Stepping Out of the Boat

Inside the story of our marriage, I was a certain kind of woman, a certain kind of wife and mother. Even if things weren’t happy or whole, I knew my part and how to play it. It was understood between Pete and me that I would be the one to willingly exhaust and overextend myself if I thought something needed doing for our son or our family. And he would be the one resting up, having a drink, watching a movie or doing whatever was necessary to sidestep the whole messy affair of what our relationship had become.

Our therapist described the dynamic like this: We were in a boat, and I had the oars. I was rowing furiously, while shouting, “I need help.” Pete was in the back of the boat, drinking a beer. He knew I had it covered, and he was not the kind of guy to wrestle the oars out of my hands to take over.

Meeting with the lawyer was terrifying, because it meant I had stepped out of our boat, or at the very least put down the oars. If I wasn’t rowing us all forward, who was I? If I wasn’t going to continue to expect to be generous to the point of self-destruction, what would I expect instead?

I didn’t know what fair looked like, or how to calculate parenting time, child support and legal custody as an expression of this new attempt at justice. Taking a stand for myself and my son meant that I would have to invent an entirely new lens through which to perceive my relationship with Pete–but more importantly my sense of myself. The agreeable Sage had to make way for the contentious Sage. The Sage who had made it all ok and defended Pete against the disdain of friends and family had to admit, finally, that it was not all ok. She had to inhabit the truth of what this relationship had cost her–and then give it all a price tag.

Something essential to who I thought I was needed to give way for this to be possible. I stopped sleeping, I cried constantly, I threw up before and after every negotiation with Pete. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t write or wash the dishes or leave the house. I gobbled candies at the lawyer’s office while sitting on the client side of her enormous desk and watching her giant diamond earrings glitter and dangle while attempting to focus on what I was being advised to do and say. Each clause of the legal agreement that took shape was a plank stripped from our little boat, a sinkhole in the mythology of our marriage. With boat and oars and Sage-the-savior deconstructed, I was a lost woman adrift in the turbulent waters of the soul.

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