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Thoughts on the elevator
The only words I spoke during the weeklong silent retreat I attended in March were to Wendy C., the woman who read my Akashic Records. Sitting across an empty desk, her back to a window that looked out over the Berkshires in an office so nondescript and gently corporate she could have been a billing manager at a dentist, or a loan processor at TD Bank.
She had a long greyish blond braid that draped down her right shoulder, a cozy blue cardigan, long beaded earrings. Her face exuded the makeupless, expressive warmth of a woman who reads Akashic Records for a living. She explained the process, and then asked me my name.
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As she closed her eyes and evoked the prayer that would open the book that contained every lived moment, every thought and dream, every prayer and hope I’ve ever had through all of my many past lives and all of the lives I had yet to live, she held her left hand steady and vertical as her right motioned forward, like you would when directing a parallel parker.
She told me that when she first opens the book she’ll see a scene of me, like a scene from the movie of my life, and we’ll go from there as the guides, the most important people and energies I’ve come in contact with at some point in my many lives, tell us what they want me to know, through her.
But when she opened the book she didn’t see a scene.
“Well this is a first…” she said, her eyes closed, a slight smile on her face. “ It’s not a scene I’m seeing. It’s just you, alone. On an elevator.”
She said I was going up and up, above the buildings and the trees, and the elevator was made of glass.
I hadn’t yet told her that my husband and I were getting a divorce.
The word, the concept, had only been something I told myself I would never do until three and a half months before the day I met Wendy C. Up until then, during my fifteen years of marriage, I thought, with varying degrees of acceptance, resignation or even satisfaction, I’ll live with what I don’t have, and what I know I can never get. At least until the kids are older. I have so much. Why would I, how could I, disrupt the good things for the mere possibility of something better.
And then the word appeared like a cat darting across the corner of my eye. Like a slippery, gasping fish, flopping in my hands. It was there, it was alive, but I had no idea if I could really see it, really hold on to it.
Divorce from a man I loved, a partner I cherished, a husband I chose when I was a child. A person who had been present and solid and loving for 17 years, who I had grown up beside, who saw me as a parter and a wife and a mother and who didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t, or a combination of all three, see and treat me as a woman separate from those roles, a desirous sexual being, a complicated spiritual energy who craved investigation and exploration and curiosity.
When we met at 22 years old, when we married at 24, was I those things? Could I have offered them to be seen from the start? As they grew in me, as I grew into them, did I hold them secret and special and close to me, tending to them in the darkness as he lay beside me, the solidity of him as reassuring as it was oppressing? Did I make a conscious choice to withhold the most thrilling and complex and frightening parts of myself so as to avoid abandonment, rejection, or - potentially more frightening - the messy intimacy of being seen?
Wendy C. tells me that there is a tall, skinny communication tower to the right of the elevator, transmitting words and information in a way that’s never been done before.
I didn’t want to be married anymore. The truth came to me like a letter in the mailbox. Like a bill to be paid. This is for you. It has your name on it. You can burn it, throw it away, leave it in a pile and ignore it for months. But it’s no one else’s but yours, and eventually, you will have to write the check.
How could I destroy everyone else’s life just to try to live my own?
The kids’ routine, Chris’s mental health, the house. Our shared friends, trips. The bills and the joint legal entity we’ve become. How selfish could I be to imagine that all of that was on one side of a scale and my needs were on another?
For years I had kept a silent running list of things I’d never get. For years, from the very beginning, I would look at couples - on TV, at the store, sitting next to us at dinner - and think “that’s not us.” Not because who we were was bad or wrong, not because something was overtly missing. Maybe it was because we had no script that went beyond the vows we took in a courthouse in Norwalk, CA to begin the process of getting Chris’s green card. No one took us aside and said “you’re going to change and grow and there are going to be things you want and need that are going to feel impossible to say but you must say them anyway.”
I thought I had said them, but it wasn’t until I said the full impossible thing - I don’t want to be married to you, or anyone - that I could say the hundreds of other impossible things that I silenced within my 28, 33, 37 year old selves.
And the most miraculous part is that when I saw my own truth and said it out loud, Chris’s own slippery fish landed in his hands. And in holding it and looking at it, floundering and gasping for air, he has emerged into the fullest version of himself that I’ve ever known.
My love for him has grown every day since the truth was uttered, alongside my certainty that the only way forward for me, for him, for us, is to divorce.
Before I even said the word out loud, it became so clear that my seeking a life in which my own needs were prioritized wouldn’t destroy anyone else’s - it would disrupt them. The kids’ lives would be disrupted. Chris’s life would be disrupted. Our families’ lives would be disrupted.
And I would have to say and believe and trust and move forward with the belief that my needs, my dreams, my vision of a life I desperately want, are worth temporarily disrupting the lives of the people I love the most in the world.
I keep talking about my needs, needs, needs. But what are they? And what were they when I was 22? Could I put them on paper now, on a dating profile? Are they something someone else can ever meet? How could I desert my life for this nebulous idea, this feeling that I might not have met them yet, but I know they aren’t being met here?
A best friend who has co-parented her beautiful sons with her ex-husband for over 15 years tells me that the only people I have to answer to are my higher power and my children in 20 years. Not my children now, but my children as adults, with desires and dreams and needs of their own.
