It’s late and the house is quiet. My daughter has been asleep for hours – after several kisses, a few stories, a lot of laughs, and general unwillingness to get under the blankets — and my three dogs are spread out like great fluffy boulders across the living room floor. Even the puppy, who’s sometimes worse than a restless eight year old whose mother may or may not have allowed her to eat a brownie far too close to her bed time, is sleeping peacefully; her little legs twitching rhythmically. She’s probably dreaming of chasing the neighbor’s cat or shredding another roll of toilet paper.
I’m sitting mostly in the dark, the light over the kitchen sink casting a dim arch that spreads nearly to the coffee table, casting long, distorted shadows. The earlier rain, which had been of the hard, fast, desert monsoon variety, has abated to a light pattering on glass windows. I sip my ice tea, curled up on the couch in a pair of ancient shorts and one of my fiancé’s t-shirts that I’d nicked from his bags before we’d packed them into the truck the day before. The air is heavy and warm but the fan over head circulates the heat well enough that I’m surprisingly comfortable.
Through the mindless haze of a comfort that truly only comes from a long, hard week, I realize It’s been a really long time since I’ve been this alone, and that’s kind of crazy. My fiancé just left for training, leaving me behind for several months with our wedding fast approaching. It’s a strange feeling, though not exactly unpleasant (yet) to know that he’s not waiting in our bed for me. I’ve never had a problem with being alone, but I know it won’t be long before I miss his presence (I give it a week before I absolutely hate it).
Around me, in carefully stacked boxes, are all the components for our wedding invitations, waiting for me to actually get around to putting them together. I really need to have them sent off next week, but sitting in the complacent silence of familiarity, I feel no rush. Everything seems slow, simple, and easy as I sip and sit.
I can’t believe I’m getting married again….
The thought comes to me unbidden as I take a moment to objectively analyze the life around me. Wedding decorations, which I’ve spent months making, are organized in crates and boxes near the back door. My daughter, who had insisted on doing yoga with me after dinner, had forgotten to roll up her small purple mat. It has pink butterflies, which she has since taken the time to name, and has the faint imprint of dogs feet near one corner. Various craft items and tools liter my coffee table, coloring books with various coloring utensils take up the other end of my aging sectional. It’s not a clean room by any means, but it gives off the fantastic vibe of “people live here, they laugh and love here, this is a home.” I feel a sense of personal quiet that borders on perfection. And I am almost immediately wary.
As a teen-then-single/divorced mother, sometimes I think stress is meant to be a natural part of my life. From a failing teen marriage, to college, to divorce, to doing my best to raise a child on my own and start a career, stress, worry, anxiety and all around weariness is almost as natural to me as breathing. For years after my divorce I got very used to doing everything on my own. I felt that I had to; pride took over, fear of becoming just another one of ‘those’ single mothers permeated nearly all of my life’s choices.
My daughter’s father is involved, as we share joint custody (with me as the primary caretaker) but in many ways – some of which are admittedly unfair to him — he is a ‘Disneyland parent.’ The fun parent who always spoils her on the weekends he has her, the school breaks and the summer trips they take. Me… I get to be the ‘real parent’ the one that has to enforce the rules, make sure she’s doing her homework, reading her books, watching and listening to appropriate things… but there it is again, my pride getting in the way. I refused to take any child support initially, I didn’t want his money, and I was convinced I didn’t need, but the courts made him pay it anyway. I ensured, however, that it was a very minimal amount — not even enough to support after school care costs, but it does admittedly help with things like buying her school uniforms and groceries from time to time. I used to heartily loathe myself every time I had to swipe my child support card, the beautiful desert sunset pictured on the front mocking me. I’d learned to avoid help, to avoid anything I couldn’t personally provide for myself, to avoid ever appearing as though I was weak or struggling. Help had always come at a hefty price for me – it always came with long, unbreakable strings that seemed to tighten measurably every day. I hated it; I wanted nothing to do with it anymore.
