October 12, 2022

Waking Up to my Ever-Changing Identity—& Letting Go of Expectations.

I scream but I hear only an incoherent, almost silent mumble.

I scream again, “Wake up, wake, wake!” I can’t breathe. I have sleep apnea and am in the midst of sleep paralysis.

Frustrated, I try to shake an arm. I feel it tingling, but it won’t move. I fell asleep without my mask. I can’t take a breath.  Disappointment. My body won’t move. I’m frustrated knowing that all I need to do is move to avoid suffocating. No fear. Disappointment.

Some people dream of this—being unable to move, mind wide awake, and unable to breathe. I just need to move.

After 33 years of marriage and two years of trying to get a divorce finalized, what do I hold on to? Some of it was good. I love my sons. The rest of it, well, brought me to this moment. I don’t want my thoughts preoccupied with what was. I don’t want my emotions centered on the frustrations that keep occurring. I have lived over half of my life. I want to be present for the next stretch.

It’s raining—a Florida summer rain, at moments, torrential. It’s a change from the normally oppressive sunshine. The greens of trees, vines, and assorted grasses are overwhelming against the dull gray of the sidewalks, streets, and sky.

I realize that if only one raindrop had fallen, I never would have heard it, likely wouldn’t have seen it, and certainly wouldn’t have gotten wet. My wandering thoughts are like the rain.

I talk to strangers when I go out. Introductions are required. They ask what I do. It’s an American thing. In my travels, I’ve found other people—non-American people—find this odd, our labels being our jobs. I’m sure they have their own labels, just different than ours. People everywhere look for patterns. Patterns establish expectations and clues to behavior, education, and income. What’s in the box and where can it be stored?

I’m a father. I was a husband. Now, I am an aging, divorced man. Part of my problem is that the divorce lingered. It wasn’t complicated, there were no great estates involved, and yet it dragged out. I initially didn’t think I would resent her, but the time this has taken for no real reason has me disappointed and resenting what happened.

I can’t get the stench of our long decay from my nostrils but I know it is time to get some fresh air. Yes, I’m aging, and yes, I’m divorced, and those are things that are simply happening or done. They may shape some choices, but they do not determine my choices. Another relationship, not with a person, but with myself and the world. I need to breathe.

“Wake the f*ck up!” I try to scream to myself but my incoherent mumbling is becoming weaker as I can’t draw any breath. I want to cry but my body won’t even give me a tear. It’s not responding. There is no one here to touch me. No one to shake me awake. I can barely hear myself.

We’re all stacking boxes. I can’t control that. Even I admit I sometimes just want an easy reach to a labeled shelf and to know what to pull off it. We all grow and change. We’re not always going to fit in a box and labels aren’t always going to stick.

I remember my parents’ divorce. I was a tween. It was confusing. They were no longer good as a couple, but I didn’t know how to accept they’re not being together. They had formed a third person that was now gone, dead, silent. I missed that person a lot, that person who wasn’t there. I wasn’t angry but I did grieve before I could let that person go.

In quiet places, presumed silent, there are still words that blather away in my mind, inconsistently, relentlessly, ranting, pointing out the obvious or the obsequious, unperturbed by a lack of discretion. At the moment, mine asks, “…what’s the point? Children have been made, they’re successful, healthy, contributing and changing the world. You don’t need to do anything else.”

When I was thirteen, turning fourteen, around the time of my parent’s divorce—my father and two of my uncles, and I all went to climb Longs Peak, a 14,259-foot mountain in Colorado on my birthday. We took the Keyhole Route, which back then, was the only route we knew up the mountain. It’s often closed these days because of the frequent rock falls, and the narrow trails and cliffs where a fair number of people stumble to their deaths. Like I said, it was the only way we knew to go back then. My father showed me the path, a trembly path, in the scramble, and I followed my uncles.

The final leg to the top was close to being a technical climb up a cliff face, and I guess some people today do use ropes, but that wasn’t the option back then. Climb or fall. So, we climbed. At the top, for a moment, it seemed the whole world was below us. Those of us up there cheered and signed a piece of paper that was kept in a small pipe wedged in between some rocks. We all could see clouds rolling in and knew our time had to be brief. The return was as scary and hard as the climb up.

I need to wake up. The disappointment I have for my body is on the edge of abhorrence.

This divorce has unnecessarily dragged on. How there can be so many delays for something so simple is baffling, disorienting, and traumatizing. I had no desire to make this an angry thing. We simply had grown apart.

Now I’m angry, but I know that won’t help me get things done. I acknowledge the feeling but recognize that it isn’t me. It’s a feeling.

Feelings are challenging at times like this. Well, maybe they’re always challenging, but more so in times of stress.  They have a level of intrusion. They present at inconvenient moments as if they fear they will not get acknowledged.

