Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Accidental Divorcee

I have a bad habit of reading a book then, forgetting I've read it, re-reading it years later. 

I just re-read The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler.  Considering the subject matter and my current circumstances - the slow process of separation and divorce from Earl the Philanderer - it was an appropriate re-read.  This isn't a book review; I wouldn't presume to make reading recommendations considering the fact that I can't even remember what it is I have read.  Instead, I thought I'd share with you my thoughts on what people need and desire, and how these things manifest in life, fiction, and dreams. 

We promise in a marriage ceremony to love, honor and cherish, remain faithful in good times and in bad.  Why do we do that?  We promise each other to do something that in all likelihood neither has the capacity to do.  My husband, a typical sex addict, couldn't possibly have remained faithful to me.  But, to me, the unattainable matrimonial promise mattered.  My needy and insecure little girl dwelling deep in the bowels of Lee (remember the "Daddy issues?") thought that if this man - this person who is flawed in so many of the same ways my own father was flawed - can promise me fidelity and love me faithfully, then all the other daddy-alikes and my own father were wrong.  I would prove to be loveable.  All it took was for this one person to do the impossible.  All it took was for a sex addict to remain faithful to me and actively love me.

Oops. Bad idea.

I know that it takes two to tango.  Earl didn't remain faithful, but I was at fault, too.  I expected him to do all this active loving me, meet me at this base level of love where I envisioned myself sitting, waiting for him.  I did not strive to be my best self.  Instead, I pictured myself the sainted and wronged party.  Yes, all the things he did were wrong, but it was wrong of me to both expect him to be something he is not, and to wait around, not growing - backsliding into a worse version of myself - becoming resentful and expecting him to "catch up" to me.  

I am thankful in some ways that Earl saw the futility of our marriage.  He copped out in a lot of ways, but he also saw that what we were doing was only bringing harm to one another.  It was selfish motivation on his part to exit the marriage, but it opened a world of possibility to me; his exit has forced me to explore my self.

I finished The Accidental Tourist yesterday and sat with it for the evening.  The two rival women vie for the protagonist's love. Sarah the wife, and Muriel the mistress, are both like me: Sarah wants to move forward but finds it easier to slip into old habits and relationships, and Muriel is an awkward, needy woman who has the potential to find herself and blossom, lives passionately and yet somehow doesn't quite click with the world in a traditional way.  These women are both so similar to me, it's painful to watch the protagonist, Macon, struggle to choose his partner.  Leaving one means going to the other, and both of those women deserve love.   Realizing this was doubly hurtful because the needy woman is also so much like Ashley, the other woman who plays a role in the demise of my own marriage.

It has not gone unnoticed by me that Ashley bears a great similarity to the parts of me that I don't like.  I've known her for a few years. She is codependent and insecure, two of the characteristics that my husband drew out of me, and played like a royal flush in Texas holdem. (yeah, yeah, I  let him.  You're preachin' to the choir!)  She is married to a man who was by most accounts a more successful version of my own husband.  I always felt sorry for Ashley because she was saddled with a man just like my own, and now poor Ashley has left this man to be with Earl.  CLICHE ALERT:  Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The combination of reading this book and the realization that Ashley's characteristics resemble my weaknesses lead to a vivid dream last night.  Don't worry, I'm not the type to detail my dreams, seeking meaning and expecting you to be thoroughly entertained (don't you just hate that?) It started with me verbally shredding her.  I left the room and she shrieked the cry of a lost child.  Something inside of me shifted; I asked her if she was okay.  She was weeping,  sad, confused and hurting.  All I could do was empathize. I woke up in a new emotional space.  I knew that even though Earl has chosen Ashley and Ashley has chosen Earl, it is pitiable.  They have chosen to repeat a pattern instead of grow.  I am left to grow- forced to grow - but growing nonetheless. 

SPOILER ALERT (but is it a spoiler if the novel was written almost 30 years ago?) I hated Macon for choosing the needy one, the mistress, but I didn't hate him for the obvious reasons.  Macon went to Muriel because he feels good with her, alive.  And she needs him. I've heard the same thing from Earl's lips.  Ashley makes him feel good. I don't. The reason I hated Macon for choosing Muriel had to do with Muriel.  She has so much potential as a human being.  She could be something all on her own.  She IS something all on her own.  She doesn't need him, except in some proscribed societal role of lover, husband, man.  I hated Macon for choosing Muriel because it would make him feel good, and it would leave her in a role that is secondary to the person she could truly be. 

