Monday, June 8, 2015

An Essay on the Perils of Moving-While-Married

It is the month of June: the same month that we got into our blue truck named Bibi and left the Junction for a more southern postal code.

 It will be a year soon, since we left for good.

 The blasting sun, the heady smell of hot pine, bird calls early in the morning-- all this reminds me of that month we rolled up to BC and tentatively reclaimed it as ours.

I wrote this essay in the winter of 2014. It's been ready to publish for months now.

Each time I thought about pressing the button to post, I would hesitate. It felt still too close to me, like looking in the rear view mirror and seeing objects that appear closer than they actually are.

But! it is the month of June! Earth has nearly completed a full orbit from when I felt these things last!

My synapses that hate Change, that are slow to fire, have finally done so.
I am happy here, in this postal code. I feel grounded. I love my husband.

(Thank God.)

So now I share with you a time when I was very, very, very, very, not.

Thanks for reading. Let it serve you and me as a reminder that life is full of hardness and lightness both.

An Essay on the Perils of Moving While Married

I moved this summer, and it nearly did me in. It split my brain apart from my heart apart from my spirit. I think I left one amidst the Spruce trees of the Yukon, another around the metal grated fire at the Lac la Hache campground, as we zigged and zagged along the Alaska Highway. By the time we arrived in our chosen metropolis, on the first of July, I only had my brain left. That fleshy pile of solid noodles. That Zordon face trapped in a glass tube. That magnificent organ, like a combustible engine, intermittently sputtering, then firing.

It turns out that when it is just the one without the others, you feel numb. Disconnected. I went through the motions of taking our worldly possessions (which fit, dusty and Macguyver'd in the space of a 6' X 12' Uhaul trailer) from a three bedroom cottage we had lived in for four years -- where I had grown into an adult, a woman, a wife, a teacher, a nurturer, cross country skier, pie baker, snow lover-- 3000 kilometres south in a truck with my husband, back to a city we both used to call home, when we were both single and fiercly independent.

Where, actually, there was no home waiting for us.

There was a storage locker, with an orange door, monotonously nestled in with its siblings, row upon row. We shoved our stuff in. One half of a moose antler. An old panasonic electronic piano I swore I would play, but never did. A diaorama of Macbeth my student made, complete with Banquo's ghost, a severed playdough tyrant's head, three felt witches around a cauldron. We shuffled boxes from trailer to wheely cart to locker, over and over for hours. The ephemera of my life and his and ours that constituted what we thought was sacred and important, now that four walls couldn't protect it anymore.

 We lived in a perfectly lovely sublet that first month while we hunted for our more permanent home, and my numbness oscillated between feeling nothing, to feeling everything. And by everything, I mean anger. I was angry at the tall buildings, for trying to ascend to the sky. I was angry at all the pedestrians and cyclists, spilling over the seawall for being in the way of what was supposed to be my peaceful bike ride. I was angry at the sun, for being so hot, for causing me to squint. I was angry at the city that should feel like my city, was my city, but was alien to me.

 I was angry at my husband, for trying to be happy.

Without my heart and my spirit, I had no business being happy. And if I didn't, then it hurt me like a sunburn to be surrounded by other people that seemed to wear joy with ease.
I felt like a disappointment to the friends and family that asked, with glee "Are you so excited to be home?" 

No, said my eyes, my mouth. No, said my hair, my skin.

I thought it would be Yes. For this was a city I trippingly flew back to, every teacher summer, so I could soak up the love and food and culture before starting a new school year in a snowy, one horse town. I would ache for it every time I stared at my empty fridge, devoid of fresh green vegetables, and wonder who I could bribe to pick up some kale for me.

 But. In spite of a longing to move away every time the thermometer dipped below -30 C, in spite of the knowledge that this northern adventure was only temporary, in spite of missing my family and my friends who were all so far away from me... I was unprepared to go. Because, well. It always feels safer to stay. I was a big fish in a small ice pond. I didn't know who I was going to be, next.

So in the midst of grieving that I had turned the page on a very fulfilling chapter in my life, I hovered in a limbo of no fixed address. Yes, we had this sublet and a roof over our heads, but it is hard to feel like you have arrived at your destiny when someone else's wedding pictures are staring at you, night after night.

