Once upon a time… That’s how these things start, right? The line that starts the whole story. After that, nothing else even matters but getting to the happily ever after. I used to think I could see mine, out there on the horizon, but each time I think I’ve got it in my sights, something happens that shows me differently.
The settings and circumstances change, characters come and go, and there’s plenty of romance and drama to make it interesting. Even if you could predict how it ended, it’s so much fun to get there that you wouldn’t want to miss a thing, wouldn’t change a thing. And in the end, that’s what matters… that you lived and loved with your whole heart.
No matter how much or how well I plan, no matter how much I might work toward it or want it, the truth is that happiness is elusive, evolving, ever-changing. It’s conditional and comprehensive and you haven’t got a chance at actually attaining it without perspective. It’s different for each person, without justification, and the same. We’re all searching for it.
We pack up our hopes and dreams in our knapsacks, swing them over our shoulders, and head out into the great big world in search of it. Things happen on our quest, as they inevitably will, that make us change what we think will make us happy. Force us to examine our original plan or dream and decide if it’s still worth pursuing, if it’s still the thing that’s going to make us happy and whole.
So often, people hit a wall, and instead of figuring out how to get over it or around it, they just turn around and go back the way they came. We justify it to ourselves, the giving up, by telling ourselves that we were mistaken, that we didn’t really want that after all. The truth is it was too much work to learn to climb the walls. It was easier to just walk away.
That entire idea is absurd. Of course, we don’t know that then. Not only are we walking away from our dreams and our potential happiness, but we leave little pieces of ourselves behind every time we do. Living our lives as a fraction of our whole selves isn’t easy or conducive to finding the happily ever after we’ve been looking for. Worse, it’s actually more work in the long term to continually have to convince ourselves that we happily left those pieces behind.
Sometimes, actually, a lot lately, I wonder how much one person can take before they give up. It’s been said that you’re only given as much as you can handle at one time. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’ve been given an extraordinary amount. Definitely more than any one person’s fair share, then again, as I was often reminded as a child, life isn’t fair.
My life has fallen apart so many times now that I’ve lost count. Not really, but I don’t like to recount them. It’s not a contest and no one knows the rules. Does the scoring work like golf or like bowling? Does the survivor of the worst situation win, or is it the person who never had to find a way to exist in spite of the worst happening?
Being a party to the first group, having set aside my dreams repeatedly for the good of the cause, literally learning things the hard way, and learning to breathe with a broken heart makes a good case for the people in group number two. Still though, I wonder. In return for survival, I’ve earned an appreciation for making the most of each moment, for putting my whole heart and self into everything I do, being genuine, and the value of true happiness. That’s definitely got value, and it’s something the people in group number two will never have.
Without perspective, and a heap of optimism, it’s fair to say that a lot of people who have suffered some upheaval in their lives miss the things they were supposed to learn at the time. And that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Learning the lessons, learning from the experiences, growing as a human being, and finding happiness. Not that it’s easy to remember that in the moment.
Often it comes to us in flashes, tiny pieces of clarity and knowledge that we grab on to and use to pull ourselves out of the ugly hole of despair. It’s a slippery slope, and for some, it takes years and a Sherpa to find their way out. Even with a trail of breadcrumbs and trail signs, it’s one of the most difficult journeys a person will ever make. One would think the third or fourth, or even the fifth time, you’d know the way out, but it doesn’t work that way. No one ever said life was for the faint of heart.
I rummaged through one drawer in my mom’s old, cherry wood jewelry box that sat atop my dresser before moving to another until I found it. It wasn’t in great shape when I pulled it out from amongst the old watches, the matching one I’d gotten for him a month later, and the shamrock pin I wear once a year. Tarnished and so scratched from years of wear, you could barely make out my name where it had been engraved on the front.
Still, I turned it over and read the inscription on the back of the very first gift he’d ever given me. It was to celebrate my 16th birthday and our one month anniversary. An ID bracelet, simple and silver, with a message straight from a heart experiencing those first delirious moments when you fall so crazy in love for the first time.
I wanted to wear it again, to remind me of what we once had, what we could have again, if he can find his way back to me. A reminder to soothe myself with hope when I’m so scared that we’ll never get it back, and because it’s the closest I’ve been to feeling his love in weeks.
