In spite of a long career as a psychotherapist, and as one who loves imagery and metaphor in poetry, song and story, I tend not to spend a lot of time thinking about the contents of my dreams. In part, because I don't often remember them in enough detail to give them the time of day, but also because I do believe that sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. The dream I had last night, however, was just too vivid, too graphic and too revelatory to be ignored.
I have been struggling of late with the general state of my little family. My two kids are completely at odds with each other, neither one respecting the other's point of view and generally going at each other in a way that criticizes their very nature. I'm so not okay with this, and it has been a source of real sadness for me for the last year or so. This is compounded by the anger it raises within me, as I watch my ex-husband wantonly and with strategic deliberation drive a wedge between them, seemingly going out of his way to pit one against the other. Our daughter, out of a sense of compassion for him and her need to ensure he is not entirely cut off from his kids (our son has no time for him at all right now), sees him and communicates with him on a regular basis. While she does see him for who he is, and recognizes the passive aggressive strategies that are definitely his M.O., of course he does have some influence over her. I find that the more time she spends with him, the more churned up she gets and that generally comes out as angry outbursts with me, and some very hurtful actions toward her brother. It's hard for her because in spite of anger for things that have been done in the past, and in spite of recognizing this M.O. of his, she does enjoy their visits for the most part. No doubt, he is grateful for the contact with her and does everything he can to make each visit perfect.
I feel that he causes all this damage, and I am left trying to fix it and clean up the aftermath - a pattern that is now getting old. In addition, we have been having many heart-to-heart conversations in our home about the general stress we have all been under, so much of which goes straight back to my ex and his shenanigans both with the kids' emotional lives and with me on financial grounds (which is really all about power). And in my own therapy, I have been dealing with the fact that the incredible hostility between him and me was never necessary, and how hard it is to know he has gone so suddenly and dramatically from "I love you" to "I hate you". I am sorting through my part in the dance, knowing that it's true, we train other people how to treat us and I have fully reinforced his nasty behaviour. But when I think of how different things could have been for the kids, for me and even for him if we'd just been able to function kindly to each other. To still be a family of sorts, just living separately. And I blame him. I wish I didn't, because it feels emotionally immature to say that even when I know I played a role in it, but it's how I feel. He has been hateful, spiteful and mean since the very beginning - he is acting just the way I feared he would. And still, I am cleaning up the messes he makes with the kids and with me. A difficult and emotional conversation with our daughter yesterday really brought all of this to mind in spades, which I guess prompted the dream.
In this dream, we both ended up at some large event where clearly I knew more people than he did. He looked uncomfortable as he just sat on the grass by himself, and I was chatting with lots of old friends. Suddenly, when I walked by him, he caught my arm and without getting up, said, "I hate to ask you this, but will you help me?" I had no idea what he meant, and I recall feeling that I wanted to say "NO!", but had this sudden pang of compassion and said, "of course, what's wrong". He told me he was embarrassed to say it, but he really had to use the washroom badly, and was afraid he wouldn't make it in time. He wanted me to follow behind him in case he didn't, so I could hide it from the others and get him to a private spot. He said he'd go ahead but could I follow right after, which I did. As he walked, he stopped abruptly, held an awkward looking pose, then ran. By that time, however, there was a very noticeable soiling all over the back of his tan coloured shorts. When I caught up with him, he was sitting on the floor in the front hall of the host's home, shorts off, and in a shockingly large pile of excrement. It was everywhere, and he looked completely mystified as to what had happened. I rubbed his shoulder, told him it would be okay and that I would help him. He got himself up, tiptoed up the stairs leaving little spots on the carpet, heading for the bathroom. I looked at the pile on the floor and realized that here I was again, cleaning up his shit.
The past few weeks have been pretty tumultuous. I realize that while I am writing about my own journey through separation, divorce and new beginnings, I can't help but write about others, as well. I guess once we reach our 50's, it isn't possible to enter a new relationship without the interferences and challenges that come from our respective histories. In this wonderful new relationship - and I honestly cannot imagine a more compatible and happy couple than we have the potential to be - these interferences are proving to be if not fatal, then life-threatening.
