Do Not Walk Outside This Area
“There are things known and things unknown. In between are the doors of perception.” ~Aldous Huxley
What you are about to read is my life’s greatest wound. The Sunday after Christmas 2012, a day I now refer to as “Fuck You Sunday,” my husband asked for a divorce so he could live the life of a celibate monk. Looking back, the scene seems like a contradiction—my scholarly, yogic-scripture-quoting, and meditation driven husband pushed me over a dining room chair while screaming “fuck you” in rage, shattering every emotional bone of my being. And so, I fell into the abysmal space of the unknown. Healing is the transition space, the doorway portal between the known and the unknown. The unknown is both a scary and exciting place. When we suffer a wound of trauma or tragedy, we are forced into the unknown, a free fall without knowing when or where or how we might land. In the plane, I am safe. Locked inside the pressurized cabin, I am a ticketed passenger gazing out my tiny portal windows at the silver airplane wing. Inside the plane, the world of the plane cabin seems very real and tangible. As they roll metal carts smiling attendants bring you bottled drinks and cracker snacks wrapped in cellophane wrappers. I can adjust the airflow of my own personal fan by turning a nozzle just so. Inside the cabin, I can drift through the sky without a thought or a care in the world. We don’t want to leave the land we call Familiar. We love its yellow painted comfort zone guidelines. With clearly written expectations, and known variables we feel a false sense of security, as if everything can and should go as visualized, and planned. But, the land of structure and organization is limiting… boring even. The wilderness of clouds are on the other side of the portal window. “DO NOT WALK OUTSIDE THIS AREA” is printed in bold black block letters across the wing. This stern warning reminds me of the laws and rules that must be followed so that I stay safely confined within the tightly packed rows of seats, storage bins, and safety belts. Securing my seatbelt across my lap in the center seat wedged between indecision and discomfort certainly wasn’t comfortable anymore, but it was familiar. At the same time, there is a sense of adventure in all of us. A yearning to walk out of this area, to break the rules. A desire to taste the grass on the other side of the fence, to know the world on the other side of the wall. What is fearful and anxiety driven on the right foot is exciting and thrilling on the left. The silver airplane wing hangs out there, floating and still. The wings of birds are graceful and feather-light and flexible. But this fixed unbendable metal wing seems more mechanical than anything made of nature. Set against the pale organic blue backdrop of pure air, the silver wing gleams in the cloudless light. I longed to get out of my seat, to crawl out of my tiny portal window and stand out there on the area where the rules say we are not supposed to be. The unknown is the greatest of all fears. Think about it—the three most common fears are death, public speaking, and heights. All of these have the unknown in common. Many of us choose being uncomfortable in the familiar over facing the unknown. Yet, facing the unknown is a human condition that no one can escape. Even if we are stuck in the rut of indecision, we cannot stay frozen forever because life continues to move around us. When we stand frozen at the crossroads of indecision and confusion, something outside of our control happens. Inevitably, we run out of sky. Something pushes us from behind, or swipes us from the side, or sweeps us off our feet and forces us over the rumble strip of our comfort zone into the big bad unknown. More often than not, that push or swipe or sweep appears in the form of a trauma, leaving a bloody wound in its wake. Ready or not, we jump, usually beaten and broken from our own resistance, into a place where the roads aren’t mapped out and our GPS has no signal, groping our way through the dark. Fuck You Sunday forced me to step out of the comfort of the pressurized cabin of traditional marriage, and walk into what I thought was the forbidden realm of potential divorce. I found myself surfing on the wing of the plane, the words “DO NOT WALK OUTSIDE THIS AREA” underneath my toes and absolutely nothing to grip onto. I looked over the edge and peered into the unknown vastness of natural water blue sky. Part of me gazed off into the distance with curiosity and anticipation at the vast possibilities of what I could never know. I relished the idea of riding the current. And so, I let myself be pushed from behind, swept off my feet. I let go. In the portal between the discomfort of familiar and the thrill of the unknown, feeling for light switches, we may catch our fingers on exposed rusty nails and stub our toes on knotty roots. The demons of the mind play a constant game of cat and mouse with our emotions. We are challenged by Grief and Loneliness, Fear and Anxiety, Guilt and Regret. We stumble upon other wounds, invisible wounds, buried