Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Independent Lessons in Love

“There is in every true woman’s heart, a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in
the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour
of adversity”. Washington Irving, The Sketch Book

          I am a woman’s woman. I cook, bake, clean, sing, listen to love songs, dance, cry at sappy movies, daydream about love. I have carried a child, had hormonal surges that caused me to weep while watching telephone commercials on television, breast-fed my son, and all of the other things women typically do as wives, mothers, and individuals. Somewhere during my early and tumultuous twenties, amongst getting married, having a son, discovering my husband had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in addition to an addiction to alcohol and cocaine, moving eleven times in seven years, and finally him leaving for good, I lost myself. Most of these situations alone would be tragic and soul-crushing. Yet together they make up the last nine years of my life during which I have grown the most, considered the release of death, and am still looking for meaning and purpose.
              Andy effectively and mercifully allowed our marriage to die a little over two years ago on a steamy July afternoon, as he cruised away in his battered white Buick, never to return. I had arrived home the previous morning around one o’clock from the local steakhouse and bar where I cooked, only to find him drunkenly incoherent, stumbling, and rummaging around our house, searching desperately for the six hundred dollars he had remaining from the pay check he had cashed on Friday afternoon. To say I was angry would be an understatement. I was fuming, irate, and livid; to put it simply, pissed. He had gone to the small dive bar down the street from our house after work to purchase whatever poison he had decided to gulp down as an escape from his torment, while my four year old son Joshua was home alone with him. A raging battle of bitter venomous words were batted back and forth for hours, mine accusatory and full of hatred, and his a blurry, bumbling attempt at pacification and explanation. My full limit had been reached. All the same excuses from all of the years, the utter inability to accept responsibility for his actions, the thoughtless endangering of our angelic brown-eyed little boy, I was finished, no more.
Suddenly I was not even angry, just resigned. I had made my decision. We trudged outside to smoke a cigarette, where the light pink and gold of dawn had begun to creep up from the horizon, plunked down on the wooden planks of our back porch, and with the smoke wafting and curling around our heads in a ghostly dance, I told him to leave in the morning. I had found my voice again.
               I know people break up, get divorced, leave each other all the time, but I had my entire identity, hopes and dreams encompassed in a marriage that had crumbled. For the first time in years, I had no one telling me what to do, where to go, what to think, but I also did not have a standing date for Saturday nights, someone to drive when I did not want to, or a father for my child. My emotions were clashing and raging inside of me. Freedom, and yet the full responsibility of Joshua’s care and well-being, was mine.
Single parenthood was something I had always attributed to irresponsible teenage girls and the like. I had never imagined that I would be in that position. My judgment was no longer justified in my mind. Walking through a crowded grocery store, I felt looked down upon, no wedding ring gleaming on my finger, a little boy walking beside me calling me mama; surely in every one’s eyes I was being judged. So much of my security, identity and self-assurance were hinged on being a wife. Who am I now I wondered? A thirty year old emotionally damaged, angry and distrustful of men, single mother, working in a dead end job, receiving no financial help from Andy. So back to school I went.
               College must be the answer I am looking for, I thought. I will make a ton of new friends, get an education that will increase my earning potential, and Joshua and I will both benefit from this change. My friends were telling me, “Melissa, you’ve been single for two years; it’s time for you to start dating.” Not likely. Now the new college-going, three-job-having, mommy- being me has her hands full juggling our schedules, finding babysitters so I can work and attend class, making dinner, cleaning the house, buying snacks, and paying bills. I also need to worry about being attractive to males, only to find out that I intimidate them. Even now I am realizing that by being on my own, providing for my little family, having opinions, telling jokes, and not just demurely giggling at theirs I am upsetting the idea of how a good little mid western girl should act.
              Two years and two months of the single life, with no boyfriends or social life, is teaching me patience, humility, and self-reliance. At the end of each long, lonely day I go home to my cozy green safe haven of a home, get the greatest hugs from my little boy and realize that through all of the agonizing ordeals, I am still me. A woman who will dance recklessly, singing unabashedly, laugh raucously, cry unashamedly, and hopefully one day be loved completely.

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