“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too” Landslide, Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac
Thomas Wolfe’s posthumously published novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, posits that we can never return to the home or town we left and find that it has remained as we remember, that the people and place are the same, though we have changed. The comfort we may seek in reliving memories is elusive. You can return home or revisit relationships however, and discover how much things have changed and remained the same.
Mercury was in retrograde this past month. Astrologists and others believe it is an excellent time to reflect on the past. I’ve been doing just that as I’ve been encountering an ex-girlfriend in the news, supporting an ex-girlfriend with ex-girlfriend issues, renewing a relationship with my ex-husband and revisiting my ex-in-laws as the family outlaw, welcomed home.
Ex-Girlfriend in the Fray
For those readers of this blog who live in Wisconsin we are all familiar with the political shenanigans of Governor Scott Walker and his minions while he was the Milwaukee County Executive and today as Governor with the help of the Republican majority in the State Legislature and his campaign contributors with deep pockets and private interests. A number of his staff and members of his election committee have been charged and convicted of various crimes as a result of a John Doe investigation into campaigning while on the county’s clock. A secret email server was installed so members of the campaign and county executive’s staff could communicate secretly.
My ex-girlfriend of fifteen years, C.A, has been in the news again as a result of thousands of emails being released following legal pressure by the press to gain access to public information. She has not been charged or convicted of any crimes, though the home I once shared with her was raided by the FBI in an effort to capture information or potential evidence. We separated in 2008, so fortunately I was already gone and not privy to any of the wrongdoings of Walker and his staff.
Over time C. A. and I have transitioned from exes to chosen family. I care for her deeply, but like many family members, I don’t share her political beliefs. In that regard we were a mixed marriage when we were together, she a fiscal conservative and me a progressive liberal.
For years when she worked for the State of Wisconsin as a civil servant she remained as nonpolitical as she could. When she lost her job due to the political affiliation of the Governors she worked for, she became political, affiliating with Republicans, working first for awhile in Brown County before joining Walker in Milwaukee when he was the County Executive.
The 22-Year-Old Ex (22 Years Later)
Three years ago I reconnected with my ex-girlfriend from 22 years ago. When we met, Tracy was a 22-year-old physical therapy student and musician and I was 42. At the time I wasn’t looking for a relationship, a few months earlier I left a relationship of over four years. I was actively reengaging in my artistic pursuits and single life. I was performing stand-up comedy, emceeing fundraising events for causes and organizations I supported, taking acting classes and was a member of an improvisational performance collective, Acting Out at Apple Island, a women’s performance and meeting space in Madison.
After a performance by my friend Mary’s new band, On the Verge, I met her bass player, Tracy. Tracy was flirting with me during the gathering at Mary’s house. At first I was quite surprised that this attractive, young, soft butch woman was paying attention to me, a 42-year-old, slightly overweight woman. Then I was flattered, and finally, I simply relaxed into the attention and the accompanying good feelings. We became lovers.
Most of my friends warned me at the time that a relationship with a 20 year age difference wouldn’t work or last. They were both right and wrong, it worked while it lasted and it lasted for one year.
She graduated from college and I was ready for a partnership. We had a lot of fun together and in our own way supported each other during transitions in our individual lives. We weren’t meant to last.
Now 22 years later, Tracy is 44 and I’m 64. We’re friends and chosen family. Our unspoken contract is simple: I coach her to be more grounded and how to work on her life (she is the youngest in her family of origin), and she helps me lighten up and reminds me how to play in mine (I’m the eldest in my family of origin).
Return of the Ex-Husband
This past fall after reaching out to him for a number of years, my ex-husband Frank finally accepted an invitation from me to join my family for a visit at my new home. It was a wonderful afternoon including a vigorous walk down memory lane and endless story-telling. Read my earlier post about the visit, There Will Be Stories.
During a couple of road trips to visit our families in Racine, Wisconsin, our hometown, I was able to make amends to him and his forgiveness freed me from the residual guilt I carried with me from when and how I left him. Though we often pledge in life to never hurt the ones we love, the nature of life and love is such that we do.
