There’s Black Rose incense burning in the family room while a soothing mixture of essential oils diffuses in the hallway. I had a sandwich for breakfast: tuna on a Hawaiian roll with Irish sharp cheese, lettuce, tomato, and green onion. There’s jerk chicken marinading in the refrigerator. I pondered adding Irish Coffee to my morning regimen.
It’s been a helluva week.
Actually it’s been a helluva few decades and I’m tired.
I’m not trying to live in the past but realized a week ago that in certain ways I had been. What had happened was that in February Claus decided he didn’t want to run. Right around my birthday, a trip was planned to visit Venice Beach — it was my first time going there and I was excited. Because the ocean, good company, and an adventure — what’s not to love, right? All was well until it was time to come home. Claus didn’t want to start. After much cajoling, praying, fussing, and such, he started and we made it home. I had maybe one or two days of driving after that and nothing. He sat in the driveway, gathering dust and cobwebs, leaking brown fluid from his front. I got myself into another ride (another story for another time, but his name is Osiris and he is wonderful), but had to park him at the curb because The Behemoth is also DOA. Wise counsel said (about a month or so ago, but still), ‘you should put Claus in the garage.’ I considered it and finally last Friday took Osiris and pushed Claus into the garage. There was a sense of accomplishment as I backed Osiris into the driveway.
But Claus and the garage were another story. Oh he fit all right because it is a two-car deal. But if you remember my #OperationFindTheGarage saga, it wasn’t a car-friendly space. I got rid of some things, rearranged others. I needed to move my lateral files over a smidge but they were super-heavy. ‘What a great opportunity to purge old paperwork!’ I thought. I destroyed payroll documents from 1812 (okay, maybe they weren’t quite that old …), mortgage information on the house I owned in Delaware that I had purchased after my dad died and the one I bought years later in South Jersey, and documents from dead spouses.
I found a pile of stuff from my first marriage. There were cards and photos; I got angry. The first husband’s family struggled (read: didn’t try all that hard) to pronounce my first name so he told them all to call me by a shortened version of my middle name.
I hate my middle name. It was given to me from outside the family and to me, was done in spite. But that is another story for when we’re about to take in that third whiskey.
The first husband did it and it mattered not that I hated my middle name. His whole family called me what he wanted them to call me. There were cards in this pile of ‘history’ referring to him by his given name and to me by the name he’d given me.
I got angry and tossed them all in the garbage.
I made myself flip through the photos and in the midst of them, found three that I decided to keep. Two of them were of me and the dogs I’d had during that er, relationship.
I grew up with dogs. I eventually decided that having a dog would probably help me remain relatively sane while married to this man. I did the worst thing in the guise of doing a good thing: I went to a pet store, hoping to rescue an animal. I found this Keeshond and brought him home. He was straight up in-bred puppy mill, cute but unmanageable. He was quite insane. I suspect that the environment didn’t help either. The husband liked him well enough, which was probably the first sign that things would probably go awry I should have recognized after bringing him home. Anyway, one day the husband took him for a walk and he got off leash, ran into the street, and was hit by a van. The driver never stopped. The husband came home in tears. I had no words. I was pretty much silent for the next few days, which was nothing new since I tried not to talk to the husband much. It helped not to talk most of the time because you can’t say anything that could be deemed as wrong if you aren’t talking. Eventually, the silence made him just as angry as if I’d been talking. He announced we were going to get another dog. I didn’t want one. He insisted. North Shore Animal League advertised on television all the time so that’s where he said we would go.
