Submitted by: Big Little Wolf
I was never married, though it was something like marriage.
Perhaps I should say that I was married, and he was not. We had documents of our joining, we had a wedding – and it was a happy one. I thought that was a good sign. I remember the way that he looked at me and his grin was wide and his eyes were not veiled that evening; I believe the smile was genuine. But I was a possession, an expedited means to an end. I did not know that then.
Two clergymen from two very different faiths placed my hand in his, blessed the rings on our fingers, gave him permission to take, and me to give. We became what I thought was a timeless unit, a present sweetened, a family future. And something I never had. Safety.
After the ceremony he flitted from friend to friend and I remember feeling alone, and it stabbed at me, and I told myself he’s just happy and sociable, so smile – it will be alright.
Then there was a honeymoon on an island in the Aegean, and even there I sensed it, and set it aside. There was sun and wind and quiet time alone after the chaos of a wedding, yet it was not what I envisioned; we were there, but somehow separate. He spent his time reading, and I walked by myself for hours, along craggy beaches, then sandy ones, picking my way through couples braving the few hours of heat and then the wind; they were chatting and caressing each other in the sun and nip of an autumn air approaching, and we would also sun together, on our little terrace. There was making love, efficiently enough, and nightly. And I knew that already that, too, had changed, and I set it aside. I would focus on other pleasures, memorizing his cheeks as he slept, the symmetrical dipping downward of his brows, the full lips that resembled his mother’s, and I was overcome with the beauty of him and told myself everything is alright.
There was silence, an overly generous silence, punctuated with stories and laughter. And there was an impenetrable wall and I had no knowledge then of walls except my own, unable to scale my own, unaware of the work required to disassemble them. What I perceived as patience and time to know each other differently was, I realized later, indifference.
Waters churn and waters flatten
I am not made to live at the unruffled surface of calm waters. I am made for diversity, for the depths and their discoveries, for swimming through reefs and caves, kelp and coral, then for floating on my back and feeling buoyant, staring at the blue of the sky and guessing at the forms of each cloud like a child, reaching outward for a hand. A beloved.
I am not made for the glassy surface.
I fell in love in the wake of my father’s sudden death, in the storm of it, in the deep pit of lost places of self and disconnection, orphaned from any chance at stability, thrust into an empty room where I became the three-legged chair and teetered and only the monster’s voice remained: no one will love you, no one will love you, no one will love you.
In the rage of the monster and the god of the monster the child becomes the prophesy, trampled and deafened, punctured and left to bleed, starved because the monster swallows the air and plunders, plunders again, and here is her proof: no one will love you. In the fury of the monster, in the wake of death, you cling to anything like love. Anything like love.
And then there was something like marriage.
Once upon a time
I must have been the woman he wanted once; he likes surface and intelligence. It is an odd combination, but he must feel safe there, and in control, and he is all about control. So I bubbled along the surface and at the time wanted to remain there, happy to remain there, weary of the bottom of the depths, of grief and blindness. So perhaps he fell in love with a woman whom he thought lived at the surface as he did, and so I take my blame as I should. I must have been the woman he wanted once.
But he is a man who lives at the surface and I was only floating there to heal; he is a man who will not dive or explore, a man who sees the world as friend or enemy, and once you cross some unseen line you become the enemy. To the man I loved, I became the enemy, and I will never fully understand how or why. And I couldn’t know that then, on that stark island in a lapis sea. We did what we were supposed to do. The motions of a marriage, begun.
And I told myself it will be alright.
With the gift of this thing that was something like a marriage came a family, his family, and I adored them. They were everything I no longer had, that I never had, spilling over with ebullient tales and heated discussions that were never about hurt. Hours at the long table in a spacious room, in a real home simmering with ideas and language, teasing and parables, food and drink and smiles that were surely genuine. And I thought: yes, this will work. We will work. And though I saw glimpses of problems I told myself there will always be problems and as weddings and gatherings and years turned into something like a marriage I pushed away the facts and falsity and after all, the deed was done and there were babies and I said to myself there will always be problems but it will be alright.
