Creating Space

Sitting in a car, that was parked in a ferry slicing across the Puget Sound on a sunny mother’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 wasn’t telling him the truth, but reluctant to endure Carter’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 didn’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.

“What is it?” I asked, CHA’s face shaded by the dark hull of the boat, sunshine behind him.

“Well… 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 don’t bring up my ex the way you bring up Arron and your past with him. I don’t have photos of my ex and my kids around my place. There doesn’t feel like a lot of room for what we are creating.”

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.

“I talk about Arron sometimes to help the kids,” I could hear the defensiveness in my voice. “So they can remember him, to keep his memory alive for them.”

“Oh,” he said, thoughtful. “I’m glad you told me that. That makes sense and makes me feel a little better.” Good, I thought, trying to shake off an unexpected anger. Or was it sadness? Had I been talking about Arron too much? I hadn’t been aware of it. I was feeling, in fact, that I had given Arron very little space in this new relationship, knowing my “closet ghost” had been an issue in the past.

“This is really not about you exactly. Its my own reaction to your past, and I need to examine that,” he said.

“O.K.,” I said. “I really didn’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.”

“Like 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.”

“O.K.” I felt like I had a bowling ball in the pit of my stomach.

“I feel it when I go to your house – the photos, your attention that is sometimes elsewhere when I am with you there. I feel like we can’t be ourselves at your house the way we can at mine.” The blows kept coming. It was anger now, more than sadness.

“Well, when we are at my house, I have kids who need my attention. I can’t help that.”

“Yes, 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.”

“I thought we were.”

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 didn’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.

“Instead of that, how about you invest 400 dollars and get her to take the course that I did. It would change her life, Abby!” I didn’t speak for the rest of the meal, his exuberance for this life-changing weekend taking over. “I 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.”

“I’m not sure its possible to put aside a past of witnessing genocide,” I said quietly.

I left the lunch feeling angry, as though I hadn’t been heard. At 9:00 p.m. that night, he texted me goodnight. “Are things OK?” I asked, feeling the brush off again, through the exceptionally early signoff. “Just processing,” he texted back. “I felt that you were not quite yourself at lunch,” I replied. “Resigned for the moment,” 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. “I value integrity,” he said. “Not being truthful with Carter means that you are not being truthful with me or with our relationship.” 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.

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  1. annie May 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Deep breath. Blending isn’t easy and the hard stuff nearly always seems to come on the heels of what we thought was progress.

    I moved into a house that Rob lived in with his late wife, and though the pictures were off the wall, Shelley was everywhere. And it was hard to fit myself into the day to day when I was cooking with her pots and pans and serving meals on her plates, sleeping in her bed and using her towels to dry after a shower. And it’s not that Rob didn’t make room – he did. It was me. I needed to find myself in that space. No one could do that for me.

    And Rob and the girls talked about Shelley, and I felt left out b/c I didn’t know her. I had nothing to say or add – though as time went on, I found that Shelley’s family and life had a lot of touchpoints with my own and I was able to be part of the conversation. As I got to know my step-daughters, I would ask them to tell me about their mom. It’s a process. It takes time.

    The sleeping thing. Kat was never good about going to bed on her own. When Rob was visiting, I worked overtime to keep her calm b/c I just wanted to enjoy our time and not deal with her. But I realized that Rob and I were parenting together – it was a partnership and I wasn’t used to that. Chips needed to be allowed to fall where they would. We would deal together. And Rob needed to be allowed to deal with her and to have my back when I was dealing with her. Mostly, she needed to start seeing us as a united front.

    Putting things in the past is something I can relate to. Even the most horrific things need to be allowed to rest eventually, so you can move on. Not everyone feels that way and as someone who does, I know that I annoy and even anger people with my perspective. CHA wouldn’t be a Sagittarius? We can be irritatingly pragmatic.

    Even relationships that start off on a magical kismet kind of note will have their bumps and adjustments. Breath. And do some yoga:)

  2. Crash Course Widow May 17, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing the good, bad, and the ugly as you’re working on blending the new relationship into your old family structure. It’s incredibly helpful for me to both hear how you *and* CHA (and the kids) react. It’s great to read Annie’s comments too.

    The grief stuff, I have down. How my old life could blend into a new life? Not a clue. Not that I’m dating or particularly all that interested in it at the moment, but all good fodder to think over.

    Can’t wait to see you in August at SD again!

  3. Diane Fergurson May 17, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Leave him at home next time…

  4. Dampdynamite May 18, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Now I bet you can see why some women say to wait until they’re out of the house! Tricky, this lover/mom stuff…

  5. Dampdynamite May 18, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I should have said lover/mom/WIDOW stuff….

  6. Cathy May 26, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    am I expecting too much of my “new” husband? The reminders are all around, and I like it that way for me and the kids I guess he is comfortable with it. Some things cannot be put into the past. Anxieties, kids reactions etc. My new husband holds my hand on airplane flights when I am about to go berserk with each shudder of the engine, he puts up with my mother-in-law’s idiosyncrasies, and my feelings of yearning for my dead husband and the life we had.
    I figured it was all part of the package of me.

    This gives me new perspective. Oh my. And will give way into some great conversation in August at CW. I want to move on, move forward. We all want to be “happy”. But putting it in the past? I don’t know how to do that. .there isn’t a tidy box with a bow we can just wrap it all up in. Do we dwell, I can’t imagine that you are doing that. You are just living, and remembering.

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