I picture the unwritten sequel to this novel, The Accidental Divorcee, in which Muriel, after 10 years of marriage to Macon wakes up and realizes that she is limited by his need for her, that her potential is bridled by him leaching her joie de vivre.  Macon's second divorce ensues and Muriel's life begins anew.  And Sarah, the original woman scorned can only look at the situation from her new perspective, one that is mature and self-assured, a point of view that only comes from the painful inspection of one's own navel. 

I feel that there is hope for a woman like me, and even a woman like Ashley who is the sum of many of my own worst attributes.  It's too bad that we women take these vows of matrimony, that we place so much hope on them, let our womanly lives hang on the impossible task of maintaining the promises.  It makes it possible for us to forget to be who we truly are.  We easily let this vow define us as women instead of forging our own selves.  I don't really want to care what happens to Ashley; she behaved in a hurtful manner towards me and my family, but in the long run she's done me a huge favor.  She's taken the yoke from my neck and placed it around her own.   Speed the plough, Ashley.  Maybe you'll get beyond Earl, too.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Martha Stewart and Other Friends for Life

What Would Jesus Do?

That's what some people ask themselves when faced with a decision.  I am an atheist so that question isn't applicable in my case. I was, however, pretty sure I knew what Martha Stewart would do in most circumstances. And in my former life, I would choose the opposite of whatever Martha would do.  Perspective has been added to my life, though, and I can no longer hold myself up to the anti-Martha measuring stick.   Getting divorced is much like I imagine it was for Martha being in a West Virginia prison, separated from her enamel coated flour sifter and sticky pots of scrap booking glue.  As a married woman, what I presented to the world was the high gloss edition of "Living."  No, I didn't have a showcase home, my life was the showcase.  I spoke so often of my wonderful husband, my funny, adorable, intelligent guy.  I told the world how wonderful he was.  Like Martha, however,  I was sprinkling glitter on the picture to make it presentable.  It was going to take a forced timeout to be able to emerge a different woman, one who could see that my husband was not a good husband for me.

When my husband,- this seems like it may be a topic of enduring nature, so let's give him a name - Earl .  When Earl, quite rightly, decided that we were not good for one another, I put the call out to the Universe for a place of refuge.  Where could I go?  How could I not see him?  How could I find myself in all this crumbling mess? I believe in the Universe - a powerful source of wisdom and connection between all of nature, time, space, and beings.  By opening my broken heart to the Universe, a bounty of friendship flooded in.  At first I stayed with a few actors I knew mostly through Facebook. They let me stay on their futon in the living room of their Hollywood apartment, and they were so amazingly kind to the poor wretch of a woman who showed up on their doorstep.  But the circumstances of my life were so far from ideal that I sought further refuge.  I was then welcomed in by total strangers who knew nothing of me other than having once had a working relationship with my sibling. And it is with these people that my journey became rooted in self knowledge and friendship.

For most of my life I acted outwardly towards the world, giving too much of myself, not even knowing myself, and asking people in the world to reciprocate by giving me my self esteem.  It didn't work out so well.  But staying as a refugee with this Los Angeles family, I found out some amazing things.  Vanessa, the mother and wife, kindly listened to my heartache day after day, and gave me such gentle support and loving insight into my life's situation.  Daniel, the husband and father, continually reminded me through his actions and words, that a husband is more than a shadow in a wife's life, he is a partner, he is a presence. Somehow the generosity of this family brought to the surface in me an understanding of my deepest sense of loss, my true sense of abandonment that came about 30 years ago when my own parents crumbled as a couple, my father abandoned me and my mother died. (Let's cover that topic on another day, shall we?)

While in California, I saw what a family could be; I saw potential in loving relationships.  I saw an example of life that is neither a lie nor is it perfection.  This window into potential made it easy for me to see that the strong mom and loving friend that I can be was needed at home.  So I left LA and returned to my daughter and my job and my many, many friends that I didn't even know were my friends.

I understand now that people are not props, that they are not disposable or to be treated lightly.  I am clear on this point - I am worthy of love, even though I sought it out in all the wrong ways, in the wrong people.  Just because I made mistakes doesn't mean I'm any less worthy of love.  I think about Vanessa and Daniel and am so grateful for their humanity. They gave me a safe place to find myself, and asked for nothing from me in return.  They showed compassion to a woman who had no compassion for herself.  They were what I would like us all to be - better people. 