I have written before of his sense of guilt at being happy, but there is an overwhelming sense of obligation at play, as well. He has a close friend, someone who would like to be even closer, who was very much there for him during his darkest days and to whom he feels a tremendous sense of responsibility and obligation. He has talked about how difficult it is for him because she applies a lot of pressure for him to do all the things he used to do with her before we were together, things like heading off to the pub on a Friday night, going on the weekends to listen to live music in some neat little venue. He has suggested we all go together, but she does not want to meet me, and is angry if he tells her he is uncomfortable going out on the weekend just with her. Her anger, and comments that he cannot just "kick her to the curb" because he is now seeing someone, have been very guilt-inducing for him. This has caused him no end of angst over the past few weeks.
My son calls them "solo spots" - a quiet space in nature where you can be alone with your thoughts. For me, any solo spot must have water. I was glad to have one to go to today, if even for a short time.
It was a particularly emotional day for me, for a number of reasons. First, I was buying tickets for my daughter's dance recital - picking up a group of tickets for myself (I will be attending with my parents, my son, and a dear friend/new love) and offered to get some for my ex-husband. When I asked how many he needed, he said "just one". This brought about feelings of guilt, no matter how much self-talk I applied, that I have a loving group to go with while he has no one. Now I know he could take any number of people along with him, and that this was no doubt be a manipulation tactic to make himself seem more sad and lonely, and it makes me both angry and sad that I allow him to be so successful with these strategies. I need to be stronger in not letting these kinds of things penetrate.
Also, I was taking my daughter in to Toronto to have lunch with good friends in honour of her birthday. They have always taken the kids out for a birthday meal, just on their own, a really lovely tradition. Today it made me sad, though, because I never quite know how I will be received by our friend. Her partner, while very cool with me back in the fall, has been fine with me since. But with her, I never quite know. Sometimes, it is like old times, but then often I find her a bit cool and distant. This always makes me deeply sad, and somewhat resentful, because I know her feelings are entirely based on what my husband has told her, his own distorted view of what happened in our marriage. When these friends were going through a devastatingly rough patch in their relationship, I spent a lot of time talking with our friend on the phone in cross-Canada discussions. When they decided to reunite and work to rebuild and heal themselves and their relationship, there were many people who could not understand it. My husband was one of them. He had nothing at all good to say about her partner, and questioned our friend's judgement in returning to the relationship. My position was that if she was able to forgive him for what had happened between them, who were we not to? My husband held a very negative view of her partner until two summers ago, when we ourselves had a 3 month trial separation. Our friend's partner (who is also our very dear friend, but for the sake of clarity I am referring to him as her partner) spent time with him, they went out to pubs and they talked. My husband told me that our friend was not likely to be comfortable with me anymore because he had a very strained relationship with his first wife, and that he lost 20 years with his daughter because of her ... so he would have trouble staying friends with me since I would remind him of his ex-wife. This left no question in my mind as to what their conversations were at the pubs that summer. The part that is so tough for me, though, is that my friend and her partner seemed so easily led by my husband's story. I did not help my friend during her time of great distress, nor did I welcome back her partner and share with him my feelings about their reunion (that they gave me inspiration and hope, and that I was so glad they were able to find the strength to forge ahead even stronger than before), I did not do any of that with any expectation that I would receive the same from them in return. Yet, I was so deeply saddened to think that they could not stay connected to the real me, the one I'd have thought they knew was behind my husband's vitriolic stories.
Also also ... I am now very much falling in love with a man who has been my good friend for 25 years. We have always known there was a certain chemistry between us, but it was never accessible because at first, he was married, and then I was, too. But we were always very close friends and our spouses came to know each other. We even had a number of family get-togethers where our kids played together. What is taking root between us now is nothing less than amazing and profound and incredibly wonderful. But he is a kind, compassionate and loving person. Is that a problem? For me, no. But for him ... what it means is that he feels deep sadness and responsibility for having ended his marriage a few years ago. His ex-wife has not coped well, and he feels totally at fault for causing such sadness and disruption to her and their kids. No amount of self-talk can help him shake this entirely, the invitation is so strong for him to feel it. While our blossoming relationship is incredible - we are compatible in every aspect of life, it seems (I have discovered things I'd long since given up ever having in my life again). The problem is that he feels very guilty about finding happiness, when he feels that he is the cause of such sadness in those he loves. Today, I felt very afraid that he would just pack it in with me. That he would feel such crushing guilt about being happy with me, that he would end our relationship. I could take it if he said he didn't really feel for me the way he thought he might. Or that since becoming involved in our relationship, he realizes he doesn't love me in "that way", or does not feel emotionally ready for any kind of relationship at all. But to say he doesn't want to continue because he doesn't feel worthy of happiness, or because of "stuff" ... that would be so hard to take. I would know it would never be with malice, and I know I would continue to love him as I always have. I would be profoundly sad at the loss of what we've experienced together but also at the loss of our potential - we really could be amazing together, and happier than I'd thought possible at this stage of life. I shared with him the fact that I was feeling emotional, and he was, in a word, incredible. His texts throughout the day were loving and supportive, and made me feel so secure and happy that the worries faded away. We had an absolutely amazing evening together - first half with my kids, second half just focusing on each other.
