I was born and raised in a world steeped in tradition and high regard for morality. I come from a place where promises mean something, where you work on what’s broken rather than throw it away, and where one hundred years isn’t as long as you might think it is. I come from a land of old rolling hills dotted with ancient foundation holes from homesteads and long-gone attempts at settlement, sunken graves marked with moss-covered stones sunken into the earth, and bloodlines that can be traced back nearly four hundred years. I am a child of New England, of the rugged coast of Maine, of a small town with two blinking yellow lights and as many street lights. The same rutted roads that have always been there and will be there for the remainder of my life. I was formed by two people who had made a deep and sacred vow to care, protect, nurture, and support each other through thick and thin. I was brought into this world with a namesake that stretched back through the centuries, with familial ties so thick, so implacable, that you could build an entire universe on top of them.
I framed my life around the permanence of family, of vows, and of the assuredness that I’d always have a home on that farm. I knew every hillock and pathway on those acres. I knew the patterns of weather, of the seasons, of the stars. My blood had been spilled on that land many times through the trips, falls, scrapes of childhood. My imagination used those lands as the backdrop for all of my fantasies, my stories, my dreams. I was tied to that plot of land in a way that went way beyond simple geography. Ghosts of my lineage traced ethereal lines all over the land my parents had bought from the estate of a great-aunt.
My parents, when they did fight, were tooth-and-nail about it. High-volume voices, exasperation, frustration, the occasional door slam and peeling of tires in the yard dot the memories of my childhood on that family farm. Still, though all of that, I calmed myself by remembering where I was, who we were, and just how sacred the bonds of family, commitment, and the promises between two people actually were.
That is, until they weren’t.
My mother left my father the summer before I entered my senior year of high school. In a state of shock, and left to face the wrath of a man I’d grown ever-more estranged from, I fled my father’s house and set off to reside with a friend, getting away from the metaphorical burning and sacking of the only home I’d ever known. As those walls came tumbling down, and as the crest of the barn’s roof disappeared into the rearview mirror of my car, my belief and trust in the value of a promise, of words exchanged before God and the government, became nothing but a pile of dust in my hand to be blown away by the wind. That same air was whipping my hair as I sped down the back roads of my hometown.
I don’t remember crying much. I went into survival mode. If given the option of fight or flight, I always chose to run away. I ran to a friend’s house for a week. Then, when school started again that fall, I ran there, leaving the crisis at home at the doorway to my classrooms. By the time school had ended, I’d been accepted into college, and spent my waking hours planning and scheming my departure from the farm. I disappeared into my part-time job at the local convenience store. I hung out with friends and faded into the never-ending flow of whiskey and beer and weed that offered me a way out. I attempted therapy once that summer in order to try and square just how I was feeling, but instead of offering me up any solutions for how to handle what had happened in my life, I found myself feeling cornered and furious.
It hurt to express how I was feeling, how the ground under my feet had simply split open, how the terrain I had come to rely upon suddenly was gone. It infuriated me that my parents would break a promise, not only between themselves, but to me. Of course, they never saw that side of things, and to this day, talk of the divorce between my mother and myself glosses over just how I was feeling during the events. It’s always and singularly focused on her, on her wrath and rage, and how she dealt with it all. I was simply written off because I fled to college.
I ran away then. I continued to run away, with the gut reaction of changing addresses to solve my problems, right on up into my adulthood. In some regards, I’m still away. Over the last couple of years, though, I have embraced a new-found ability to stop and turn into the wind of my past, with all of its shadows, and face some of it down. This is what I know now:
I still hold the promises I make to another person in the highest regard. When I say I am going to do something, or commit to a person in a way that is meaningful, I uphold my end of that bargain. I still hold the vows of marriage, the exchange of phrases that unite two people into one entity before the being they hold sacred and the people who matter most in their lives, as valuable. At my core, I am a traditionalist, with a root-tapping belief in the power that lies in forming something of permanence and matter with another human being. Each time I’ve fallen in love, beginning the development of a form, a thing, that I share with another man, I give it all that I have. I nurture it. I defend it. Sometimes, though, I spend too much time fussing over the details, the textures, the nuances, that I cause the dismantling of everything. For me, I can trace this insecurity, this worry, this anxiety, squarely back to the broken promises between my parents. I do not want their chaos in my life. I do not want to follow in those old patterns that led them to ultimately breaking their promises.
The twist in all of this, for me, is that I’m standing at the precipice of breaking a vow I made with another man. I made an oath to stand with him, through everything, as a matter of bridging the gulf that had been forming between us. Naiveté, coupled with a longing to belong, and a strange brew of honor and duty, had me marry a man with whom I’d simply grown weary of. Still, I swore to him that I’d make the effort, put on his ring, and held my head up high, doing the best that I could to salvage what he and I had. The moment we started talking more about memories, more about our past, and stopped making arrangements for our present and future, I knew it was done. It was him, however, who ended it. It was he who screwed up the courage to tell me that we were done, on Independence Day, 2010. Right up until the end, I remained vested in the promise I had made to him.
I also know that I want to be in a stable, committed, shared relationship with a man. I may have met him recently, but as of yet, things are still new, still raw, and for my part, I still have unfinished business to attend to. I need to complete the separation from what came before. I need to go through the process of forgiving myself for making a promise I could not ultimately keep. I need to clean my slate and put my own house in order before I invite another man inside. I need to do this for myself, for my past, and for my future.
So begins the unwinding the creation I built with a man I once loved starting some fourteen years ago. Four years after the severance between us, and I’ve found the courage and drive to make the unbreakable broken, to retract my words said before his family and mine, and to legally sever the ties that we still share. I have the resources required to procure judgement and decision under the law. I have the wherewithal to know that this matters and has meaning in my life.
I would rather have the option to put my head in the sand, to not deal with this detail, and to simply go on living my life in this sort of limbo. I’d rather pack my things and get on a bus and run away from it. I know, however, that escape is not healthy in any manner. I need to clean up my present self in order to be better for my future. Finalizing this situation means being able to be more fully accountable to my present self. It’s a loose thread, broken and frayed as the promises that hung from it, dangling in the wind.