I think about Martha Stewart and marvel at her resilience. The Great Martha Stewart was reduced to prison, served her time and rebuilt her world with a new found perspective. She's still not perfect and never will be, but I no longer see her as a woman trying to gloss over her imperfections.  Now I see her as a woman who wears her humanity on her sleeve and tries to bring aesthetic qualities into what can be a very dark world.  She no longer lives as a two dimensional character in my mind; Martha is a fully dimensional and flawed human being, just like me.  I can honestly say that right now I have NO IDEA What Martha Stewart Would Do in my circumstances, but after the blessings of the Universe were bestowed upon me in subtle and loving doses, I have a pretty good idea of what I am able to do.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Geographic Fix: Trying Something New

I lucked in to the worst job in Hollywood.

When your partner of 12 years decides he wants to try something new, and that something new is a whore named Ashley, you leave town so you don't commit a crime.  I drove out of the Phoenix desert and into an entirely different desert - the vast emotional abyss of Los Angeles.  I've done the geographic fix before, uprooting everything, abandoning my worldly possessions and taking flight into the great unknowns of other states, countries and continents.  I'm sure that says something about me, and read into it what you will, but this was the second time in my life I'd taken flight to LA.  I never considered it a place to hide, but a place to find myself.   That's what I wanted to do so desperately as I drove away from my husband and the pain of his betrayal. 

My ire, my desire for revenge, my spiteful and hateful wounded child spent plenty of time kicking around inside of my soul as I walked for endless hours through the streets of Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Venice. There were many moments of darkness and I am pretty sure that the time spent wallowing in that quagmire qualified as my lowest point in my life. I had moments of pure insanity, although it's hard to judge because my whole life has been lived on the tipped scale of mental imbalance. (Let's just call that "Daddy issues" for now.) But in all that darkness, all that resentment and pain, there was this steady drone; it was a bass line of self awareness, a quality of understanding that this is all a new beginning.

Now the Universe has a funny way of revealing itself to me and in so doing revealing me to myself. Each day I had to pick either living in a stuck place or moving forward through the sludge.  The days I picked moving forward made me a different person - physically stronger,  beautiful, patient, a little forgiving.  I didn't pick moving forward every day.  There were days when I picked living in pain.  I probably needed to do that so I could vent the steam in my boiling stomach.  And yet, no matter whether I chose pain or growth, the Universe gave me exactly what I needed in every moment of every day.  Often times my needs were presented in the words of wisdom of bus drivers or the person riding the exercise bike next to me at the gym.  The Universe gave me people I didn't even know I knew.

I don't want to quantify the gifts of the Universe, but in all the nuggets of wisdom and truth that were laid at my feet,  the best thing that happened to me was getting the worst job in Hollywood.  I was a tour guide on the double-decker buses parked outside of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.  Being a tour guide isn't such a bad job.  I like talking to people, I have a pretty sexy voice and people respond to my sense of humor, so it's a good fit for a gal like me.  But the only good part of the job was the actual guiding of the tours.  Without casting disparaging remarks on the company, I will say that they were inefficient, disorganized bastards.  I spent the majority of my time trying to find the bus I was supposed to be guiding, finding the people who were supposed to be on the bus, finding a microphone, finding a manager, fighting off other tour guides who were trying to steal my tour, and trying to appease customers who could see clearly that the company was Shyster Fest 2012.

Yes. The Universe gave me a job that was horrible.  Awful.  Terrible.  And exactly the right amount of job to keep me in limbo.  That job, had it worked out to be profitable, or for a company that was trustworthy and kind to its employees, could have changed the course of my life, allowing me to make choices that were not in my own best interest. Through new-found friendships and the wisdom of strangers, the Universe made me comfortable enough to see that my husband was not someone I could keep in my heart any longer.  Through the  low-wage, dissatisfying job I held, the Universe also made me uncomfortable enough to know that I had to return to my life, to stand up for my life.  The geographic fix was no longer the fix that would take me away from my problems.   I returned to Phoenix, and didn't the Universe give me exactly what I needed once again?  Within 24 hours of returning, there were so many supportive people - friends I didn't even know were my friends - pouring out love and compassion, giving me support and strength.

The Universe gave me the chance to try something new, and here I am, living in a new space.  It's still painful and things are uncertain, but I am picking to move forward in nearly every moment of every day.  I don't need a new geography; I have a new me.