4. Find a New Familiar
Before the divorce, I lived in New York. Now I commute to New Hampshire, and I have noticed myself, in an almost painless OCD way, looking for a few favorite sights along the way: the golden statue (Nike?) on a tall pole in the Bronx; an old broken-down footbridge in a field in sight of the Atlantic shore; a long narrow boardwalk, in three parts, from a house on a hill to a little pier.
The familiarity of these places makes me feel as if the whole Northeast corridor of tracks is my home. They comfort me. They make me feel welcomed. I even have names for some of them: What I call the "Old Spool Factory," an old big stone building with round windows, and what I call "the Weir," a place where high water broke through a dam near an old mill a couple of years ago. The train goes by very fast—swoosh!—golden and brown foam!
5. Hold Your Own, Even if You Have to Hold onto a Chair
Slowly, over the years, my feelings of being torn apart by the end of my marriage quieted down. But once single, I realized I was still a fairly dependent person. I was not always really standing on my own feet. I was still afraid of people, and—except when I was writing —not self-confident. When I met with other professors at work, and they expressed opinions that I disagreed with, I would say, "That's interesting." Or "I see what you mean," instead of directly debating them.
So I pushed myself. The first time I said, "I disagree with you," to a colleague, I had to hold onto the back of a chair, my knees were shaking so. But I did it. Being more assertive made me feel as if I might be able hold my own in a new relationship—or gave me the hope that I'd be able to.
6. Claim Your 50 Percent
This one took a long time. What helped pull me back up from the devastation of the loss—the shock and horror of suddenly not seeing my husband or living with him anymore—was to see my part in the long success and eventual failure of the marriage. We'd had a lot of good years; then our lives slowly changed, our characters changed, and we were not so well suited to each other anymore. He just realized it long before me. As I began to be able to see some of what happened (not all) from his point of view—his wish to be with someone more like himself, someone not a writer—then I didn't feel like a victim but more like an equal. As one of the poems in Stag's Leap says:
50/50 we made the marriage
50/50 its demise
Seeing yourself as responsible for the quality of your relationships, as a prime mover in your life, I think is a bold, amazing step. How freeing, to know we too can act, and that our own choices have helped bring about the joy as well as sorrow in our own lives.
Next: Read Sharon's poem Material Ode