So where was my solo spot? When I dropped my daughter off to have lunch with our friends, I made my way down to the beaches area of Toronto, heading to my favourite little corner of Ashbridge's Bay. I sat on the rocks, with no one around me at all. You'd never have known the city was rumbling along behind me. I heard song birds behind me, seagulls out in front, and the sound of the most gently lapping waves on the sand, and burbles of water moving in and around the rocks at my feet. I could look straight across at my hometown on the horizon. There were millions of diamonds out on the water, twinkling almost to my feet. I allowed myself to just be very much in the moment, to feel the sadness fully - for a while, I did not even try to understand it or put anything in perspective. I just leaned into the ache of it, gave myself the time to cry until the tears were done. There was nothing to make me suddenly pull myself together or hide my feelings. I could just sit with them. And as always, when I came to the natural endpoint of this expression, understanding and perspective fell into place.
I understood the difficulty I have with something that feels so unfair and asked myself why I think any of it should be fair. My husband has judged me harshly for years and he has never been one to take responsibility for his actions, instead consistently blaming others for creating situations in which he is forced to behave badly. He has never given me any indication that he can respond differently, yet here I have been expecting him to tell our dear friends what really happened in our marriage, to share the truth so that people would understand why our path to separation was the inevitable one, allowing them to love both of us and show compassion for what they would know had to be a painful and heart-wrenching decision. It is important to him to be seen as a martyr (always has been), yet I expected him not to jump on this perfect opportunity to be seen as the victim, with me as his villain (the bonus). I have expected him not to be mean and manipulative in his communication with me and with our kids, while experience should have taught me to expect him to behave exactly as he has.
As this awareness washed over me again (not the first time I have thought about this - I hope it sticks at some point!), it was as if the diamonds on the water became brighter and more sparkly. Just being there, listening to the water and the birds, feeling the sun on my face, I felt such contentment. And throughout the entire morning, even as I sat there on the rocks, I was receiving these text messages that were loving and supportive and generous. I knew as I sat there, that whatever comes of our relationship will be good. If he allows himself to fully experience happiness in the face of other people's sadness, and to give up feeling responsible for that, then I really believe we have the potential for one of those relationships that I dreamed of all those years, in which there is true, deeply felt love and acceptance. True happiness. If he is unable to give himself that, while I will be unspeakably sad, I would be grateful for the time we have had together and would do my best to be with him on his journey, holding his hand as his friend. He is such a remarkable man, with such a generous spirit and loving heart, that I am simply happy to have him in my life. He and I have had conversations about the notion that he does not deserve to be happy. I have had these thoughts, as well. I sometimes worry that he might give up on our relationship and that this loss would happen because I did not deserve such a partnership. As I prepared to leave my solo spot, I watched a sailboat out on the lake turn sharply and circle into the little bay where I sat. It was as if it was coming by to see me, then completed its loop and headed out to the open lake again. The name on the side of the boat caught my eye - "We Deserve This"!
We really do.
I had the most amazing evening last night. After our discussion at the pub the other night, and almost non-stop texting and emailing, we went out on our first actual date. We went to a lovely little bistro for dinner. At first, I felt slightly awkward, and asked if he felt okay with it all and he assured me he did. We had an amazing conversation in which we both shared things from our lives that might make our coming together a little complicated. And we talked about sex. I could not believe how comfortable the conversation was - after all, and probably because we'd always been somewhat aware of the chemistry between us, we never ever talked or even joked about sex with each other. And here we were talking about our insecurities, our sexual histories, and what we wished for in a new physical relationship. It was truly amazing. At the end of dinner, he said that he'd planned to invite me back to his place but was afraid now it would seem he had ulterior motives. I said ulterior motives were quite okay with me! "Cheque please!"
