Since writing my book, Island Wife, I have received many emails and letters from women whose own story relates to my own. Some of them are short, some long and detailed, but many of them have the same question to ask me. Why did I stick with my marriage?
The ‘how’ of it, I can answer. Despite what appeared to be going on, and growing shape and form, I could always find one good reason to stay, one reason, however small and squeaky. There may well have been a thousand reasons to leave, but it only took one to keep me in place. In the early days, the reasons numbered five. My five children. I was confident and strong in the knowing that, were I to abandon ship, they would be damaged. I make no judgement, nor did I ever, on women who do leave. In fact, as I re-investigate my heart right now on this matter, I feel no critical twinges, nor any sense of superiority beside those good women who made a choice, a really tough one and one not without considerable personal angst and pain, guilt and fear. I just couldn’t do it myself, not for long, anyway.
I used to watch other wives and mothers, as they flew in on warm winds to stay at Tapselteerie for their family holidays. I warmed myself in the light of their eyes, eyes that told me they had found a nourishing bond in their own relationships, and that they were, yes, happy. Of course, I have no knowledge of them now, but those glimpses into another’s life both helped and hindered me. On the one hand, they made me envious. They had managed to find a man who honoured them just as they came to him, not in need of any re-arranging, not faulty. The new light they brought to the marriage was something he needed, wanted to be around, in order to find fulfillment. He basked in it, sought her wisdom, let her be. On the other hand, they made me feel that, had I been like them, I would also deserve such freedom within a relationship. Oh poor little me.
As the children began to try out their wings and, eventually, flew the nest, I became increasingly aware that I was being abandoned by the five who gave me context. Who am I now? is a question I often asked myself, as the rooms hollowed out and the quiet of ‘just us’ settled like dust. People, friends, told me that this was now my time to do something for me, and, yet, after decades of not doing something for me, I had no ideas at all. When someone has ploughed the same furrow for that length of time, investing fully in the work of every day, and night, it is almost cruel to take it all away and to offer a wide horizon. What could a no-longer-girl like me do with a broad horizon? I’ll tell you what she does. She stands there looking at it, mouth open, eyes wide and head empty, and then dives back to wash the kitchen floor, just to feel safe again.
In a different sort of relationship, one I observed in others and dream-wove from novels and movies, this woman would be given free rein to investigate, to research new roads, and, most importantly, encouraged gently to find her own wings, to grow new confidence as just herself in a new context – that of the big wide world. If that encouragement is not proffered, and if it matters as much as I think it does, then she will hold to what she knows.
I know about monkey mind. That chatter inside a head that always works to undermine walking out a dream. I have worked hard to quiet that voice, and still do, for it is not the truth. To imagine another life, without stepping into it, is just that. Dreaming. I found my way, by writing my story and setting it free in the big wide world. You might say it was written in the hope for understanding, for empathy. You might say I hoped it would bring a flash of remorse and a new beginning. And it might do all of these. It has already brought me a new self-confidence because to have a well-known and respected publisher take up your book, you must be able to write, and in these times of excellent writers, doubly so. It has also taught me that feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing to change my situation is, well, pathetic, at best.
In those times of finding just one reason to stay, I discovered other ones, hiding in my attic. In any relationship, there are at least two people, each with a very different perspective on life and ideas on how to live it. Bring into each mix, parental baggage, school history, sibling rivalry and so on and then dress this damaged person in cowboy boots, or high heels and call it an adult. Then shove it out into a world of high expectations, judgements, parameters, boundaries, social constraints and no mappage, no DIY manual on the subject, but only other opinions formed by those who came before, each one lumbering along under the weight of their own ‘stuff’.
I believe I have just found a new definition for Chaos.
Living now, each day as it comes, I learn something new. Something new about me, about my marriage, my choices, my life thus far. I still find reasons to keep walking, keep looking around, keep my heart soft and my stride strong and purposeful. I have bad days, black dreams, bouts of self-pity and I can still make the house shake with a powerful door slam, but these are just a part of the whole. What I love is a challenge and life is always thus. I find only momentary delight in winning an argument if my opponent just backs down, remaining certain still of his own belief. I find there is little (if any at all) point in going over who said what and when and in what tone of voice. I find no future in paying the slightest attention to either of us in a grumpy mood. I am learning that perspective is king, and that grace is his queen.
At the end, whenever that may be, I will reflect on my choices, made by me, for me, and be content to know, not that I got it right, but that I got it at all.