In the morning there should be music
This morning I listened to a half-drunk love song and I realized we had no song; we had moments of song, very early, and too few, but I am not sure if they were real or just imagined because I needed to imagine they were real.
But I was the only one in a marriage. I was married and he was not, and while I had an experience of marriage it was more like living the framework of a polished thing viewed only from the outside or through the fog of my sleeplessness. It was a structure that had no materials to support weight, no brick and mortar to endure time, and yet we endured, politely, for many years, perhaps because he traveled more and more and was not there and when he was, he was not there for me, though perhaps he would say the same – that I was not there for him.
I wonder now if I was there at all, in my pain and sleeplessness that he dismissed which made the gulf between us grow. I wonder if I was there at all in the woman he must have seen when he came home, the woman who did not laugh or live on the surface like the woman he fell in love with if indeed he ever really fell in love, and I know I was the means to an end. And now I wonder if there ever was love, or something like love.
But it was a pretty structure of rooms, and the appearance of being furnished, though I think only the boys’ rooms were truly filled with sufficiency, and it was I who furnished them and of that I am certain. But when they were babies, he would hold them and sleep. I’d pass a bottle, exhausted, but he would sleep. I’d place a son of his name and lineage on his chest; his body would settle in around the infant and cradle it in what I know was love, and yet he would sleep, and I, sleepless, would dream of sleep, caught in a perpetual haze.
When they were no longer babies he was already long gone – he traveled and was gone, he was in town and was gone, he was in the house and always in another room and was gone. He was in the back yard, tinkering or building or clearing part of the woods, and he was there, but he was gone. The boys as toddlers would run around nearby and delight in him – so big – and he would lift them and send them to chase after sticks or to listen to stories. He built them each a swing, and carried them on his shoulders, and he must have been for them – for a time – a sort of god.
And I loved him, still, and told myself it is enough.
But in the morning, there should be music. And there was none.
Everything will not be alright
Everything emptied. And there was little and there was much to empty. Every history is full, swelling to capacity. It is the vessel that shrinks.
For my sons, there were images I captured in photograph, placing them tenderly in albums so I could manufacture my illusions and make them stick: the big man with children on his shoulders, the big man building swings, the big man at the kitchen table, though once the little boys were tucked in bed there was silence, and the big man was gone. And everything emptied. And I told myself, in a slow awakening: it’s not alright.
He was good-natured, unless you crossed him. So I didn’t cross him.
He was thoughtless, but I excused it and called it absent-mindedness.
He wasn’t there, unless he was, but still he was not.
When he came home to the white kitchen and the boys eating at the table, messy and busy, it felt like a life even as I listened to him describe his trips and his accomplishments and I was grateful for his smile and the way he made the boys laugh on those occasions. Often, I was angry; he would try to discipline them in ways so different from mine and after all, he wasn’t there and I was, and he simply said You must support me and I was at a loss, unaware that the warfare had already begun. And he talked of warfare even then – how methodically he could take down those at work who were in his way. I marveled and was appalled, because my corporate life was nothing like that, and I was bewildered that tasks in a job for him were maneuvers in battle. He was about winning and destroying. And still, I loved him. And I told myself – I am wrong, we have these children, it will be alright.
And it was not alright.
I still do not know who he touched but it was not me. I know the silence of the bed, the vast ocean of the bed, the separate continents of his side and my side, of his sleep and my wakefulness wandering the house and wondering what I could do differently. And yet when he was there, I could not reach across the cold gulf between us, and I blamed myself. Too many years. Too much missing. Always, that silence.
There was the breath of a new life at the very end, a night of drink and carelessness, the third son who visited my dreams. But he never had a chance at breath; he was a flicker, a spark, a measure of notes left incomplete and unformed, perhaps because I was the only one who heard his voice beyond the breakers, in the rhythms of the moon left wanting for more. I was too old, he said, and turned away. I was the only one to grieve a glimmer of light that bled into a final gathering of storm.
It is a simple thing, if a puzzle. And I float in the dark, remembering his sleeping and my sleeplessness. Remembering something like marriage, and something like love. Our sons must have felt it, because surely they were conceived of it; they are magnificent. So I tell myself: it will be alright.
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