within memories, deep inside brain cells. In the initial free fall I was tossed in the wind, whisked into a hurricane, and drenched by sleet. I lost all my senses, except one. Blinded by the darkness, deafened by the silence, my sense of feeling heightened. My wounds were too deep and too raw to be erased or washed clean by the outside rain and fog. My healing had to happen from the inside out. In order to fully heal I had to FEEL, because the only way out is through. Through the unknown. Different from the physical wounds that bleed or leave a visible scar, easy to identify and treat, invisible wounds are far out of reach of physical therapy or the setting of a broken bone or the stitching and bandaging of a deep laceration. For invisible wounds, healing is not solved with medication or surgery; rather, it comes while we grope around in the dark unknown edges of our lives, searching for a light. Light switches come to in the form of friends, mentors, insights, and experiences. Once I surrendered to my falling fate, then and only then was I able to recognize the dozens of angels soaring on fully expanded wings forming a safety net all around me. They came in many costumes wearing techni-color wings—a breast cancer survivor, a Vietnam vet and his therapy dog, a transgender man, a dominatrix, and many more—empowered me with healing salves of inner strength and confidence and love. Most importantly, they showed me how to see past the storm into the sunshine hidden behind it; they taught me how to cross a minus to make a plus, and flip a negative to a positive. Healing isn’t always comfortable. Yes, it can be beautiful and loving and tender. And it can be ugly and painful. Whatever we are healing from, we can encounter numerous lights and illuminations. And the spaces between those lights can be dark and dreary. In the search for healing the gashes of our wounds, we journey into the unknown spaces in our souls. That journey, the space between known and unknown, we ultimately drink the marrow of life and discover our greatest gifts. These angels welcomed me to their dinner tables and guest bedrooms across America…Minnesota to South Dakota, Iowa to Florida, Vermont to Hawaii, and New York to Ohio. From a New Year’s grief ritual at a northern Minnesota cabin in the dead of winter to a cleansing Easter rebirth in a sacred bay of Maui, I offered my tears to Old Man Winter, bowed to Mother Earth, and prayed to the Hawaiian Goddess Pele. When I landed on my own two feet, I realized that I was never really comfortable in the blissful ignorance of stowed luggage and seat tray tables that hide neatly away. I refused to stuff several “fuck you’s” into the overhead compartment, because going to sleep and waking up at a destination of yesterday was pointless and painful. Besides, the cabin door of my past had been shut and latched.
Fuck You Sunday
“Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.”
I don’t know if it matters that it happened on a Sunday or that it happened after Christmas 2012. But it happened. I was on the floor, looking up at the ceiling of my house and at my husband’s angry face glaring down on me. He had pushed me down, over the dining room chair, and was looming over me, red-faced and angry, daggers in his eyes. A school teacher, a supposedly spiritual man who practiced daily meditation, spat out the two words intending to pierce my eardrums, break my heart, splinter my soul.
F u c k Y o u
He stabbed me repeatedly with those two huge little words and told me he wanted a divorce so he could live the life of a celibate monk. Rather a contradiction, my husband cussing at me so he could be a monk. Aren’t monks meant to be peaceful? Evidently, his hours of meditation and scriptural study didn’t make him immune to the human emotions of rage.
His verbal assault felt worse than the date rape I endured in college. I was left with a massive wound, a giant gash in my earth. While he didn’t use the c-word at me that day, and he didn’t physically rape me, his words felt like the deepest violation I had ever endured in my thirty-nine years on the planet. When it was all done, my entire world shifted. An earthquake, and I was left gripping the edge while he stepped on my fingers.
Saying ‘Fuck You’ once is nothing. Most of us say it in traffic once a week. We hear it on HBO or Netflix several times an episode. We’re used to it. We say it to our friends and loved ones like a term of endearment or a special privilege. With the right smile and an inside joke, intimate friends who trust each other tell each other to lovingly fuck off.
But when we mean it, that’s when it hurts. Like the rubber balloon you’ve been squeezing suddenly pops, that’s when ‘Fuck You’ is weaponized, and becomes a sharp object that does what it was meant to do—to stab and violate and hurt.
I did not know it at the time, but when Ted pounded my eardrums with the two words I hated the most in the world, the doors of the airplane cabin burst open, and I was ripped out of my safe seat and hurled into the wide vast blue unknown, away from everything I knew.
