Wednesday, July 04, 2007


The quotation marks above are meant as a warning: what follows has nothing to do with US politics or any deep thoughts about our form of government, its successes and failures, or even (*heavy sigh*) the current administration. It is a little about "Independence Day" and a little more about what it is, for me, to experience independence.

I was married at age 21 to my college sweetheart, and the first third of our marriage (about 8 years) was spent in and around Boston. For many of those years, our July 4th revolved around Boston's extraordinary celebration that takes place at the Esplanade on the Charles River. The first year we were married we lived a stone's throw away from all the celebrations, and so we walked there and met our college gang for about 16 hours of picnicking (in a crowd of one million people at its peak. we were later to learn!), sunstroke, sublime music by the Boston Pops, and fireworks the likes of which we had never seen before.

It is a happy memory, though one that is tinged with a wistful sense of regret. After the fireworks we newlyweds returned to our postage stamp sized apartment. The night that followed was dreadful, because of the beastly heat and humidity but also because the good citizens of Boston continued to set off fireworks right under our window, it felt. When I play it over in my head, I wonder why it didn't make us laugh. We were 22 and 23; we had all the energy in the world. Why didn't we whisper together, break out some more wine, lean out the window and watch it all, even go out for a midnight walk?

At about 1 AM we called friends in Quincy and asked whether they would put us up for the rest of the night. I remember feeling angry and, for some reason, blaming my husband for my unhappiness. It was not an auspicious beginning, though the marriage lasted, apparently happily, for another 20 years. I honestly think that single issue... thinking another human being was responsible for my happiness... was the tiny nail through the skin that eventually let to fatal hemmorhaging of goodwill from the marriage. It's not that we were actively miserable... far from it. There were many years of spirited breakfast table conversation about the morning's New York Times and the arts and the great and lasting loves of our lives, our children. But I think that one flaw was fatal.

For the last four years it has occurred to me that I alone bear the responsibility for my joy. In my work, in relationships, as a mother, all this has led to what I believe is a powerful and positive change in my life. I can honestly say that, just as my marriage was one of the most important factors in my life for good and for joy, its ending was at least as powerful; perhaps it was a greater motivator for change than I yet comprehend.

It is a joke around here that, Uh oh, mom is about to flex her muscles again. This is in reference to something that happened about six months after my spouse moved out. The toilet seat broke and needed to be replaced. Actually, the truth is: the toilet seat was broken before the ex left; as in all those kinds of things, I assumed he was responsible. I passively waited for something to be done. Six months after he left, it occurred to me that, if this thing was going to be fixed, it was going to be either a handyman/ woman or me that did it. I was responsible. I went to Lowe's. I looked at toilet seats, and realized that they come in different shapes. I went home and looked again at my toilet seat. Ah. I went back to Lowe's, bought the right one, and came home. Armed with a wrench and a rag and some Lysol bathroom cleaner, I went to work. About 20 minutes later, the new seat was installed. Jubilant, I turned to face the mirror, and flexed my muscles at my grinning reflection.

Independence. I am responsible. As it should be.


cheesehead said...


Anonymous said...

My mother experienced much the same thing after my father died. She has grown more in the last five years than she ever believed possible. The only downside is the twinge of guilt she feels for the ability to be happy and proud of herself without him. And I don't think we intentionally form relationships based on the idea that the other is responsible for our happiness, but they are the source of (at least some) joy in our lives, and over time that becomes transmuted into responsibility. Once we have done that, we can shift the blame off of ourselves - means we don't have to make an effort, it's HIS/HER fault! So much easier, right? And then the downward spiral begins...too bad so many of us seem to have to learn this very simple lesson the hard way. Nice reminder.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I honestly think that single issue... thinking another human being was responsible for my happiness... was the tiny nail through the skin that eventually let to fatal hemmorhaging of goodwill from the marriage.

I think that the belief that someone else is responsible for our happiness is the fatal flaw in many relationships. I had that same expectation myself for many years. I'm still married, but I did come to the realization that neither my husband nor my children could make me happy. I had to find my own way to happiness and fulfillment.

We're all better off for my coming to that realization.

Mags, Happy Independence Day to you and to me, too.

Iris said...


LittleMary said...

powerful quote. shit, life is hard sometimes. why does it take us so long to learn lessons? i love you.