I spent this weekend at the ocean trying to reflect, think, and write. I went here to sort out how I felt about my future, my current relationship, and my life in general. What came up was something incredible. I realized how much I love my ex-husband and want to be his friend. I don’t know if this is really possible. He and I had both wanted it to be and then I got so angry. Angry at his level of involvement with our daughter. Angry that he is the fun parent that spends 3 hours a week playing Rock Band and watching movies while I spend the rest of the week washing laundry, checking homework, and enforcing rules. A few things were unpacked in the last week.
First, before the impromptu trip to the ocean, I realized my anger was a mask for jealousy. I want to be the fun parent. I want to the be the one without responsibilities. Instead of counting my blessings at the freedoms I have because my family helps me with my daughter, I was focused on what I thought my ex should or should not be doing. This is unproductive to say the least. I hope I’m done with it, but I know I can’t be sure until I return home and am having to deal with it again.
The first day at the ocean, swimming in the Atlantic I felt so much gratitude for my ex-husband. He taught me to swim. I was about to turn 19 when we met and I didn’t know how to swim. We spent that summer, and the next 2 or 3, at creeks and lakes all over Northwest Arkansas. He taught me first to dog paddle, then float, then various strokes I’m sure I don’t remember. Thinking about this brought back the feelings of love I had for him, real love. This is important. See, I have been telling myself I never loved him. I didn’t think I had because our life together was mostly spent fighting. I loved him in the summer though. He would spin me around in the water, put me on his back and swim across the creeks diving under until I would almost go under with him then he would swim up again. We would pack this tiny little grill into our car and an ice chest and spend all day at the lake. We would swim until lunch then grill hotdogs and swim some more until dinner. These were the happiest summers of my life.
Maybe the first summer we didn’t go swimming as much should have been my sign to leave. Is that when we stopped loving each other? Or did we ever stop? I swim the Atlantic Ocean and think back trying to remember what year it was when we quit swimming all the time.
When I return to the ocean two days later I drive over the Savannah River and think about how much he would have liked it here. More memories flood my mind; hiking with him in the woods, the first time I went in a cave with him and saw a bat – a moment I treasure. I remember how much more brave I was with him beside me.
I grew up afraid of everything. I didn’t have an adventurous family. We didn’t hike, swim, canoe, ride horses, camp… We mostly watched television and shopped. My ex was a boy scout, literally, and is really confident outdoors. He is cautious though too. He isn’t one of those guys that gets out and tries to prove something about his manhood. Often I would be afraid of things most people wouldn’t be and would hesitate. He had this way of inspiring me to go for it without ever making me feel bad if I didn’t. He was a good friend.
Maybe that’s where we went wrong. If I could go back to my 19 year-old self I might say, “be friends with this guy, love him and enjoy him, have sex with him, but don’t live with him or marry him.” If we had known then what we know now about relationships and all the glorious configurations they can take… we might have enjoyed a good summer fling or two and become best friends. Of course that might have meant not having my daughter and I wouldn’t want to undo that.
I do want those summers back, without the sex. I want the laughter, the swimming, the ease we had with each other. I want smiles. We used to smile at each other with so much honesty and enthusiasm. The last few years we only had those sad forced smiles for each other.
I think about all this laying on the beach. When I get back to my car and realize how sun burned I let myself get I have to laugh. My ex always had to take care of massive burns because I would either forget sunblock or forget to reapply it.
It’s so easy to only tell the stories about the fighting and mean words. There are more of those stories. I want to keep remembering the good times too. I want to love him again, the carefree easy love between friends.