There is nothing like a big decision to bring you face to face with yourself. Maybe we also meet ourselves in the smaller decisions—what to wear to dinner, who to invite to your daughter’s graduation. How many bananas will last the week.
But the big decisions… the ones that rock the paradigm…
My decision to face the end of my marriage walloped me upside the head in two ways:
- It reminded me of my forgotten power to choose
- It reminded me of myself
The first wallop was liberating and terrifying in the way that freedom of choice is wont to be. We can forget that we are the ones choosing. We can slip into that place of half-light in which choice—a different choice—seems a foregone conclusion. I thought I would be married for life. I thought I had found my future when in fact I was choosing it moment by moment.
The second wallop was plain awful.
It seemed I had forgotten myself. Here I stood again, my eyes taking in the world from this new vantage point. I looked down at my hand without the wedding ring on it, the single name printed on the cable bill. Oh god, I thought. It’s just me.
She was the same, this self I had forgotten. And she was different. It was like welcoming back an old friend from her travels around the world—a friend I hardly recognized she had been gone so long. She had a bit of hyper-pigmentation on her forehead from too many careless days in the sun, a scattering that was not unlike a faint map stain above her eyebrows. She tended to bloat more easily than I remembered, and she dropped more F bombs, especially when alone. But she was also wide-eyed with experience, and full of stories. It would just be me and her now, meaning me. It would just be me.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t be me with my husband. I could, and he got to know parts of me I had never shown to anyone. We were intimate in ways I couldn’t have imagined:
- I stopped tugging up my jeans around him (although he rejected my hypothesis that clothing manufacturers are in cahoots with the NSA, and that butt crack ID’s are the new retina scans).
- I let my hair grow wild in all sorts of places (he maybe rejected this too, but I didn’t ask).
- I could unabashedly talk to myself while he was around and while performing menial tasks such as cleaning toilets or shredding sensitive documents. The way I used to as a teenager, lost in my own world.
He got to know parts of my inner life and I got to know parts of his. We didn’t finish each other’s sentences as often as Hollywood would have us believe is the norm because we’d all but stopped relying on verbal communication. We were so comfortable we were beyond these romantic notions, and if it wasn’t quite telepathy, it was a kind of communication by osmosis. Just the nearness of the other person said it all.
All that saying being said, spending time with him still wasn’t like spending time with me.
I’m funny, to me. And I have strange tics like sniffing hair (back to hair again, but really I sniff hair wherever I can find it—on me, on my cat, on the little beagle at work who lies behind my office chair and keeps me company). I encourage the television screen—things like “go girl” and “get it” and “let me tell you, that’s not gonna work.” And I pick my nose. Yes, I do. I’m careful where I put it, and I realize I’m a total hypocrite for all the times I rolled my eyes when my husband did the same.
I like me. I’d forgotten how much I do.
There is something about intimate time spent with yourself. Something in the pleasure of one’s own company that is more than the fact that I can now use the bathroom with the door open (no, hubby and I never got to that place thank-the-baby-Jesus). Sleep across the whole bed.
Again, it was as if I was journeying and now I am returned. Even during longer breaks when my husband or I would travel alone, there was always the other there. If not in body then by text and by some secret tether that stretched across state lines. An imprint of the other we couldn’t quite lose.
I didn’t know it until now, but I was wishing for my return, for the awareness of my own self sitting with me and in me and around me on the sofa all evening. Me and me alone. I used to beat myself up for wanting to be alone when I had such a wonderful guy by my side. So many people were jockeying for companionship and love. There was a security in his presence—a sanctuary—even if my retreat into it didn’t leave much room for me.
Now I sometimes worry that I like to be alone too much.
Then I remind myself how the crowding out of me during my marriage felt. It was a choice. My choice. My husband didn’t snuff out my Anna-ness or refuse me my time. It was I who chose something along those lines—choosing wifeliness and marriedness and my version of identity through partnership over me. It is a choice I don’t think I’ll repeat when the time comes for another relationship.
But then who knows about any of that. Tonight it’s just me, and girl let me tell you it’s gonna work.