Saturday, February 15, 2014. Twenty nine years of my life is a long time. I am 62 – so for nearly half of this time I have been the ex-wife of Joe. We were married for 10 years, marrying days before my 23rd birthday and days after Joe’s 24th. We were young. I didn’t FEEL young but then I never WAS young.
We met 3 years before we married. I married him because he asked me. I had already been married and divorced and had a 3-year-old daughter. I remember thinking, “Yes, I will marry him because I don’t believe anyone else will ever ask me and I know he will be a good father.”
We never dated. He never courted me. I never was given a wedding ring. (This was true for both of my marriages.)
Because there are family times now (as I have mentioned in recent posts) when Joe is present I am facing a host of circumstances from my past with him that have never in the past 30 years been dealt with. For example, I could sum up that huge segment of my life in these words: “I did not know any better.”
Those words also cover the fact that while I was married I still had no way to recognize the horrors of my childhood or that I had ever “been abused” at all. I had no information. I had no point of reference or of comparison. I simply accepted “my lot in life” without complaint and did the very best I could with what was available to me.
I find I have to ask myself today – as I seem to have no choice but to ask — “Would I be better off today if I had not sat next to that man at the humble family Valentine’s Day dinner at my daughter’s house last night – with her husband and the two young grandsons (ages 19 months and almost 4) present?”
Was I prepared for the gentle tone of complex conversation between Joe and I that just happened to take place as we stayed at the kitchen table together for an hour and a half after dinner last night? COULD I have been prepared? HOW, In God’s sacred name, exactly HOW can anyone prepare for — LIFE — as it plays itself out with movements of dance steps that nobody ever learns and knows — when the time shows up for us to dance them?
“We were really poor while we were married,” Joe came out with — out of nowhere in my universe — last night.
Oh, in God’s holy name AGAIN — were we poor! Was I poor in ways that had NOTHING whatsoever to do with the fact that there was so little money coming into our humble home during those ten years.
I knew a kind of sorrow in my heart then that is the same sorrow I live with now — amplified as it is and has been through all the experiences of my life thus far. As unknown, unseen horrible traumas from the first 18 years of my life circled then as vultures (and yes, that word and the image of those birds did arise in conversation last night as I was shown a photograph being entered by Joe in a local art show of such a bird sharing a metal roof in a starkly elegant picture with a coal black crow) circle above both the dead and the potentially dead.
Was I dead during those years of marriage I shared with this man?
Yes. Through no fault of my own and certainly not through fault of Joe.
Does anyone ever get through a marriage and then a divorce without that word – that word – FAULT – finding its way into what is central in one’s life?
I sewed and cooked and canned and gardened and cleaned past the edge of immaculate during those years. I did the very best with what I had been given as I always had. And again — I did not complain.
It strikes me today that COMPLAINING — having the ability to COMPLAIN — is a gift that I as a survivor of 18 years of horrific infant-child abuse had to EARN by looking – finally – into the darkness.
Yet not one single time last night did my POWER to complain, even inwardly, come to my rescue as allusions both direct and subtle to those years of my life with this man floated around that dinner table last night.
Could I think, “Gee, it would have been nice to have been appreciated for what I so willingly did and tried to do for my children — and for YOU — during those years of poverty.”
Could I ask even of myself, “Do you look back with any appreciation NOW?”
I did not ask what lay behind the troubled emotions I could so clearly detect in this gentle man as he spoke those words to me. Some part of me feels like I lost the right to ask this man anything about ‘then’ in the now. Today I realize I am doing now what I was so good at doing back then. I listen. What troubles me about this pattern is that it’s so familiar!
I listen. I don’t fight back with my words. I notice, sense, absorb — and feel great sorrow.
For WHAT exactly I am not yet sure.
There seems to be the same uneven ground underneath me that I knew back then when his family supported HIM against ME and that was simply – that.
Who is “on my side” even now? Why would it matter to me if anyone was “on my side?” How much of even asking this question is directly tied to the long years of abuse I suffered when NOBODY was on my side?
Yet I can see some kind of voiceless, soundless suffering in the being of this gentle man. I recognize it. His suffering – if it does exist – is not my concern. It is not my business. That he seems to be divorcing and thus ending in some ways the 30+ year relationship he had with “that other woman” must have concerned me in my very troubled dreams last night. I asked him in one dream if he was divorced yet. He simply replied to me as if talking to a brick wall, “That’s the plan.”
