The best tests are normally the kind you already know the answer to. It makes things easy, knowing the answers. You can scan through a test and be confident and expedient with your selections. You can earn an A. But not this time. I didn’t want to know the answer.
I remember the day that I decided to marry the husband. I had worked almost thirteen hours at my job managing a gas station. I was exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to collapse at home on my couch and vegetate in front of the television set watching “Joan of Arcadia.” But he lived right around the corner, and as I was driving into our neighborhood, I had a thought. I found myself wanting to say hi to him. So I did.
We sat together at the piano in his basement. His fingers laced in mine on top of the keys and he told me that he loved me. I said it back.
As I left his house, I thought to myself that I would marry him someday.
Shortly after that his anger started creeping to the surface. He would yell at me, call me names, over stupid things. But I stayed with him, because I believed that I could make him better. I believed he was the only who could fill what I had been missing. I believed that there was nobody else who would ever love me. I believed that I had to marry someone in order to be a real woman. I didn’t know that it was okay to be on my own.
In my psychology class we have been studying reproduction and reproductive ethics. It’s brought up many feelings for me. After Carter died, the husband wanted another child to replace the one we had lost. I remember sitting out by the pool that summer with his mother listening to her lecture on how reproduction was the point of my existence as a woman. She abided by the whole “women should be barefoot and pregnant” philosophy. I wasn’t so sure I agreed with that anymore. To me, agreeing with it signified my own failure and made me less human. All I wanted was to be successful, and successful meant having another baby. I couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I wasn’t willing or ready to take the risk again.
I spent months wondering what I did wrong. If I could get pregnant again, even if I wanted to. I would find random pamphlets at odd places in my house. So You Want to Have Another Baby. Your Reproductive Potential. Children and a Women’s True Purpose. I was never sure if they were from her or from the husband. I ripped them up and stuffed them in the bottom of the trash can. I couldn’t handle even looking at the covers, much like I can barely handle watching the movies I have had to watch in psychology lately.
On our wedding day, a friend gave us a framed copy of our wedding invitation that she had decorated with quilled paper flowers. It was supposed to serve as an example of our eternal love. On the day the divorce was final, a year and a half after Carter died, I dismantled the frame, removed the flowers, tore up the invitation, and fed it all piece by piece into the fireplace. And I cried. But it wasn’t relief. I was scared to be alone.
The videos in psychology are too much to handle. National Geographic did a special on life inside the womb, featuring pictures of real babies from conception to birth. It was hours of torture, like nails in the coffin of my failure. It spawned a right to life argument in my class between the pro-abortion and the anti-abortion camps, during which I stayed silent. It is not place nor my desire to debate reproductive ethics or the choices of others. I’m not that person.
But the discussion hurt, as did any discussion on reproduction. It hurt because I could remember everything, even the smallest of details.
I have always had an obsession with pajama pants. My dresser contains several different kinds: thin, thick, fuzzy, regular, sweatpants, yoga pants, shorts. You name it, I have it.
That day, I had to pick a pair that were loose. Comfy. I couldn’t choose.
I needed a friend. It was hard for me to drop the wall, hard for me to say the words. That I was making a choice for me and only me. That it wasn’t a light choice. That it was serious. That I needed help.
That it was killing me.
I picked my gray owl pants. They were the most comfortable pants I owned and big enough that I drowned in them. They were the best that I could do. To make up for things. To myself, to him.
My life will always be a struggle to make up for that which I can’t make up for.
I took a Creative-Nonfiction writing class last semester where we had writing workshops weekly. One day, a piece about rape came up in my assigned reading. I couldn’t read it; I held in my hand and found myself completely paralyzed. The critique of the piece spiraled into a debate over the act of raping a woman versus the use of the word rape to describe an herb. I couldn’t believe that a word used to describe something so horrendous could be the subject of jokes in this manner. I walked out and slammed the door before promptly bursting into tears in the hallway. Because they didn’t know. Because they couldn’t.
In that same class, we had a bi-weekly assignment in which we were instructed to write about new experiences. I wrote about him; I wrote about the things that had happened. I couldn’t talk about things, but I could write. My professor N wrote very little by way of commentary on the piece, minus a blurb at the end: “This is a new experience I wish no one ever had. You treat it with grace and dignity, and that allows you to bend and shape it to your will. As your instructor, this is all I can ever ask for. I do think it’s good for you to be writing, so keep doing it. K?”
So, I did. I wrote about everything.
I wanted to tell her. I wanted someone to tell me I had made the right decisions. But I couldn’t.
I believe that people have a right to make choices. I didn’t use to be this way; I followed along with the husband and did the things that I was told. But I’ve begun to realize that my ideas and needs are important too, that I have a place in the world despite what it may feel like at times. Many choices in life aren’t easy. The decision to have or not have another baby was not easy. In fact, many choices are completely and totally ridiculous and lead to utter insanity.
Not all choices have a good and a bad. Most things fall into the gray area. Black and white do not always exist. A choice is the opportunity to choose or select something; it is an indication that there is more than one path. We all have to make choices. We may not like any of the possible outcomes, but we always have to make choices.
The things that have happened to us previously remain in our lives as an echo, batting around in the background. Affecting our choices. Back and forth. Back and forth. It makes the things we actually do feel so much heavier.
I read a piece at the end of the year last year that really struck me, a piece that made me realize I was not alone. It was different; the situation obviously wasn’t the same. But I was no the only one. I was not nothing. I could take the experience and bend and shape it to my will, just like N had said. Just like those prior. The piece told me that there was another side, that I didn’t have to be by myself in my life. It saved me during a time in which I was drowning. But I never told the author, until a recent stumbling attempt. I didn’t know how. I’m worried about what she’ll say.
There are many things in my life that I am ashamed of, that I want to hide. Maybe I don’t need to be, but I am. And as much as I want to hide these things, I also want someone to tell me that it’s okay. That I’m okay. That I’m still real. That life and the events therein didn’t kill me.
That I’m still respected even though my past is a permanent fixture on the wall of my life. That I’m not alone in it.
That it will be okay. Just okay. I’d be good with that.
Some days I just need to hear those words.