Wed 16 Nov 2011
Oh how I wish I were a trinity, so if I lost a part of me, I’d still have two of the same to live
But nobody gets a lifetime rehearsal, as specks of dust we’re universal
To let this love survive would be the greatest gift that we could give.
– The Indigo Girls
the seasons of endings always make things feel so fragile.
separation. leaving. d-d-divorce: the word that only gets easy to use when it’s over. these all come as a surprise, every time, even when maybe they shouldn’t. when you are outside the circle of two, there are always permutations of possibility, of choice, beyond your capacity or your point of view. i try not to assume i know what people will do. i have been wrong before.
this past week or two, though, there have been five announcements. FIVE. five separate endings. friends and acquaintances, each with their own stories, who came to the end of their own particular ropes of embeddedness, at least in the incarnations they knew them.
my heart swelled up like a balloon. for each heart involved, but for hearts in general. so many broken dreams. by the fourth, i was gasping. with the fifth, i felt the wind blow through everything.
Dave looked at me and said, eyebrow raised, anything you want to tell me?
because that’s the problem with endings. they remind you that the structures which hold you are not pre-ordained.
(okay, maybe yours are. i won’t argue.)
a friend says, it’s over, and – if you are me, at least – you nod and your forehead wrinkles and you try to smooth it out and look really calm and unshocked and like you totally have the shoulders to take this whole conversation and the horse it rode in on.
and you do. it is their tragedy or release. or both.
but in that one first moment, you are always faking it. the human brain is just plain surprised by the math. even when you stand outside the circle, One becomes Two is monumental logic.
(even if it IS you, in my experience, it comes as a surprise. oh, you say, shaking with shock or relief or betrayal or just the surreality of that impossible absence, the empty place where the other was.)
when there’s something in the water and relationships are crashing like flies, people don’t much like that reminder about their own velvet bonds. one of the cruelest things about going through a divorce or separation is the way people pull back, as if you’ve gotten cooties. they don’t want to tread, true. but they also don’t want you to be catching.
and the truth of it is, you ARE.
because like living things, relationships die. and they die like dominoes, one-two-three. Domino Theory works far more potently behind the closed doors of everyday houses than it ever did in geopolitics. the abrupt turns in others’ maps have a profound weight, a shock, like a seismic event.
i remember the first time. i was still in college, slogging through those first years of my so-called adulthood, my hands out and groping blind for some shape of a life that might await me. first love. then first relationship. not precisely with the same person. i was late coming to it all and i dove in headfirst and found myself floundering, gulping, aghast and naked. you cannot stand so easily when you have given a part of yourself away, i learned.
and then a bunch of friends split up all at once and you find yourself in a bus with a Walkman and The Waterboys, weeping aloud at the writing on the wall.
it happened again when i was twenty-eight. i had been around a block or two and thought i knew better than to build my nest on the structures of other people’s stability. then friends split and a mentor left her long-time husband and my knees went weak because in the holes they left behind i recognized my own unhappiness, and an abyss.
my marriage was over within the year.
it’s not that simple, of course.
my marriage ended in the damp, cool dining room of a cheap Bangkok hotel, over white triangles of toast served with jam and canned whipping cream.
as with a long illness, this death had been coming. the year before, looking into the abyss had horrified me. but i kept peeking, worrying at the scab that tried to grow over the view. i had no map, no model for what i was looking for. i knew i loved him, though too much like a brother. i knew i felt smaller and smaller the longer we stumbled along. i knew i felt contempt settling into the cracks between us and the idea of living like that for another fifty or so years made the panic rise up in my chest.
thus i had accepted the end of my marriage, even come to believe in its necessity. i had just not known how to perform the execution. i kept waiting for an accident. death by toast with canned petroleum product eventually sufficed. it was polite and sad and bewildering, when it came.
the death of a fragile thing is always sad, even when it unburdens you.
most of us in this culture no longer have maps for marriage and relationships. the old maps were that you got what you got and you sucked it up and made the best of it. it is better now, of course: most of us have more agency than our great-grandmothers in this regard. but a very different responsibility.
it is one thing to hold out resilience and endurance as the only choices, and to call them happiness. it is another to dangle fairy tales and infinite possibility. make your own way, we are told. and we do, the hordes of us, cobbling together our lives from hope and scraps and whatever lessons we’ve been handed. but it is hard to make maps as you go, especially ones that have no culturally-imposed limits. the road to happiness and love can be as broad and as deep as your imagination. this is a gift, people, and a curse.
it is a curse because our loves are always fragile things, vulnerable to the possibility of more. it is a gift because the possibility of more is mostly real.
i am less afraid of the dominoes these days. not because i am smug and sure that we will never be among them…i gave up on betting in those stakes a long time ago. i don’t believe in happily ever after.
my map is a wrinkled thing, now, scribbled in the margins, torn in a few places. i keep revising it as i go. it got easier to use when i stopped thinking it had to look pretty.
somewhere in the early days, when Dave & i were first together and it was heady and beautiful and oh-so-not-where-i’d-imagined-myself, i sat one day and looked around and tried to take stock of what it was that was working, finally, that was different from everywhere i’d been before.
i said it aloud to him and he laughed at me, because it was not the most romantic statement ever made:
i feel like i’m not looking over the back fence anymore.
there it was. and still is. such was my luck. i like to think i’d have found that place in life, on my own – and with age, i am slowly coming to it in multiple arenas – but he was a gift, indubitably. a messy gift, currently sporting a moustache.
thus on my map, “happy” is a messy country, populated with more resilience and endurance than i’d ever imagined it would need. and love is no longer a destination. it’s the luggage.
fragile, yes. but there is life after happily ever after, even after the dominoes topple. there is more, always more. just in case, in this season of endings, it helps to hear.
what does your map look like? what shapes it? how have these seasons of others’ endings – if they’ve come – impacted you?