I'd wondered, as I started to entertain the idea of allowing someone new into my life, how it would feel to have physical intimacy with someone else. Although the physical part of my marriage was virtually nonexistent, and when it did exist it was completely unsatisfying, I wondered if it would feel strange to be touched by another man after all those years. It did not feel strange at all. In fact, it felt wonderful.
I have such a good feeling about this!
My 16 year old daughter has been trying to plan out the rest of my life for the past few months. She has decided, along with my mother, that I should become involved with someone wonderfully kind and nice, someone who cherishes me. And they both decided that it should be my old friend, the same one I wrote about yesterday. The funniest thing is that I came to the same conclusion, right about the same time, but didn't say a word to them about it. Also funny is that when I look back to earlier blog posts, I found that I had written about him back at the start!
He and I met 25 years ago. We were young therapists brought on to start up a new child and adolescent mental health program. I met him the day I was being given the tour of the facility, having just signed my employment papers. We met in the stairwell of this lovely old building, and we talked for 15 minutes. As we walked away, I noticed the ring and thought, "oh rats, he's married". I truly felt an instant connection to him, in a way that I had never experienced before. As it turned out, we had both been aware of a certain chemistry back then. We became very good friends, a relationship that lasted years and eventually included our spouses and families. We have photos of me and his wife together, holding our baby boys (born 4 months apart), and our kids flying down the hill on snow tubes together. I was so shocked when I heard last year that they had separated, and he had the same reaction to our news. We both had the same thought - "they seemed like a perfect couple!"
As we have been meeting over these past months, for coffee here and there, or a night at the pub, we have provided each other with support and friendship, and always with love and respect. Since I met him, if anyone ever asked me "who is the most decent and loving man you know?", I would have named him. As I have learned more about the circumstances of his separation, my heart aches for him. He has been treated poorly, perhaps even cruelly, and yet continues to show compassion towards his ex-wife and takes on the responsibility himself for actions she has taken that have been hurtful, unhealthy and really damaging to everyone in their family (including herself). It is who he is - he would always carry the burden so as to relieve someone else of the weight.
A few weeks ago, we went out for a different kind of dinner. It wasn't one of those "we're at the pub anyway we should order food " evenings - this was actually going out for dinner to a nice restaurant where you kind of had to dress up. All through our meal, I kept being blind-sided by this series of thoughts: a) oh man, this feels kinda like a date, b) it feels kinda good that it feels like a date, and c) oh my goodness, is it okay that it feels good that it feels like a date? Then we saw each other on Saturday for coffee, as described in a post a few days ago.
I contacted him this morning to ask if he'd meet me today after work. I knew I had to say something or Friday night would just feel so awkward for me, and he would no doubt feel that (because we have never had an awkward moment between us, ever!). We met at 4:30 and I knew we only had 2 hours because we both had to pick up our kids from work. At 6:15, I still hadn't said anything! I have never been nervous about talking to him about anything, so this was strange for me. He left the table to go to the washroom and when he came back I forced myself to take a big breath and just be out with it. He seemed genuinely surprised, but also seemed to feel the same way. We now had only 10 minutes to talk, so not much could be covered. I received a lengthy and very honest email from him this evening. He shared many of the details of his separation, and about some very complicating factors in his life, adding that he wanted me to know about all of it so that I could change my mind if I wanted to. His message was lovely, and loving, as it would be. I responded with an equally frank and honest email about the baggage I carry from spending 20 years in a hurtful environment. We decided that neither one of us wanted to run away, and that we would go on to have dinner on Friday night, this time knowing it was a date. And it felt kinda good!
As I wait for spring to truly make its mark around here, putting an end to the longest winter ever (or so it seems), I have been thinking over the path I've taken these past few months. Until recently, when anyone asked if I was ready to meet someone new, my response was consistently that "I wouldn't wish me on anyone", and I meant it. I felt that I was still so mired in the emotional mess of my marriage, and had so many ghosts roaming around my life that it would be unfair to lay that on any unsuspecting new man. Christmas was a real turning point for me, though, and by the end of January it felt like the fog was lifting, as if I finally figured out how to work the sunroof and allow the light and fresh air to pour in again.
