Four years ago during this season, my marriage fell apart. I expedited it with bad decisions and impulsive behavior. Every time this part of the year rolls around, I think of Christmases past. You can't hide from Christmas. Every year, it finds us and indifferently insists we go through its graces and stresses: family, finances, memories, gift-buying, guilt. Today, I'm sharing reflections of where I was 4 years ago, the worst time in my life. Carson was my husband. Jim was my mistake:
I felt myself on a wild, soulful adventure like men who rock climb and summit mountains. I considered who I was to Carson, to my family, and I felt there was not room in those realms for my womanliness, my passion, my power. As I became lost and gone in Jim, Carson was lost and gone in his own place. He didn't know my landscape and I didn't know his.
The problems with secrecy in budding affairs are that it's harmful and hurtful to those who should be in the know (the spouse) and it's a binding agent for the would-be lovers. Being bound together in secrecy and something "special" fuels it. You talk yourself into believing you're like Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet- your love (and its secret) adds romance and an erotic charge. And it never works out and it certainly never lasts.
Truth felt like a messy, obscured business and I felt like most of us aren't great at discerning it, let alone telling it. Like Emily Dickinson's "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." We cower in the face of truth but we carry it in ourselves. We hold it within, aware it can't be expressed even though we feel it in every fiber of ourselves.
In Jim's stories about his past, a pattern emerged: he was only attracted to married women. Considering his parents' (failed) marriage was predicated on infidelity, I came to see it as coded in his DNA, a genetic predisposition (read: malfunction) to equate love with betrayal. Like nothing is worth having unless it has to be wrested from someone else. Jim would relate a story and end it with, "I didn't do anything wrong." He was telling me, "I'm not a man who takes responsibility." With most other guys, I would have seen him as a walking basket of psycho-emotional fucked-up-ness. Why does that endear me to some people and repel me from others? Ordinarily, I'd have been disgusted and turned off by such blatant shucking of responsibility. But when you're transgressing (and I was), other transgressions feel more at-home. Jim's lack of character and moral footing felt fitting. He never asked if what we were doing was okay. We both knew it wasn't. He needed me to be his mother-goddess-nurse-supplicant. I could fulfill exactly none of these needs.
I have a habit I developed in high school of looking at photos of myself when I was younger, in a dress or bathing suit, and marveling at how beautiful I was; always looking back and wondering why, at all stages of my life, I was tied in knots of insecurity about my body - my internal self at war with my physicality. At age 30, I'd look at a picture of myself at, say, 24 and think "What was I worried about? I was beautiful." At each stage, I'd felt ugly and imperfect in the moment. Looking back, I saw how wrong that was. When I struck up with Jim, I realized that more than youth and beauty, I wanted instead to stop worrying and stop feeling insecure, to take a present-day awareness of how beautiful I was and place it upon now.
Before I destroyed my marriage, I felt I could say anything to Jim; not do - just say. A word here on words: they matter. Words matter. They can be just as powerful as actions. What we say can do more than what we do. This is true. We were brought up with the idea that words can never hurt us. That simply isn’t true. Words hurt. Words heal. Words move things along. Words take us from one place to another. Words create change. Words forward the story. Words lead us to new places. Words matter. Think of getting a diagnosis or receiving bad news. Think of what words do. When we need directions, we use words to ask and get pointed on our way. I'm not talking about self-help seminars or affirmations or all the words vs. action propaganda drilled into us (though I kind of am). I'm not talking about saying you'll do something and failing to follow through (though I kind of am). Think of what words do. In conversation, confession, revelation. Who can deny the power of words?
Affairs usually mean sex but they require verbal cues. The road to an affair is paved with words. I crossed a threshold with Jim and I shouldn't have. I was stuck between a husband who couldn't hear me and a potential lover who wanted to hear me because it brought him closer to my sex. I met a woman at a bar one night during all this and she said, "Love only comes when it's needed." Okay. When don't we need love? When are we fine and dandy without it? "Family Portrait" by Rachel's haunted me during this era and comes unbidden into my mind to this day. I was trying to work out some deep-rooted shit in myself regarding childhood, family, and who-I-am. I was uncovering years-old, buried feelings. Instead of staying the course and facing it, I found Jim so I didn’t have to look at the mess inside me. I wanted to know what in the hell I was doing in a small town in eastern Washington, behaving like an an aberrant hussy. On the inside, I wanted to know why I wasn't a mother, raising children with my husband in Seattle. That's what my parents did. If your 20s are about discovering who you are and what you want, your 30s are devoted to a walloping cognitive dissonance.
It wasn't that I needed to do what my parents had done. But I think we all have several parallel lives we're leading at once: our actual lives (that we pretend are a wee bit different than they are) and then several choose-your-own-adventure style possibilities. Like "What if I'd married that person? What if I'd been a camp counselor in high school? What if I'd chosen this career instead?" and so on. In one version, we're stuck on the lives our parents lived and somehow we feel like our adult lives aren't really our real lives until we've mimicked what our parents did. I don't know about you but I'll never feel like the adults my parents were and are. They and their friends had a mystique while I was growing up that inspired awe, reverence, confusion, jealousy - an adultness I'll never manage no matter how old I become. Like the older kids above you in high school - they'll forever remain cooler, more mature, and mysterious; just as the kids two years behind your year in school stay the age they were when you graduated forever in your mind so that when you run into them years later at a restaurant, you think, "Mary Collins! That can't be you! You're 16 in my memory. You can't be drinking wine, let alone married with kids."
So I ladened Jim with all this shit when I just wanted to understand who I am, what I want, how to live. These large existential questions. And I asked myself with pecking insistence if the answers could come equipped with qualities that would be acceptable to my family and friends. Why did I always feel that I couldn't be honest about who I am and the way I live? I'm not a deceptive person. Maybe mercurial and quixotic but not deceptive. There's an invisible rubric I'm always trying to live up to. And its companion is an addiction to anxiety - the constant gnawing feeling, being used to things feeling off somehow but I can never put my finger on exactly what it is. All the anxiety led to was a busted up marriage, an unfulfilling dalliance, and rejection from the people I love but whom I feared judged me before I'd ever done anything to warrant their judgment.This is what I'm thinking and reflecting on as we slide through holiday madness and merriment. This is why the holidays get to me, turning me into a maudlin sap, drowning in scotch and covered in tinsel.