Sometimes, being intertidal really bites.
Despite this blog’s tagline, I haven’t been embracing the relentless flux much these days. I’d settle for just learning how to manage it gracefully, but rather than surfing the waves and letting them carry me where they will, I keep finding myself dumped on the sand, wind knocked out of me, mouth full of grit.
From the comments of regular readers, I’m coming to think that intertidal might just be a stage of life, rather than a particular set of circumstances. That those of us who find meaning in this metaphor are, as one of you put it recently, “in a certain demographic.” (I really like that. Not sure why, but it tickles me.) Perhaps middle-age is called “middle age” not just because we are in the supposed middle of our lives, but because at this stage of the game we are in-between so many things.
Well, I’m tired of being here. I want to get there. If only I knew where “there” is.
Not knowing the location of there is both an abstract, mostly symbolic quandary for me as well as a very concrete one. As regular readers know, I’ve been fairly consumed for some months now with the issue of selling my house and buying a new one. (If you’re late to this party and really want to know, you can read about that here and here and here, for starters.)
It seems simple enough: Kids are going to school in town now, and it makes sense to move there. Will save time and gas to live closer to school/work.
Why is nothing ever so simple as it seems?
Turns out, this isn’t just about where to live. It’s also about how to live. I mean, I knew that. I knew it. But I didn’t really, truly, deep-down know it until this week.
I’m beating around the bush here because I don’t really know how to dive into the topic I feel I should write about. I don’t really want to write about it, but feel I should, somehow, if this blog is going to have any authenticity to it. Which matters to me.
I think I’m floundering around, clearing my throat so long and noisily, because the real questions on my mind the past few weeks are so huge, and the answers feel so elusive. I like to have the answers. I especially like to have them when I sit down to write something to share with all of you. But I don’t. I don’t know if I’ve even fully identified the questions.
WHAM! There’s that hard sand again.
Here’s the thing I’m running into: As much as I want to figure out how to better live this life I’m living the truth is that I want a different one. I don’t want an intertidal life, a constant shifting from one existence to another. I want one life. I want one true, full-time family that contains everyone I love. I am so, so tired of always missing some place, some person. I’m tired of packing my things in bags and unpacking them.
I wrote a long post last fall about how Cane and I were likely going to be living the way we have been for quite some time. I thought I was OK with this plan. It seemed like the only one that is do-able, possible. So, in my mind, it just had to work.
I have to make it work. Because I can do anything if I just set my mind to it, right? That’s what’s always gotten me through whatever needed getting through.
Somehow, the quest to buy a new home closer to town has revealed all the cracks in this plan. See, I don’t want to keep living this way for years. Buying a house in a town that’s closer to Cane, but still a good 20 minutes away from him, feels like a commitment to the way of life we currently have going. And that life—it’s not working for me so much. I hate that, hate admitting it. I really want it to work. I want the power of my will to make it so.
What I learned in the past two weeks of being ill is that I don’t need Cane. I managed fine. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but I managed. I didn’t screw up my meds and I was able to keep the kids fed and safe. I managed the power outage and starting up the generator on my own, to keep the house from flooding. I did it with a screaming migraine and bronchitis. I wasn’t super-great emotionally, but I was far from a wreck.
I’ve learned that I don’t need Cane—any man—to take care of me. I needed to know that. I needed to get here. So, great. I’m here.
The thing is, I thought that once I got here, it would all be easier, but instead it’s feeling harder. When I knew I needed to know I could be OK on my own, that eliminated a whole bunch of choices about how to live. Feeling I can now tick off that particular life task opens up possibilities. And possibilities = complications. (If I weren’t trying to write a PG blog, I’d insert a profanity here. One that starts with an F.)
Here’s what else I know now that I didn’t use to know: I don’t need Cane, but I want him. Not an abstract “life partner” but the very particular partner that is Cane. Another reason I used to want a separate life was that I wanted an escape route. Just in case I’d been wrong about Cane, about myself. If I had been, I did not want to have to unhitch my life all over again because I’d yoked it to the wrong person. Well, consider me yoked. Because I am, dammit.
He’s not a perfect person and it’s certainly not bliss all the time, but he’s the right person, for me. We’ve been through enough not-bliss for me to know that’s not going to change. (There. I said it in print. In front of other people.) Not working it out is no longer an option for me, no matter what “it” is. Because I love him, dammit, and we know how to work stuff out in healthy ways.
