My paternal grandparents got married when my grandmother was 18 and my grandfather was 28. Their marriage lasted, as was standard, until both of them died, two years apart, nearly 70 years later. They lived, until it was impractical, on a small farm in a small town in rural Maine. My grandmother was elected town clerk after stints as school lunch lady and post-office counter clerk -- I remember standing in awe in their parlor as she presided over the wedding of two young people who had put on their very best clothes for the occasion. They knew absolutely everyone in town and all the towns around, though they were not social. But still, once they took me and my brother to a Guy Fawkes party and I met one of Maine's slightly famous (more aptly, infamous) authors. I was impressed, but my grandmother was not, as the writer was a slattern and overly dramatic (her words). They had two sons, barely two years apart, both popular athletes who played football in college and went on to start their own businesses and marry pretty, petite women. My uncle's wife killed herself when my three cousins were very small. My grandparents took in my uncle and my cousins until he was ready to stand on his own again. My uncle and his second wife took in my grandparents when they became unable to keep up their own house.
Never once did I hear my grandmother complain about her circumstances, which to me, as an arrogant young person, looked circumscribed. I thought that my grandmother was missing out on the world: she only ever traveled once to Boston, and once to Washington D.C., in her entire life. I wanted bigger and better and more and moved to bigger and better and more cities, traveled to Europe, had dumb misadventures, and grand-ish true adventures, never got married, bought an old farmhouse on the edge of a small city, and had two children out of wedlock, and though I am sure my grandmother must have had opinions or judgments about my life, which looked nothing like any life she ever knew, she never once offered any. She was unfailingly supportive and proud of all of us cousins (her one trip to Boston was for my college graduation) but of course I didn't think she would understand anything about me and my life so after my tween years I stopped telling her anything of any import.
My grandfather passed away the day after Christmas, almost 6 years ago now. He told my grandmother he was tired, laid down in his twin bed next to hers, and never woke up. His memorial service was very well attended. In the spring following, we had a family gathering in the tiny rustic graveyard where that side of the family lies. I remember being utterly stunned when my grandmother wailed over my grandfather's gravestone. They'd had a full lifetime together after all, one which I imagined to be fond, but not overly. Lots of hard work, and probably very not romantic. But there she was, in her nineties, keening like you'd see in a movie with young lovers were separated by death or other dire circumstance, and my dad and uncle had to hold her by her arms so she would not fall down. Suddenly a rush of memories came flooding back to me: the way my grandfather had always fondly chided my grandmother about bustling around the kitchen while we were all sitting down and eating. The beautiful and impractical flowers he tended so she could cut them for her vases around the house. The way he never failed to thank her for the delicious meals she cooked day in and day out. The way she always asked if he could hear the baseball game, which would remind him to turn up his hearing aid. The way she slept through years of his tremendous snoring and while they did have separate beds, they never once had separate rooms. There was never any outward drama, or noisy fuss. I never once heard a raised voice in that house.
That was a whole life together.
The weekend I asked Tim to leave my house, a very good friend of mine was in town. My friend came over a couple of nights into my fresh single parenthood bearing a bottle of Jack Daniels and three pints of Ben and Jerry's. I was grateful for the gesture but also thought that I very much needed to keep my wits about me. I had no idea what my next move would be, had lost my voice, and had allowed myself to cry exactly once for about 5 minutes, when I was in the shower, after I put the girls to bed. I decided I didn't need numbing. I didn't need crying. Somehow I would forge ahead without all of the dramatics that had marked every single breakup or disappointment in my life, previously. And so I have done, to a large extent. That impulse feels right, still.
What I mourn now, during any slivers of time in that kind of head-space, is not the particular man or that particular relationship. As I have mentioned (repeatedly, I know; sort of like someone saying "so-and-so, my husband" in the weeks after the wedding, to get used to it), I am happy with my life right now and looking forward to the next chapter. But damned if I am not sometimes bummed out that I will not have a whole life together like my grandparents did. Sometimes I wonder if I should have married my high school boyfriend, as we were planning, and just taken the lumps, or maybe I should have at least taken the leap with SOME one SOME time during all of my gallivanting. It's easy to be revisionist, and I know all of my choices afford me the opportunity to be (hopefully) a better parent and (hopefully) a better partner in the future. The girls would not exist as they are in any of my alternate universes and that is a sad thought. But I do wonder: what choices will they make, or not make, once they learn about the turns of my life? My life and my choices were largely reactionary, based on wanting MORE than my grandmother, MORE than my mother -- who never really hid her resentment that she had married so young and mothered so young. MORE than so many of my classmates, who never left Maine, or even my hometown. What will my girl's antidotes be, for having a mother who had children after so much MORE? What is the antidote for not even being able to remember your parents living under the same roof?
Tuesday night in yoga class, while I was starting to get into full wheel along with the rest of the class, the teacher came over and put a strap behind my shoulder blades and lifted up and forward. I felt my chest expand, almost painfully, and my feet almost left the floor. I am only just newly able to get into full wheel again. Before I left Brooklyn, before I met Tim, before I had my babies, I loved full wheel. The pose is open and expansive and somehow in these intervening years I collapsed in on myself and lost the knack for it. I let myself get mired in self-pity, depression, pettiness (I changed the last three diapers/you went out the last two Saturdays) and forgot: how open, how expansive, the sweep of a whole life. How wonderful and precious to have lived a whole life together. Maybe I won't have that. Maybe my girls won't. Maybe they will. And after the pose is done and the teacher moves away to the next student I lie on my mat, with my heart almost painfully open, and think of my grandparents, and tears roll down my face. And then I get up and and shower off the tears and sweat and two days later write it all down without knowing, really, how to end. Probably because it isn't an end.