What are your top two favorite books? That is, if you could only have two books, which would they be? And what about movies? Say, three of those.
When I went on my farthest solo road trip, to Yellowknife, I brought two books, three movies, and a bunch of CDs. The books and CDs were all I had for the nearly week-long trip there, and the whole shebang was much of my entertainment for the month I stayed. I really need to write about that trip.
I don’t remember all the CDs; some George Thorogood and the destroyers, some Led Zeppelin, some The Who, some Leonard Cohen, obviously.
I think that would still be a fair shopping list. What would you bring?
He paused, leaning against the side of his car and taking deep breaths to center himself before the ordeal that lay ahead.He spent just a moment tipping his head back and enjoying the sun shining on his face before pulling himself upright and heading toward the front door.
A tingle went through his body as he put his hand on the door handle–a tingle of anticipation? Possibly. He was confident that today would be the day that he made this decision. A hugely false smile plastered across his face, he pushed.
His face fell when he read the four letters spelling out PULL. Maybe today was not going to be the day after all. He covered his shame with a coughing fit, and pulled the door open.
The smells mingled in his nasal passages, grease and coffee and industrial cleaning solution. He assumed that the cleaning solution was a good thing to smell, unless the employees simply dumped it in the trash cans to give the illusion of sanitation. That was a distinct possibility in this economy. No one had passion for the job they managed to snag because it was the only job they could get. Not that he blamed them; he felt the same way about pushing papers behind the scenes at the bank. But at least it paid better than flipping burgers.
He shook his head to clear the distracting thoughts . Pay had no bearing on the mission at hand. He put his shoulders back and strode semi-confidently toward the counter to place his order.
The cashier in the dingy ballcap stared vacantly at him, loudly popping her gum.
“Well, whaddaya want?” she demanded, annoyed that he had interrupted prime counter-leaning time.
He froze, the words caught in his throat. He managed a small cough, and choked out, “D-double burger, please.”
“Fries with that?” she rolled her eyes at his hesitation.
He was not prepared for this question, and it wounded him to the core. Fries are such a commitment; so many of them in that little box. Maybe–no, he had no one with whom to split an order. The panic rose in his chest, threatening to engulf him completely as he watched the girl grow more and more impatient with his indecision.
In the end, it proved too much for him today. Without a word, whimpering in mental agony, he turned and bolted for the door, not slowing until he ran straight into the side of his car, fumbling for his keys to unlock to door to make his escape.
The cashier watched him through the glass storefront, popping her gum in time to the sound of his feet slapping the concrete. The manager would be pissed, she thought, smiling. He’d put all his money on today.
Her bet was that the man would never place a full order. The pool was edging up on two hundred bucks, and that amount of money buys a lot of gum.
Today I saw a friend of a friend. We chatted for a few minutes, and I learned that my friend is still working at the same donut shop where she’s worked since we were fresh out of high school.
I remembered writing about her, so I searched through my archives until I found the post.
And I’d only given her a paragraph.
I thought about my best friend from when I was 16. We lost touch, but I saw her again, intermittently, after I moved back here when I was 21. The last time I saw her was probably 2004, eight years after high school. She had a son, and a job, and a garage apartment, but she was exactly the same person. The same priorities. The same personality. The same first world problems.
I imagine that she’s still exactly the same.
But I am vastly different. Different from the person who wrote that post; different from the person she knew in high school. And even those two people were worlds away from each other.
Today, would I only give her one lonely little paragraph? Were I to write that post today, I can definitively answer no. I would give her much more.
But are my reasons sound? Are they acceptable? It’s easy to say yes and then abandon that line of questioning. Far too easy.
Yes, they’re my reasons; I don’t need to justify them to anyone. Their existence is justification enough.
And that could be the proverbial that, but it isn’t, because why stop there? I think, therefore I am.
As I write this, sitting here in my kiosk, she is here. She just walked by with two young men, young enough to be her children, but closing in on their own majority. If I hadn’t looked up at the exact right instant, I would have missed her.
But I chose the right time.
And I looked back down to resume writing, lips pressed together in silence tempered with the smallest amount of shame. Such a minuscule amount of shame. Hardly enough to be worthy of mention. Or–no. Not truly shame, only the sense that if I were an honorable, decent person, by society’s definition, I would feel shame.
The weight lifts.
I don’t need a mask of false shame to feel good about myself, or to justify my decisions. I don’t need to look up to be a decent human being.