There are a number of people to whom I am grateful, and for many reasons. One is an old high school friend I reconnected with at our reunion a few years ago. He recently separated from his partner, under relatively sad conditions (an affair revealed through cell phone records), and yet he has a wonderfully positive outlook on the whole situation. While not denying his sadness or anger, he's focusing on the good and the solid in his life. He seems able to live in the present and be hopeful about the future, looking back to his past only for the lessons it provides. He's been an inspiration in that sense. He has also provided me with many smiles and laughs, and he's shown me that there is life left in me after all.
I have told him, just to be clear, that I don't talk to all my male friends the way I do with him. For some reason, there is a sense of safety and an understanding that there are no expectations for any "follow up" on our conversations. I have been able to explore the sexual side of my life a little with him via text and facebook chats. And it has been really fun! We have shared insecurities, past successes and failures in this area of our lives, and have done some shameless (and completely harmless) flirting. I don't think there was a moment when either of us thought we might want to venture into a little romp with each other, just for the fun of it, but the satisfying little tingles created by some of our chats tells me that I'm not dead yet!
He has been my "get back out there" coach, and has encouraged me not to be afraid of a sexual relationship with someone new. The last time I was "out there" was in the early 1980s - my body was a very different one back then. We talked about that, and he had some practical advice and loads of confidence-building messages of support. We laughed about how in our 20's, time of day didn't matter. Back then, in our late teens and early twenties, it was our parents we were working around and they generally went to bed earlier than we did. But now, we have kids that age, and they are the ones staying up late. So any 50+ action is not going to be happening in the dark of night. When are teenagers asleep and parents up? In the mornings. But at my age, daylight is not my friend anymore! My "coach" (also a photographer) notes that "good lighting is always important", and reminds me that room-darkening draperies are available! Some of our conversations have been a bit racy by the standards of some. But they are held privately and between two consenting adults, so no one has been harmed in the building of this confidence!
I am so grateful to him for these conversations. I am no less worried about the desirability of this old flabby body of mine, but I am much more confident about firing it up again and allowing myself the pleasure of a physical relationship. It got me thinking about new possibilities, and in the process led me to the realization that my relationship with another old friend has really been shifting of late, and that I could imagine something beyond friendship with him. Thanks to the influence of my "coach", when I met this other old friend for coffee the other day, I found myself examining my feelings and becoming more aware by the second that things had definitely shifted. It's like I was chatting with him, and trying not to look at the elephant on the chair next to him. When it was time to leave, it was all I could do not to reach up (he's very tall) and kiss him. And the thought didn't even seem weird to me at all, although I am sure it would have taken him aback! I have been thinking about it ever since, and our texts have become more like conversations (rather than confirming times and places), and I even boldly flirted a little with him, taking a big breath before hitting "send"!
We are scheduled to meet for dinner next Friday, but I think I may have to see him before then and share my feelings with him. I am afraid that if I say something on Friday, he will say he does not share my feelings and then will feel stuck having dinner with me. The funny thing is that he is someone I have always felt completely 100% safe and comfortable with - I can tell him anything. This might feel a bit awkward, though! But if I don't say something, there will be this weird thing between us, which has never been the case before.
Family Day today. The kids had a text from their dad yesterday asking them to come for dinner today. I was really glad they agreed to go - when they do see him, it's usually nice and they come back saying "that was better than I thought it would be" and it takes them another step forward. He seems to have stopped sending any messages about them to me - no response to my request for a contribution to the cost of driver's ed (even though I'd made it clear that it was hard for me to even ask him for it), but then a cheque appears in a sealed envelope for our daughter, and there was no text saying he wanted to see them on Family Day, no recognition that I might have a special dinner planned (which I did, but didn't tell the kids about so they wouldn't feel conflicted about going). About an hour after they'd arrived, I received a message from my daughter saying "Dad would like to invite you to come for dinner". What the heck?! For months, I have tried to put this onto a friendlier path only to be met with mean and hurtful responses on a regular basis. Over the holidays, I realized I could not be friends with him and that I have to stop putting myself in emotional harm's way, minimizing any kind of contact with him. As recently as this afternoon, I received one of his 1-word text responses to something. When I do see him in person, he is cold and hateful, rarely even acknowledging my presence. This invitation was clearly to make it seem to the kids that he was reaching out to me, but I knew the truth. After how he treated me, there was no way I could go into what was my kitchen and my dining room, where I had prepared and served hundreds of meals for my family and friends, the heart of what had been my home.
