It is 3am – the bewitching hour. I am trapped in a hotel room with my family, awake now for a few hours. There is stirring all around me so I am hesitant to put on the TV to hopefully lull me back into sleep. My mind is busy, as it has been for weeks and it seems that I am forming words and sentences and mini stories in my head, only to have them decompose once I do return to slumber. I’ll never be able to retrieve them in the morning because they will scatter amongst the other clutter in my head, buried under piles of nonsensical stress about a random assortment of challenges that present themselves to me on a daily basis.
So, I’m up. My iPad is charged. I have only the glimmer of light that beams from the screen to guide me through this messy jungle of my mind. Might as well make the best of it. I’m so very good at that. I make the best of my lot. I sprinkle some magic pixie dust onto my chaos and try to see a twinkling pile of gold. There are gems in my life, for sure. They are scattered all around me. I simply struggle, with my aging eyes, getting weaker by the day, to see those beauties. To capture their shimmer in the sunlight.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the ebb and flow of relationships. Being in a marriage for nearly 20 years, I understand how that goes. Not having been part of a family for most of my life, I don’t have a good grasp on the dynamics of managing relationships that are second stage acts in your life. They clearly take up important space but exist in a different dimension than the primary show. Their importance and value are not diminished but they exist as a backdrop often, moving forward on the stage at different intervals. Those shifts confuse me.
When I was 8 years old, my sister got married for the first time. I remember the excitement I felt to be part of this grand celebration. I was a junior bridesmaid, standing alongside my sister’s friends as a miniature version. I had my own miniaturized dress and shoes. I carried a miniature bouquet and I possessed a much more miniature understanding of what it meant to be getting married. Right after the ceremony, after I marched back down the aisle on the arm of my 13 year-old brother (clad in his own scaled-down ensemble) and, once the doors of the ceremony room closed behind us, I burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. It is a moment that, over time, has dulled in my memory but will always stand out as one of my last truly raw and honest emotional responses. I certainly did not understand at the time what the source of my tears were and, in between heaving sobs as I declared my fear of losing my sister (which was ironic because she and I had a dysfunctional relationship from the moment I was born, having never lived under the same roof or sharing any normal sisterly experience), I was consoled by the other bridesmaids, my sister and my mother that all would be fine and life would continue as it always had. But, perhaps, I had the instinct, at that tender age, to understand that things would change. They had to. My sister, who spent a good deal of time in her young life tending to me and my brother in an attempt to protect us from the damaging influences of our parents, now had to focus on her life. She now had to look to create her own family. And, while my sister struggled through most of our relationship to balance her role as my sister and her compulsion to act as a parent, there’s no doubt that her attention had to shift to her husband and the new life she was embarking on, hopefully freeing herself from some of the damaging turbulence that disrupted most of her life for 22 years.
My memory of my breakdown at my sister’s wedding, even in its graying tones, has been surfacing lately as I think about how it influences my feelings about other relationships. I wonder if I feel that same anxiety that overwhelmed me that day as the fluctuations of my current relationships and our co-mingled lives come into play. However, now i have censorship. I have maturity that allows me to process my feelings rather than have an outburst of tears when I experience feelings that might closely resemble that same 8 year-old anxiety. And, I am less likely to surface those feelings with those around me because they are far more complex 38 years later. What do I lose out on when those people in my life have to shift their focus from me to something else more primary? It’s all normal and expected but can I withstand the cold breeze that blows through as I stand in the darkness when I have never been given a coat to keep me warm? I understand that, outside my own little family of 4, I am a supporting player, called out of the wings when needed but never forgotten about. My name still appears in the playbill, even if I am usually only featured as an understudy. I simply don’t know if I have the tools to keep myself warm during the cold months when I am not needed on stage. I don’t know how to maintain the confidence and assurance that I will still be called back up. What if I am forgotten about?
I sat at dinner tonight with my family. The four of us. Our little unit. We have only each other. There are no grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. It is just us, every day, making our way in the world. We figure things out, create our own rules, form our own traditions, and provide all the love and support that runs deep in other much larger families. I looked at my husband and kids, as we told stories, laughed and teased each other and drifted off for a moment. It is hard being the A team, the B team and the C team for each other. Every holiday, every birthday, every graduation, sporting event, or special occasion it is just the four of us. We have to give each other everything. I suppose the good news is that we have little to distract us from one another but it is very difficult. And, I continue to source those replacement players. I needed a larger cast, a bigger team. I seek them out, often needing to cast them in a leading role, all the while understanding that they may only be looking for a bit part. They may only be dabbling in my show where I might need a bigger investment and I have to understand that balance. It’s not easy.
As I continue to travel down this road, turning over rocks to uncover what lies beneath, I expand my understanding of these dynamics. They are painful realities that challenge me more as I get older rather than easing with the wisdom of age. I often wonder if it is because I am growing stronger that I am able to turn over these increasingly larger rocks or if it the opposite. Perhaps the rocks are getting heavier because my strength is weakening. Maybe as I get older, I am weakened by the overwhelming realities that are simply too burdensome. I pray that it is the former. Yet, I lay awake tonight and many other nights worrying it is the latter. Either way, I must keep on the journey, consoled by the belief that my little foursome is destined for some solace somewhere down the road. I hope the love we have for each other is enough. I hope my children won’t lie awake 30 years from now pensive and unsure. I pray they will be resolute and buoyed by the overtime we have put in by playing all the roles, depleting all our reserves to make them whole.