Before I go any further with the silly fiction piece I’m sharing here, I have to get a little deeper into something difficult to name. Some people call it an “authentic voice,” especially if they’re writers. Poets might call it “vulnerability.” Philosophers might just simply call it “truth.” The problem is that truth is never the same for six people sitting in the same room.
How do I tell a story, loosely based on truth, without making myself the heroine of the story? I was not a heroine then and I am not a heroine today, although I prefer to see it that way. Our stories are messy. We are all complicit. We are shades of gray (not that kind of gray – stop that).
An authentic voice, at least my authentic voice, wants to see everyone through the eyes of mercy, forgiveness, understanding, and kindness. This is not an easy challenge, but it’s important to me. Where did I go wrong in the story? I am keenly aware, and I’d like your help in knowing how to imprint this notion into the fiction.
I grew up believing my mother didn’t like me. She had a joke she loved to tell whenever I got in trouble. She would grow tired of us (she had four children, all one year apart) and would send us into our rooms. I would bleat, “But what did I do wrong?” and her reply – invariably – was “You were born.” I’m sure she thought that was hilarious, but I took her seriously. I’d go into my room and believe that being born ruined her life. And maybe it did. I still don’t have the courage to ask her. I’m still afraid of her.
I became a changeling. I tip-toed through the house so the noise of my living wouldn’t disturb her. I became whatever she wanted me to be, and I got very good at discerning when to stick around and when to go away. I became an expert at “reading the room” and knowing when things were about to go south. This way of life translated to my friendships as a girl, and then to relationships with boys, then men. I became what I discerned each boy/man wanted me to be.
And when I got married? Well… what is more exhausting that that? For both of us, not just me. I was a phony. I didn’t have a clue, not a single clue, about who I really was. My husband grew to dislike me, and although many of my sweet, loyal friends will be quick to blame him, I’m not so quick anymore, because I am intimately familiar with how difficult I was for him.
He grew to despise me. He couldn’t reach me. I was impossible to love. At the end of our relationship, I felt sorry for him. I had a glimpse of how horrible it was for him to be married to a woman he could barely stand. He wasn’t able to love me. I can’t say whether or not he tried, but after almost twenty years, I was able to let it go.
Leaving him, and moving over a thousand miles away, set me free from the prison I’d built for both of us. Believe me, he was no saint, and he did horrible things to hurt me. Not only did he do horrible things, but he made me the bad person of his story, to be the person who destroyed our marriage. I decided to let him have his fantasy, to let him lie to our mutual friends, to let him keep his money, our home, the retirement we’d both saved for, the business, etc. My mother is still angry with me for letting him have “everything,” but it was the only true way to be completely free of him. If he tells anyone that I “took him for everything he had,” he knows he’s lying and I’m fine with that. Let him lie.
I don’t want to pay the very high cost of living that kind of lie.
But what am I responsible for now? To tell the truth as honestly as I can. I need to be fearless at looking at my part of the dissolution. What did I do wrong? What did I do right? How can I tell that truth with compassion for both of the parties? It’s a daunting challenge.
Once, many years ago, I tried to bridge the emotional gap with my ex-husband. I thought maybe we could find some way to a truce, a sort of peaceful acceptance of one another, but it didn’t work at all. I began with an email request to talk through some of our hardest issues, and it began in ernest, it started out to be good. Then I got an email that said he wasn’t comfortable with the discussion, that it felt like a betrayal to his second wife, that it had the “appearance of evil” to him. I think he thought I was trying to get him to emotionally cheat on his wife, I’m not sure. But oh my goodness, I was angry. Let’s all remember that he’d had a five-year long sexual affair with my brother’s wife, so calling my desire to work out our differences the “appearance of evil” didn’t sit too well with me.
I didn’t handle it with any veil of kindness, mercy, or grace. I posted our exchange on personal blog that many friends read each day. I asked them what they thought of our exchange. Their replies were full of hilarious comments, most of them calling him an arrogant SOB. I copied every single comment and sent them all to him, so he could see I wasn’t alone in my belief that he was a hopeless ass.
We haven’t spoken since…
Vulnerability is full of personal risk, but refusing to be vulnerable is very risky too. I know who I am today. I live an honest life. I fought through the barriers, one by one, until they were vanquished. I have a handful of amazing friends who know who I am, and who are free to share their authentic selves with me too. Nothing in life matters more to me that these kind of friends.
A Facebook friend shared a poem on her timeline today, and it spoke to me so deeply about this kind of love. I sent it to my (current and much improved) husband, because I hope he can open his gate to me in this way. I’ll end with the poem. It’s so beautiful.
You are tired,
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.
Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away—
(Only you and I, understand!)
You have played,
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
So am I.
But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart—
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep.
Ah, come with me!
I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,
That floats forever and a day;
I’ll sing you the jacinth song
Of the probable stars;
I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,
Until I find the Only Flower,
Which shall keep (I think) your little heart
While the moon comes out of the sea.