On Growth

What is the difference between growth and change? Change is something that happens to us, and growth is something that we create ourselves.

Reed woke me up this morning. He is a morning person, and I have trained him to wake me up. We then packed him for summer camp, and I let him mostly pack himself, which meant that he was overpacked, and I knew that he was overpacked, but I wasn’t sure in what ways that he was overpacked, so I didn’t intervene.

The truth is that I do not know how to be a mother.

I didn’t have a baby and then just know how to be a mom, you know?

I read all of the books. I did everything right–according to the books–and I intuited the rest, but my parenting intuition was crummy when I started out.

And then, Caleb stepped in. Caleb knew everything, it seemed. And soon, he was the better parent, the better partner, the better person.

And, soon, I was just crying in the bed and wondering what happened to the strong woman who married Caleb.

After Reed was fully packed, I took him to brunch at a local restaurant. We ran into a woman, and she asked me about my book. She said, “I finally read your essay. That’s what the book is like, right?”

I explained to her that the essay and the book are different, that the book necessarily references a lot of what happened in the essay, but so much more happens. I explained all of this without ever saying directly what the essay and book are about. Still, Reed stood there next to me. He has an iPad. He could find that essay if he wanted.

That is why I had already told Reed, “My book is about your father’s abuse of me.”

At the time, Reed said, “I already knew that.”

Reed and I had to move out of our house in the holler because my landlord and his wife were separating. They came over to say goodbye, but hadn’t yet told their children about the separation.

I said to Reed, “[The boy] doesn’t know, so don’t say anything.”

Reed said, “He might know.”

“Why?” I asked.

Reed said, “Because kids know. We can tell.”

His face was serious.

I knew what he was referencing.

When that family came over to say goodbye, the boy wouldn’t look at us. He asked to leave early, even though we had only been there for a moment.

He knew what he was saying goodbye to (and it wasn’t Reed and me).

When we had moved into that house, I thought that we were the broken family moving into the shadow of the perfect family.

I wanted to be in that shadow.

I wanted to believe.

Maybe if we were in the shadow, we could someday be in the light.

My landlord would come and fix the sink, or the outlet, or whatever. Reed would stand by him and talk to him, hand him tools. It felt like Reed had this father figure.

The boys would run between each others’ homes.

In all honesty, I have been unreasonably devastated by the break-up of my landlords.

I wanted what I thought they had.

All of these years of growth, and what has it gotten me?

Or anyone?

How does our growth measure up against circumstance?

How does our growth measure up against change?

I sent Reed off to summer camp this morning. He wanted to do this camp with his best friend, and I had asked Caleb if he would let Reed do it. I said that I would pay (I make a lot less money than Caleb), and Caleb only needed to drive Reed, but Caleb refused, and it turned into an ugly argument. He said that he couldn’t possibly drive for that long, and he alienated his child in the process.

In the end, because I knew that it was so important to Reed, I offered up my own time with Reed. Reed told me that, when he got to his dad’s, his dad said, “I would have driven you,” as though Reed wouldn’t have remembered what his father had previously told him.

Reed is smart.

At one point, he said to me, “I’m pretty sure that my dad’s an alcoholic, but he says that he’s never been drunk. He’ll ask me to bring him six beers in a day, then tell me that he’s only had three.”

We were in the car on the way to school–not the place for deep conversations–but I said, “When your father says stuff like that, you are allowed to believe your eyes and not what he says.”

“I know,” he said. “My dad is kind of a liar.”

How does one explain gaslighting to a child?

I revised the worst written chapter of my book tonight. It had been the most painful chapter to write. I had called it “Playlist For a Broken Heart,” and it included an annotated playlist that Caleb had made for me when I had seriously considered leaving him for the first (maybe second or third time).

I had initially quoted the playlist verbatim, then my agent advised me to just pick one or two songs and show the moments in scene.

She told me not to shy away from the sexual chemistry that I had with Caleb.

Here’s the thing: When I initially transcribed the words of Caleb’s annotated playlist, I sobbed.

But describing those moments in more detail and in-scene made me sob even more.

I described the flimsy shirt I wore the first night that Caleb slept at my house with me.

I described the way I could always turn on Caleb, just by putting on that shirt.

I described the Valentine’s Day when I wore that shirt and stripped for him.

I described the way that my hands dug into his back as he came into me again, and again, and again.

I broke down sobbing at my writing desk.

The revised chapter is titled “I Left You Crying, or We Fit Together, or A Playlist For a Broken Heart.”

I hate him, but in a way, I still love him.

No one yet has excited me like he did, and at this point, I don’t think anyone will.

Caleb’s father used to talk about his ex-wife, about how much she had hurt him, about how awful she had been. He used to say to me how, at his own mother’s funeral, his ex-wife had told him that she would never love anyone like she had loved him. He said this with both glee and disgust.

Even back then, when I was still married to Caleb, I remember thinking, I don’t want to be her.

I remember thinking,  I am already her.

While I was typing the previous paragraphs, Caleb texted me “Thanks. Reed looks so happy” (about a photo of Reed at summer camp that I had sent him).

That was when I broke down sobbing.

I am already her.

My husband–my person–the person who was my person–has a new family, and I am not allowed to grieve that because he abused me, and I am the idiot who allowed that abuse to happen, and who continued to have feelings for him after he abused me, and who still stupidly cares what he is up to after all of this time, and who left him and freed him up to meet someone cuter and younger, and possibly with a better disposition.

I am the person who is still alone, though he is not.

I have changed, but have I grown?

I honestly don’t know.