Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My tail or arm or something (or, there she goes again with the serious)

We need a word in English for the shady past of a married woman.
See, doesn't this post just feel ILLICIT? Already?

I once claimed the role of a bad-relationship survivor. I loved someone who could neither love me back nor let me go. After several years of the two of us finding our way in a big new city together, it got really stupid as I clung tighter and he turned to liquid and disappeared. It has been so easy to tell only the end of that chapter to highlight my personal triumph and healing. It's the stuff of chick lit novels and girls' nights out--single girl loves charming guy, whole thing gets so ridiculous even lovestruck girl finally sees, girl taps strength from deep inside she didn't know she had, girl escapes, girl marries guy who appreciates her. A compelling coming-of-age story that I could construct easily without embellishing even a little--I sobbed in the bathroom at his brother's house at a family gathering. I burned the letter he sent after we split without reading it. I thought if I was interesting/charming enough he would finally claim our relationship publicly, then I looked up and years had passed. I dreamed we were in a sinking lifeboat together and when he got out of the boat it floated again and knew that I would live. I lost myself.

I'll get all woo-woo here for a moment and say that during that time I had several unlikely lizard sightings. One running into my path on a city street, a kava kava tea-induced "vision" (ha) of one crawling up my bedspread. It was all very odd. So I looked up the power animal stuff about lizards and a recurring theme was their ability to sever the tail to escape from danger. It was a powerful image that helped me cut off (get it??) the relationship with the faith that I would regrow what I left behind. And for years, YEARS if I mentioned that relationship (which I mostly felt I should not) I would say I had to practically cut my arm off to get away. But I wonder now--did I? Was it really so dramatic? It hurt like hell and it turns out the heart can break. But did I really--really, Nora--leave anything so precious behind? And if I even did, where is it now?

So the wounded heroine narrative (cookie, please, for the word narrative--I didn't even major in English) has not been fitting lately. A lot of the experiences I find myself wanting to tell on this blog and to my single dating friends (while I make them clean my house) are from..you know...THAT time. And why not? They were adventure-filled years, and they are mine. They were fun and travel-filled, full of excitement, hope, and independence. They shaped me and gave me the peace to invest fully in family life now certain that it is my deeper, more satisfying path. But I resist telling because they are from...you know...THAT time and it seems somehow improper.

I now suspect that my tail or my arm or whatever is not with him, where I always thought I must have left it, but in my silence and refusal to think about those years with any complexity. I'm charged with raising a boy into a man here and pondering the importance of that--OH MY GOD--it's not enough to say I'm going to raise one of the ones that's like Jeff and not one of the ones that's like the other guy. That would be stupid anyway but also hypocritical because guess what--I have loved both kinds and loved them well.

And anyway I suspect the "kinds" are not as different as I needed to fit my story with a big lioness-roar ending. To tell a more mature story I have to sit with complexity. I have to acknowledge both the lessons I am still learning with Jeff and integrate the good about the previous chapter. I have to sit with the tragedy of love lost.

Or maybe it's so complex that it's actually simple. I loved one flawed person before I was ready to start a family, and then I loved another one when I was.

I still think we need a word in English for the shady past of a married woman.


Grounded Girl said...

MOST KICK ASS POST EVER!!! I am so proud of you. Love the story. Love the reflection. Just... LOVE. Thank you for sharing your lizard self with me, my friend. Thank you for your courage and honesty. Celebratory champagne forthwith.

Noelle said...

Seriously love this post. Because it's so YOUR story, and yet also so incredibly relate-able. It's your story, it's my story, it's Grounded Girl's story. And I'm guessing more of your commenters will read this and relate to it. And hopefully help you find the word for "those days."

We're all in fairly different phases of "beyond" THAT relationship. And I totally love the latter part about complexity. We can all cling to the chick-lit version of the story, but in reality, everyone's flawed and no one's perfect. But there's growth and a life story that evolves nonetheless. And we learn how to love and be loved and find peace somehow afterall.

Rambling comment here - that was just SUCH a great post!