I was determined not to bring a dog home, especially after all the male dogs had been taken. The husband’s anger grew like the worst thunderstorm, tornado, hurricane, Nor’Easter, tsunami, and haboob ever known to mankind; after all, he’d driven all that way to get me a dog because I wanted one, so I was going to get a dog. I pointed to a small black ball of fur; the Animal League people put her in a cardboard carrier, had me sign a few papers, and handed her to me. We walked to the car and I put her in the backseat. As we pulled off, I heard scrabbling from the box and in the dark felt something moving — she had extricated herself from the box, crawled under the seat, and up and into my lap. She was dirty as all get-out but at that moment, it didn’t matter. I loved her for loving me. She was a good dog — never pottied in the apartment, walked well on a leash. But she didn’t talk. I never heard her say anything until one day, she and I were walking around the tiny lake in the park across the street. Suddenly she stopped walking and her hair stood on end from the back of her ears all the way down her tail. She barked just once as a homeless man came out of the brush and walked toward the road. I was so excited because until that moment I didn’t think she had the ability to make sound. My joy of her was short-lived; in the heat of summer she stopped drinking water. I couldn’t get her to take anything. I didn’t know enough about dogs then and was so embroiled in my own survival that I couldn’t take the time to learn. The husband took her to a farm outside of town and we gave her to the family what lived there. She was my last dog until I adopted Pi, the Shar Pei Rhodesian Ridgeback pup (what a great dog … I still miss him and hope he’s happy on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge).
I can’t remember either dog’s name but remember them, remember the apartment and the neighbors and the tension and the sadness and the pain — physical and psychological. I remember the feeling I’d lost my freedom, that like those pups I was living in a cage from which there was no escape. I had no point of reference, no one to tell me that what I was experiencing was not what it should be, not what marriage should be. No one to tell me I could leave, that I could find safety, that I didn’t have to be afraid. So I took it.
And I survived.
All those memories flashed through my mind as I watched the wedding album arch through the air and as I heard it hit the bottom of the garbage can after I tossed it. I had held onto the photos for my son, who was an infant when his father died. But after 22 years of life, he had not once asked and I still have an album of his first years; there is at least one photo of his father in there so if he ever wants to know what the man looked like, I can show him. If not, who knows — maybe he will find it one day after I’m long gone and will finally know that’s who helped create him. Not raise him, mind you; I did that alone until Christopher showed us what being a dad means. But I digress, as usual.
I went through the rest of the cabinet, ditching crinkled yellowing documents belonging to Christopher. From what I hear, there’s no need for paperwork on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. I think things are simpler there. Anyway, he doesn’t need these papers or any of the other items I had that were his that I’ve gotten rid of over time.
I realize I needed to purge a bunch of stuff. I’ve been hauling around a ton of pain from the first marriage. No wonder I’ve felt weighted down for so long: when a glance at a Christmas card can cause anger to bubble up like getting cussed out in the street, it’s time to recognize. My marriage to Christopher was what I asked for — he helped me in ways that might not make sense to anyone outside our home; through his gentle and patient manner, he showed me what it means to open your chest and allow another human to hold your heart with love. He showed me what it means to be vulnerable with your beloved and still be safe. He showed me that it’s okay to be upset with your signif and that it is possible to show that upset in a respectful way.
Before he left here, he told me that it would be okay to let go. I resented him for it at the time because he wasn’t supposed to go anywhere, said I. But his Path took him on a new Journey across that Rainbow Bridge and since his health had prevented him from playing music for quite some time, I guess he’s had more gigs than he knows what to do with since David Bowie, Prince, and most recently Chris Cornell are over there too.
After a while I realized that keeping all the stuff, the photos and nicknacks served no purpose. There are things that family members want that are packed away but the house has become my sanctuary as I stop looking back for good and look ahead to clearly see where the Path plans to take me. Doing so does not mean I am trying to erase those parts of my life (okay, I would like to erase a large portion of the first marriage …). It simply means I can honor, to quote The Gunslinger, that the world has moved on.
And so have I.
For a while now, but just a bit more tangibly these days, you unnerstand.
I hope your Path carries you to new and exciting places, that who and what you find along the way makes you giggle.
And maybe our Paths will cross one day and we’ll smile, wink, and nod knowingly before finding a local tavern and sharing stories over that third whiskey.
See you then.