Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The mended vase

I think when people say that a broken heart or a broken family can be mended and healed, there should be a caveat added. It's as if you've been in a serious auto accident, and the doctors piece you together. Perhaps all the outward appearances are back in place--sort of. You'll again walk or run or even play the piano, but not like before.

It's much like piecing together a rare and beautiful vase. All the pieces may be glued back together again, and it retains its former shape. But there will be noticeable, ugly cracks. And although it may again hold water, it won't be as much as before and it will leak.

This is always driven home to me in the most unexpected times, although by now I should be used to it. I guess that just points to a blind spot I have, something that we all have. Blind spots are, as much as anything, there for protection. We just don't want to look there. The view hurts. But sometimes life just grabs us with both hands and twists our heads around and holds us there, forcing us to look with eyes wide open. It's for our own good, as much as anything.

My oldest daughter, Allison, just left to study in Spain for five months, and I'm so happy and excited for her. Travel, for me, is the ultimate experience and education. I was a bit younger than her when I hefted a backpack and started my wanderings. But it also means that the little bit of time that I ever saw her will be reduced to zero. Sure, there's email and Skype, but now there's 3,000 miles of ocean that is added to the gulf between us and, particularly with a the job loss, while there now is time to travel, there isn't money for a plane ticket to Spain.

She was 12 years old when I left her mother for another woman. As much as anything, it was imminently clear that Al didn't see it as me leaving her mother, as me leaving her. We were buddies, having music and camping and our own quirky personalities in common. A few months ago, when she told me she was going to Spain and start her wandering, she told me she remembered being on the beach as a family, and me always taking her hand in mine and saying, "C'mon, let's take a walk and see what's around that bend." We're both explorers, seekers (it's inked into my shoulder now), always wondering what's around that bend, and she got that from me.

And to this day, while she says she's over it and she's forgiven me, she still at times harbors anger towards me. Of course she does. I don't blame her. And I try as best as I can to let her vent that anger. After all, it's not just my duty, but my responsibility as a human being and my love for her that induces me to do it. In our society, we can't direct our anger at the source. People who deserved to be beaten with a two by four, myself included, are let off scott-free, while the injured party is left to suffer and keep it inside, where it just eats away at us. In lieu of the guilty party being punished, we've turned the healing process into redirecting the anger.

And Allison, like so many other people I've talked to whose parents divorced, is adamantly driven to make a family work and, if it's in her future, a marriage work. Because the truth of the matter is this: In a divorce, the only ones who make out are the lawyers, and the ones who take the brunt are the kids.

A day doesn't go by that I don't think of what I've done to my children. Unhappy in a marriage, and afterwards I learned, depressed, I met a woman in community theater, of all places, who I thought loved me and wanted to be with me. At least that's what she said in person and in single-spaced 12-page letters and God knows how many emails and phone calls. And after almost a year of a lot of soul-searching, I left my family, knowing I was tearing apart my life and those around me but stupidly thinking I could rebuild a better one for me and my kids.

Well, if someone told me this story today I'd knowingly nod my head, realizing full well what was coming. As soon as I left my family, the passion was over--for her. Yes, there are women in this world who are simply home wreckers. Who thrive on the chase and when they get what they want have no compunction about just shucking things and moving on with their lives. Needless to say, I've never felt so stupid and duped and angry and miserable in my entire life.

Me: You said you loved me.
Her: Well, I meant it when I said it.

Good God. In my defense, and I know it's thin, I honestly thought I was doing right. I remember from my days as a Catholic that the Church teaches that you can break the Commandments if you truly believe deep in your heart that you are doing right. Baxter, intellectual Catholic that he is, has even told me the name for that position, though I can't remember it now.

And so, when I sit in Logan across from daughter, who's laughing and so excited to be embarking on a new phase in her life, I'm so sad because due to my undoing and stupidity, I never got to see how she grew into this wonderful human being. As the kids' mother tells me, though, I should look at things on the continuum. Things are better today than they were even a year ago. Things get better. You can't put things back together the way they were, but you can make something different.

And every day is new, something I've learned. I have Sue, who truly does love me for who I am, who didn't selfishly and irresponsibly try me on like a coat in Filene's Basement, look in the mirror, and shuck me on the floor. She does want to make a life with me, a life of traveling and sometimes just sitting together on a summer's evening on the front porch, both of us lost in our own thoughts but still connected by a touch on the hand, or a simple smile, a beautiful smile. She says she loves me today and will mean it tomorrow. Both kids like her, and see that I'm happy, and I somehow suspect that there is a rueful acceptance of that. They wish the the hurt and fractures weren't there, but they can see some good came out of it all. And maybe that the vase is mended.

1 comment:

andre said...

hmm. how worlds can be so similar. It's almost like a mirror image of my life however with slight differences. My father says the same type of things to me about when he and my mother split ways. though I do not hold foul judgment towards either one of them. I have learned form what they did and yes it has affected me in certain way both positive and negative. In the grand scheme of things though we are all only human and if we are to be judged i suppose we should be judged accordingly. but my perspective of things may be far off from others. I would think your daughter is not as mad at you as you may believe but then again i could be wrong. you seem like a great person and father. and you do your best isn't that all any one could ask for. I know my dad tried though he may feel it was not what he wanted but so is life. I think all we really need is a bit of encouragement and some one to believe in us every once in a while.. and that goes for every one.

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