Jay said...

Maybe if it wasn't for all that fucked-uppedness, you wouldn't be able to appreciate the white knight of a guy you have now. That and you also learned that you have an apparently high threshold for killing people.

Rebekah said...

Ha! YES! I think it IS so relate-able! (Good fake-word, Noelle). And I wish I had a mental image anywhere near as good as the lizard to carry with me and relate the pain of my OTHER life to.

My partner, Jamie, asked me when I would stop referencing that time. As if he'd done enough due diligence that I should be done with the occasional reminiscence. And it killed me a bit, because that was NINE YEARS of my life!! Almost a quarter of my total existence. Of COURSE it's important stuff. And because it was flawed and un"finished", it takes that much more mental energy to work through.

What WOULD that word be? I wish I was that wordsmith girl, because it's a good question. Although shady? Maybe. Maybe...

Mrs. G. said...

Love this post. I'm going to think on that word. You're right, we do need one.

Dani in NC said...

Great post. It sounds similar to the dilemma I have struggled with as a Christian. The least spiritual period of my life was rocky, but there was also some fun stuff that happened, too. I don't want to feel guilty about that part of my life and never talk about it again.

racheld said...

Oh, Nora,

This was the most heart-bearing-and-sharing thing I've read in a long time.

Perhaps something like "oubliasons"---in light of the fact that we'd mostly like to forget.

who sits with complexity and writes of the surface

and who cried late at night on New Year's Eve in the shower of a hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas

sallyacious said...

Aahhh. To be a married woman with a shady past. I am apparently so respectable-seeming now that people can't even conceive of how wild I was in my twenties. And how awesomely stupid I occasionally was when it came to the men I opted to spend time with.

"Wild oats" seems too masculine a title for that time, having to do with sowing seeds and all. "Wild Orchids" sounds a bit twee.

What about having a "Wild Iris" past? Irises have corms, and spread underground, regenerating into new plants and flowerings. They don't sow seeds everywhere, they create anew using the substance of themselves.

Phil said...


Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Phil, you win! That cracked me up.

I also feel like it's improper to speak of other men I've loved (or, you know, just slept with) -- but I had a good long quiet period before I met my husband; I don't really feel the need.

Mac and Cheese said...

I'm going to annoyingly focus on a minute detail: Did kava kava do anything for you? Aside from the lizard?

BTW, love the lizard message.

Katie said...

First I just have to say that I have a bottle of Kava Kava and have been to chicken sh*t to try it for fear of strange visions....LOL!

As a new reader, I think this is the best post you have written recently.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I think the literary phrase is "she is a woman with a 'past.'" I love to hear these unexpected stories.

JCK said...

Oh this was just delicious, Nora. You write so beautifully, and it rings so many bells. The lizard part was quite interesting.

Yes, we must have a better word than woman with a past...although the ambiguity there lends mystery I suppose.

Oh, Yes, Yes, Yes. You are on my interview list, my dear. Can't wait!

Stacy (mama-om) said...

I love this post, too. It immediately went on my list for December favorites!

I read this yesterday and hadn't had a chance to post yet.

And then last night I dreamed about being at college. I was moving into my dorm room with one of my good friends. It was weird because while it was supposedly our first time there, it was simultaneously our second time there, too. Like we were there at later points in our lives.

Some time later, my ex-boyfriend (THAT one) was there. We were all lying on the floor on our bellies (like little kids do) and playing some game.

I heard my friend say, "Oh, it looks like Stacy's finally getting over F."

In the dream, I was all, "Oh! I hadn't even noticed he was here. What a relief."


I dream of him every five years or so.

BTW, I think the literary phrase IS, literally, "a woman with a past."

And in my opinion we have a word for it, it's called life.

Coffeegrl said...

Wow. How can the things that mold us or affect us deeply not be an integral part of who we are? I agree with Stacy - "life" seems so fitting.

Really well-written post!

Vanessa said...

Incredible post! Everything we experience leaves a footprint on our soul and I love how you put this together sharing a bit of your soul with us.

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