I made him a promise and I did not keep it. I always tell you to be truthful and I…I lied.
Almost ten years ago I stood in front of your father and I said:
“Today I give you this ring which represents my love and commitment to you. Please wear it always, and when you see it, may it remind you of the vows we’ve made today. I promise to give you the best of myself and to ask no more than you can give. I promise to stay by your side no matter what may come, with all that I have to give and all that I am, in the only way that I know how, completely and forever. From this day forward, you will not walk alone. My heart will be your shelter, and these arms will be your home.”
I lied to him. I promised to ask no more than he could give. That I would stay by his side no matter what. When the words were spoken I had no idea just how great that promise would be. How easy they would be to say, and just how repetitive and how loud they would echo in my head.
If I had not met your father, I would maybe never know just how painful a promise can be.
Don’t ever promise not to ask of someone more than they can give. I thought it sounded noble. Giving. Wise. I accepted less, so much less than what I wanted for myself because someone else could not, would not, give it to me.
I gave all of myself, the best and the worst, from the beginning until now. It isn’t even the end. I ended it and even now, the giving continues. I put candles in the mailbox tonight because he is on day 10 of no electricity in the apartment he will soon be locked out of. I filled out forms upon forms for food stamps and cash assistance that are not for us–but for him. I gave him $10 so he would not sell his wedding ring (which is what they offered him at the pawn shop) because for some reason that I cannot explain I wanted to keep it. My own rings sit in a safe, away from me. I cannot bear to let them go, but I can’t hold them either.
The reverend who married us said that the circle has long been a symbol for marriage: “being unbroken circles, each represents unending love. As often as either of you look upon these rings, may you be reminded of this moment and the love that you have promised.”
When I walked out on our marriage I took a hard look at those rings. A long, hard look. The circle may have been unbroken on my finger, but every blessed promise it once contained had broken my heart. Every one. And in that time, my reminder of the moment in which it was put on my finger no longer was enough to wear it anymore.
Nightly, you ask me why he can’t live with us. Our bedtime conversations start out casual or goofy, and very typical of what I would expect from talking to a loopy-tired, four-year old. And then out of nowhere, you will ask:
“Why can’t Daddy live with us?”
Stupidly on my own behalf, this interruption to our bedtime routine still leaves me tongue tied and surprised. I always take a deep sigh before I respond with the most watered-down response I can think of.
“Because Daddy and I have grown up problems that we can’t seem to fix and we are happier and better parents when we live in two houses.”
It stings to tell his half-lie.
I am a better woman, I am a better mother, I am a better me without him.
He is lost, he is selfish, he is reckless, he is miserable, he is absent without me.
But, my son: he was lost, selfish, reckless, miserable and absent when he had me. The only difference is now I don’t have to drown with him. I can choose to ask for more. I can choose to stop being home for someone who let me walk alone, without apology, so many times.
This is the paradox. It is the best of times and it is the worst of times. This is the high of self-discovery and the low of starting over. I look in the mirror and I am so proud of what I see. I look at your father and I am so inexplicably disappointed and scared. I look at you and I am overwhelmingly proud and blessed.
And while it is less frequent these days, I still look down at my left ring finger and for a millisecond I believe something is missing and I panic.
Then it passes and I realize that even six months later, a barely visible line encircles my finger where a heart full of promises resided, the reminder is no longer what I lost or never had.
The reminder is that I will never allow myself to accept less than what I would give, even on my very worst day.
So, when I tell you that they are “grown up problems” what I mean is a thousand lies, a thousand tears, a thousand chances, a thousand cries that went unanswered. What I mean is that these problems are so big and beyond what your mind can hold and my heart can bear. They are the kind of problems I never want you to know, I never want you to hear because if you did, your question would change. It would change so drastically.
Your question would not be why he can’t live with us. Your question would be, how can he live without us?
So, the truth is, he can’t live with us because when he does I give away a piece of myself, every day, that I will never get back.
Unbroken circles may represent unending love. But sometimes there comes a point where you change the script. Maybe it isn’t unending love for someone else.
Maybe, finally, it is for yourself.
Jessica-An Awesome Single Mama