Monday, November 1, 2010

What I learned Last Time

When I walked onto the plane I didn't know I was leaving my husband. I just thought I was going to work. Even when the plane touched down, I thought everything was fine. However, by the time I finished the two and a half hour drive home I knew something wasn't right.

I was supposed to be managing our business in Alaska. This was a long business trip and nothing more. We'd worked hard to build our little gallery in the woods, and even a move to Seattle couldn't make us close its doors. We decided to keep our business open during the summer months, and I volunteered to be the one to go back.

It was early May and past midnight when I arrived at our house. It was cold outside and we were out of heating oil, but I didn't care. I was far too exhausted to even crawl up the stairs to our bed. Instead, I dropped my groceries on the kitchen floor, fell onto the futon, and burrowed under our down comforter.

That was where my friends found me three days later, the groceries still in bags on the linoleum, and with Sex in the City playing around the clock. I'd made no effort to contact my husband and had lived off one big pot of spaghetti I'd made halfway through day one. I was alone for the first time in years, and I didn't know what to do. What I did know was I had a big, big problem. I did not miss him; I did not care he was gone. Being alone felt right, like a warm bath after a long race.

At my husband's advice, two days later I found a roommate. He came into the gallery with one of my friends from out of town looking for a place to stay during fishing season. They'd found him a camper just outside of town, but he wasn't really looking forward to spending two hundred bucks a month for a place with no toilet.

The boy was fresh-faced and quiet, just my type. I looked him up and down and said something like, "Well, if you don't smoke pot, you can live with me." 

He smiled. "I've never even tried the stuff." 

I asked, "But you do drink, though, right? I plan to be at the Fairview every night and I need company." 

He replied, "I'll be on the stool next to you." 

Three days later he moved in.

So began an endless summer. The type folks write movies about with slow lamenting songs. My roommate and I became fast friends with a perfect living arrangement: I cooked, he cleaned, and we both went out until 4 a.m. At first this caused plenty of scandal. I knew it would. How could it not in a town of six hundred where I had lived all my life? Here I was, showing up after eight months without my husband and living with a guy none of them had ever met. I didn't try to change their minds. I didn't care.

The freedom I felt made my heart hurt. It was amazing to live with only myself to care for. I started writing again, amazing things. Things I didn't know I could feel anymore came pouring out across the page. I worked my butt off during the day, and then I played harder than ever during the night. At the end of the evening I would fall into the middle of the bed and take up every single inch with just me. I loved it.

Why would a married woman do such a thing? Even more, why would she like it? It's pretty simple really; I am far more than just a married woman. I am me: a lover of solitude, independence, and my own thoughts. And that summer I had the chance to remember who that was. Luckily, I married a man who understood that. 

As soon as I told him, "I don't know when or if I am coming back," he said, "Do whatever you need to do, baby. I'll work and pay for everything. Wherever you go, I'll come to you there."

What, you might ask, would make a husband respond like that when his wife is living with a man he doesn't know and said she might not come back? Honestly, I have no idea either. It seems pretty crazy to me, but that was his story and he was sticking to it. He just let me go.

It took three months for things to really hit the fan. Eleven years of my pent-up rage finally turned on him with the force of a thousand storms. During my time away, I'd found my soul again and I was in love with life for the first time in years. I was willing to fight to the death to keep a solid grip on my heart, even if it meant fighting the love of my life.

Daily e-mail and phone calls shot back and forth in rapid fire. I was at war and held nothing back. All my suppressed rage poured over him in waves, the miles working like a conduit. Life had not been easy for us and it had taken its toll. There wasn't any part of me that wanted to go back to the way things were, so I just shot until I was empty and waited to see who was left standing.

Then, out of the blue, a surprising thing happened. He got angry.

It had been over ten years since I'd seen him fight for anything. Ever since he was nineteen and saw his father murdered, he refused to feel anger. Then after he saw my mom die in a motorcycle accident, he just refused to feel at all. Instead of bothering with all his pesky emotions, he just clung to me as if I was the last dinghy on the Titanic.  I, in turn, had kept us afloat. Now we were dead in the water and I was starting to sink under his weight. In a last-ditch effort to save us both, I was cutting him loose. 

I told him, "It’s over, baby. You've got to sink or swim. Make your choice, me or the pain. I'm not coming home."

For the next two months, he raged. His letters were disoriented and scary. His nightmares came back with a vengeance, and he began spending late nights in bars with the only men who could understand his stories, Vietnam vets. I lost all hope for our marriage and began making other plans. I loved him too much to stay and hate him, but I could not live for both of us anymore.

At the end of the summer he came for a visit, a quick trip to deal with the business and decide where I would live when I got back to Seattle. As I waited to see him for the first time in months, my heart twisted into many little knots. What do you do with a husband you've decided to leave? A man you have loved since you were eighteen? 

As he walked off the airplane, handsome and calm as a cool winter's night, I looked deep into his clear blue eyes and saw the boy I had fallen in love with eleven years before dancing behind the eyes of a man I’d only just met. For the first time since my mom died, he looked at me. His gaze went right past his fear, right past his anger, and right into me. I'd forgotten what I looked like in his eyes. There I was, strong and capable, a person in my own right, no longer his salvation. I was human again, just his friend, just a person. That was when I knew exactly what I was going to do with him. Go home.

Is this “happily ever after”? I certainly doubt it. Life doesn't stop happening just because you find yourself or each other for a moment. There are most certainly many more traumas ahead, twists in the road where we’ll get off track. But I know that no matter how far I roam, he will always come to join me right where I am.

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