I squeezed a little toothpaste into my hand and rubbed it between my palms a second before cleaning the bracelet the best way I knew how in the absence of any silver polish and wondered if he’d even remember giving it to me, remember what it said. Eventually, I silently admitted to myself that I hoped it reminded him of what he’d promised me all those years ago.
Forever yours. Love, Rich.
Hours later, when I was serving dinner, our daughter, Annemarie, just weeks from turning sixteen herself, noticed it and asked, “What is that bracelet?”
Unsure if I was relieved that she wasn’t complaining about the peas I was putting in front of her, or suddenly nervous that Rich had taken notice now also, I vaguely answered, “It’s mine. I’ve had it a while,” and handed Rich a plate of beef stroganoff that he eyed cautiously. He doesn’t like mushrooms or sour cream, but he’d have to actually speak to me to find out if it contained either. Instead, he just ate it.
Like any typical teenage girl who is all wrapped up in her own life, she let it go, and in an effort not to let me down, went on to complain about the peas. It was a welcome piece of normalcy, something I could count on in the chaos that had become my life. Besides, I like peas and beef stroganoff.
It’s equally horrifying and comforting to know where Rich and I were in our lives at her age, and knowing that she’s so far from that place. We were so sure at sixteen that we had it all figured out, or if not, that we’d conquer the world together. We’d show them, prove them all wrong. What the hell did we know?
There are two types of people in this world. The type who crumble in the face of a crisis, who panic and act without thinking, who let their fear and their emotions control their behavior and decisions, and then there’s the other. These remaining people are the logical type. They keep their heads when times get tough, are always thinking their way through several scenarios until they find the best one, and easily separate their emotions from their thought process.
That’s not to say that these logical thinkers don’t have emotional reactions to things. They certainly do, it would be inhuman not to. They just typically don’t act on them. As it turns out, intuition and emotional responses don’t usually lead us down the smoothest or the safest path. Certainly not the smartest.
Typically, it’s the outbursts of anger, the confessions of love made with such bravado, and the feeling as if you’ve just had the wind knocked out of you leaving you with a horribly painful sadness where you would normally find oxygen that can create the biggest opportunities to make the worst moves. I would have said decisions, but to be decisive requires thought, consideration, and evaluation.
Being a logical mind can be both a phenomenal power and a crippling weakness. To know that you’ll always know what to do and how to go about getting it done, to take things literally and to be able to count on that as a constant, and to feel the comfort that logic is your default setting can be immensely comforting in a world that changes faster than many of us can keep up with. Consequently, it makes it a major difficulty to let that default setting go and find enjoyment in basic things.
Personally, I can’t make it through most cartoons. Even if I could overlook the fact that there are talking animals who can lift anvils that weigh twenty times their own body weight or drive cars along the ocean floor, what I cannot discount is that the responses those cartoon characters have to whatever circumstances they find themselves in, become moot, ridiculous, illogical.
Instead of being entertaining, it’s frustrating. Possibly as frustrating as being the person on the couch next to me watching a movie or a TV show. Perhaps it comes from my depth of life experience, or because I’m a writer and a storyteller, or because, as logical as I am, I’m more in touch with my emotions and the emotions of those around me than most people, but whatever the reason, when I can predict the ending, most people would say there’s no point in watching anymore.
I disagree, for it’s there, in that moment when we’ve connected with that character enough to know what will happen in their future, that we learn about ourselves. How would we act or feel in that situation? What would we do? What would our next move be? Little lessons and explorations that can be learned and taken without consequence. A free pass.
Logical people watch everything, analyzing, organizing, forming patterns. They are supervisory and certain about what they feel is right or wrong. These people are easily adaptable and energetic, have a keen eye for details, and typically, a logical person is the decision maker. They are realists.
I’m not sure anyone but a logical personality could understand what it feels like to be faced with a situation that is anything but logical. To be able to do nothing to make it right or organize it so it can be dealt with. To be the one not making the decisions. There are no ‘right’ answers; there are no ways to best this dragon. The only thing there is in bountiful quantities is a frightening feeling of helplessness.
After 19 years, Rich has decided he's not in love with me anymore, started sleeping with a girl he works with, and has destroyed my dreams, my marriage, broken my heart, and crushed my children's entire existence with his selfishness.
After 19 years, I've crossed more things off my 'I Never Want To Experience This' List than my bucket list. Here's one more: I'm getting divorced.