Almost 7 years ago when I left my husband, moving 1,000 miles north with no job or friends waiting, I had come to a few conclusions about myself. That I am a person who probably shouldn’t be married, but should have a series of passionate flings like Anaïs Nin (though she was, uh, also married); that I am too restless and curious to be satisfied by one person forever; that I would prefer to provide security for myself, and find excitement through my relationships.
The conclusions I drew then turned into a reality that, at this point, I long to escape. But I don’t know how.
This is from a journal entry written when I was soon to move away from the house we shared in Auburn, Alabama:
I feel very sad at the prospect of leaving this street, which I love. It is lush & chirping. The crape myrtle is blooming all over town and outside my office window. After 2 yrs of hating this place I have to admit I’ve become attached to it. This street is so quiet & peaceful—it’s been a haven and a retreat. I feel grounded here—God, I have spent so much time in this house, on this street, it’s like I’ve put down roots. Even though I spent so much time looking out the window at the neighbor’s blue mailbox with the weeds or swamp grass or whatever growing around it. I like Victor’s yard & the mysterious gate—like something in the English countryside—that leads into his backyard and which I’ve never seen beyond. The stump in the across-the-street neighbor’s yard from where a hurricane knocked their tree down. The stump always makes me sad because the tree protected their house from view, it’s so naked over there now. I’ll miss the porch & sitting with Gretel [my cat] in the sunlight, & the Pin Oak in our front yard, which I thought for a while was dead but then one day was full of little leaves. I’ll miss the nighttime insect sounds which I hear right now. And all the birds—birds love our crape myrtle & I would always see cardinals hopping in its branches and hear birdsong all day. & watching the bushes in our front yard grow and how they get tall & unruly & give us more privacy behind them. & the curve of our street and the neighbor’s chalked-in basketball court, how he put a basketball court right in the middle of the street & he’s always out there with his dog and little boy & he acknowledges me with a wave and a look when I drive by & sometimes his boy does, too.
I concluded, These things didn’t make me happy, but they were there for me, they accepted me into them, they did no harm.
So what would make me happy? This is what I thought, then:
I want to be on a date with someone I’m wildly attracted to. To stay up all night with someone—to have that intimacy & specialness. To have extreme and intense experiences of aliveness (not extreme like bungee jumping). I want to be buzzed & laughing at a dinner with friends. I want to go dancing to 80s music. I want to go camping and talk around a fire, and drink. I want to make love so intensely I feel the whole universe coming into it and lose all self-consciousness. I want to scream. I want to have FUN.
Well, I can honestly say that I’ve experienced those things since. Except the camping. And even my most ecstatic moments are tinged with self-consciousness...but a lot less than before.
After I announced who I thought I was, and left—a conversation which happened the day after I’d graduated with my MFA, with trees outside our dining room window thrashing in a tropical storm-grade wind—I missed my ex-husband for years. And sometimes still do. Not just the things we did together habitually, like making Indian food or traveling the country by car—but his presence as a person. His light-blue eyes, and the care he took parting his hair after showering; the piercing way he looked at me when I was upset and sulking, like he was frustrated but wasn’t going anywhere.
…I do think C was right in saying that I’m too young, didn’t know what I want, need to have more experiences. He said he wants someone who’ll be there at his deathbed. I said, “I just want to feel alive.”
Oh, maybe I should see the past 7 years as a success. Instead of thinking words like lonely, grief, failure, unstable, scary, I should think, ALIVE!
...Four years ago, my ex remarried and now has two sons with his wife, another poet like him. I’m not even a poet anymore or at least, not a practicing one. Despite my having put years into the MFA, I am not writing poems, not sending any out. I’m a stressed single parent; I've been dating someone for two months, so things are uncertain in a way I've become accustomed to.
I’m training as a mental health counselor to spend my days listening to others’ stories of brokenness, which reflect my own. That role and being mother to my 4-year-old offer me glimpses of the stability I’ve lost in the vicissitudes of romantic relationship.
And yet I feel pretty damn sure I want what my ex-husband offered me, too early in my adulthood for me to accept it—that secure love which, now that I feel I’m being denied it, looks like the only path toward wholeness.
C. and I at my MFA graduation ceremony