“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.”
When I miscarried (many years ago), I discovered the secret sisterhood of women who mourn for lost children. It seemed as though everyone had a story to share, and I was drawn close by those who understood. It was not a club to which I ever would’ve chosen to belong. But there was comfort in knowing I was not alone. It’s a queer sisterhood, with bonds that transcend the progression and rituals of “normal” relationships. I have had occasion, over the years, to open my arms to others who are where I was, back then; and the feeling that it engenders in me more than anything, to do this, is strength.
At first, when I found myself on the long road of divorce (anyone who tells you it’s not a long road is lying), I thought I’d stumbled upon a similar clandestine club. Slowly, women came out of the woodwork to bolster me. When I was down in the pit, support often came from unlikely sources. Oh, I thought. I remember this. I know how this works. Thank goodness. Only this club is different.
Where I once drew strength from a membership I never asked for, I now find myself sometimes feeling like it’s time to “pay my dues” to an association that just keeps forwarding my bill no matter how many times I move.
The source of the distinction, I suspect, is that divorce is a choice. Maybe it’s yours, maybe it’s his, but SOMEBODY did something DELIBERATE at SOME point.
There is shame in being divorced. Don’t misunderstand me; there shouldn’t be. I don’t believe there should be. But there is. In our society, I don’t care who you are or how magnificently you’ve handled things, divorce brings with it a scent of shame that lingers.
The sisterhood is trickier. It’s there; yes. But it’s more complicated. No one blames you when you miscarry. No one wonders what led up to it. No one starts suggesting, Well, have you thought about maybe trying bedrest instead of having the baby die? Or possibly, before the heartbeat stops, maybe you could try talking to someone to see if that’s really the only option?
Maybe you chose divorce, maybe it was chosen for you. But choice was involved. Which means morals and justification and all manner of evaluation is on the table. For the most part, I’ve weathered the scrutiny of others well. I have appreciated the care that was extended to me by “others of my kind” and counted myself fortunate to have found the solidarity I did.
I have a small group of fellow divorced moms upon whom I rely to get me through the tough times. I hope I provide the same oasis for them. But it’s more subtle than it perhaps sounds. By and large, we are careful with one another. We are all trying our best to blend in and not draw attention to our “membership” amongst the general population.
It’s been two years, for me, and to be honest the times between my angstful considerations of My Place In Society As a Divorced Mother are stretching out, becoming fewer and further between. I’m learning to live in my new skin. I have vascillated between indignation over anyone denying what they are and trying to keep a low profile, myself, and everything inbetween.
This week I suffered what I can only describe as an unexpected accosting from a new member of this club that doesn’t accept resignations. I would love to say that she came to me, hurting the way that I hurt, years ago, and I gathered her under my wing and helped. I wish I could say that.
The truth is so much more complicated, and I can only verbalize pieces of it. She came to me, hurting the way that I hurt, years ago.
And I wished she would go away.
I don’t know her well, and the more she talked, the more palpable my discomfort became (but apparently only to me). For her, the floodgates had opened. The words tumbled out with such RELIEF that she had found someone who would GET IT. I would UNDERSTAND, she was sure. I would support and perhaps absolve her.
In the meantime, part of me–the part that hurts for her, the scar that aches with any reminder–wanted to help. But a much larger part of me stood in indignant disbelief.
Lady, I barely know you. Why are you telling me all of this?
Please stop comparing my situation to yours. You don’t know my story, and I don’t particularly want to know yours. But what I do know tells me that your situation is like mine in the same way that the Motel 6 is like Auschwitz.
Please stop trying to get me to say that your choice is justifiable. I have no idea; I’m not you. Nor should you care what I think. This is between you, God, and your husband. If you’re asking ME for a blessing, I’ve got one for you: Get therapy. I am not therapy. I am just a person trying to live my life and, by the way, not wearing a jacket on a chilly night and really hoping to get into my car before I freeze to death. Shut up and let me go home.
So I stayed, shivering in the cold, and let her go on. I couldn’t cut her off. But neither did I feel anything akin to empathy, except in the most ephemeral way. I tried to say the things I thought might be appropriate. I was stunned to realize how hard it was for me to figure out what those things might be.
It comes down to this: I evaluated what I know about her situation, and in my all-knowing perfection *coughcough*, judged her to be undeserving of my empathy. And that horrifies me, even as I remain convinced that the moment I “accept” her, it somehow jeopardizes the validity of my situation.
I’m not particularly proud of this.
I know a leech when I find one on my leg. I need to figure this out before our next encounter… because she’ll doubtless reattach at the first opportunity. I need to know what makes the most sense for my peace of mind before that happens.
And somehow, I don’t think that just telling her that she broke the rules is gonna cut it.