There’s something about travelling in a car for a couple of hours that fosters conversation. During those trips over the Christmas holidays and this past weekend when we travelled home for my mother’s birthday and a visit with Frank’s sister and brother-in-law, we covered a lot of miles, and a lot of shared memories from the past. My father’s birthday is in April and Frank may join me again and this summer is my parent’s 65th wedding anniversary in August, the same week Frank’s family is gathering from all over the country for a family reunion. I’ve been invited to join them. There will be more stories.
The Outlaw and the Ex-In-Laws
When I visited my family over the Christmas holiday, I dropped Frank off at his sister’s home and visited very briefly. Before I could leave that day, I had to promise to return and stay longer the next time I came home to my folk’s house for a visit. This past weekend I did and again Frank was my travel companion.
Yes, it was the return of the notorious ex-wife; the outlaw visits the ex-in-laws. When Frank and I first separated, I was cast as the injuring partner and he, the injured. Though Frank was my first love, and I loved him deeply and completely, we changed. We each struggled with our individual distractions which later became addictions, mine alcohol, his gambling. We became codependent in classically unhealthy ways.
In addition I was exploring my sexual preference and identity. I had become very active in the second wave of feminism and the consciousness-raising movement of the mid-seventies. I became involved in a couple of relationships with women. We opened our marriage for awhile to accommodate my changes and questioning, but when our relationship hit some bumps in the road it became problematic. Frank asked me to close the door to outside relationships, but instead I walked out.
Now in all fairness to Frank he actually nudged me out the door. What he needed from me during that time was to be all in. We had gone out for dinner to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary and he suggested, no encouraged me, to spend some time separate from him and decide if I wanted to stay married. This is the moment when my character was tested and I failed the test. I knew that once I moved out, even under the guise of a temporary separation, I would never return. I didn’t have the courage or the strength of character to let him know what I already knew. This was my moment of regret and the cause of the hurt I inflicted on him.
From his family’s perspective, I was the lesbian wife who betrayed her husband by having affairs then left him devastated. For my part, I had the responsibility to talk with my parents and tell them three things:
- I was cancelling the vacation Frank and I had planned with them.
- I was separating from Frank and moving into my own place.
- I was a lesbian.
When I visited my family I was able to get through the first two items. I characterized the ending of our relationship as problems with Frank’s gambling and my drinking, though I’m sure looking back I minimized my drinking. You see I probably had a drink in my hand and so did my folks as we had this conversation. It was later that I wrote my parents my “coming out letter.”
I began the letter by telling them how I hoped they would receive the news that their daughter was a lesbian. To their credit and my eternal gratitude, they reacted exactly how I had hoped, telling me that they loved me unconditionally.
Over time I answered the questions my father had as he struggled to accept the changes in his daughter’s life. My parents continued to maintain a relationship with Frank separate from me which I’m grateful for. Frank sent cards to my parents every holiday and birthday and sometimes stopped by to visit them.
His family never reached out to me and I never reached back, until the death of Frank’s oldest sister Char, and I wrote a note of condolence. Frank’s younger sister, Mary and her husband, Pat, wrote back and welcomed me with open arms and hearts during my recent visits with Frank.
The outlaw, the ex-husband and the ex-in-laws, spent a few hours last weekend catching up on thirty-five years and reliving our shared memories of the past. We’ve gained weight, wrinkles, and wisdom along the way, some of us lost hair while others turned gray, and Pat and Mary had three children and added multiple grandchildren to their family. One of the grand children, seven-year-old Amara asked endless questions like a curious child, about Frank and I, marriage, divorce, and all the implications of what it meant that we were together again in the same room.
Like the other exes in my life, Frank and I have become chosen family. We’ve reconciled and reminisced, but to all of those who may be wondering, especially Frank’s family and possibly Frank himself, we’re not getting back together. Each of my former loved ones are exes for a reason, yet I’m grateful they’re each still in my life.