The definition of tact, passed along by my friend F. and attributed to Winston S. Churchill:
F. tells me, as we blast along the highway at 82 mph, that she learned this definition in her childhood, before she really understood what it meant, on a holiday road trip with her parents and two siblings. She remembers reading it somewhere on the East Coast, on a Blue Highway, in a roadside motel with a square swimming pool out front and a diner on the side. The family always stayed at motels with swimming pools for the kids. They were sitting at the diner, eating, when F. spotted the framed sign on the wall with a picture of a fancy woman and a man exiting the room with a big grin on his face. I make her repeat the adage twice so I can store in my long-term memory. She tells me that I have the Churchillesque gift of tact and should start using it to clear a space in my life for a good man to enter.
The drive from Ashland to Bend, a distance of 185 miles that takes us past Crater Lake, turns into a confession-cum-counseling session. My eyes locked on the tarmac in front of me and the vertical rhythm of evergreens whipping past, I slowly unpack the secrets of my relationship with J. I’m tired of holding them all in, and I trust my friend to give me the strength to stick with my decision to move on. I know I’ve reached the end of my ability to make excuses for his behavior because my body is one big archipelago of aches: lumbar spine, ankle, wrist — or, as F. tells me, my chakras are screaming bloody protest.
I let myself dig up the episodes, revelations, indignities that did not sit right with me in the course of this six-year relationship, but that I buried under excuses, denial, and fear. I recognize how crucial it is to my commitment to my course of action to have another person’s perspective and especially her confirmation of the accuracy of what I know in my gut is the reality of the situation. It’s best NOT to find excuses for his behavior.
I’m writing about this cryptically because I’m exhausted by the four-hour conversation and need to let it percolate through the various layers of my psyche. There’s an element of shame — for allowing myself to be mistreated for six years and for silencing my good judgment in exchange for the dubious security of a warm body in my bed and the hope that the less than perfect can be polished to perfection, given enough patience, hard work, and idealism.
There’s anger, of course, and fear: fear of confronting a man whose soul is seething with a volcanic anger. There’s the vanity of thinking that of all the women who’ve been in his life, from mother through a sequence of wives, I alone can be the agent of change, the catalyst to his success and the beneficiary of his perfect love. Shame. Anger. Vanity — this is my trinity of saboteurs who’ve worked, hand in glove, with the destructive elements in the Man’s personality, eroding my freedom, creativity, health, and joy in life… as well as ripping up the roots that anchor me in community. I can only pray for the strength to maintain myself on a healthy course and to rise to the challenge and responsibility of taking the best possible care of myself.
I have a seething resentment, as well, for the therapists with whom we worked for four years, for their failure to provide the counsel and support to me that I need to chart a productive course in my life. I think there’s a profound irresponsibility in the therapeutic community’s unwillingness to take ethical positions as well as to recognize when two people are being destructive to each other, and instead, to encourage them to keep looking for ways to stay together and torment each other. The Imago premise that couples are drawn to each other by a mysterious, but unerring radar that makes of the other a perfect partner, chosen to compel one to “grow the missing parts” and compensate for the shortcomings of past partners in love, actually ends up being extremely noxious. At least for me that is the case. I learned some interactive skills — respectful and accurate listening, for example, and strategies for avoiding conflict, but on the other hand, I stayed mired in the illusion that an exploitative relationship was actually good for me.
On another note: as this serious prodding into the denials of the past is taking place, my friend F and I are in hot pursuit of the Target Missoni phenomenon. We go top the Target in Medford, Oregon, at ten in the morning, and find the Missoni collection picked clean by Californians. We race to the Target in Bend, and it’s even worse. I continue alone to the Target in Gresham, assuming that because it’s in an unfashionable suburb, it will have a decent selection of Missoni. Deluded once again: a handful of children’s clothing is left on the racks — maybe a dozen little sweaters and skirts and onesies. Everything else is gone gone gone.
EXCEPT: a pair of ballerina slippers; rubber boots; an underwire bra; socks; tights; a sweater for my nephew; socks for my daughter’s boyfriend; and clothing for a friend’s little girls. So, not too bad, after all.