Beneath The Surface – The Truth Lies
Below The Surface – The Truth Lies
One unusually warm July afternoon in East Hampton, I was reminded that we never know what truth lies below the surface.
“Momma, did you get divorced because you stopped loving dad?” asked my eleven year-old daughter.
I thought for a moment. What could I say and be honest? Should I talk about the day-to-day suffocating feeling I tried to suppress, because I didn’t like the person I became? Should I take the easy route and mention the affair with the nanny?
“I never stopped loving your dad. We just stopped being good partners.”
“Momma, are you going to stop loving me someday?” says a carbon-copy brown haired, brown eyed, dimpled version of me.
“That’s not possible. You’re part of me.”
“You and dad are extremely divorced.”
“Well, we were also extremely in love.” Extremely in love gets finger quotes.
My daughter is right. I am extremely divorced. I want to be one of those cool divorcees that shares meals with her ex, while laughing about dating mishaps. How could he hate me, the mother of his children? They say that divorce is like a funeral without a body. So, how do you mourn the loss of someone who will always be a part of your children?
I look at my daughter. I want her to learn from my mistakes, yet I have no answers to the questions I don’t know how to ask.
“Sometimes I think it’s easier for us to lie to ourselves than look below the surface for truth. Adults always think someone has to be at fault, but blaming is useless.”
“But how can you tell what is the truth when everyone has a different story?” asked my daughter.
“Everyone has their own truth. When our version is different, when we hurt, we become defensive.” Should I explain to her that walking away from my bubble of luxuries and escapes in a suburban wasteland didn’t produce a parade? Or that years of lying to myself chipped away at my soul?
Instead I say, “Even if I’m angry or hurt, I should speak respectfully because If I don’t respect your father, I don’t respect myself. More importantly, I’m not respecting you.”
I pause to think. How do I explain that I didn’t just lose my marriage, and our family? I lost the person I was when I fell in love with my husband. “Even if I don’t like his behavior, he’ll always be a part of us,” I said, more for myself, than her.
“Momma, maybe dad wants you to hurt as much as he hurts.”
“How did you become so wise?”
“Will you and dad ever be friends?” asks my daughter, bounding for the shoreline to boogie board, rather than waiting for an answer.
Engulfed in silence, I wonder. How do I describe a happily-ever-after love that I haven’t found? Except. Except – I need to know that my leaving was more than a selfish decision. My thoughts consume me. Doesn’t he understand that throwing a divorce party with our nanny is disrespectful to himself, our children, and me? And what about our friends who went? I hate my ex-husband’s choice to have a divorce party, but I’m mad because I haven’t let go. Occupying a blue beach chair, watching my daughter boogie board, while the country club closing staff rakes the beach in my peripheral vision, I feel guilty. Sitting in front of the Maidstone Country Club on Egypt Beach, towering above one of the quietest stretches of sand, we are neither members of the club, nor residents of the enclave behind us. We are share holders in the sunset and calm indigo blue ocean that connects us to our home on Shelter Island.
Its twilight and the Eastern seaboard is calm. As the sun starts it’s descent, it’s orange-hued glimmer and reflection, like a million stars gleaming and bouncing off one another’s reflection, produces a shimmering masterpiece. I lose track of time and disconnect from unanswered questions. My divorce from a Frenchman back in Texas evokes feelings in an emotional Esperanto…Like the rhythmic, hypnotic pull of the tides, my story fades – at least for a moment.
I walk to the ocean and swim out into the coolness that envelopes me. My daughter abandons her boogie board to follow me. Our heads bob in unison, always in sight, yet not within reach. I swim aimlessly, slicing through the indigo water with long languid strokes. I look up at the cerulean sky and float. My peaceful reverie is shaken by a furious wave, and then I am jerked down by an undertow, something I have heard about, but never experienced. Paddling furiously towards my daughter I scream over the crashing waves towards an empty beach. “Help!” I shout, swallowing murky salt water.
In a split second, the magic cooling my parched skin is now a threat. Panicked, I search the horizon for my daughter’s head as another wave folds over my body. Again, an unknown force pulls me below. Holding my breath, my chest hurts. Before I can gasp for air, I am pulled down again. I begin fighting for my life; I want a chance to teach my children what love looks like. Adrenaline pumping, I pray that the sea will release its hold, yet, I have no faith. I’m fighting a futile battle. Out of the corner of my eye, I see an unknown man swimming to my daughter. I wonder if I can gulp air within a fleeting second, rather than fill my lungs with the cold murky foreign fluid assaulting me. I am pulled down so deep that I wonder if I can hold my breath long enough to make it up, before being pulled back down. I am growing weaker. Seconds become minutes. Whoever said drowning is a peaceful death lied, I think. I let go. Then it happens. The sea spits me out.
A hand grabs me. I see a smiling look of reassurance on a stranger’s face…my daughter is fine. I don’t know how I know; but I know. Dizzy, my eyes not quite able to adjust to the sunlight, I look for a point of reference – something familiar. All the chairs have been packed up. Everything is blurred in overexposure—I sit on the empty beach for what feels like forever choking and holding my daughter. Where is the man who rescued us? I feel invisible. Remembering to breathe, I gasp for air and expel laughter. I see my daughter’s fear.
“You know what you asked earlier?” She nods as she traces the outline of my hands in the sand.
“I don’t know if your father and I will ever be friends, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to .”
“I know momma,” she says with an adult voice.
“Maybe it’s better if we focus on the end result and not mistakes along the way,” I say.
“Are you happy momma?”
“What do you think, sweetheart?”
Down in the gray murkiness of the cold sea, I thought of one thing – not letting go. And the more that I thought about not giving up, the more the feeling of letting go filled my being. I didn’t understand what lied below the surface of this complicated emotional territory that my exodus claimed. I just knew that letting go was the answer, not fighting nature. Magnified and muted, my enormous grief had manifested itself into a deep self-destructive sorrow that was fueled by regrets and defeat from neither being able to keep my marriage together or successfully part as friends. Feeling like a ship without a country, I knew I needed to point my compass inward, yet all I could feel was an icy force tugging and propelling me.
When I think back to that day, I remember surfacing, choking on air, then feeling something happening in my body. I realize now what it was. I was breathing. I don’t remember where the stranger who came to our aid went. I want to tell him that somewhere down in the murky cold depths of the ocean, I opened my eyes, thinking that if I was going to die, I wanted to see. I remember thinking how much I loved my family. Laying on the beach that evening, I emerged from the darkness to see the sun, just as it began it’s descent. Engulfed with emotion, I realized that there is darkness in everyone. When I delved down into mine, below the surface where the sun couldn’t reach, I wanted to breathe deeply, forgive myself, and leave suffocating regrets behind. I can’t say that I’ve become that cool divorcee, but I’ve returned many times to experience the mixed blessing of solitude on my favorite beach. Mostly, I come to remember what letting go feels like and to breathe in fresh air and exhale hope.