I try very hard to not have the kids see me react to something badly when it comes to their dad. They have seen enough of what transpired between us to have a very clear picture already of how things were, and the way I was treated, but I really want our focus to be on moving forward to a happier place. Unfortunately, they came home half an hour too soon for that tonight! When they arrived, I had a glass of wine in one hand and the vacuum in the other, ferociously cleaning the stair carpets, and I couldn't stop crying.
Even if his invitation had been sincere, which I am 100% certain it was not (this was about making a good impression on the kids), the insensitivity of it was almost shocking. And again, I found myself in a situation where I walked into one of his passive-aggressive plans - now, he is able to say to his friends and colleagues that he reached out again to me to have me come for Family Day dinner with the kids, but I refused. I so resent being put in this situation over and over again, where my reaction plays so perfectly into his bid for martyrdom.
A big part of my work now is finding a way to let go of that caring - it bothers me so much that he shares his distorted and twisted view of our life together, and projects an image of me that is so bogus and hateful, and so profoundly unfair. I must find a way to not be bothered by it any more. As long as I let it get to me, and lose sleep over it, I am allowing him to rent space in my psyche and as long as he is filling that space, other good things have nowhere to settle in. And I am so ready for the nastiness to be gone, and to fill myself with good and loving things, things I know I deserve. Way bigger job than expected!
Sometimes the best gifts come in the most unexpected packages. It was a week ago that I received a Christmas card from my ex-husband, and it was yesterday that I stopped crying about it and saw it for what it really was ... a gift.
Always one to select cards carefully so that their content suited the occasion and the sentiment carried the meaning and warmth he wanted to convey, my husband also had a small box of cards that were reserved for a very particular class of folks. These were sent to the people he despised. He was just as particular in choosing these cards - they had to be small with rather non-descript pictures on the front and had to be made of crappy, flimsy paper. And most importantly, they had to say "Seasons Greetings" inside, for that is what he saw as the coldest of all the holiday messages. What did it even mean, "season's greetings"? "Happy Holidays" at least wishes the recipient happiness, but this was like saying "I will greet you and say hello to you in this season". These were the cards that were sent to those people he intensely disliked. I remember asking him why he just chose not to send a card at all - it was because that would not send the desired message. "No card" could mean he just didn't send cards out that year, or it was misplaced or misdelivered. No, it had to carry this cold message so that the person receiving it would know that while he felt the social pressure to send it, he clearly did not like that person and would not set those feelings aside so as to send a warm holiday greeting. He felt it was particularly effective if others around that person received the lovely warm cards he sent out to everyone else.
Now in preparing for the holidays, I agonized over what to do. A few years back, there was a line of Christmas cards specifically for people who had experienced loss and for whom Christmas would not be the joyful family time it had once been. I could not find any of these this year, so found one that conveyed a similar meaning, and one I could expand upon in the letter I wrote inside. I apologized to him for having caused him such grief this year (a statement that I now feel deserves a facepalm!). I gave him 2 bottles of wine - one, an old vine Zinfandel from California and the other a vinho verde from Portugal. Message on the old vine zin - this is a type of wine we discovered together and very much enjoyed, but I found it hard to buy the one we'd always had. This was the same type of wine, but a different vineyard and I hoped he would enjoy it with new friends, and in doing so sharing an old tradition that was connected to good times but with a new twist. The significance of the vinho verde - our last big family holiday was to Portugal and for the most part it was a wonderful trip. I asked him to pour himself a glass of this when he was alone, and asked him to let it open him up to remembering who I really was, not the person I'd become in his mind. I told him I'd bought myself the same two bottles and promised to do the same, in the hope that this shared but separate experience would help put us on a more friendly path for this brand new year.
In my mailbox, a very small, very flimsy card with what seemed to be a stained glass window poorly printed on the front, "Seasons Greetings" on the inside.
And how was this a gift? After crying for days about it, and after feeling the anger of once again being put in the position of completing his little plan and contributing to his victim persona (I could imagine the words ... "I reached out and send a Christmas card to wish her a merry Christmas, but still she complained about it"), I realized something vitally important. He was not angry and bitter because I had not made him happy or because I had not loved him enough. This is his character. He is the type of person who chooses to send cards to people at Christmas time that are designed to hurt them and make them feel bad. His character is such that he would continue to find ways to hurt me in deep but simple ways. He reminds me of the character in John Irving's book, The Cider House Rules. Mr. Rose was the unofficial leader of the migrant workers in the apple orchards, and he was mean. He had a sharp blade he used to cut anyone who crossed him, but he did it in an invisible yet remarkably painful way. He inflicted the equivalent of paper cuts - no deep cuts that would be too noticeable but small, shallow slices that would sting all over the person's body, especially when they were out in the orchard, sweating in the sun.