 After weeks of searching on craigslist for a suitable house, we found one. It was the main level of a cheerful white and brown heritage home, with a fresh canvas of wood floors, pale walls and high ceilings.

I wish this was the part of the essay where I dazzle you with the resolution of this moral: that I found my way back to me with the signing of the rental agreement, that life began to be resolved and ravelled because we had a place to call our own. And yet.

There were the to do lists now to do. The thousands of seemingly innocuous decisions to be made. The lack of shower curtain, which meant a tepid pool of water for a week on the bathroom floor. The sitting on camping mats in lieu of a couch. The bickering.

I write this essay, truly, because I was as blindsided as I could be that this move made such an impact on my marriage. I knew that illness, infidelity, infertility-- these things can threaten to make two people deeply in love become unbound. But moving? I would have never, ever imagined that this would bring us to that Ledge.

One day, after what felt like a lifetime of conversations at the dinner table that centered around our next trip to Home Depot, we hit a wall. The teacher strike loomed over us like a shadow. We had no jobs, no routine, and the roots that we each had individually laid deep in the soil of Vancouver were ours alone. We had not yet grown anything here as a couple, and the air was thick with something that had ballooned without us knowing it.

One of us had a tone that was too biting; the other's face had an air of evasion, an expression that read "I cannot bear to be arguing with you again, so I ignore it all instead." This was probably fight # 52.
We had been trying so hard to make careful, thoughtful decisions that would turn this house into our home, and cement our way back to safety and steady ground. Maybe this mid-century coffee table holds the key to my happiness; maybe this will make my heart come back to me. 

We each stared at the floor in silence, the unspoken fears of this reality taking painful shape around us. Each thinking, but not articulating the worry: is this what will break us? And. So soon?

He was the first to speak. He spoke the fears that I had been thinking so hard in my brain for weeks-- things I had been repeating so loudly in my headspace that I was scared they would become audible. He expressed a worry that this near constant bickering was heading towards something grey. Something that started with a capital D.

To be clear: talking about divorce is not the same thing as making the decision to divorce, or wanting it, or accepting that it is your fate. Rather, it is a step in your marriage where you realize that you and he-- no matter how cute and complementary, or how rad your wedding was, how everyone says "You guys are so good to together"--are not invincible. That if you do not safeguard certain promises and try your best at candor, your marriage faces the same finite end as all couples do. It is the step where you begin to understand how precarious and precious and worthy this union is. Not fragile, but certainly something to protect. And it humbles you, to the core.

It is funny how as soon as a fear or anxiety is said aloud, it has the power to then dissipate. Whereas it used to be just me and my brain being spun out in worry over the fear of failing at marriage, fear at failing at being an adult, his words built a bridge that meant we could start walking towards each other again in Oh Man, I'm Scared Too and Let's Be on the Same Team Anyway.

Please don't let anyone tell you that moving is not as hard of a life change as as all the other things. Let's not minimize each other's struggles. Anything that impacts your ability to look in the mirror and say "Here is where I stand and where I lay my head at night and this is the community that loves me and this is where I feel useful and important" -- that is daunting stuff. Then throw a first year of marriage in there? Oof.

I am beginning to see that it is so important to talk aloud to one another about it all: struggles in your life, struggles in your marriage. The only failure would be to keep it to yourself, and assume that you are the only person that undergoes hard times, to believe that it is weak to be vulnerable.

I knew who I was in the Yukon (for the most part), and I expected the same woman to be here in Vancouver, but she isn't--not quite yet. She is taking her gentle time. In the interim, I grapple with accepting that she will be here eventually, that her heart and spirit are still somewhere on the highway, doing their damndest to hitchhike their way back.

So, I peer through the horizontal blinds of the huge windows of this beautiful house, hoping that I've sowed enough oats and notes that they arrive safely back to where they belong.
 In our home, with my husband and me.


  1. Oh my. Gutsy and endearing. So very proud of you.

  2. you are all kinds of awesome! -poo

  3. That twanged a few heartstrings and almost teary eyes with me. Glad you posted this! -sis

  4. I love this, and I don't even know you. I've been married 30 and still struggle with these kinds of things.

  5. I finally had the opportunity to sit down with a cuppa and let myself go in the world of you words - they are both grounding, comforting and inspiring, all at the same time. Thank you for sharing yourself with me, us... the world.