Could I say to Baxter and Pearce as adult men - I thought my life was worth living, too. And I didn’t feel I could do it in this marriage. And maybe that’s a failing of mine. Maybe it means I am broken or was broken along the way and never knew how, even after all of this therapy and all of this work, to be fixed. Or maybe it’s just who I am, who your mother is. A woman, broken or not, who wants more. Who doesn’t know what more will look like but who wants the permission to seek it.
Was I supposed to give up the idea of an independent life when I got that marriage license 15 years ago? Was that the pact? That not only would I not seek out a life separate from anyone else, namely my partner, but that I wouldn’t even want to?
Or was it when we got pregnant, was that the real moment of surrender? Was that when I said “Your life is now my focus. Your needs trump my needs.”
Does it mean I’m a bad mother that the idea of nights and mornings away from my children, of multiple hours in a row of silence, stillness, with no one to care for except for my own self, is a dream so delicious I never even allowed myself to dream it until the letter arrived, until the fish frantically wiggled in my hands?
I hear from a friend that another' friend’s husband said I didn’t try hard enough. And since there is no judge, no arbiter of enough, it could certainly be true just as easily as it could be wrong.
How do I try to fix my own deepest yearning? How much sacrifice of my own desires - sexual, sensual, creative, spatial, relational, occupational - is enough? How sad and unsatisfied is sad and unsatisfied enough? Did I hit the top of the carnival game with the hammer and the bell? Did I win yet, did I prove that I deserve, that I’ve earned the right, to be free of what binds me?
Wendy C. says that my guides, who are showing up as three men, perhaps people I’ve known in this life or past lives, or ones I have yet to meet, or figures that have guided me since the beginning whom I have never and will never actually come in contact with - have a message for me.
She says, “it’s like a banner,” and uses her hands to punctuate each word in front of her face. ITS. ALL. GOING. TO. BE. OK. “Keep going, they say. Keep going.”
Do I think I am going to a place where what I desire will be fulfilled? Am I so naive to think that if someone I trust and respect as much as I do Chris can’t meet these needs I can’t even fully articulate, anyone else can? Do I want someone else to?
About six weeks after Chris and I accepted that divorce was happening, I was in Texas for work. My colleagues and I stopped at the famous Buc-ees super gas station, complete with a carving station and a mini mall full of Buc-ees branded bucket hats and yoga pants and onesies. I saw an elderly couple meandering through the housegoods section - tea towels and Easter themed wreathes and pink porcelain bunnies. The wife led the way, picking items up and turning them over in her hands, examining them for uniqueness or worthiness, and the lanky husband in his tucked in button down shirt walked behind her, one hand clasping the other wrist behind his back.
I’ll never have that, I thought with a pang of sadness. I’ll never meander through a gas station looking at tchotchkes with a partner when I’m 80.
But then I realized I was putting my soul’s deepest yearning on one side of a scale, with a gas station trip to buy crap on the other. Even if it was what I wanted, I was never in a marriage that would have entertained, let alone survived, a meandering trip to Buc-ees. Maybe I’m a fool for thinking that when I’m 80 I’ll want to rent a yacht with my girlfriends and go to the Galapagos. I’ll want to finish my seventh novel and start outlining the eighth. I’ll want to take my grandchildren with me to protest whatever it is we’re still protesting in 4o years. I’ll want to take a lover, and leave a lover, and yearn for a lover without the suffocating tragedy of knowing that doing so would break vows and hurt someone else. I’ll want to wake up in the morning, just one morning, and decide what I want to do and what I want to eat, and where I want to go, and who I want to see, without needing to check with anyone else. And I know some people could do all of those things while married, and I know that Chris never would have said “no” had I asked - but the only way for me to be the 40 and the 80 year old I feel meant to be is to no longer and never again have to ask.
Am I selfish? So, so selfish. No one else is coming to be selfish for me but me.
My 28 year-old beautiful Baxter and my sweet baby Pearce at 24 - I was selfish. I still am. I was selfish to save my life, to meet my life, to explore my life. I wanted to live. I was in love with living. I wanted to stay alive for you. To be the kind of mom you’re proud of, astonished by, fascinated with. I wanted to exult in my life, not just manage it. I wanted to see where we could go, all four of us, together when I stepped out of the prison of other people’s expectations and into my one brief, wild, precious, bizarre, thrilling existence that belongs to me and only me. Not even you two own me - and when I saw how much further and deeper we could go together when I accepted that truth, I knew that what is best for me is what is best for you.
I’ll wear these labels like chains around my neck - selfish, a bad mother, giving up, naive, a failure - and the weight of them will be lighter than the one I wore for so many years. The chain of sadness yoked around me that I said every woman and wife and mother carried. That I said was a small price to pay for a stable life.
At the end of the reading, Wendy C. asked me if I had any questions for the guides. I said just one.
“When will the elevator stop?”
She closed her eyes and waved them in, and she smiled that smile again and said, “whenever you push the button.”
Maybe there’s no such thing as Akashic Records. Maybe Wendy C. really is just a billing manager at a dentist. Maybe I’m simply desperate for an answer, for a promise, for some sort of plan, some rationale for the inexplicable parts that are just beginning to peek their way through the dirt, some constellation connecting all these distant stars.
I don’t know. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know where it will take me, or how my children will view me when they’re grown. I don’t know what mistakes I’m making now, or if the judge will say I did something wrong or something right to get here.
I just know that for the first time in my life I’m on the elevator alone, and I’m the only one who gets to decide how high it goes.
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