Busting Out of the Great Pretend


Pretty much everyone has a milestone marker – a pivot point from which there is a before and an after. Marriage, divorce, a move, the birth of a child, a hard decision – whatever the event, it’s a post against which time is measured.

For me, as it is a lot of women, it’s the birth of my son. But it’s not just because of his presence and all of the changes that came as a result of it. His birth merely marks the flipping of the hourglass.

His arrival was used as justification for the sudden, unexpected and relatively cruel way I was forced to change careers, and the financial earthquake that came from that. His birth also coincided with the sudden and dramatic shift in my mother’s mental and physical health, as well as the discovery of my father’s fatal illness. It also marks the point where my mother-in-law chose to pack her life and move to Florida to care for her own ailing mother.

Before Quinn there was life surround by the supportive net of family. A little mundane, a little predictable, but it was a comfortable life in which I could read voraciously,  pour thousands upon thousands of words on paper, spend hours puttering in the garden and cooking the things that grew there.

After Quinn there was a hurricane. It was head down and endure through the seemingly endless blows that life delivered, and to do it all alone.

“Fine,” became the standard answer whenever anyone asked how I was.

“Fine.” The great pretend.

In reality, nothing was fine. No new words were written for nearly a year. Books were the first thing cut from a budget that had an income slice of 20%. Free time was devoted to helping Mom and Dad, to exhaustive searches for information on rare diseases, to keeping up their house and managing their money.

And worst of all, talking to my mother, sometimes in excess of 30 times a day, talking her down from the confusion and delusions that came from over a dozen rounds of electro-shock therapy.

The garden became an overgrown field, and it mirrored what had become of me.

The first year was taking the storm’s beating and trying only to keep my head above water. Then we hit the eye of the storm in which we had a firm, if horrifying, diagnosis for my both my mom and my dad, and I started a new job that promised to pull us back from the brink of complete financial annihilation.

I began going to the gym again in an effort to delay my own physical decline, books began to return to the low living room table and words began coming out again.

But the storm rose up again when my father died, and grief propelled my mother back to sanity, with a deep despair for the nearly two years of her life that she cannot remember.

But we’d learned after the first wave; we handled the second onslaught a bit more deftly, and I tried this time to maintain a sense of self through it.

Part of that effort was the demand that this year, after 3 years of lying fallow, the garden would return and bloom.

I picked up a blog challenge to force myself back to the pouring out of words, and a reading challenge to propel me toward books instead of the mind numbing television.

So the vegetable garden was tilled and awaited the seedlings Quinn and I planted in little peat pots weeks ago.

Yesterday was a good day for it. Damp and chilly, rain in the forecast meant I could avoid having to hook up the hose . I battled my way through the garage filled with the contents of my parents’ old house until I could lay my hands on the hoe and rake, and set out to tromp through the dirt with Quinn.

Garden plan – there is still so much work to do.

Four hours later we’d erected a pallet trellis for the beans we’d planted to climb, nested a row of popcorn along the black edge of the garden, and had neat mounds of jack o’ lantern pumpkins. Brussels sprouts marked a neat row on the right and raised beds of herbs had the smell of sage and thyme already sweetening the smell of dirt.

We were filthy, tired and happy.

Then came morning. With aches and pains and muscles screaming from locations I didn’t even know about.

And I realized then that I have been pretending. I haven’t really weathered the storm and come out the other side whole.

The gym is no replacement for true activity, for crawling, reaching, digging and lifting. The big muscles are worked, but the deeper ones that keep us truly well are neglected.

The same goes for the blog. It keeps me writing, keeps my vocabulary exercised, keeps the concept alive, but the harder work – the imagining, the storytelling – languishes.

The new job that is keeping us barely above the financial water takes up my time and lays food on the table isn’t where my heart is.

It’s time to shake it off. To stop pretending. It’s time to bring all of those muscles back into gear. Time to stop idly dinking around with my WIP and truly begin re-writing it. It’s time to finish the first draft of the second one. Maybe even begin to get the final act down on paper.

I’ve had this feeling fluttering in the back of my mind for weeks, taking time off the blog challenge and other things to recuperate from an illness.

The hard part is figuring out how. The reconfiguring of time, rearranging the geometry of my life is not going to come easily. But it has to happen; I have to return to me. I will still be the mother, the daughter, the trainer, the bread-winner and the power of attorney. I don’t mind doing all of those things.

But suddenly I mind being nothing but those things.

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4 thoughts on “Busting Out of the Great Pretend

  1. I am also facing the abyss that not writing leaves in my psyche, and how all the other roles don’t fill it. I hope that you figure out the geometry of it all, and that you know many of us out here are in your corner.

  2. Good for you – we need to tell ourselves that when it’s time to make a change, that’s when we’ll make the change. Not when other’s think we should – or shouldn’t – it’s when we’re ready.
    Sounds like you are – good luck.

  3. Pingback: 5 things I’ll never apologize for – Natalie Hartford

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