Happy Holidays!

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When I was young, in my teens and early twenties, life was uncomplicated. Whatever teen angst I felt, or however ambivalent I grew, the trajectory of the future seemed simple. College. Career. Marriage. Children. Retirement. Even if you did not embrace this future (and I did not), it was this path you rebelled against. Dreams of an alternate timeline tended to be as straight and simple as the more traditional one.

In my thirties, and particularly after my divorce, life lost its straight line course. I still worked, but the rest of my life’s stream spread like a meandering, unbound river flooding through flat marshlands before finding the sea.  Without reference to who I was supposed to be, or what I was supposed to do, it became harder to know where my life should go. In this new harsh, complicated light there were no comforting shadows pointing my way.

My marriage ended in the late fall of 1979 with an exhausted whimper. It was my decision. We had simply lost all personal connection. My married life wasn’t bad: no godawful fights, no drunken abuse, no furtive  cheating. It just wasn’t very good. She wasn’t a bad wife. I felt considerable guilt at times over my decision to leave her; but when I imagined staying in our sterile union for another decade I knew with frightening certainty I had to get out now.

Of course ending the marriage was still painful. Growing apart once the die was cast, sharing space but no longer sharing intimacy, was like slowly peeling a long, hard stuck band-aid off tender flesh. Looking at her became a sorrow. This now unwanted woman had shared my life for nearly twelve years and conjured more good memories than bad.

Our conversations became strings of silences broken by mumbled words. As much as possible we avoided each other in our small, upstairs apartment, each of us dancing quickly past the spreading pockets of  pain. We stayed together for almost two weeks after I announced my decision; it was one of the worst times of my life as I’m sure it was for her. Insanely, we shared Thanksgiving dinner. Each time the phone rang the wrong one of us answered. I handed the phone to her when her parents called, and she answered when mine did.  My tardy departure at least eased our despair.

A friend offered to rent me a small, one bedroom house in a decaying neighborhood on the east side of town. He also sold me some used furniture (red velvet chair and couch, together with a bed with a  faux mahogany headboard). Heated by a hulking gas furnace squatting like an uninvited guest in the modest living room, the diminutive, shabby house fit my mood. It had been my decision to leave; yet I managed to picture myself  as a newly exiled and wounded victim. How dare she force me to leave her!

I had no idea what would come next in my life. I knew what I didn’t want, but not what I did. After unpacking my personal belongings and arranging the few pieces of furniture  I’d brought with me in my new home I slumped into my one upholstered chair and sobbed.

It didn’t help that it was the tail end of November and the Christmas holidays loomed just a few weeks off. I had an insane urge to to crawl into my creaking new bed and sleep till the first week of January when Christmas cheer would be boxed up and put safely back in the attic for another twelve months.

The friend who had supplied me with my humble lodgings and used furniture decided to make me his holiday project.  He insisted I go out with him, his girl friend and one of her friends, a woman I’ll call Tanya (because I’ve long forgotten her actual name).  We shared an awkward meal and consumed too many drinks. Tanya was a construction worker with rough hands, a long, relatively plain face, and dark frizzy hair.  Shy, she didn’t have much to say. I was drawn to my friend’s woman: a witty, blonde wtih provocative eyes.

Of course I was lonely. The half dozen drinks I’d had encouraged the thought of going home with Tanya. Another drink sealed the deal. It had been a long time since I’d had sex. While I barely found Tanya attractive, I embraced that old saw: “any port in a storm”.

She lived in an old, medium sized trailer nestled against a large hill out in the country, about ten miles out of town. The weather had turned cold. She had left several lights on when she had left which now guided us to the narrow trailer door. Inside the heat was sweetened by a pungent incense.

Tanya lit a dozen or so fat candles, placed them around the narrow living room, turned out the lights, then snuggled with me on her sofa. She required a fair amount of pot before she agreed to lead me to her unmade bed. She brought two of the lit candles with her and shoved an eight track tape into a portable player on a shelf above her narrow bed’s  headboard. I have no recollection of the music. I do remember it played all night (she told me she couldn’t sleep without it).

She remained mostly silent and passive as I mounted her and began pounding away. The alcohol I’d had, together with my lack of any real enthusiasm for her, made coming a dicey proposition. To be honest, I can’t really say I did. I’m sure she didn’t. I’m not even sure she was awake through the entire experience.

I woke up the next morning about six.  Tanya remained dead to the world. I found my rumpled clothes, dressed hurriedly, then staggered out into the windless morning cold. The sky was just beginning to lighten above the wooded hill. The frigid, dry air tasted clean after the perfumed hothouse of Tanya’s apartment; it immediately began to lessen my hangover. Embracing the usual morning after vows of abstinence and sobriety, I drove along the empty roads to my new home and bed.

Tanya gave me a Christmas present a week later, a small plastic green ball of fake mistletoe. I was moved and saddened by her inexpensive gift. Her sweet gesture was a brief bit of warmth that highlighted the coldness  I felt.  I can’t remember if we had sex again after that night in her trailer. If we did it was no more cheering than our initial encounter.

My divorce was granted the first week of January of 1980. I stayed in the rental home for another two years. Five years after my divorce I married my present wife. We live now in a three bedroom house in a solidly middle class neighborhood. We have gas heat and our home is filled with elegant furniture.

Thirty-one years after that dismal winter I still have no clue how my life should be.

Photo by Carrie, remixed by me, subject to this creative commons license 

FLICKR GROUP: Divorced Hotties

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