Melancholy Mermaid

Seven years ago, I took what would prove to be a momentous trip. In the middle of a deep depression, the collapse of my marriage and the unrelenting arguments between my husband and myself, I knew I had to get a breather. Feeling like I had failed at everything in my life and not really wanting to live, I made plans to head to the beach, alone. This meant leaving my husband and my very young children, driving cross country, and being alone for the longest period of time in my entire life.  I’d only ever spent the night away on my own once before. To leave everyone behind for 10 whole days while I tried to recover from a nervous breakdown and decide what the hell I needed to do to pick up the broken pieces of my life was terrifying. I drove straight through without stopping, arrived at my beachfront condo, then celebrated my 33rd birthday alone the next night.

The ocean has always called to me and if I spend too long away from it, I start to feel edgy. My soul feels soothed in a very profound way when I hear the waves and feel the sand between my toes. In some ways, the solitude was exactly what I needed to heal. In other ways, it was extremely dangerous for me to be by myself. I didn’t feel enthusiasm for life. I thought of my marriage and I felt profound sorrow and hopelessness. My husband didn’t love me and I was pretty certain he hadn’t loved me in quite a long time, despite the fact that he was “making the best of it”. I’d made horrible choices that haunted me, but that I couldn’t escape from. I felt like I’d failed as a parent and wondered if my children would be better off without me. I’d never felt so alone and I’d never been so close to the brink of saying “fuck it” and giving up completely.

After an aborted suicide by drowning that is almost comical when narrated, I realized I didn’t really want to live but wasn’t sure I wanted to die.  Probably the less said about the trip, the better. I survived it, my husband and children joined me after 10 days. After pleading and begging my husband to stay with us for the remainder of the time, he refused and left to go back home, an abandonment which would set the tone for the future. When I returned home, scarred from my experiences and feeling fragile, I knew I needed safety first and that didn’t involve hours and hours of verbal sparring. So I asked for a trial separation, just to give us a space between interactions to retreat to…which turned into a permanent separation.

I’ve been to the beach location since then, but always in the company of other family members. When I decided to return this year, I was excited at the thought of a week away and the thought of being near the ocean. I hadn’t counted on the nearly crippling anxiety that would begin to plague me as I got closer to the trip. Memories, incredibly painful memories, began to surface and I struggled with the thought of going. I had fleeting moments where I wondered if it was a good idea, then I thought I was being ridiculous and tried to just take a deep breath. I wasn’t the same person and my life wasn’t the same.

Driving toward my destination, as my children were engrossed in their own activities to pass the time, my mind returned over and over to the past. I found tears streaming down my face and my anxiety returning. What was I thinking? I should have picked a different location. I shouldn’t have even attempted to come to this place again without support, distractions, a way to distance myself from everything that had happened 7 years earlier.

Yet as we drew closer, at the first sight of the water, I felt something in my chest ease. The excitement of my children and the scent of the ocean water buoyed my spirits. As our days have passed here, I’ve been mostly fine. A few stray moments here and there were I’ve had a hard time not getting bogged down by the memories, but I’ve mainly felt happy and relaxed. I feel like I’ve reclaimed this place I’ve been coming to since I was a child. The bad memories aren’t banished, but they haven’t completely ruined the experience for me. This has been a wonderful time with my children.

I have felt some sorrow thinking of what it could be like if seven years ago, my husband hadn’t chosen to leave when I’d asked him to stay with us, be a family with us for the rest of the week. I can’t help but muse about what would have happened if he’d taken me by the hand and said, “I love you and I want our family and I’m willing to be here while we figure it out.” He didn’t and it’s hard to know what effect that would have had. Given our current relationship, I certainly can’t even picture a life with him now, nor do I want one. Still, that’s the thing about choices: Each one means a different path in the road and a different possible outcome.

I’ve spent a lifetime believing that if I feel a moment of sadness it invalidates all the joy and it’s impossible for those two emotions to live side-by-side. For me, that’s simply not true. I feel intense joy that I’m here in this moment with my children. I feel wonderful that I can hear the ocean when I walk on the beach at night, that the stars shine so brightly overhead. I love lazing around with them and doing whatever we want, whether its going for night time swims or playing Guitar Hero in an arcade.

At the same time, I feel sadness it’s just me that’s here with them. I feel lonely. If I allow myself to slip out of the present moment, I feel regrets about the past and worry for the future. I feel a desire to not go back to my “real” life, which has seemed to involve a lot of stress. I intensely want a partner at some moments and feel unhappy I haven’ met someone I want around long term. Then at other moments I wonder if I really want to give up my freedom. I can recognize that being here alone with my children creates some loneliness. I can also realize a partner might not want to play Guitar Hero in an arcade, go for night time swims and then drink hot chocolate, or do any of the other things we think are great. I realize a relationship would mean conforming to another person’s agenda and desires. Right now, neither being completely alone or being in a marriage or partnership, with all that entails, sounds quite right. Still, I’d like to try starting things off with someone wonderful and see where it goes!

So…sadness and joy. Perhaps living betwixt them is the work I’m learning to do. Mindfulness. Being present. The recognition that feelings are just feelings and come and go.

For tonight, I’ll stand outside and look at the waves and listen to that rhythm that calls to my soul. I’ll check on my sleeping children one last time before I go to bed. Then I’ll wake and see what the day brings us. I’m sure for at least one more day, it will bring us sun, sand, water, giggles, some sibling fights and seafood. I’m going to try to not worry about what tomorrow brings. I’ll face that tomorrow.

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