So, he’s the right person and I want one life and that means it’s happily ever after time, right?
I’m no longer liking so much the choices we’ve made, but I don’t feel ready to make any other kinds of choices, either. I want to live where my kids will be going to school. I want to be close to their friends. I don’t want their lives to be any more fragmented than they already are. Why should I get a life all of one piece when they don’t get to? When the reason they don’t is because of choices I’ve already made for them?
And it’s not as simple as having Cane move to us. See, this is the problem with pulling apart your life in the middle of the game. There’s no true “starting over.” Not when you’re intertidal. There’s leaving some stuff behind and dragging other stuff along–big, messy loads of treasure we’re not willing to set down. Just like me, Cane’s got a child to consider. He’s got his own passions to pursue—and he can’t pursue them in Sandy.
Even if our separate lives that could be fully lived within the same zip code, there’d still be the whole challenge of blending our families. No disrespect to the The Beatles, but I don’t think love is all you need. Even if it is, I don’t know if there’s enough of it for all five of us. I love Cane and he feels like family to me, but that doesn’t mean my kids do, or that his daughter feels that way about me. There’s no way that he loves my children the way I love them, or that I love his daughter the way he does. We’ve got to be honest about that.
Right now, things work as well as they do because we each have time—lots of it—when we are just with our kids. When they are only with those who truly feel like family to them. Could we preserve that? Should we preserve that? How? How do we add more without losing what we’ve got? Can we?
We know where we want to end up—a life truly lived together. We want to be each other’s partner in building a life that works for each of us and all three kids. We want to be a true family to each other. But we don’t know how to get from here to there.
My move 20 minutes closer—all theoretical until I can get my house sold—will do something. We don’t know what it will do, but we know it will do something, will create change. But what, and will it be enough?
Will we, in a year or two, want something more, something different? And will we be able to do it? I’m looking at a sizeable (for me) financial commitment, one that I can’t just undo or walk away from. I don’t have unlimited resources, and I’m not in my twenties. I don’t have decades to recover from poor financial decisions. (And I’m not even going, in my own mind, to the place of tying my financial ship to Cane’s. That’s a whole ‘nother thing, too.)
Is there some point at which we just need to jump, to take a leap of faith? How do those of us who know how badly things can turn out have that kind of faith? How do we know when it’s the right time? Is it stupid to think that we can still crawl toward our destination? Is it stupid to think that we can get there before the kids are grown and on their own?
I see other people who do it—who hold their children with one hand and each other with the other hand and leap—but I wonder how it really is for them. I certainly know now that what others see on the surface of a life is often far from what’s really going on below it. Am I wanting something that’s not possible? Am I just believing in some other kind of fairy tale about mid-life love and happily ever afters? And even if it is possible, is it possible for us? Are we healed enough to make it work?
Much as I want what I want, I want even more not to be another divorce statistic. I want even more to do what’s right—for my children, for Cane, for Cane’s child, for me. As one therapist said to me a few years back: “Rita, you’ve got a window opening. It’s important to go through it the right way. It might not open again in your life.”
I can’t afford to break any more windows.
Even though I have no answers and no widsom to share, I am writing this. I am writing this, I suppose, just to record, in my own small way, what it is to be what I am: a middle-aged woman/mother trying to figure out how to live what’s left of her life, after walking away from/dismantling large portions of the one she had. I’m writing it even though I have no answers because there’s value in just articulating the questions. I’m writing because of the great post I read this week on Her Bad Mother about the need for us to write our stories and share them, which contained these words:
…there is, in fact, a deep cultural thirst for stories about life behind the veil of the private sphere. It demonstrates that, perhaps, the veil itself is something that we want to tear down and trample for good; that we want to share our stories freely and openly and use those stories as the basis for connection and community-building and empowerment and changing the world for the better.
That’s why, despite all my throat-clearing and questions with no answers and discomfort (that feels a lot like hitting the sand really really hard), I’ve written this post and I’m going to share it. I don’t have faith in fairy tales or happily ever after or the power of love alone to make things work, but I do have faith in the power of story to make the world a better place.
This is my story, as true as I can tell it, as much as I have written so far. I have to believe that telling it matters. I’m sure you’ll let me know if it does.
Thanks for listening.