And I’m not a bad person for not talking to her. Or for not talking to her even as I write about her.
It doesn’t matter.
Not in the grand scheme of things. That feels so freeing.
But oh, the world works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? I meant to tell you stories of the girl who went on so many adventures with me.
Another twist from the cruelest mistress.
She came back.
We made eye contact, and I held out my arms. It was a good hug, a welcome hug. Why did I turn the other way when I saw her before?
And she looks exactly the same. I told her this, and she laughed and pointed out her wrinkles. But as I’ve watched my own face age in the mirror, day after day, so her face has aged in my memory. She does look the same, just a different hairstyle. She’s beautiful, and I still love her for the friendship we had.
Her mother died a year and a half ago, she tells me, and it isn’t false grief that I feel. Her sons are sixteen and thirteen, and both had a basketball game tonight, and it isn’t false pride I feel.
I tell her my parents moved in with us, that I’ve been married nine years, that I have no children.
And she tells me that she sees Jessica* all the time at her job. The light bulb goes off over my head. This is where the split is, the place where our lives diverged and will never rejoin. I am on the side of the chasm with Jessica’s husband, with my friends who stayed on my side. She is over there with Jessica and their friends.
On my side, we made the choice to grow and change and live our lives in a well-rounded way.
On her side, they made the choice to reject growth and change. They stayed the same.
I don’t regret not calling out to her the first time I saw her. I don’t regret welcoming her with open arms when I made that choice. And I don’t regret not asking for her phone number, or offering my own.
My life is full, and while my memories of us are a part of that fullness, I don’t have the room to spare right now to include her as a reminder of what might have been.
*Name changed, for the rare few who know me in real life.
As Josey said at PAIL,
It’s just a quick blurb, but the premise is this – we do a lot of talking about our relationship with our kids, but not so much talking about our relationship with our significant others.
And that is the root of the problem right there.
Even before kids, so many couples operate their relationship under the assumption that ‘it just happens,’ that a relationship is there, that by it’s very existence, the validity of the relationship is proven. The problem with this line of thinking is that when the dynamic changes, the pattern of letting the relationship take care of itself continues. But relationships are not living, breathing creatures on their own. They need care and feeding, just as those involved in the relationship do.
A spousal relationship is not a familial relationship; the only bond connecting the pair is the intangible one created by their actions and reactions toward each other. There is not that guarantee of “I will always be your mother/ father/ sister/ brother.” Words take the place of that guarantee, and words are what is necessary to continually strengthen and reaffirm it.
Change is a hard, hard thing to deal with, for everyone, but the knowledge that change can improve can sometimes be a positive impetus to encourage us to effect that change.
In the beginning stages of a relationship, the newness creates the value for us to be nice. That feeling of being part of a team is rewarding enough to make taking care of the relationship nearly instinctual. But as the comfort level rises, we begin to take each other for granted. It’s easier and easier to view the other half of your relationship as inanimate and unaffected by your actions.
So begins the snapping at each other, the lack of courtesy, not picking up or doing all the little things that used to come so easily when we wanted to make sure the other person’s happiness was a priority. It isn’t that we don’t care anymore, it’s that we don’t work anymore.
Relationships are work. They require conscious effort. This is the major challenge for most of us, as we want to say we’re tired from work, or school, or family. We want the relationship to take care of itself, as it seemed to do for so long, but it never really did. The difference is that it was easier then, because you were a team. You were always a team, constantly looking out for each other and doing all the little things that make life easier.
When a change as drastic as a child come into the picture, a whole ‘nother person living in your home and taking away the time that you used to only have to share with each other, it’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re still a team. It’s easy to forget that your significant other is a real person with real feelings, and that those feelings will affect your interactions. It’s easy to snap and not acknowledge the snapping, let alone apologize for it.
And yet that’s the most important thing to remember. Your significant other can’t read your mind. In spite of not being psychic, they still deserve your respect.
It is hard to suck it up and admit it when you’re being an asshole. Nobody wants to admit it when they’re wrong.
There are so many ways to improve a relationship. Time alone together is important. Time just to have fun is important. Intimacy is important. For me, the greatest challenge, but the one with the greatest benefit, is admitting when I’m wrong. Acknowledging when I’m being an asshole. Recognizing it, and stopping it.
