Someone I know has to meet the woman who destroyed her family and is now the stepmother to her children, and put on a smiling face to do it. Her ex wants her to stop in and say hello when she comes by to pick up the kids one day, and she said she knows it’s going to be hard. And it absolutely is going to be. When she told us, a bunch of friends chimed in that she needed to be sure she was on her turf when she did it, and that she was in a position of power, and that she only did it when she felt ready to do it, and she had to take care of herself, and I was the lone dissenting voice of or you could just, you know, go the fuck into the living room and meet the woman.
I got to meet my ex’s live-in partner one day while I was still wearing pajamas and hadn’t quite gotten around to brushing my teeth, so I figure fair warning would be a big improvement over that. But in the end it wasn’t ever going to be anything but a hard time for all of us. Fortunately, she’s a nice person and hey we’re all just trying to get to the happily ever after.
Jess: Mom. This is the happy ever after.
Me: It could use a little more happy.
Jess: Mom. You think happy is for those people, you know, that word I don’t like to say—
Me: Dumbasses who refuse to face reality.
Jess: So even if you were happy, you would not be happy.
Me: . . .
Jess: But you always say I bring you joy. So maybe you should just focus on the joy.)
Life is complicated and we are never going to be ready for the hard parts or feel supported enough to get through them. We aren’t even going to feel strong. And we aren’t going to somehow achieve closure or healing for having done them; healing is not the result of actions but the result of acceptance and maybe—watch out, psychological heresy ahead—maybe you will never accept this. That your mother didn’t protect you from your father, or that your husband walked out on you and married his mistress, giving her the happily-ever-after that you wanted and which she destroyed, or that the universe maimed your child so badly she will never have a normal life.
We do some hard things because we have to. We do them for the sake of other people, not because the action will somehow accrue great good karma to us or that they will lead us to the warm earth of healing and peace. We do them because we are civilized human beings, and being a civilized human being means sometimes we do not let the bleeding show. We want our children to believe it’s okay to feel good in their new family, even if it cost us ours. And we do not demand that our children suffer as we do for the sins of other people, including our own.
Sometimes I think the greatest crime perpetrated against people in pain is the idea that they need to be healed of their suffering, that their suffering is somehow an affront to non-suffering people. She’s playing the victim again, we say scornfully. Oh my god, it’s been ten years since that happened! Why doesn’t she get over it! Time, we are certain, will lead to healing, and people are just being stubborn if it doesn’t.
People who suffer know a bad thing has happened. They’re not pretending it hasn’t. They know they can’t change that bad thing. They’re not pretending they can. But what we seem to be asking them to do is to say that the pain and unfairness are okay. But they’re not. The pain is painful. The unfairness is unjust. No, it is not okay.
And it is at this stubborn impasse that many of us reside. Because it will never be okay, what has happened. That does not mean that we don’t get on with our lives. It does not mean we don’t love again, or feel happiness (or joy, for those of us sporting a fine contempt for happiness). It doesn’t mean we don’t laugh or lift our faces to the sun.
It means that we don’t ever heal, because we can’t. Because no matter how much you badger us, we know that it is never going to be okay, what happened. What we are going to do is learn to live with it, although sometimes we don’t even manage that very well.
Here is how I could get over my suffering. I could stop caring what happens to Jessica. You tell me if you think that’s even possible.