The Long Answer is Your Story

I sat in the dark chapel, blurry-eyed and bone-weary from an emotional morning, waiting for the 12:15 concert to start. Earlier, as part of a writing exercise that asked us to explore the short and long answers to a question, where the long answer is your story, a classmate asked me, “What is it like to be a single mom? To work so hard for your family by going to school and working two jobs?” It was an honest question – one I ask myself several times a day, but I had yet to answer.  Our mentor rang her Buddhist Meditation Bell to signal the beginning of the short answer.

The concert began; the opening notes of Debussy’s Clair De Lune met me gently and took me to my children’s nursery. I played a classical lullaby CD for them during their fist couple years of life. Clair De Lune was in the middle of the CD, so I often heard the delicate notes late at night when it was my turn to drift off to sleep.

“Short answer, I don’t know how it feels. I’m on autopilot. I just tuck my head and get through my days as best I can.” I smiled weakly. The meditation bell rang gently, signaling it was time to provide the long answer.

The associations of Clair De Lune to my children as infants, to being married, to being a family are strong. Although I relish the pleasure of self-knowledge and have learned to cope with the pain of solitude, life was somewhat easier when I was playing the classical CD at night. I was young, my marriage was young, and the children were young. We had so much promise. Futures lay ahead pockmarked with possibilities. They were hopeful days.

“It sucks.” Began my long answer. I fumbled to my bag for a tissue because I was already crying. “It’s absolutely brutal.” I sobbed. “It’s not how I imagined my life would be. I never thought I’d get divorced. I never wanted to be divorced, but I also knew I was marrying the wrong person. But I still tried so hard to make it work. And I’m tired. I’m tired all the time, but I have to keep going because my children are depending on me. And people expect so much of me. And it didn’t have to be this way. My ex dumped 60 grand of debt on me – the adoption bills. He put all that on my shoulders. He walked away with no debt. I got slammed. I can’t pay my bills. I have to work two jobs even though that finds me still working at 2 a.m. when I’m so exhausted, I’m unable to form a coherent thought.”

Debussy’s familiar pauses and chords unhinged a latch, and discharged residual pain that didn’t surface during my classroom confessional. I lurched for my bag and unsteadily left the cold chapel. I felt crazed; anger and sadness and resentment made me dizzy. The memory of where I once was and the facts of where I am came together, finally, and took me down.  I felt drunk, disassociated.

The long answer came rumbling out before I could stop it. I blurted out facts I don’t talk about. Expensive cosmetics and well-tailored clothing have done a fine job of presenting me as put-together and well rested. Yoga and meditation taught me how to appear calm and centered and how to keep the gorge from rising to the back of my throat when I panic about all the tomorrows spread in front of me. It works. No one ever suspects otherwise, which was obvious as my group members sat in silent mourning, my words hanging like rainclouds. “Yay!” I exclaimed, breaking the spell of awkwardness. “This is fun! Thanks D–!”

After my outpouring, as we funneled from our classroom, my friend and classmate, Magin, said that what I did was great and that women need to be more honest about their feelings. I told her I disagree; she bristled. I explained, “When you are honest about your feelings, it isolates you. Sadness is a blockade between people.” She agreed.  She walked closer than usual to me as we left the building.

People are leaving the chapel. The concert has ended. It must be 1:00. I can’t bring myself to go to lunch with my merry band of fellow MFA misfits yet. I’m tucked away on the grass, near a large tree – I was walking to my Jeep, intent on going home, but I sat to think, and I stayed. From where I sit, I can see them walking towards the cafeteria. The tree shelters me from sight. Secretly, I want someone to see me, to come over and talk to me, to comfort me. I went somewhere I wasn’t strong enough to go this morning.  And now I’m tired. And I can’t ask for help.

A few deep yoga breaths will give me the spiritual energy that will get me through the rest of my afternoon. I’ll go to lunch, drop my bag on the floor by the table where my friends and I sit, smile weakly and say, “I’m fine!” Drama over. Let’s move on.

And I will, indeed, move on.

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4 Comments

  1. Rebecca Lerner

     /  August 19, 2011

    {{hugs}}

    we love you.

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  2. Isn’t that funny? Sometimes, I’m so honest BECAUSE it isolates me; and it’s better to be isolated than to be left. But, both are painful. And, I understand what it’s like — one minute we’re super mom’s and the next we’re bawling our eyes out and then, just like that, we’re moving on, yet again…and disassociation sets in. We never want to be too much. That’s what we’re all searching for, that person, or place that makes us feel like we aren’t too much.

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  3. It’s easy to be honest about other people and difficult to be honest about yourself, especially in public. That takes true courage, something that a lot of people don’t have. You do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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  4. annsosnowski

     /  August 19, 2011

    Of course, I respect you. I guess I’m that sad isolationist, as Magin put it. I respect you for being able to be so open. I love, by the way, how you braided (dare I say that!!) the concert with the early morning meeting! Hugs!

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