While I’d heard those words escape Ted’s lips many times in our eleven years as a couple, he never pointed them directly at me. On the other hand, I was no stranger to feeling those words aimed in my direction. As a high school teacher of at-risk youth, I had learned to shield myself from impact, and deflect their energy. Vulgarity has never really hurt me before. But that day, those two words repeated like a mantra, burned me like a red-hot brand directly on the rawness of my heart.
The ubiquitous word speaks volumes, not by its definitions or connotations, but by its energy. It carries with it an invisible and mutable arrow, capable of making any discourse turn from drab to techni-color. It can make all ears within range buzz from its unique frequency. The combination of sounds in the word, the soft F and the sharp –ck blend to energetically re-tune the frequency of anything it attaches to or strikes. While short and sharp, the sound resonates like the ripple of a boulder dropped into a still pond, disturbing and adjusting everything around it, underneath it, inside it, and even above it.
My family respected the potency of the F-word while Ted’s family instinctively diminished its power through overuse. To my family, the vulgarity was as foreign to our tongues as rolling r’s are to non-Latin speakers. Ted’s dad used it often, to describe anything and everything distasteful, as well as to emphasize joy or excitement. As a result, Ted could change the meaning of words, while I was confined to dictionary definitions.
Ted and I are both English teachers by training, educated to value and respect the structure and culture of language, burdened with the responsibility to teach the youth of Midwestern America to effectively communicate. Yet, our own means of expression are diametrically opposed. Ted speaks in a language that can numb and desensitize, while I speak a language of emotion meant to heighten and ignite. He takes big bites of words and swallows whole while I cut syllables into tiny pieces and suck the flavor, ingesting the essence on my tongue before swallowing it to my core. One day we eventually found ourselves 10 years into marriage without the ability to communicate.
“I’m trying to figure out a way out,” he said blankly. His face froze in a cold stare. I swallowed his sentence whole, feeling the thorn of the word “out” scratching the interior walls of my esophagus. When it reached my stomach, I felt all air sucked from my lungs.
He had said the unimaginable. I grew up in a family where divorce just didn’t happen. It was inconceivable. My parents, and my grandparents, and all my aunts and uncles were still together, until death do they part. With one little sentence and an icy cold stare, he pushed me outside of my comfort zone, forced me to step away from the familiar, and shoved me into the world of who-knows-what-happens-next.
I knew that anything I said might just bounce right off of him, my own emotions ricocheting back at me.
“If that’s what you want, then just do it. Get out.” I stood up and pointed to the door. We’d had the conversation many times, about how I thought he was disrespecting me by not pulling his weight around the house, by not contributing to the relationship, not communicating with me about his life. For the last three years I had felt more like his housemaid and roommate than his wife.
“I’m trying to figure out how,” he said quietly.
“GET OUT NOW! If you wanna be a monk and live a solitary life devoted to meditation and scriptural study, stop pretending and just go do it. You’ve had plenty of time to figure it out. You’ve had three years of treating me like this. Your time is up.”
“You can’t just kick me out. I live here too. I pay most of the mortgage.”
“Get Out.” Those two words were all I had left.
“Fuck you! You always have to have things your way. You want what you want!” His voice began to elevate, and for a moment emotion took him over.
There it hit. For just a moment, he spoke in my language of emotion.
“I FUCKING HATE YOU.” He pushed me over a chair onto the floor. He glared down at me, rage written all over his face, daggers spitting from his eyes. Giant icicles penetrated deep beneath my rib cage, deflated my lungs and punctured my heart over and over again, leaving a chill that froze me from the marrow of my bones outward.
Who was this man with coldness that bites worse than wind chill in Minnesota winters? This man I married, who treated that word before as insignificant as the leftover dust in a cereal bag was now using it to its full potency, against me, the wife he had vowed to love for the rest of our lives. I defended myself with the only protection I knew, the same two words I had used with high school students when they used the f-word on me.
“Get out.” It came out as a whisper.
“You can’t make me,” Ted responded exactly the same way as my students had, mocking my small physical stature and testing my will. Yet, I had filled a toolbox of skills for situations like this after years of dealing with juvenile delinquents. My tools hadn’t ever failed me with them, and they worked again with Ted. I got up from the floor.
Maneuvered the chair upright between us, planted my feet on the ground and said it again.
“Get out.” The words came from my core. I felt my belly heat up with internal fire, resolve, conviction. Entirely different from the rage he showed me only a moment ago.
“I live here too,” his voice quivered.
