as we moved across the country. He paced the freezing streets in a place he’d never been looking for a tree and found this last one in a shop window on Christmas eve. The clerk nearly didn’t sell it to him but he begged. He proudly brought it to the room and completed his window display as the children slept. He smiled all through it, so happy to have “saved Christmas” as I described it year after year when we told the story in bringing out that little tree. As a tiny wobbling toddler you danced to the tree’s song and his face carried that same smile all over again. Doug was in one of those boxes. I couldn’t bear thinking of it.
Now those boxes, our lives together, Doug, were all orphaned like the kites of memory, like me, they had no context and nothing to hold them in place. We cleaned the garage out together and took a few precious remains to a storage unit. We couldn’t even talk that day. We just moved and kept moving. He waived good bye from his car as he pulled away. It was the last thing we did together.
Love brings hardship. Freedom brings pain. Any choice you make excludes a different choice.
So then, is love wrong? Should I have seen him that first day and never spoken to him? Should I have tamed my restless spirit and been a better wife? If either of those options were possible, then perhaps. But what was possible happened. What happens is what’s possible.
Even after all the hurt I do not wish for anything different. I was lucky to love like that and lucky to hurt like that and when I made a decision to support who I wanted to be, I was lucky to have a partner willing to support me in both times.
I wanted to love something bigger than him or me. I wanted to love the whole world. I still want that.