elizabeth lane lawley
michael "OC" clarke
e v h e a d
sweet fancy moses
wood s lot
m. melting object
Saturday, March 22, 2003
Baby Grand Blues 7
"I need you to be divorced," she said. It was just before the Christmas holidays. The Christmas before last. Our last. We were just getting into bed and she was telling me I had to do this now. "I'm running out of steam," she said.
I'd told her many times, explained to myself, why time was necessary, crucial. How the settlement could break me if we had to go to court, let a judge decide how much, how long I'd have to pay my wife. My lawyer knew who the judge would be. A Boulder judge, a woman judge, not known to suffer men gladly. And I'd had a couple of windfall years. Made way to much money, which was now quickly dwindling in the subsequent economic "downturn." It didn't look good for me, my lawyer said. I trusted her implicitly, a tough no-bullshit lesbian with a heart. I had to work this out with my wife, agree with her on terms the court would accept, basically rubber stamp. But to come to agreement needed time. Needed the understanding that's so hard to find between two people ending a marriage. Or trying to live through one.
But she'd heard all that, too many times. Was delivering an ultimatum now. Do it or else. This is hurting us, she said, and I knew it was true. But not anything like what she had in mind would hurt. Why was I so stupid? I saw it all coming. Didn't want to see. I knew what I was saying sounded like excuses. It's not just the paperwork and lawyers and money, she said. She said you are still enmeshed with your wife. There's a part of you that's not available to me, and it's damaging us.
I understood something new from that talk. Saw what she was saying in a different light. Saw the truth in it. Even if it wasn't the whole truth and nothing but.
Enmeshed. It was a word I hadn't heard that often, and never used in this way. I could tell it had a special meaning. For her. For the people she hung out with, her circle of friends. I had a general sense of what it meant, of course. Of course. But I pondered what other connotations it carried. Something else I was missing, and it bothered me. Enmeshed.
When you live with another person for 12 years, or eight or two -- how long does it take? -- you begin to share experiences, memories, language. Times you laughed till you thought you'd die, and no one looking in on that scene would have any idea what was so funny. Times when you did die, little by little, and no one, not even you, had any idea what was so wrong. When I moved out, I knew it was time, that I'd been avoiding it with everything I had. Telling myself something would change between us. But nothing changed. Nothing was going to as long as we stayed locked in our cycle of blame and broken hopes. It wasn't about lack of tenderness, forgiveness. We fought, increasingly, about things that neither of us could remember later. But it wasn't hatred or even animosity. It was impasse. Some bridge we couldn't cross together. I thought for a long time, I told myself I believed, that we would, that it was just a matter of time. But we'd run out of time. And belief. Run out of the will it took to suspend our disbelief in what was happening between us. What was not happening. What was once there and now, whatever it had been, no longer was. What's wrong, I would ask. And she'd say I don't know. But not knowing didn't make it smaller, didn't make it easier to ignore. Not knowing had ceased to be a question, had become an inarticulate answer to the question: where did we go? Past tense. Past hope of repair. We both knew it, though neither of us wanted to.
One night before I left, we went to dinner. It was understood I was moving out. Perhaps for just a little while. Perhaps forever. It was a restaurant we'd been to many times. And we were just like we'd always been there. Talking about this and that. At one point noticing something strange, a baking pan that had been left sitting on the drop-cieling above our booth. Who knows why. It was nothing, beneath notice. But it struck us funny and we got laughing. Laughing so hard we thought we'd die.
We were about to. All that we'd lived through together blown away in a moment we could no longer deny, couldn't stop from coming. Either of us. Either. Of us, no longer anything but memory. Is that "enmeshed"?
I moved out later that week, trying not to think about it. Wanting it to be over before I let it sink in too deep. Let it touch the place in my heart that was breaking to be doing this. To be going away, to be leaving. It was the right thing. We both knew it, had talked about it, agreed. None of which helped much when it got real. Some days walking around my then-new apartment, the one I moved out of last week, it would hit me and I'd be bent over double inside. Remorse, but more. A grief I couldn't look at, could not let in. How could I be doing this? I need to, I would tell myself, and yes it's sad, and yes, and yes, but it's so sad. Where do we go when we're done with whatever we've done together? Where does it all go then?
But I had a new lover, and that helped. A lot. The woman I'd longed for for so long. The woman who'd left me 20 years ago, but now was coming back. I was so high on her. So high. Our story like an ancient fable coming full circle. Odysseus returning from years of travel and travail. Penelope still waiting beyond all reason, beyond all hope. We were living the myth of eternal return. So high on what we would finally become.
One morning soon after we became lovers again, I woke and the bed was empty. But she'd left a note in her beautiful hand. "Chris," it said, "I love you. There is no one above you. Not even in the same country."
I was stunned. Amazed. My deepest dream come true. How was this possible, I wondered. But it was. Was happening, was real. Only much later would I wonder at "no one above you," and the implication that there had been once, might someday be again. In an impossibly loving message, a veiled threat. Was I paranoid to think that? To think what I read in those same words two years later held some other part of the whole truth? Above you, below you. It was a hierarchy. Of needs I never guessed at. Still wish in unguarded moments that I'd never seen through to.
After the pedestal, she said, the scaffold. I was impressed that she knew such things. Such a finely tuned understanding of the heart. She was warning me, I thought, not to idealize her. Which I did, of course. Of course. What lover does not? But perhaps the warning cut deeper. I see you as the Prince of the Imagination, she said. And later: you imagine things. And later: we are not on the same page, not even in the same book. And I did imagine things, as I swung from her scaffold, no one below me. No longer even in the same country.
"Why are you so over-invested in this relationship?" she'd asked me one day. I forget what we were talking about. Probably that I wanted to be with her forever, for whatever time we had left. And I said, what? I said can we please not cast our fate in financial metaphors? I love you. What are you telling me? "Well, Chris," she said, "sometimes things just don't work out."
When do two people in love become things. "They're a thing." Do people still say that? They used to. Now they say they have a relationship. When did we become a relationship? Some third element that was not you, not me. Not even us. Soon after she left a year ago, after my angry letter and she was suddenly gone, she said she was still thinking it over. I can imagine coming back for you, or for the relationship, she wrote, but I just don't see what's in it for me.
And one day before she left, long before, explaining once again why she needed me to be divorced, she said, "Do you realize that if you died today, I wouldn't get a penny?"
No one above you. Not yet.
"I am in agony," she wrote when she was losing me. Cutting me loose. I didn't know she was leaving, didn't understand. Then call me I said. Pick up. What's going on with you? I love you. I'm angry, but I love you. She said she didn't understand how those could go togther. When she got angry at me, there had never been any question. I'd written to her saying such asymmetry didn't bode well for our future. She'd pulled away many times before, refused to talk. Her withdrawal this time said: what future? After two weeks of unreturned messages, she called me by accident -- something she did six, seven, eight times afterwards -- and I said again, what's going on? Are we breaking up? She said, "You don't see me there now, do you?"
It took me months to accept that it was over. Some days even now I don't want to believe it. Forever is such a long time. The last time we talked -- another accidental dialing -- I said I did get divorced, you know. I was never planning not to. And she said it wasn't so much that. It was more the enmeshment.
Can I ask you a question, I said. When you said you hurt too, that you were in agony, what was that pain? This was your choice. You could have stopped it. And she said, "I was just as invested in the relationship as you were, Chris."
[to be continued....]
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