It came up in the dream because there was another man present who wanted to know if the divorce was final because if it was then HE could – in word only – claim to be my partner now so HE could get a 20% couple’s discount off of a great deal of lumber he wanted to purchase at a local lumber yard. (Joe is an ace carpenter and has made a living off his hard, hard work and great, great skill all his adult life – and still does.)
(How in the tangled world of my dreams did Joe’s divorcing “her” have anything to do with “freeing” ME as this dream suggested?)
That’s all I am – in my OWN dreams? A pawn to gain a discount on a lumber purchase for a total stranger?
I am of the generation that blew like flecks of dust in a windstorm through the onset and finalization of “The Women’s Liberation Movement.” I crossed a threshold during my marriage to Joe as I accidentally discovered that the humble, honest, sincere efforts women put into keeping a home and taking care of children were WORTH NOTHING to the men who benefited from that labor.
As we were divorcing (and before I found out Joe had been chasing around with another woman for 3 years without my knowledge) Joe said to me, “The biggest mistake I made in our marriage was not making you go out and get a job.”
So NOW – these 30 years later — where lies that sentiment in any context of the poverty of our family back then? Where does it lie in the reality that I trashed my home down south to come up here to live in this tiny window-impaired apartment locked in a trap with horrendous frigid wind chills week after week so that I could do NOW for at least one of my baby grandsons what I did so well for our children back then — stay home and love him 100% during the day so that he can come out of these early developmental years being the very best human being he can be?
A long-worded question!
Do I have “issues” with wanting (or needing?) to be appreciated for what I work to offer to the well-being of others I care about?
I don’t approve of WANTING to be appreciated!! Either I do what I choose to do because I want to — or I don’t. Being appreciated (in my inner Linda-bashing circles) SHOULD not be a part of the picture.
And then there is that word SHOULD – which I learned long ago is an inner landmine word that again connects to freely making choices.
Yet again — I am not sure that severe infant-child abuse survivors ever live in any kind of “ordinary” choice-making world. The blunt force of the trauma we endured and survived relays itself into and through every aspect of our life. Looking back being a trauma survivor (which means, bottom-line, BEING ALIVE at all!) just simply includes the fact that I entered my adulthood not only missing all the goodness I needed to receive to make it through childhood in a healthy way — but I also made it to adulthood having spent the life force of ten thousand lifetimes just plain surviving what happened to me at all.
There was NOTHING left over! But I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life when I so KNEW that fact as I know it right now!
I am realizing that I used the fact I could walk out my door 365 days a year in the high desert I just left in comfort to FEED, heal, sustain myself in nearly every way just by being in that place in that climate. I stripped my own sustenance from myself by moving to this physical location. I know that now.
I guessed before I came here that something was going to change for me. I could not predict exactly what. Would I make the same choice again knowing what I know now – how fragile and tired and depleted I feel here — in order to spend these most valuable precious days with my little grandson?
Being in the presence of the rest of my family here is also wonderful. I did not predict that Joe would so closely be connected to that family in my life. No, not only connected. BE a part of that family.
Family is about shared history. History past. History being made in the present. I swear. I did not plan this.
I just thought about a dream I had 29 years ago after the divorce between Joe and I became final. I was living in a solid old farmhouse on a peaceful bluff surrounded by gorgeous fields within a circle of healthy trees – green and thriving. In the dream Joe drove up my driveway. Parked. I stood at my living room window watching him approach my front door.
He knocked. I do not remember any exchange of words between us other than my saying, “Come. This way.”
I walked with him around the outside of the house to the back where I showed him the addition I had built for him there. A comfortable room with old lace on the curtains, a fine old quilt on a single bed, a kerosene lamp on a small table with a polished glass chimney.
This place was his. There were still a few studs showing in the walls. The construction was not yet complete. (Hum, lumber again.) I knew he would be this close to me and a part of my life for the rest of our lives. I knew we would each come and go — separately.
Maybe now — all these years later — he is coming knocking and I will show him that room.
Here is our first book out in ebook format. A very kind professional graphic artist is going to revise our cover probono – what a gift and thank you Ben!o Click here to view or purchase: A STORY WITHOUT WORDS
It lists for $2.99 and can be read free for Amazon Prime customers. Reviews for the book on the Amazon.com site are WELCOME and appreciated!
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