The full realization of this was the gift. I could not have made him happy because that would have been out of character for him. I realize that this is not someone I want as a friend. My friends are not of this character. I tend to surround myself with people who are caring and kind, with hearts that are true and who are not motivated by a need to be seen a certain way (virtuous, victimized, sad, powerful, mistreated, etc.).
A friend commented to me that I must regret putting so much thought into his card, and the wine gift to him. I could not disagree more. What it says to me is that we are cut of such completely different cloth, and that unweaving the two is the best thing I can possibly do for myself and for my happiness. It tells me that while I feel I have been terribly diminished by the way he has spoken to me all these years, it has not changed me into a person who could do the same small-minded vengeful gesture to him. In spite of it all, I could not treat him shabbily nor could I knowingly and strategically hurt him.
The gift that arrived in that small, flimsy envelope containing the card with those words, "Seasons Greetings", so bland and seemingly insignificant to the unknowing eye, yet cut so deeply and thoroughly through a fully aware heart, was the gift of freedom.
We moved yesterday. Our family home is the only one the kids remember, yet I uprooted them and brought them to a new house. My kids are amazing. They totally took to it right away. My daughter has been wanting this for so long - she has too many really sad memories that taint all of the many, many good ones she has from our old home. My son is "Mr. Attachment", and I was really worried about how he would deal with leaving his home, his room, the chair he has lived in that swings from the big tree in the yard, and all that is familiar and happy for him. When I asked if he was ok, he said, "mom, jeez, home is where you and my sister are. We could live in a tent in the park and it would be home". I knew he didn't mean it, but I was so grateful to him for saying it!
It's been a crazy few days. My husband had said he was going sailing with friends near Kingston for the weekend. The night before the move, he denied ever saying that and announced he was not only not leaving, he had a full day of plans for the Saturday. My plan had been to move (and unpack and put away) the stuff that was packed and take it to our new house on the Friday. On Saturday, we'd bring the empty boxes and pack up the rest of the stuff right out of their closets and cupboards. I hadn't wanted to have everything packed up and stacked up in the dining room, knowing how hard it was for him to pass it every day. On the Sunday, the three of us were going back to clean up the house; I'd said that it would be hard enough for dad to come home to an empty house, we would at least make sure it was completely clean. Now, we were given the Friday night and that was it.
At first, I felt so badly about it. Of course, I wondered if I'd misunderstood, but knew deep down I had not. This had been a clear conversation - he had planned to visit friends a few weeks ago but had to reschedule to the long weekend because we had some legal stuff to sort out that week. At the time, I recall thinking this was a better plan for him to be away when we actually loaded up boxes and moved them away, knowing how very hard that would be for him. It's taken me a few days to get it, but I think I now realize why this happened. His entire persona is victim/martyr - this was perfect. Not only was I leaving him, and taking the kids, leaving him "stuck" with the house, but I left him with a huge mess to deal with. If things had gone the way I'd expected them to, and he came home to a clean (albeit empty) house, people would have thought I'd done something thoughtful and that he wasn't "done to".
His final shot came tonight. Because I couldn't go back to the house, I'd called a small moving service to pick up the last few things that were too big and heavy for my van (eg., patio set). I thought they'd be done in an hour. It actually took them 5. That's because he packed their truck with dozens of boxes and bins, filled with all manner of stuff (some look like he just swiped the contents of a shelf or dumped a drawer into the box) and sent it all over. This poor young guy went to open the truck door and said, "Ma'am, I don't think you're gonna like this". I just asked him to stack it all at the back of the garage and along the sides (basically fills my garage) and went away for a big cry. He is just such a mean, passive aggressive person.
Our first night in our new home, though, is like a breath of fresh air. It feels completely, totally, unflinchingly right. And as we realized when we looked up in the sky from our patio earlier tonight night, we have a blue moon - the second full moon in the month of August. A relatively rare occurrence that brought to mind the little medieval rhyme, "And when you see a moon that's blue, then we must say that it is true." This feels true, all right.