George Eliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” What does that say about who you were that makes you what you are now? If it is said each step begins a journey and each must follow his own path, what do the missteps and jaunts in the wrong direction say about the traveler? How does a broken road define a life?
I’m forced to think about the twists and turns that define my journey, bringing me to a place where sometimes I don’t recognize the face staring back at me in the mirror. Peering through cobwebs and dusty corners of my mind to the me that existed twenty years ago, I can scarcely find a remnant of that timid, sheltered, scared young woman who accepted life as it was, never considering there were alternatives.
When I stepped over the threshold between child and adult, I entered the new frontier holding the hand of my teenage love. We began a life together, doing the conventional customs – buying our first house, having children, playing house. I was content to be a stay-at-home mom, loving every aspect of being Mommy. As my husband laid out his path and began a small business, I followed, leaving my path behind. I became partner, doing my part to get the business off the ground, although I never considered it mine. I worked for him and his dream.
As our travel along this road gained speed, life threw us the usual ups and downs, and the journey began to rival the world’s most treacherous rollercoaster. He became entangled in a world in which I could not find a footing. I lost myself a moment at a time, developing an eating disorder as a twisted means to cope. It was the one area in my life that I felt I had control. I learned to exist rather than live a life.
Needing some outlet, some way to hold on to a piece of me, I developed a love for writing and art. I wrote for hours a day, sometimes proud of my work, sometimes cringing at the results. I committed to following the dream. I joined writing classes and made friends with many fellow writers. I found some success and had a contract with a greeting card company, and encouragement from several publishing houses. Life began to have purpose.
I had the serendipitous fortune to cross paths with two men who changed my life. They were doing work in my house and treated me like I was someone of value. I’m not even sure they knew they did anything. They were simply decent human beings. Becoming friends with both, I gained the strength to try to live a life with purpose. I garnered the support I needed from an abundance of sources, and finally became strong enough to dip my toes in the ocean of living on my own.
The next few years were more difficult than I ever imagined. My former husband was bitter in those early days. We traversed the usual minefields of a broken family, battling over things that now hold very little importance. Some days I sailed right through, not letting it get to me. Other days, I became very dark. My most vivid memory from this period was the day I decided I was done. I planned my suicide and had everything ready. Although I am not an extremely religious person, I believe God intervened that day. I was online, checking out a few last details. My laptop chimed. It was my young daughter, sending me an instant message from her dad’s house. “Hi Mommy. What are you doing? I love you.” My plans instantly faded, and although I spent the rest of the day curled up in a ball on my floor, I made it through.
As time marched forward, I stepped out into an unfamiliar world. I behaved like a child in a candy store, enjoying freedom I was denied so long. I made horrendous, yet mostly harmless choices in the dating world, got one tattoo that I love to this day, and three others I regret, and struggled to make ends meet while working at a silly e-commerce store with a lecherous boss. I moved to working as a kindergarten aide, loving my job, but not able to support myself or my kids. I finally landed a teaching job which, although was an improvement over my previous salary, did not and still does not, leave much room for error in the financial department. I was mostly content.
Two events followed that threw me around another bend in the road. I fell madly in love…twice. The first man was strong and kind. We were both very broken and well matched. He was perfect, except for his addiction to drugs. In the three years we were together, he stole my car multiple times, stole my atm card and drained my account, and broke into my house, stealing my purse while it was right next to me as I slept. He was in and out of jail, and I faithfully visited him in prison and rehab. My family was beyond alarmed, wondering if I had lost my mind. It took me finally deciding not to be broken to leave him. Although I will always remember him fondly, and consider him to be a very good person with a very bad habit, I did not want to follow that path. I needed to step back onto my own.
Later, I met the man who would meet me on my road and was someone who wanted to travel it with me, side by side. We spent four hours together on our first date, meeting at a beach midway between our homes. We sat on a bench overlooking the ocean, talking about everything. Our paths couldn’t be more diverse but we found common ground. Although I was first attracted to his tough exterior and felt protected by him, it was from his belief in me that I discovered how strong I am, and that I didn’t need protecting. We explored this common ground and were married a year later. We constantly learn from one another and still spend endless hours just talking. Oddly enough, we now live steps away from the beach where we had our first date. Our old worlds collide from time to time, and we have moments of feeling like immigrants in the other’s truths, but we always manage to find an entrance stamp for one another’s passport. We are worlds apart. We couldn’t come from more different backgrounds or life experiences, but we work. Although he doesn’t show most people, I know him to be kind, sensitive and fiercely loyal. I can count on him to keep my path twisted and full of surprises, but with him by my side, I think I can learn to enjoy the adventure this new life brings. Not that I don’t have moments of wanting to run for cover in old familiar places, but I am at peace with the knowledge that what I might have been is still being created.