Oh, but it wasn't all bad, those few years . . .
Because God never slams a door in your face without opening a box of Girl Scout cookies (or however the old adage goes), some wonderful things did happen to me in the shadow of all that sorrow. For one thing, I finally started learning Italian. Also, I found an Indian Guru. Lastly, I was invited by an elderly medicine man to come and live with him in Indonesia.
I'll explain in sequence.
To begin with, things started to look up somewhat when I moved out of David's place in early 2002 and found an apartment of my own for the first time in my life. I couldn't afford it, since I was still paying for that big house in the suburbs which nobody was
living in anymore and which my husband was forbidding me to sell, and I was still trying to stay on top of all my legal and counseling fees . . . but it was vital to my survival to
have a One Bedroom of my own. I saw the apartment almost as a sanatorium, a hospice clinic for my own recovery. I painted the walls in the warmest colors I could find and bought myself flowers every week, as if I were visiting myself in the hospital. My sister gave me a hot water bottle as a housewarming gift (so I wouldn't have to be all alone in a cold bed) and I slept with the thing laid against my heart every night, as though nursing a sports injury.
David and I had broken up for good. Or maybe we hadn't. It's hard to remember now how many times we broke up and joined up over those months. But there emerged a pattern: I would separate from David, get my strength and confidence back, and then (attracted as always by my strength and confidence) his passion for me would rekindle. Respectfully, soberly and intelligently, we would discuss "trying again," always with some sane new plan for minimizing our apparent incompatibilities. We were so committed to solving this thing. Because how could two people who were so in love not end up happily ever after? It had to work. Didn't it? Reunited with fresh hopes, we'd share a few deliriously happy days together. Or sometimes even weeks. But eventually David would retreat from me once more and I would cling to him (or I would cling to him and he would retreat--we never could figure out how it got triggered) and I'd end up destroyed all over again. And he'd end up gone.
David was catnip and kryptonite to me.
But during those periods when we were separated, as hard as it was, I was practicing living alone. And this experience was bringing a nascent interior shift. I was beginning to sense that--even though my life still looked like a multi-vehicle accident on the New Jersey Turnpike during holiday traffic--I was tottering on the brink of becoming a self- governing individual. When I wasn't feeling suicidal about my divorce, or suicidal about my drama with David, I was actually feeling kind of delighted about all the compartments of time and space that were appearing in my days, during which I could ask myself the radical new question: "What do you want to do, Liz?"
Most of the time (still so troubled from bailing out of my marriage) I didn't even dare to answer the question, but just thrilled privately to its existence. And when I finally started to answer, I did so cautiously. I would only allow myself to express little baby-step wants. Like:
I want to go to a Yoga class.
I want to leave this party early, so I can go home and read a novel. I want to buy myself a new pencil box.
Then there would always be that one weird answer, same every time:
I want to learn how to speak Italian.
For years, I'd wished I could speak Italian--a language I find more beautiful than roses-- but I could never make the practical justification for studying it. Why not just bone up on the French or Russian I'd already studied years ago? Or learn to speak Spanish, the better to help me communicate with millions of my fellow Americans? What was I going to do with Italian? It's not like I was going to move there. It would be more practical to learn how to play the accordion.
But why must everything always have a practical application? I'd been such a diligent soldier for years--working, producing, never missing a deadline, taking care of my loved ones, my gums and my credit record, voting, etc. Is this lifetime supposed to be only about duty? In this dark period of loss, did I need any justification for learning Italian
other than that it was the only thing I could imagine bringing me any pleasure right now? And it wasn't that outrageous a goal, anyway, to want to study a language. It's not like I was saying, at age thirty-two, "I want to become the principal ballerina for the New York City Ballet." Studying a language is something you can actually do. So I signed up for classes at one of those continuing education places (otherwise known as Night School for Divorced Ladies). My friends thought this was hilarious. My friend Nick asked, "Why are you studying Italian? So that--just in case Italy ever invades Ethiopia again, and is actually successful this time--you can brag about knowing a language that's spoken in two whole countries?"
But I loved it. Every word was a singing sparrow, a magic trick, a truffle for me. I would slosh home through the rain after class, draw a hot bath, and lie there in the bubbles reading the Italian dictionary aloud to myself, taking my mind off my divorce pressures and my heartache. The words made me laugh in delight. I started referring to my cell phone as il mio telefonino ("my teensy little telephone"). I became one of those annoying people who always say Ciao! Only I was extra annoying, since I would always explain where the word ciao comes from. (If you must know, it's an abbreviation of a phrase used by medieval Venetians as an intimate salutation: Sono il suo schiavo! Meaning: "I am your slave!") Just speaking these words made me feel sexy and happy. My divorce lawyer told me not to worry; she said she had one client (Korean by heritage) who, after a yucky divorce, legally changed her name to something Italian, just to feel sexy and happy again. Maybe I would move to Italy, after all . . .