What Could Have Been
If I were measuring against the five stages of grief, I would say that I am currently in the "acceptance" stage 90% of the time. Which is a relief. A sweet, sweet relief. I've spent so much time in the anger and the depression phases, that I just feel relief to be mostly accepting of this situation. I still wish I weren't facing acceptance of the situation in front of me, so it doesn't necessarily feel "good." But I have resigned myself to what is, and there is solace in acceptance and letting go.
My Ex has been living nearby us for only about a month and a half now. It feels much longer — I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing — but it's been almost exactly six weeks.
Despite being a fragile situation, we've been surprisingly (as compared to the past two years) calm, cohesive and conflict-free. Not entirely, but we've approached the conflicts that have arisen differently than before, and with extra open minds and communication (I tell you, I've never communicated so much in my life). I think we'd agree that we've come out better for the challenges.
The three of us have spent a lot of time together as a family and my Ex and I have been happy and appreciative to be around each other. It is awkward at points to be forging such a different relationship, one that no one would forge unless forced by co-parenting, but here we are.
The biggest difference for me, is that now I use my voice. I don't just silently accept whatever is thrown at or imposed upon me. I speak up for and defend what I need, whether it's the the right to have reactions to what comes my way, or the need to take space and an adult "time-out" before discussing the feelings of said reactions. I express myself honestly and confidently when I'm ready, and as unbelievable as the fact may be, speaking up is something new for me. I've been rolling with the 'whatever' train for years, which is way, way too long, and I imagine that my constant apathy was as annoying to live with as it was to experience. Ironically, in losing My Love, I found my voice.
I accept all of this 90% of the time because my mind controls my grief with logic and reason. The other 10%, which responds to my heart, remains in the "bargaining" stage (which reviews the "what if's?" and the "if only's"). Despite the general recommendation to follow one's heart and silence the mind, I work to both silence my mind and ignore my heart. Because my heart is what gets me in trouble, and my mind's reaction to what my heart thinks and does causes me pain.
It's my heart that still drifts off when unguarded by my mind to dream about what could have been. And in that 10% of the time, there are still moments of anger or moments of depression because while I'm not looking back or looking forward, my heart daydreams in a strange parallel universe version of the present that thinks about what could have been.
That parallel universe dream is a special brand of mental torture because living in New Hampshire, as we presently do, we have the best of many worlds, but we can't take advantage of it as my heart wishes we could. He can, and I can but we can't.
I never realized how stunning New Hampshire is, despite living next door — as states go — for my entire life. While I love Vermont for its babbling brooks and rolling green mountains, I have fallen in love with New Hampshire for its endless lakes.
Not only are we surrounded by natural beauty in abundance, there are also tons of cute New England cities nearby, should the craving strike for urban explorations and exploitations. Boston, Portland, Providence and Newport are within a couple of hours, and New York is not far, nor is Montréal or Quebec City. All of the above, plus Cape Cod, Portsmouth and the New Hampshire seacoast, are all a reasonable drive away.
The pace of life in rural New Hampshire is what used to constitute vacation for us. But a reasonable pace of life is real life, every day. You don't often find anyone around here who seems to have something to professionally prove, and work-life balance is not a total myth. People actually take advantage of these beautiful surroundings regularly without shame or guilt.
And my parents live here. In that parallel universe of my heart's daydreams, where I live nearby and not in their home, it would be a very exciting prospect for my daughter to spend a couple nights at her grandparents (she is already excited to see them on a daily basis, but that means that she would be through-the-roof-and-ignore-mom-and-dad excited if she didn't get to see them every day). With my parents' support so available, alone time as a couple would have been more possible more often. Extended alone time, even.
And therein lies the trouble. Living in the crux of the best of many worlds, my heart likes to pine for what could have been.
What could have been, like couple's weekends away exploring one of the many wonderlands nearby. Without the stress of life in the city and our fighting, my lightheartedness, sense of humor, happiness, confidence and sex drive have come back. Finally. And yes, three years was a long hiatus (longer for me than anyone else!). But a couple's weekend now would have looked like a couple's weekend did in the beginning, if it could have been.
What could have been, like family moments that also include our romantic love, not just shared appreciation for our daughter. Summer, when families have fewer routines and generally get to spend more time together, is particularly hard for me to observe. Every time I see a female friend caption, "my loves!" under a photo of her husband and child, or a male friend post about, "my girls!" under a photo of his wife and daughter, I feel a pang in my heart. I had that, and lost it. It's here, but it's not, and I wish it could have been forever.
What could have been, like shared days again. With a less demanding schedule, my Ex and I could have perhaps worked together, or if not together, both on independent freelance projects from home as we did in the first year. We were free and we were completely connected. Now that our almost-three-and-a-half-year-old daughter is in school, we could have recreated a life that allowed us to pause throughout our days to connect, then go back to the task at hand, with an ebb and flow that sustained a more satiated relationship.
But alas, what could have been cannot be. The past has prevented the future, and it also makes the parallel universe of the middle ground known as, "What Could Have Been?" sadly (sometimes devastatingly) impossible.
So I accept it. But only 90% of the time.