Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Place at the Table

Yesterday on TV I saw a movie based on the book Heidi, by Johanna Spyri. I haven't thought about Heidi in years, but it was, of course, one of the favorite books of my childhood. Here was a girl with whom I could identify, happy wandering outside with one friend, the mountains and the animals. There was the requisite (for a fairytale) rich relative, the cross child whose heart is won over by Heidi's pure heart, and of course the daunting Grandfather who is won over before long.

Naturally, I settled in to watch it. I don't remember this from the book, and I don't know if it was there or simply added for the film (1968, with Jean Simmons, Maximilian Schell and Michael Redgrave), but Heidi says that all she wants is her own place. She wants there to be a place at the table that everyone knows is hers, and would say "that's Heidi's place." This is where the tears started.

It's becoming clear to me that I never saw myself as having my own place, my own life. I saw myself always as a sort of addendum. When I was younger, I blamed this on my parents for a while, as we tend to do. Now I suspect some of it was just my personality, some of it was being the baby sister of several older siblings, so I rode along to their games, their practices, their lessons, their field trips... it was just an idea that I formed and absorbed. In some ways I am more comfortable in the background, observing, getting the whole story, but I saw myself as being part of the background. There's no blame, it was just an inaccurate interpretation.

Now, each time that I take a step toward claiming my space, there's the most uncomfortable kickback. It's taking responsibility for my life, getting to know myself and what I want, which I had for so long thought would be unspeakably selfish, and just not ME (but who is ME?). I pick out something for the house just because I like it, and feel an involuntary guilt reaction. I stand my ground, establishing my boundaries in relationships and have at times felt dizzy from the strangeness of it. But it's getting easier.

Even with my children, I realized that when I set out dinner, I clear enough untidiness from the table to set their places, but go back and forth from the kitchen and I usually don't sit down at all. I have had no space, because I never make one for myself. If I don't, even my kids won't see that I have one. It's time to make that change, to clear the whole table and sit down. My life is in this home, with my children, and that's my place and the foundation for every place I make for myself.

The Right Thing

Once a very dear friend told me that what she loves about me is that I always do the right thing. I make no claims to this statement being accurate, but that is what she says. And she goes on, "You may bitch and moan the whole way, but you do the right thing." [emphasis hers] Not especially flattering, in that light, but she is fairly accurate about the bitching and moaning. Sometimes I would go so far as to say kicking and screaming.

This came to mind today because I was thinking of the plans I've made to go out next weekend, spending the night with a girlfriend so I don't have to worry about getting home at a reasonable hour for mom-responsibilities. At this point in time, my ex doesn't have an established place of his own and doesn't take the kids overnight, ever. This is not a terrible thing, but every now and then it is nice to have the whole night off. So a younger, also single friend suggested I come out with her and stay over at her place. Awesome.

It's been a tremendous year, as you will know if you've read previous posts, which might be viewed as my outlet for the bitching and moaning. I feel rebellious, sick of everything, and earned a couple of shocked looks from friends at church when I suggested I might be up for almost anything when I get out next week. Of course, I know that by next week my usual sense will return and it will be much calmer than what I'm picturing now. Damn. Having kids, for whom I am responsible (and I take that seriously), makes it difficult to go out spontaneously when the urge strikes. That's probably a good thing.

I'm as likely as anyone else to be mistaken, to be biased by my own fears and desires into a distorted view of what's best. Occasionally I defy conscience on purpose (the mood I'm in now), but never get far before it's just too painful. Note that I'm not going into specifics, because what I know is not the best thing for me is a judgement based on me, my life and where I am in this life at this moment; I am not out to argue for what's moral or not for anyone else.

My story is that I'm stepping up to yet another level of moving past the past. I am never satisfied with the pace at which I am progressing, and certainly not that the efforts I make are recreating the life that I want. Like any thwarted child, I am ready to stamp my foot, and yell "then I don't care! I'll just...." whatever ... drink, shop, hook up. The thought is cathartic. But I did finally outgrow that. Oh, yeah. With or without the kids, I'm responsible for this life.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Okay, so I realize it wasn't really a poem, "Super," which was my last post. It may be part of a poem, or just a crafted sentence to slip into a story some day. It was an awareness that had crept up on me and I had to write it down.

A prose writer gets tired of writing prose, and wants to be a poet. So he begins every line with a capital letter, and keeps on writing prose. -Samuel McChord Crothers

I hope that's not all I was doing. I don't think so; poetry comes more naturally to me than most other writing. But I haven't written creatively in a while, no new poems or stories and it worries me. Granted, I have been in a sort of emotional cocoon. I am almost constantly in motion, from work to getting the kids to school, though I don't seem to accomplish much. The Christmas tree still needs to be undecorated, the ornaments put away for next year and the tree put out to recycling.

Honestly? I'm afraid to stop. For more than a year, I have been hard at work at changing the way I think (no victims live here anymore!), changing my relationships, changing my life. Having experienced at least periods of major depression for most of life, controlled now by meds, I have the fear that if I am still for too long, I won't even be able to get out of bed. There have been times when I was close, but never quite that bad. I can't have that, now, not with kids who depend on me.

I don't believe I'm close to that, not quite. Only, I'm so tired. All I really want is to regroup, but life keeps going, so I have to keep going, too. Maybe that's exactly what keeps the complete paralysis at bay. got used to it - to being everlastingly tightened up to face things, you see.
- Harriet Vane Wimsey, in Busman's Honeymoon (Dorothy L. Sayers)
The point to everything has been to create a life to live, not merely to bear. I think I'm getting there. In the meantime, I realized I never post poems or stories, or fragments of them. It was time to make that change; better to post things that aren't so good and get better than to hold off and never get there.

Friday, January 8, 2010


After the eleven or
twelve years together,
the end exposed a power
each had used
to hold on so long:
she to imagine
and he to pretend.

the second shortest poem I've ever written,
work property of the author

Friday, January 1, 2010

"I Wish You Were Still Married"

Today, as I dabbed on a little makeup in the bathroom and my 9-year-old Peanut sat in the tub, he pointed out to me that his dad loves me. "I wish you were still married," he told me.

"Why do you wish that?" I asked, as neutrally as possible.

"Because he doesn't live with us anymore, and we used to do stuff together and it was fun." Peanut started. Really? I thought, is that how you remember it? By the last year we were together, it seemed to me that when Dad was off the couch and not stoned on pain meds, we were arguing. Or, I was taking the kids out to do things on my own. Granted, my own recollection might be biased, just like the Peanut's is biased, just in the opposite direction.

"Besides," he added, "you told him about the divorce on a Sunday. You could have at least waited until Monday or something."

"Why would that be better?" I asked him.

"Because it was in church, where people get married."

Wow. That is a touch of irony that had not occurred to me, and I am surprised that Peanut thought of it. I explained that at church, where I had told my exhusband I wanted the divorce, the pastor and other people were there to offer friendship and support to him. Clearly I was not the person to offer anything.

What I did not tell our son is that at the time, given the mood swings and tension that were commonplace, I deliberately chose church as the setting, as a safe place. I anticipated yelling, probably throwing things, possibly even striking. I didn't really expect it to go that badly, but was prepared for the possibility. It was better all around to talk somewhere with people around, though we used the library for some privacy.

It caught me off guard when Peanut brought it up today. I hope I succeeded in acknowledging his feelings as valid and important. It was more difficult than I had ever imagined, not spelling out why the marriage ended, why I used a public place to protect myself from the yelling, belittling, dramatic outbursts that had become common. Let it be hard for him to understand, I thought, rather than understand too much. My life is healing, and the Peanut needs time for his idea of life and of family to recover.