A little over a year ago, I took a stroll--Monkey and I--around Lake Elizabeth Park in Fremont. Lake Elizabeth Park is beautiful. It's a lake! It's a park! There are playgrounds and paddle boats and picnic benches and baseball fields and a giant water park. But I didn't notice any of that during that visit.
That visit was more of a consolation prize, a place I forced myself to go just so I'd go someplace. Had it been the days before Monkey was born I almost surely would have spent the day crying at home. But Monkey had come along and changed everything. There was no way I could spend the day indoors and in despair when this child was watching my every move for clues on how the world operates.
The day had started off normal enough. We'd just moved in with my parents, but they were out of town for the weekend. We spent all morning getting ready for two separate outings--a kite festival in the afternoon and a wedding at night. We wouldn't be home in between so there was a lot to take along. Then, shortly before we were about to leave, something I asked of my then-husband made him irate. He ended up calling off the whole day's worth of plans and leaving for who knows where. Unfortunately, by that point, this was still part of the "day started off normal enough" part I mentioned earlier. But by then, with Monkey about 7 months old, I knew something had to change. And I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be my ex.
Crying and defeated, I took everything we'd packed inside and fully planned to spend the day ruminating in the house. But then I looked at my son and something clicked inside me. It was such a big click I think it must have been audible. I immediately loaded the car seat back into the car and headed for....
Anywhere turned out to be Lake Elizabeth Park. I put Monkey into his stroller and almost immediately took out my phone and found myself dialing my Aunt. Why did I do this? In the four years I'd been married I'd never thought to call my Aunt and share any of my troubles. There were exactly three people I'd shared any part of it with, and for two of them (friends of mine) I censored the worst parts. The only person I'd ever been completely honest with was my husband's sister, because I knew she wouldn't judge him, and I knew she'd tell me to "just ignore him...men are like that" and tell me that everything would be okay. I guess that's all I needed at the time.
This time, I knew what I needed was a slap in the face. I don't know why I thought I'd get it from my Aunt, especially since she didn't have the faintest idea about the history of our marriage, but I guess I needed to strike a little closer to home, too. I wasn't ready to talk to my parents--probably because I knew somewhere inside me that having them bear witness to the abuse that was my reality, I would never be able to go on living it. I know that probably sounds like an easy choice to want to make, but I wasn't ready then.
I was crying before my Aunt even answered the phone. And I'll never forget what I said to her. "I'm calling because I just need you to tell me something. I know you also married your husband when he was about 40-years-old. I just need you to tell me that ________ will never change." I'm sure she was confused by this out-of-nowhere plea, but she did her best to listen and be supportive, and that's all I really needed in that moment.
The other thing that remains in my memory from that conversation--it was a rare moment of insight in the midst of a thick fog: I'd told her that I recognized I was almost afraid of my potential when I met my ex (still newly graduated with lots of interests and a full social calendar and big, big dreams), and that somewhere inside I felt I needed somebody to reign me in. I got that with an exclamation point. And I told her that at that point, I felt that if I shrunk even the tiniest bit more (by changing who I was, not speaking my mind, feeling guilty and sad and rejected and always always as if I were doing something wrong) I would disappear.
Admitting all that out loud was something I never thought I would do. But once it was out (and this is what kept me from doing it in the first place), I knew I could never take it back. Even though I knew my Aunt wouldn't tell anybody unless I'd given her more details, and even though I wasn't yet ready to do anything about it, I knew that I myself was now accountable. Saying it out loud made that difference. My son was even witness to it, though he was just an infant and was asleep. Still, he was there, and I knew I couldn't go on pretending.
Less than two months passed before my ex and I were separated. I began slowly, and then like a broken levy, to share with friends and family the true stories of our togetherness. I think because I had been living with these stories for years by then, I didn't consider the weight of the impact it would have on them. They were all at once trying to reconcile their images of my ex with the reality while mitigating feelings of sadness for me, guilt at not having recognized little warning signs or asked more questions, and confusion about how best to support me (when I was still holding out vague hopes that somehow things could change and I wouldn't end up a divorced, single mother).
It was a complicated time for all of us.
Now, a few days shy of a year since separating, it seems like that was another lifetime. We've gone through all the custody business, the divorce is almost finalized, and all of us, I think--me, my ex, Monkey and I--have settled into the new versions of our lives. They are not what we expected or planned for, but they seem to be working out pretty well.
I felt it was about time for
Today's New Activity: Lake Elizabeth Park Through a New Lens
After work and before heading across the bay to pick up my son, I decided I'd revisit the park where I'd first opened my eyes and my voice and see how it looked to me now.
For starters, it was a much sunnier and warmer day. Already better. And inspired by my dear friend Nicole's new affection for vintage phone apps, I decided to play around with the Hipstamatic app on my phone, which I'd had fun with before but never thought to use for actual documentation. Here are some of the scenes I took in:
I love these applications because the resulting pictures remind me of my childhood. And I especially love that for the purposes of today's outing because my childhood was a time of joy and security and the unbridled potential of possibility. And that's exactly how today felt.
Today I saw the families gathered for graduations and early Father's Day celebrations. I heard the birds and ducks calling and the calming lap of the lake's waves. I felt the warmth of the sun and--despite the hazy nature of the photographs that recorded my outing--I saw, with absolute clarity, that my life is more beautiful than it has ever been. I trusted all the decisions I've made that got me here, and I knew in my heart that my son's life will be beautiful too, even though his earliest days were marked by uncertainty.
I ended up walking around the entire lake, and on my way back to the car I took a shortcut on a walkway that passed between 4 baseball fields. Afternoon little league games were in full swing, and the energy of dozens of 10-12 year-olds and their families surrounded me and lifted me up. And I dreamed of the days when Monkey will be old enough to play sports. And I dreamed of sitting on the bleachers, his biggest fan. And I was thankful for all the days that have passed and all the days yet to come...