This week, my psychiatrist called the pain I am going through “eviscerating.”
I felt relieved when he said that. I felt seen. I felt like it was allowed, my pain, and that he had seen it to be the ugly and brutal presence I am choked with.
My dear friend Wolfie (whom I’ve taken to calling ‘My Dear Friend Wolfie,’ as if it were a title, as if I’ve beknighted her, which, probably, I should have), has been an attentive ally in these last weeks, sending me poems and quotes and wisdom and a few emails in which she’s leaned forward toward me, wagging her finger, saying “No!” to the creeping vines of regret which are curling themselves around my internal organs, creating a dull but persistent nausea.
See her thought-provoking comment, and hear the certainty with which she tells me to reject the shame. “It is a terrible stone you needn’t carry.”
Shame. Am I feeling shame?
Yes. Yes, I am.
I don’t feel ashamed that I am a single mom twice over. But I do feel this:
shame /SHām/ A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
Painful: check. Distress: check. Humiliation? Yes. But wait, don’t quarrel with me yet. Distress: Well, clearly. “Caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Check. Wrong? No. Wrong-headed? Yes. Foolish? Yes.
Everything I needed to know about my ex-boyfriend, I knew when he moved in. I knew he was too recently divorced, unclear about his life path, barely supporting himself, a dreamer, not too good at the realities and banalities of life (bills, housecleaning, laundry), not someone compelled toward stability. In fact, he largely ended up living with Zack and me because his lease came up (and had been coming up for months and months) and he hadn’t made other plans. And so I suggested, then he resisted, I rallied, making a good case for all the reasons why it was a good idea, and he said yes. Or, did he acquiesce?
Doesn’t matter. I do believe he was up for the experiment.
But I wasn’t experimenting. I was trying to make BE what I wanted to BE. And he, predictably, wasn’t able to be in that mindset. That wasn’t who he was; that wasn’t where he was.
Moving day was a complete and utter disaster, due to his lack of planning (oh, so much worse than you could even imagine, involving leaving furniture strewn on the streets of two neighborhoods in Brooklyn amid two-foot snowbanks, losing a deposit for a studio for his piano—because the piano wouldn’t fit, which I’d asked him to check… you can hear the hectoring in my voice already, and he’s not even in the apartment yet). I had to keep swallowing my disbelief that day. But I did swallow it. Because I was seeing only what I wanted to see. I was willing myself to un-see what was right in front of me.
That is why I feel shame. Because I knew my mistake, even before it became a mistake. Because I had dozens and dozens of moments in our relationship—before he moved in, after he moved in—where I felt the yawning gap of how we walked through life. I told myself elaborate stories that made it all make sense—I was volatile in personality and stable in circumstance; he was calm in personality and unstable in circumstance. But he was also uncertain, perpetually uncertain, about everything, and always about us, too. He loved us, yes, he did, but he couldn’t commit to a life.
Do you see now why I am ashamed? Why would I put myself—and my son!!—into this circumstance? Because I believe in wishful thinking? Because I believed if Derek came to need me and rely on me he would finally really love me in the way I wanted him to? Folly. (Folly and foolish are neighbors, you see.)
But I told myself it was fine, and fell into the familiar territory of getting by with less than I wanted, less than I needed: less certainty and security, less open affection, less planning and dreaming. (Well, and then, of course, there was the whole book-being-publishing-mom-goes-into-hospital-it’s-cancer-dad-goes-into-hospital-freak-brain-infection-life-as-I-know-it-ends-resign-from-Redbook-start-driving-to-from-Philadelphia-four-five-six-times-a-week thing, which made it hard to see anything straight.)
If my parents hadn’t gotten sick, we might have ended our adventure in three months.
If my parents hadn’t gotten sick, we might have found a way to meet in the middle.
If my parents hadn’t gotten sick, I wouldn’t have had to depend on him so much, I wouldn’t have been so on edge, I wouldn’t have lost my shit over dishes in the sink and socks on the floor, I wouldn’t have cried all night long, saying things that made him afraid of how much “darkness” was inside me.
If my parents hadn’t gotten sick, we would have lived a different story.
If my parents hadn’t gotten sick and died, this breakup wouldn’t be carrying the full weight of an atomic blast (well beyond just the deaths of my parents) that went off in my life back in 2010, and the aftershocks of which are still ringing.
But the truth is, even when I could see so clearly where we did not fit, I still wanted to believe the tectonic plates of our lives would shift and knit neatly together. He was—is—so many things: gentle, wise, beautiful, masculine, the most well-read person I’d ever met, a dreamer, determined to live life by his own rules. Our souls clicked, in such a quietly, deeply resonant way. But our lives didn’t.
And actually, My Dear Friend Wolfie, now that you’ve prodded me to think it all out—which I’ve done, stream-of-consciousness-style, right here, for your pleasure!—I can see that the truth is that the feeling of how our souls met and were lit up by each other was something I would never have been able not to pursue. Never. Never. Never.
I had to chase that feeling, even if it meant chasing it to its sad and awful end.
Possibility is a promise not fully made, a beautiful maybe.
He was my beautiful maybe.
And when I look at it all that way, I don’t feel ashamed. Wounded, bruised, tentative, unsure. Heartbroken. Truly heartbroken, with tears in my eyes, as I type this on a plane, 10,000 feet above the earth.
I am bloodied. And bowed. (Which actually isn’t a word, but…) Definitely bowed. But I will go ahead and set down that heavy stone called shame. I’ve got plenty of other weight to carry.