“You said ‘fuck you’ repeatedly and pushed me over a chair onto the floor. I can call the police and have you physically removed for domestic abuse.” I replaced the hammer of “get out” with the hatchet, knowing that if I had to, I could add some barbs by picking up the phone.
Just like the kids at school, Ted was taken aback, half in disbelief that I could even say such a thing, and half in sheer terror that I would follow through. At first, his ire was raised, and he took a step towards me as if to strike. But, I stood my ground, using the coldness that he had injected into me with his fuck-you icicles against him, and he surrendered.
“I don’t hate you. I didn’t mean that. Can’t we discuss this like adults?”
“Just go.” The words escaped as a whisper this time. I stood up and retreated to my sanctuary in the basement while he packed his stuff. That day was not the first time I had accused him of being a monk and he had accused me of being needy. But, that day was the first time he used the f-word against me. Our relationship was devolving into the realm of abusive. I curled up in the fetal position in front of my meditation altar with pictures of my ancestors gazing lovingly at me as if to say, “Stay strong, let him go.”
Ted is good at letting go. One of his favorite pictures is of the Indian guru, Nityananda, whose hands were perfect expressions of non-attachment, his hands open, fingers spread evenly, completely devoid of wrinkles and stress from any grip. The only thing Ted gripped with any intensity was his discipline towards his spiritual practice, the perfect oxymoron. A renunciate, he valued wide-open space and felt smothered by clutter. Junk drawers and overstuffed closets were as toxic to him as ammonia is to bleach. Ultimately renunciation meant letting go of all attachments, evidently that included the vows he had made to me.
I’m no stranger to letting go either, but until “Fuck You Sunday” I employed the practice of letting go of one thing only so that I may grasp onto something else, preferably of better quality. I sold my house, quit my job, and moved my world to marry him, the man my mother picked out for me, because that is what the woman does, and it was an upgrade from single life in a smaller town. I pictured our marriage like our two hands folded together, fingers interwoven in a way that we couldn’t tell mine from his, the exact opposite of Nityananda’s. My marriage was the greatest treasure I had ever grasped, and I couldn’t imagine trading it in for anything else in the world. But this time, I had no choice. He had let go, and I couldn’t hold on anymore.
While meditation had always been a priority in his life that I had supported, when the morning alarm started going off at 4 a.m. and earlier so he could meditate when the rest of the world was still, I resisted. When he would get out of bed, and his energy left my space, I felt as though the comforter had been pulled off of me. While 5 a.m. could work with my sleep cycle, that meant Ted would lay in bed staring at the ceiling, antsy and uncomfortable for 45 minutes to an hour until I was ready to wake. When he suggested separate bedrooms, I felt one of his fingers loosen its grip away from mine. Eventually, I let go of sleeping late in trade for my own early morning routine of yoga and meditation and a daily walk with our dog.
The more we fought about wake-up times and he argued for separate bedrooms, the less he wanted sex. To him, ejaculation was an extreme expenditure of spiritual energy that worked in direct conflict with his spiritual practice. To me, sex was the ultimate union of the masculine and feminine energies, the merging of the yin and yang. When he experimented with tantric exercises to withhold ejaculation, I felt another finger of his release its grip from my hand. When his sexual drive diminished and he leaned towards celibacy, a third finger released from my hand. I had a choice, give up sex or give up my husband. I loved him, and I wanted him to be happy, so I tightened my grip on his hand with only two fingers left and released sexuality in trade for creative expression. I started writing more, traveling more, and teaching more. I built a small name for myself as a traveling yoga instructor and spiritual teacher.
While Ted retreated further and further into his hermit cave of meditation and celibacy, my career flourished, and I developed a large network of friends and clients across the country. I’d go away for a week or two making connections with people all over America while he’d retreat deep into his cave, coming out only for teaching school, and daily ten minute telephone conversations with me and his mother. I joked with my friends that Ted’s level of being social was equal to my own level of being anti-social. Over several months, I started to recognize that he didn’t want to go on any social outings when I was home. He’d long since let all his own friendships evaporate, and was pulling away from our mutual friends as well. While I distracted myself by booking jobs that took me further away for longer and developing deeper connections with my friends on the road, he had let go of one more finger, leaving me to hold the marriage together by gripping his palm and his one pinky finger.
Fuck You Sunday, Ted pulled his hand away from me entirely. When I refused to reach to catch it again, I noticed that his hands looked just like Nityananda’s in the photo, empty, flat, completely free of grip.