I’m a collector of literary quotes, tucking away slips of inked type since the moment I could read and write. Donald Hall wrote some of my favorites, especially about one’s life work, but recently, one of my favorite quips is credited to Dolly Parton. “Figure out who you are, and then do it on purpose.”
I knew who I was once, knew it in my gut and in my heart, but I let myself get talked out of it. I allowed other people to determine my path and write my narrative. I couldn’t be a gay woman, I told myself, when I came of age in the ‘90s. Other people could, and did—I was hyperaware of this— but I didn’t allow it to be an option for me. I was too afraid to be different, to hurt people I loved, to disappoint.
It’s taken me about 25 people-pleasing years, but I am now, finally, living my life as my rightful self. I am ’doing me on purpose’, and doing so has given me great peace and sincere joy and profound relief. But taking that leap and coming out as the queer woman I’ve always known myself to be consequently ended a marriage that I valued (almost) more than I valued the truth.
It’s been a slow process. It’s taken almost a full calendar year to get myself from the place of anguish I was in last summer to the place of relative calm I’m in now. When I came out, I’d been married 22 years to a person I sincerely hope remains my closest friend. The fallout rocked us. It shook us off a foundation we’d both taken for granted. Last autumn knocked us around as we navigated what my orientation meant for our partnership and how the end of our marriage would look.
The restructuring of our personal life was both desperately needed (for me) and gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking (for both of us). Endings are awful, even when you instigated them. We told the kids. We started the process of untangling our lives, each shared bank account and credit card like limbs that had been long intertwined. It was a long winter. It left us battered and tender and sore.
This spring brought more change. It proved to be a new beginning for me with sparks of unexpected joy and hope. But these sparks had to compete against a continued level of stress that felt like it sucked all the oxygen out of the room. We moved into separate living situations. There were real estate listings and more financial decisions. There were long, emotional conversations. I didn’t sleep. I second-guessed every move I made, worrying about the repercussions of my decisions on my family. How that spark managed to stay lit, I won’t ever know. But it did. It even began to glow.
During this time, I learned to let people help me. I slowly let them in, from my therapist to newfound mentors to new and old friends to family. I reached out to people I’ve known for decades and allowed them to finally know me fully. Doing so was humbling. Realizing how I’d kept people I care about at arm’s-length made me feel unauthentic and apologetic and small. I pushed forward anyway. I joined long-established groups and endured being the newbie.
In short order, I met queer women like me of all ages. One such person, an older woman who’d walked a similar path to mine, took the time to meet me for lunch every few weeks, just to check in with me. Every time I poured out my latest worries, she continually told me, “Everything will be alright.”
She must have told me this a dozen times throughout March and April. Calmly. Methodically. Quietly.
“I’m ruining everyone’s lives.”
“Everything will be alright.”
“I’ll never be able to handle everything on my own.”
“Everything will be alright.”
Her stoic certainty became almost comical to us both.
By May, I must have turned a corner—I know I did—because one day, after I told her some good news for a change, after I tentatively referenced those sparks I’d felt, which now represented much more than just a light on the horizon, she nodded triumphantly at me over a table littered with our coffee cups and sandwich wrappers.
“Oh girl,” she declared softly, the word a whistle through her teeth. “See? Everything is alright. And I’ll tell you what else,” she added with a hint of a grin. “You are going to have a great summer.” She may have added a wink.
And I did. I had a great summer. And a startlingly different summer (I didn’t even travel; not the way I usually do). It was an excruciating summer in some profound and painful ways—a carryover from spring—and an eye-opening summer in other ways. It was an adventurous summer, a tender summer, a blissful summer, a complicated summer. I had all the summers.
It’s flown by with the speed of my life flashing before my eyes.
My ex and I have been separated for almost six months now, and we’re alright. The kids are alright. They know we approached this crossroads with love and respect and as much understanding as we could each muster. We’re still a family and we continue to support one another and laugh with each other and work through life together.
I daydream that autumn will lend itself to a settling of sorts, to a firming up and a quieting down. Part of me is ready to burrow…to cozy up to the warmth that I know awaits. If my Amazon cart is any indication, some retail therapy has been at play. I’ve inexplicably been feeling a need for accent rugs and down comforters and twinkling lights. I’ve been Googling autumnal recipes. I’m told I’m nesting.
I smile at that, my mind casting back to those purpose-filled, impatient days before the birth of each of my boys with bittersweet longing. The floor pacing, the gathering of mental and physical fortitude…why can’t I think of this time in my life as a sort of rebirth, too? It’s a new chapter, and any writer will tell you that facing a blank page demands the same sort of inner strength (and backbone and brawn and brute force) as childbirth. I know more newness is on the horizon, a newness that demands energy and nerve and more and more and more from me.
And that’s okay. I’m tired–bone-tired, actually–but it’s a satisfying type of tired. Like I’ve walked a very long way, longer than I’ve walked before, and my legs ache, but with accomplishment. My muscles burn with fatigue, but it’s a good fatigue. A healthy and clean fatigue. I can tackle more, I realize now. Maybe it’s the euphoria of rebirth talking, but I’m actually smiling at the thought.
I’ve been ready for whatever’s next for a very long while.