It is hard when I’ve said for eight years that I hate when he takes out the trash and doesn’t replace the bag, and he still does it. But I can take a step back and think rationally. I can realize that it’s way healthier for our relationship for me to just replace the bag and let it go instead of griping about it. It takes me five seconds to replace the bag. I could be mad about it for minutes, or hours, depending on what else is stressing me out. So I make the choice to let it go. I can spend that time I would have been angry having fun with my family instead of seething or being grumpy. And the reward is self-evident.
So work on it. I can’t recommend that enough.
It’s like this, see. I read this blog. Yeah, I know, ‘well, duh, April, you read tons of blogs, what’s your point?’ I read this blog and I get annoyed. Sometimes I even get angry.
The author makes a lot of generalizations that I just don’t agree with, most of them because either I or someone close to me has lived the exceptions. But I keep reading, because I appreciate good writing, because I learn new things, but more than any other reason, because it’s still a window to a world that’s not my own.
I didn’t have those reasons thought out when I began this post; I started writing it to explore the relationship between my reading that blog and my compulsion to read the comments on controversial news articles.
I wondered if I’m just a glutton for punishment. I have a lot of firmly held beliefs on human rights, women’s rights, and healthcare, and I find articles all the time on these topics; it’s not like they’re obscure interests. Where I screw up is in reading opinions. I absolutely cannot resist reading editorials and commentary on any subject that I know brings out fast and furious opposition. And then I get seriously disgusted with what I’m reading.
So why do I do it? I have plenty of nonsensical injustice to deal with in real life. Why should I let myself get so worked up about the Internet? My best guess is that it’s safe. It’s instant gratification. It’s expected. Nobody uses the Internet to agree with people, do they?
But safe, that’s a reasonable reason. It’s a lot safer to read and disagree in my head, never commenting or replying, never setting my thoughts free to cause problems in real life. Safer to just tumble them around in my own head until I find something I need to explore further, and that I can do here, with my small audience.
It’s not punishment, and it’s not silly. It’s just another method of coping. Hey, whatever works, right? So now I know. It’s so fulfilling to start with ‘I don’t know,’ but to finish with ‘this is why,’ don’t you think?
I wrote Tuesday about how I came to blog here, and I mentioned that the straw that broke the camel’s back was my statement that I wasn’t willing to consider IVF. I received a lot of criticism from women who thought I was crazy for preferring to pursue adoption without IVF, if it came to that.
It’s so much easier now for me to say that it doesn’t matter what anyone outside this family thinks our next step should be, only we know what’s right for us. Even anonymously, I was afraid to stand up to strangers on the Internet. Before, I needed to stand up to them, because I was grasping at anything I could to stay afloat, but I couldn’t. Now, I can stand up to them, but I don’t need to anymore.
I have a lot more faith in myself and my decision making capabilities. If someone disagrees with me, I can actually shrug and let it go. It doesn’t keep me awake at night, wondering if they’re right and I’m wrong, wondering what I should do, wondering why it bothers me so much. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter. If you’re not here to give me support when I need it, I don’t need you.
This is not to say I won’t ask for input or reassurance. I asked for reassurance yesterday. I am a reassurance junkie. Just ask my husband. The poor guy has to tell me things are okay until it’s amazing the words mean anything anymore. But that does lead me to wonder something.
Because I’ve changed my mind. I am willing to give IVF a shot if it comes down to that. Even though serious consideration drives a spike of fear through my heart, even though I nearly had a panic attack when we were going to check out a clinic last week (we didn’t stop).
It isn’t IVF that I’m afraid of, it’s that nothing else will work before we get there. It’s that I could be wasting all this time trying different meds. I feel like I’m down to the wire, but I’m still shuffling my feet. Can we really afford the luxury of dawdling?
I hate that it took so long to see an RE. I hate that I can’t see one now, unless I want to wait until October. I hate feeling so wishy-washy. We can plan and plan and plan, but something has always come up.
But I digress. What I have wondered is, why the change of heart? Is it because I truly searched my soul for my answer, or is it because I know this is what my husband wants so badly?
And no one can reassure me on this, because no one else knows my mind. If I can’t answer, no one can. But I think the answer is yes, to both. Yes, this is what I want to do, and yes, I want it more because he does. Because we’re a team, and that’s what teamwork is.
And yes, if I need to dawdle, I can stick my hands in my pockets and kick the dirt around for a bit. Can’t I? Please reassure me.