Sunday, December 22, 2013

When the World Was Flat

Our story is not our story anymore. It’s been fifteen years, fifteen, since I landed in this green and silver city mired in misty rain and started a new life as part of a couple. Loved. Found.  

At the time, it felt like being rescued. I’d found my tribe…my tribe of two. Mr. Black was, and is, the smartest person I have ever met. He never told me I was too deep, or too sensitive, or too feminist, or too ridiculous for being a vegetarian. He never said “you think too much” or told me to “relax.” He never made me feel like I had to reign in my own intelligence to spare his ego or his interest. Best of all, he wanted to be with me as much as I wanted to be with him. And we were beautiful to each other. It was easy. Like falling.   

Fifteen years ago, I thought I was leaving everything behind on my way to a new and better life. In retrospect, it was more like a long, slow, luxurious dive deep down into my own little undersea fantasy world. In a good way. In a very good way. I will always treasure that time below the surface when Mr. Black was my world in the best of all possible ways. You can’t sustain that mythology over a long-term relationship, but it can always be true in its own way, in its own time and place.

And I hadn’t left anything behind, it turns out. You resurface and there it all still is, floating in the soup one way or another. Long lost friends from high school and college live in Seattle. New friends I met through Offsprung live in the next county over from my parents back in Pennsylvania. Facebook has unearthed just about every old familiar face I care to remember. The software company I’d worked for in Philly hired me back as a telecommuting freelancer after I had my first baby. And somehow, most miraculous of all…I finally found my way back to teaching.

It has been one year since I was hired full-time at my kids’ school as a special education instructional assistant. It hasn’t always been easy, but even on the roughest days I am positively soaring. I love how my body feels in a school, striding down the hallways, hustling up and down the stairs, helping gently, inspiring and amusing boldly, walking backwards making the “quiet coyote” with my fingers as I lead our class in from recess. I love what I can do with my voice. I love the visceral, protective, nurturing relationship I have with all the little bear cubs in my charge. I love that my strongest assets are no longer just cute little quirks but completely necessary in this career. I am absolutely, without question, happier than I have ever been.   

And I no longer need or want to be rescued. Yes, I still need a friend and partner to give me hugs at the end of the day and pick up the kids and go grocery shopping. Yes, we still love each other a lot. But that love doesn’t drive us like it used to. It just doesn’t. It can’t. And, unlike the last few milestones that have happened over the past fifteen years – buying a house, getting married, having children – this next phase of building a new career only belongs to me.

He is still very much with me. But he’s not bringing me there. If anything, I kind of have to leave him behind a little bit to get myself there. And what a strange feeling that is. To covet and yearn for independence the way I once coveted and yearned for his constant, undivided companionship.

I feel guilty. And then I fight the guilt by noticing all the little hurts and sadnesses and disconnections between us. Even in our glory days, it was never as perfect as I wanted to believe. There were lots of times when I felt lonely and unheard and extraneous and not the least bit adored. There were lots of times when I felt like I was the biggest pain in his ass. I still feel that way. I simply don’t mind it as much as I used to.

This whole business of falling in love and sweeping each other off our feet and spiriting ourselves away to the Emerald City at the edge of the ocean? It was a phase. A long, beautiful, happiest-years-of-our-lives-together phase. It wasn’t linear. And it wasn’t the end. Gradually, over the years, we resurfaced and found all the old bits and pieces of our previous lives and selves. Everything circled back, but fell into place a little differently. And we are, once more, fundamentally ourselves. Two independent individuals who still love and support each other as husband and wife, but who are no longer tangled up in our own perceived mythology.

And what happens now? I guess we’ll figure that out as we go. Just like we always have.   
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