I got some prompts from my blog partners, so I decided to start with the first one because it got me thinking right away. The prompt is to write about where you might have gone wrong at some point in your life, however big or small.
I don’t think about my life in these terms. I don’t feel like I went wrong anywhere. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, and some of these mistakes have left marks. Some marks are like the mucky residue and deadened grass under a forgotten slip ‘n slide, messy but temporary in their impact. Chances are that these mistakes, like the slip ‘n slide, involved some fun that made the mistake worth the clean-up. My first experiences with alcohol can be filed under this category, like the first time I got drunk as a teenager from swigging the wine in the bottle my sister was trying to draw a still-life from, or when I confidently told Kristen in college that tequila was my drink, only to lean on her as I staggered home and vomited my way through the rest of the night. While I deeply regretted such excesses at the time, they were rites of passage for me in the way they are for most American teens; they taught me how to manage my intake more responsibly, and they gave me a few colorful stories to mark my growing independence.
Many mistakes operate in this way; they are not mistakes in the grand scheme of our lives, if there is indeed a grand scheme, whether it is of our making or of our Maker’s making. If we learn from them, then we do not go wrong at all; we adjust ourselves accordingly as we discover new truths about ourselves. We clean up the muck and give the grass a chance to grow again. We note that tequila is not, in fact, our drink, and when we fall in love with Captain Morgan’s in our twenties, we take care to sip, not swig, and we respect its potential to bring us to our knees, kind hair-holding best friends notwithstanding.
Bigger “mistakes” are likewise not mistakes in my view. They do leave more significant marks, however, abrasions that cut deeply enough to scar, sometimes for life. Divorce is the thing that has left the most scars on my spirit, at least in terms of things that I had some measure of control over. I did choose to initiate my separation and not to seek reconciliation, but of course I feel that I tried my hardest to make the marriage work and then came to realize that it was not workable in the ways I was trying to force it to be.
It is difficult for many to see divorce as anything other than a failure and to want to blame someone for that failure, and I understand that. Something “went wrong” for a marriage to end since it’s meant to last forever by definition. Where did my marriage go wrong? That depends on which of us you ask. Should we never have gotten married in the first place? Perhaps, but what is the point of wondering about that? He and I made the best decision we were capable of making at that point in our lives, and we loved each other as much as we could. We were together for fifteen years, and we share a beautiful child. I don’t regret any of it, including the leaving. If we’d stayed in the marriage, we would have continued down a path of mutual misery. Some may see this as convenient thinking for the leaver of the marriage, but for me, there was no other choice possible at any stage along the way.
I remember in the aftermath of separation, in the maelstrom of self-doubt and loneliness that resulted from that choice, I found a little comfort in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. She had suffered through a similar journey, it seemed, one laden with guilt, trouble letting go, trouble finding happiness, and the fear of mistakes made at the cost of another. In the aftermath of my divorce, I know that some consider me selfish for seeking out happiness at the cost of my marriage. Gilbert probably faces the same charge. A certain amount of selfishness, I am learning, is necessary to find happiness. You have to go after happiness, fight for it, claim your right to it. I didn’t set out to hurt anyone, and I tried to minimize the fallout as much as possible when I left. I did the best I could. And so it goes.
I continue to process this divorce, as is obvious from my many returns to the subject in this blog. I trace and re-trace the lines of its scars like so many tree-rings lending texture to my growth. As I do so, some of Gilbert’s words ring true to my personal experience and may help shed light on why I will never think of my marriage or divorce as a “wrong turn,” no matter what anyone else decrees it.
“This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”
“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving.”
“Send him some love and light every time you think about him, then drop it.”
“But I was always coming here. I thought about one of my favorite Sufi poems, which says that God long ago drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen.”