There are times in life you go through certain periods of great tumult. Change tumbles from the sky and lands upon your shoulders. Life is turned upside down and the playing field changes drastically. Many times, these periods absorb our attention and energy so thoroughly that our life appears to come to a standstill as we behold the personal revolution through spellbound eyes. For that span of time, we barely notice anything else that occurs in our life. When the turmoil finally resolves itself (if in fact, this happens), you can finally open your eyes again and see life clearly and realize, in retrospect, just how radically the elements of your existence have been altered. You note what a drastic evolution you’ve undergone. Like observing your life through a new pair of eyes, ideas and situations are more vivid and spotlighted.
This is exactly how I would describe my personal evolution before, during, and in the years after, my divorce. In the year and a half prior to divorcing, I had an affair, I told my wife, we attended couples counseling, we separated, divorced, I lived a sodden life of utter depravity culminating in a near fatal car accident, and this was all punctuated by the divorce documents which finally came in the mail. Those were a couple of wildly unforgettable years. With all that shit going on, it’s no surprise that I “took my eye off the ball” of life so to speak. I lost sense of orientation and I had no idea what it was I was living. I lost recollection of my past, of what I left behind in order to lead this single bachelor life of utter alienation and solitude. One year previous seemed like eons. There was nothing recyclable about my history; I was like the forlorn traveler who wanders the present with no past and no future; only a bag of belongings.
Often, in the violent aftermath of great change, you still wander along blithely, completely oblivious of just how dissimilar you are Now to the You of Then. Sometimes the smallest flicker of a thought or scent or recognition or image may ignite your memories and lead you into a deep state of meditative remembrance as you dwell upon the past and suddenly all that your life was, and you were, flares anew and your past is so real you can taste it again. There is longing, there is a degree of sentimental romanticizing even if the period in question was dreary.
Just a few months ago, my ex-wife sent over an old frame she found while cleaning the house. It held an old photo I had forgotten of. It was approximately circa 2000, 2001? It’s a photo of me in front of one those ubiquitous fairy tale-like edifices that dot the corny wastelands of California’s Disneyland and I was holding our son in my lap. I could not tear my eyes from the photo. I beheld the Married Me.
That was a different man. That was an alien in this body, that was my forcefully domesticated Doppelgänger.
That photo was a glimpse of my distant past, but not so distant. I was not the man I am now. I was married, I obeyed formalities and rules (for a while). I submitted to structure and social expectations. I demurred and disregarded my nature. I was skinny because my weight training was lackadaisical and ignorant. I lifted light weights and never increased the poundage. I drank and ate a lot. My face was pudgy or puffy, and clean-shaven. I wore shorts that were too short for my scrawny and hairy legs; a cap that was too small for my swollen face. I was bland, I was happily milquetoast. I was weighed down under the rigorous pall of marriage. I was playing the game. My life was constrained by the expectations of a beginning, middle, and end of the Story of Life. I was surrendering to the script and I dared not question it. I was a father. I wore a loose black t-shirt and long white socks and black Vans that seemed large and distended. I was dragged to Disneyland silently and peacefully.
I relinquished a certain flame that could not co-exist in such an environment. For you see, this is not a damnation of marriage. This is a damnation of marriage for someone of my character. Men can, and do, remain married while retaining their sense of character. I could not. Marriage snuffed my spark. It extinguished that dire sense of mania. Someone like me needs the mania to breathe and fulfill. Marriage suffocated me, it drew the vapors of life from my soul. Materialistic and social striving were my hollow manias, but they lacked.
Was I happy?