In other words, I’ve always sucked at letting people help me. I used to think that was an admirable quality, but as the years have passed, and I’ve grown more as a person… I’ve realized the motivations were selfish and full of hubris. I had something to prove. I didn’t need a man to support me. I didn’t need my parents help or their money. I didn’t need welfare or food stamps. I could do this by myself. Surrounded now by a different sort of life, I wonder how much time I’ve wasted ignoring helping hands, kind words and honest compassion. How much unnecessary pain I’ve subjected myself or worse, my daughter, to that hadn’t been necessary. The bottom had always fallen out of everything prior, and it had made me cynical and distrustful.
After a few relationships that had taken a heavy back seat to my daughter and my job, and which rarely intermingled with either – I was very, very reluctant to introduce any potential boyfriends to my daughter — I’d nearly given up on the idea of another relationship all together. I had hated being married and I saw no foreseeable future in which I would want to be so again. If anything, my struggles with cancer solidified this. I could do this alone. I could. I would. I had to.
Then I met my fiancé. I’d actually known him for years. We’d worked together for several before he’d been hired at another facility and he’d dropped off my radar. I’d been cancer free for only a few months when we met again at the house party of a mutual friend, and I was so uninterested in dating that when he’d texted me a few days later, I nearly ignored him entirely. But, thanks to Facebook, he knew my birthday was coming up and asked if he could take me out… On a date. No games, no ‘who can care less’ competitions, no beating around the bush…. He wanted to take me out on a date, he’d wanted to for years in fact. It was so refreshing I surprised myself by saying yes.
The rest is almost history. He fit so seamlessly, so easily into my life that my chest hurts thinking about it. God, a year went by in the blink of an eye, I was in love with him before I could actively stop myself. I’d learned to keep my daughter protectively at a distance behind thick, defending walls, and he carefully, gently, tore them down. My daughter took to him immediately and that’s when I learned that I could still be afraid, that I was still in danger of being hurt. I’d nearly given up on the idea that a man could willingly and honestly be interested in me and my child. Nearly everything around me –people, books, articles, movies, and media — had sold me on the idea that no real (whatever that means) man would be interested in a woman as broken and laden with baggage as me. It was terrifying. I back peddled, I fought it, I denied it, and I could hardly believe it. Life had taught me kindness always comes with a price.
He was so patient, so kind, so understanding… I didn’t stand a chance. Before I knew it he was there at my daughter’s school functions taking pictures with his phone and smiling as she waved at us; he was there watching Disney movies late at night on my small couch with my daughter’s head on his shoulder; he was there helping me take care of her when she was sick, or when I was so beyond stressed at work my every nerve was frayed. He took the time to ensure I knew that what he did was out of love, out of a true and honest desire to be there for me, and not because he wanted to own me or control me. Not because he didn’t think I could do it myself, but because he wanted to do it with me. He respected my strength and my independence as much as I respected his. He taught me to trust again, not just in him, but in myself. He taught me to believe.
He was ready for us to move in together less than a year into our relationship but patiently and unwaveringly waited another year later when I was ready. He proposed a few months later, on Christmas, my daughter helped him pick the ring –small and simple and exactly what I would have wanted without ever having known what I wanted. I cried so much I forgot what he said and I was so happy I forgot that several years ago my answer would have been a definite ‘no’ because I was too busy saying ‘yes.’
Back in my living room, way past my bedtime, I’m laughing out loud because I’m crying like a weirdo in the dark as I type out these words. Sometimes I have such a hard time accepting how great my life is, how wonderful and happy I am after years and years of believing that I was on my own. That I had to be. Sometimes I try to convince myself it’s wrong to be this happy, this content (the world sure likes to tell me so)… but I know better. Happiness can be fleeting, I don’t know what the future holds, but I want to spend my time appreciating it rather than fearing its loss. Hardship and betrayal has taught me perseverance and strength, love and trust has taught me bravery and compassion.
No one ever tells us how hard it can be to accept help from others, or how rewarding it can be when you finally let go of your pride — realizing that all along you’ve been getting in your own way — and allow yourself to find a measure of happiness and peace.