Some people have grandparents who were married for 75 years; some have parents who are still married—some have religion.
And some people have a litany of literary references—mostly tragic—about what life “is.”
I am that last kind of person; the girl whose compass is found in stories born mostly from sadness so heavy it had to find its way onto paper.
I was that high school kid who read Ann Sexton and Sylvia Plath. At night. For fun.
When I went to college I read The Awakening — the story of a woman whose rebellion against the role of wife and mother ends in her wading out into cold ocean waters. And I read Mrs. Bridge and I readThe Coquette — the story of how one woman’s flirtatious ways again lead to her demise. And I even reluctantly found my way to the end of a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel; at the end knowing that rose colored letter had only transformed into some new symbol.
” A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, ‘Who am I and what do I want out of life.’ She mustn’t feel selfish and neurotic if she wants her own, outside of her husband and her children.”
~ Betty Friedan
That makes sense to me.
I read Death of a Salesman and became convinced that if I finished my paper on the downfall of Willy Lowman, I would become Willy Lowman. The American dream, even if it was real wasn’t worth it. And so I stopped writing.
“…And I looked at the pen in my hand and said to myself, what the hell am I doing, what the hell am I grabbing for in this life.”
~ Arthur Miller Death of a Salesman
And that felt real to me—it feel reals to me.
Big ideas, that all may be real, may be true. But it doesn’t mean I should have cast aside so many ideas thinking they were all part of this ..this thing.
When I gave birth to my first son I wasn’t married. Shortly after his birth, as in maybe hours, I took a Biology exam. I was back in class within days. I wasn’t going to be that woman. I wasn’t going to be that statistic—I was going to be different.
When I gave birth to my second son, I quickly found my way back to work, and dedicated years to thinking, writing, and talking about some of the darkest issues facing women and girls. I wasn’t going to be quiet. I wasn’t going to just look nice on the arm of my husband. I was going to be different.
I love and adore and admire and cherish my boys. But I am also a woman who believed she should never settle; a person who believed much of a woman’s fate is pre-determined by old ideas that weren’t created to serve us; a woman who believed there is something called “happiness” and that I shouldn’t have to give into norms just because they are.
And so now I am facing a—gasp, choke, take another sip of wine—divorce. And I have fortified myself in part by all of these big ideas and aspirations I discovered in the pages of books.
And this felt valid to me—until today.
During breakfast, my older son asked me if I knew what my younger son wanted to be when he grew up. I thought I had heard it all. At one point, my oldest boy once imagined himself to the head of “flip flop parade.” He once wanted to be an astronaut-clown.
So, I felt ready. And then I heard these words from my two year old’s mouth:
“When I grow up I want to be a house. I want to be a house where my dad, and my brother, and Jacky (our cat) and you (me) can live. And I will have a door. And you can come inside and you can live there.”
When I heard those words—those innocent, pure, human words—my heart broke.
Sitting at a breakfast table force feeding myself food that I don’t really like but think I should eat. (Also choices precipitated by thoughts not entirely my own: You are not getting any younger. Something important about my figure. Incoherent thoughts about cancer and blueberries.)
Tears hot on my cheeks and words stuck somewhere between my heart and my head, I was trying to be brave. Trying to make sure he knew it was okay to feel what he felt; to make sure he knew it was safe to say what he said—and not to be totally knocked over by the fact that that is probably the thing that we all really want.
And in that moment—as strange as it might seem—I kind of felt like saying, What the fuck?; What the fuck road less traveled?; What the fuck was the point of all of those hundreds of pages and thousands of words?
What the fuck?
I am woman; I do roar. (Kind of but what does that mean anyhow? And who ever actually roars? It’s weird.)
Where in this whole thing did someone forget to tell me that family and connection are things we want at our most basic level. Things that little people want so badly they imagine themselves growing up to be a house so they have a place to put one?
How could I forget that part? Why isn’t that in a book? That people have to read in college?
Now here I am, with these new words echoing in my head and reverberating in my soul.
“I want to be a house…And I will have a door. And you can come inside, and you can live there.”
I don’t have a blueprint—and feel pretty sure Virginia Woolf won’t be the first person I look to to find one— but I am hoping there is one out there.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise