Island Blog 127 Reasons to Stay

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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.

Island Blog 53 – The Colour of Children

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In the night I listen to the wind rising up like an angry woman.  By 3 am she has bullied the curtains into a right state.  The snapping of upset floral chintz wakes me with a start.

Gunshot, I tell myself as I burst up from another of my apocalyptic dreams.  I had just been wandering across a dead grey wasteland, somewhere beyond Thunderdome, and looking for my children. I can’t go back to sleep to find them once I’ve left the dream.

The curtains lift out into the room exposing the window glass, but no light falls in, for this night is just plain black.  The only light, if I can name it such, sneaks up the stairs from its source- that disco ball of a mouse.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that shutting down my laptop would shut the rodent down too?  But nothing will persuade it into sleep and on it glows, red and blue, all night long, but irritating me a little less tonight, as it lights my way down the stairs and all the way to the kettle.

During the day we had visited a little school over the hill.  The sun was warm and yellow (well, maybe not warm) and the sky ice blue with scuds of snowy clouds as we climbed our way up, over and down the hill.  The little isles were still where we remembered them to be, but faded a little inside a veil of mist. Ewes with their bright white lambs, peppered the roadside and, behind a wonky fence, slow cows peered at us through long russet fringes.

Neither the island husband nor I had remembered to make packed lunch.

We spent an hour in the light bright classroom on little plastic chairs, discussing her plans to decorate a school shed with beach gatherings;  bits of fishing net, bits of rope, colourful plastic, shells and so on.  The children do many beach cleans during the summer and after a big tide, pickings are treasure for those who care to think so.  Ideas flew like swallows around that little classroom and we could just see how wonderful it would be, once we got beyond talking about it, of course.

The children came back from some outside adventure just as we were leaving, all breathless and excited, their cheeks rosy and their mouths full of chatter.  We watched them settle in their places around the wide tables.  The teacher introduced us, and explained the hut project, the abstract design ideas, the use of shape and texture and lots of colour.  I wondered if those little heads could imagine what we had imagined.

I burped ten times.  said one little girl a propos of nothing.

Green burps, she continued, then furrowed her brow.

No, not green………what’s that big colour Mrs Eden?

The big colour?  We were all wondering.

Big as your dad?  asked a little tousle-headed boy.

No, silly, she replied.  Nothing’s big as that.

As we drove back along the little winding road, sucking toffees to quiet our growling stomachs, we considered big colours a bit smaller than a dad, and we felt the awe of it.

Island Blog 31 – Valentine’s Day!

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A day longed for by many, fizzing with champagne and flowers and hopes and promises, and one shrugged off by others, usually those in stoutly sensible lace-ups and crackly anoraks.

‘A load of romantic nonsense!’ they say, indicating, with a chuck of their square chin, that such an unrealistic, time-consuming and pocket-emptying affair should remain ‘over there somewhere’ and dare to move no closer.

Their wives think differently, of course.  They have grown weary of being realistic over the years and might rather appreciate the odd attempt, however odd, at an indication that this man with whom they have walked through most of their lives, does, in fact, realise they are a fully paid up member of the female species, and that, beneath that crackly and efficient exterior, there beats a soft, gentle and loyal heart.

Although this heart feels, most of the time, like a rather unattractive pulsation of tubed-up offal, it could glow again, with the smallest gift, the tiniest whisper of proffered affection, and I don’t mean an emaciated clutch of terminally ill carnations bought from the local garage and dumped on the kitchen table.

‘We don’t do things like that.’ they say, these men as if it was a good thing and one ‘we’, at a certain point, grow out of, along with wetting the bed and playing conkers.

I ask them ‘Why not?’  which is always my favourite question when someone says they don’t do this or that, because, in the main, they have absolutely no idea or have quite forgotten why, having ‘not done’ that thing for a very long time.  Then they pull back a little, in case whatever I am showing signs of might be catching, and, at the same time, their sensible wives pull forward as if hoping that it is.

We do celebrate Valentine’s Day, still, after over 40 years.  I am not saying I have felt much like it at times, nor I imagine has he, but one of us at least has not allowed romance to starve to death  over time,  and I am glad of it, because what we have not lost is the fun in a marriage, and, to be honest, if there isn’t fun then it is just a life sentence.

However, fun does not appear by magic, it is a delicate plant that needs daily attention.  Not bothering is so much easier.  We women will always rise ourselves up from any ashes that come our way, but we can only do so much rising once the rust sets in.   As we watch others being bought fresh flowers or taken out to dinner, or being told how wonderful/pretty/clever they are, we know we want the same.  Our problem is that we have forgotten how to ask for it.