I carry on, ignoring, trying to go unswayed by the irrelevant, incessant chatter, disconnected from what envelops me. I hope the best will come and brace myself for the deluge of probable related emotions. I check myself.

If I’m not what I do, or what I’ve done, or what I’m doing, who am I? Does it matter? No, I don’t think it matters.

I need to catch my breath. I think I got a finger to move but I need to move my head. I need air. Such disdain.

In all the trembly places, I try to keep paces in step with each moment, a movement forward, albeit sometimes in the dark.  A movement not when I’ve been, or hope to go, but now, present. History is important for lessons, but nothing can be done there.

Walter Gropius, one of the Bauhaus founders, used to teach that “form follows function.” Art and design in daily life. So simple, what I do then should be the shape of me. My box. My label. The problem is, I can do a lot of things. I might need more than one shape.

People are limited by expectations, presupposed functions, not by their potential.

My children are grown, educated, successful, and make more money than I ever have, but I am and will always be their father. Not like the father I was when they were boys. The role has changed. They don’t need me to wake them for school, make their lunches, or protect them from poor choices. They can do that just fine without me. They don’t need my approval.

They do need my love. Even today, I know I need my father’s love. We all need someone who can see past our mistakes, wish us well and possibly help us at times.

I won’t talk about my marriage beyond saying the early years were good. The later years weren’t. Expectations. We didn’t know what to expect. Frankly, there was no way to expect how we evolved.

I can hold on to what was right and I can hold onto what was wrong, but it was both. I read somewhere or heard some Buddhist monk say, if I’m holding on to something, I can’t use my hand to reach for something else. I choose to reach.

Trembly places, where the ground is uncertain, lacking stability, and the body borders on or even becomes exhausted with the difficulty of the mind trying to discern sound footing from the peril. I want to lie down but can’t. My only option is to move, accept change, and hope the path, my progress, will come to new ground, a new place, an opportunity. Peril becomes a beginning, and each successive step is a validation that I can go on.

I choose or don’t choose my identity. Any identity is laden with expectations. Expectations anticipate actions. But my actions are my actions. Sometimes they are tied to what is going on around me and sometimes by what I feel inside me. They may or may not follow an expectation.

I remember being furious that my mother and father would each accuse the other of the same trespasses, each seeming to want to build sympathy from my sister or me. I didn’t feel it. Neither my mother nor my father was a bad, abusive, or mean person. They’d simply grown apart. They’d been 22-year-old college students who had gotten married because my mother was pregnant with me. That was what people did back then. They were doing what was expected of them. With what we all know now, obviously, they were going to grow. In this case, they grew apart despite being loving. It was hard to watch.

We grew apart, the moments, the details, the digression subjective, simply apart. Time is movement, change.

In trembly places, sometimes we tread upon grounds which likely shouldn’t be trodden. I’m careful when walking a precarious path. I have no interest in taking a fall, unnecessary, and unbecoming.

Trembly places are shaking spaces, replete with joy or fear, grief, or simply exhaustion. The kinesics of shaking are visceral, reactive, involuntary. A trembling body is screaming for transition. It is a manifestation of liminal space, a corridor of feeling created by the body to encourage the mind toward movement. A signal that this or that is enough, time to move on.

I ask myself where I’m going and find a sort of paradox. Being settled is being comfortable with always changing, growing, evolving, and eventually dying. There is only one direction in time, and I can’t not be in motion.

I can remember things, but I can’t change what was or I wouldn’t be entirely here. Similarly, I can’t reach for tomorrow and lock it in my grasp because as soon as I do, it’s gone. It’s now.

Comfort is found in here and now and the knowing that it is always changing. I am forever in between. What am I holding on to? If I attach myself to identity, I am clinging to a construct of the past or someone else’s ideas—something that won’t hold me as it has already been and isn’t here.

If I attach myself to who I want to be, I can find a path, but I’ll never reach the end of it as the moment I think I am there, I am here. Now. An unfamiliar place I had hoped sometime in the past, to get to, a place I can’t really be.

My father and mother did what they felt they had to do and could do. It wasn’t done because it was expected of them. Their marriage had been what they had thought, and others had told them, needed to be done. It was in part theirs and they were in part happy with it. After about 12 years, circumstances had changed, they had grown, identities had taken shape, and they wanted to take different paths. They detached. I learned, the entity I had known to be them, wasn’t real. There was dad, and he was him; and mom, she was her.

In trembly places, there are moments of hesitation, disorientation, and loss of balance—I can only step forward and try not to fall. When I fall, I get back up.

I can feel my hand opening and use it to pinch my leg. My eyes are opening, and the sun is rising. I can move my neck and take a breath.

Today, I begin again. I’m waking up.

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