Sitting in a car, that was parked in a ferry slicing across the Puget Sound on a sunny motherâ€™s day, he looked at me with a pained expression. We had spent a night on Vashon together with Carter and I had made a gaffe. Sleeping arrangements were taking us all a while to get used to. When Carter asked where CHA was sleeping, I told him he would be sleeping in the guest room, knowing I wasnâ€™t telling him the truth, but reluctant to endure Carterâ€™s resistance. I knew that he would refuse to go to bed if he knew CHA and I were going to sleep in the same bed. I didnâ€™t have the energy. I would tell him the truth in the morning, I thought. Carter went to bed without a complaint. My plan had worked and I told Carter the truth (well, OK he asked) the next day.
â€œWhat is it?â€ I asked, CHAâ€™s face shaded by the dark hull of the boat, sunshine behind him.
â€œWellâ€¦ I guess I am not feeling that there has been a whole lot of space in the context of your past life for me to be who I am in our relationship. You bring Arron up in conversations quite a bit. I donâ€™t bring up my ex the way you bring up Arron and your past with him. I donâ€™t have photos of my ex and my kids around my place. There doesnâ€™t feel like a lot of room for what we are creating.â€
It felt like a shot to the belly. I had been feeling proud of myself in the context of this new relationship, feeling that I had relinquished my widow mantle, become simply a woman, one capable of love.
â€œI talk about Arron sometimes to help the kids,â€ I could hear the defensiveness in my voice. â€œSo they can remember him, to keep his memory alive for them.â€
â€œOh,â€ he said, thoughtful. â€œIâ€™m glad you told me that. That makes sense and makes me feel a little better.â€ Good, I thought, trying to shake off an unexpected anger. Or was it sadness? Had I been talking about Arron too much? I hadnâ€™t been aware of it. I was feeling, in fact, that I had given Arron very little space in this new relationship, knowing my â€œcloset ghostâ€ had been an issue in the past.
â€œThis is really not about you exactly. Its my own reaction to your past, and I need to examine that,â€ he said.
â€œO.K.,â€ I said. â€œI really didnâ€™t realize I was talking about him that much. I have actually been feeling that I have been doing a pretty good job of keep my past a bay.â€
â€œLike I said, its not anything you are doing. You are just being you. I need to figure out where I fit in, in the context of your past.â€
â€œO.K.â€ I felt like I had a bowling ball in the pit of my stomach.
â€œI feel it when I go to your house â€“ the photos, your attention that is sometimes elsewhere when I am with you there. I feel like we canâ€™t be ourselves at your house the way we can at mine.â€ The blows kept coming. It was anger now, more than sadness.
â€œWell, when we are at my house, I have kids who need my attention. I canâ€™t help that.â€
â€œYes, but its not just that. I feel like there is this big mound of dough that is your life and your past with Arron, and I am trying to find a tiny air pocket within it to be who I am. It should be a place of ease and grace. We should be bringing that to your kids and your home.â€
â€œI thought we were.â€
A day later we met for lunch and when I arrived, he was cool towards me. He hugged me and gave me a dry kiss on the lips and didnâ€™t hold my hand as we walked to the Indian restaurant around the block. Over lunch, I tried to tell him about a lunch I had had the day before with a woman who had survived the genocide in Rwanda, the connection we had made, my desire to help her in some way to study marketing at University.
â€œInstead of that, how about you invest 400 dollars and get her to take the course that I did. It would change her life, Abby!â€ I didnâ€™t speak for the rest of the meal, his exuberance for this life-changing weekend taking over. â€œI promise you, your friend will not be the same if she does this! It would be the best gift you could possibly offer her. It would teach her put her past behind her.â€
â€œIâ€™m not sure its possible to put aside a past of witnessing genocide,â€ I said quietly.
I left the lunch feeling angry, as though I hadnâ€™t been heard. At 9:00 p.m. that night, he texted me goodnight. â€œAre things OK?â€ I asked, feeling the brush off again, through the exceptionally early signoff. â€œJust processing,â€ he texted back. â€œI felt that you were not quite yourself at lunch,â€ I replied. â€œResigned for the moment,â€ he wrote back. I finally suggested we talk on the phone, though I knew he was reluctant. The evening on Vashon came back at me. â€œI value integrity,â€ he said. â€œNot being truthful with Carter means that you are not being truthful with me or with our relationship.â€ He was right. I knew that the moment the words were out of my mouth that night with Carter. My many past dealings with Carter were what had me do what I did. Behaviour that CHA could not fathom. I wanted a peaceful night, one without tears, without begging, without angst on all our parts. I should have allowed CHA to be a part of whatever Carter might dole out. And next time I will be honest and take what comes. That way, at least CHA can be a part of it, and can contribute to Carter feeling comfortable with the situation. Creating ease and grace is harder than it seems.