As I reflect on the different facets of my relationship with my ex-husband, and the nuances of abuse in our relationship, and as I consider all of the ways I was complicit in keeping the charade of a relationship going with him for 10 years of my life, I have been listening to Taylor Swift and finding a depth in her music that I never could detect before.
Why couldn’t I appreciate her music before?
Because while I was married to him, I did not understand what love really was.
Love is not some superficial thing that is based on glib words and calculated actions and keeping tabs.
Love is not about manipulating and guilting someone so that you can get your way with them.
Love is not based on fear and control.
No, love is the opposite of fear.
The philosopher and poet Khalil Gibran wrote on love in his seminal book, “The Prophet.” The following is an excerpt that I have come back to again and again:
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears …
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at even tide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
When you really love someone your heart is laid bare. You do not withhold any part of yourself, you are willing to walk through the fire for the person you love.
Nothing is too delicate, nothing is too embarrassing, nothing is too scared to withhold.
That is what love is. That is how I loved him, and how I believed he loved me.
But I was very wrong about him.
Which brings me back to this song by Taylor Swift, “Champagne Problems”
I was intrigued by the title, and held in thrall by the melody and the wistful melancholia of the lyrics:
You booked the night train for a reason
So you could sit there in this hurt
Bustling crowds or silent sleepers
You’re not sure which is worse
Because I dropped your hand while dancing
Left you out there standing
Crestfallen on the landing
Your mom’s ring in your pocket
My picture in your wallet
Your heart was glass, I dropped it
You told your family for a reason
You couldn’t keep it in
Your sister splashed out on the bottle
Now no one’s celebrating
Dom Pérignon, you brought it
No crowd of friends applauded
Your hometown skeptics called it
You had a speech, you’re speechless
Love slipped beyond your reaches
And I couldn’t give a reason
Your Midas touch on the Chevy door
November flush and your flannel cure
“This dorm was once a madhouse”
I made a joke, “Well, it’s made for me”
How evergreen, our group of friends
Don’t think we’ll say that word again
And soon they’ll have the nerve to deck the halls
That we once walked through
One for the money, two for the show
I never was ready, so I watch you go
Sometimes you just don’t know the answer
‘Til someone’s on their knees and asks you
“She would’ve made such a lovely bride
What a shame she’s fucked in her head, ” they said
But you’ll find the real thing instead
She’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred
And hold your hand while dancing
Never leave you standing
Crestfallen on the landing
With champagne problems
Your mom’s ring in your pocket
Her picture in your wallet
You won’t remember all my
You won’t remember all my
She paints a poetic and delicate picture of her ex, whom she rejected when he was on the verge of proposing to her with his mother’s ring.
He is crestfallen and gets onto a fast-moving train to “sit in [his] hurt”.
She must have been a very physically attractive girl, because everyone else around him is trying to comfort him telling him that “she would have made such a lovely bride, she’s fucked in the head”
The reason she gave for rejecting him is vague – “sometimes you just just don’t the answer till someone’s on their knees and asks you.”
In the past it would have been impossible for me to understand why a woman would turn away a man who did such wonderful things for her, someone who gave her “everything.”
Now I understand.
It’s not about the nice things they do, but it is about their heart.
How much can your heart hold? She knew his heart was made of glass, fragile, so easily broken – “Your heart was glass, I dropped it, champagne problems”
His pride was tide up with how his family and friends saw him – he was caught up with externalities, he lived for the applause of the world, but she lived for something deeper. She trusted her intuition, and she wanted someone who knew himself better, someone whose ego was not a delicate flower, someone who would be willing to dig deep and go beyond maintaining the facade of a superficial marriage where each person was merely playing a predictable role for the world to see.
She wanted someone who would be willing to walk through the fire, someone who respected himself enough to live from the inside out, not the outside in.
She wanted someone she could really respect.
He was not the person she sought, she did not know it until he proposed. As terrible as it made him (and her) feel, she had the courage to reject him because she was honest with herself.
If I had known my own heart better when Esteban and I had first started dating him, I would have never gotten into a relationship with him.
I have always had trouble with saying “no” to someone who is charming, funny, and persistent. It was hard to do so because I did really know how to love and cherish myself when I was younger, and I was saddled with a lot of false guilt and feelings of obligation.
Nowadays, as I learned to be honest with myself and to love and hold myself unconditionally through this season of deep sadness but also unexpected joy, I look for something deeper and real – something that charm does not lend itself to easily.
I search for honesty, courage, vulnerability and patience. Four things that I’m learning more about everyday as I rub up against reality over and over again.
Today I took my elderly mother with Stage 4 colon cancer out for Sunday brunch. We went to our usual spot at Wheelock place. It’s hard to be with her sometimes because she has early onset dementia and lacks self-awareness. I often have to over-function to be able to take care of her. In addition to this, many of the things she says and does still trigger some deep wounds inside of me that have yet to heal.
Today as I was preparing to get her into the wheelchair, I tried to move something out of it so she could sit comfortably in it. She did not wait for me to clear it and went and sat down even though the wheelchair was not close enough to her.
She fell over backwards and yelled so loudly I was mortified and terrified at the same time. A crowd of people rushed in to help. She lay there for a while, stunned, her 8 inch stomach wound from her colon operation exposed for all the world to see.
It took 3 people to haul her up and into the wheelchair. We thanked everyone for their help and I tried my best to stay calm even though everything in my brain was telling me to freak out. I talked to her and asked if she was okay. She said she was okay, that she was just shocked.
Later on I brought her to the bathroom and realized that she’d wet her wheelchair because she had peed her pants.
I waited for 20 mins for her while she changed into a new pair of diapers and pants. She did no want me to help her with it even though she regularly gets the helper to serve her hand and foot. I suppose it is a relief for me too.
In the end I left the bathroom to take a mental break from the drama of it all. I’m still feeling shaken up by her fall and feel quite guilty about it, even though it wasn’t my fault.
It’s just a lot of work when you really just want to be able to relax and enjoy your Sunday. I feel bad even for saying this and I will always treasure the times I have with my mother, but these times with her are often fraught with all kinds of embarrassment and frustration.
Later on when we left the building to get a cab, it was also a trial. My mother balked at climbing the stairs even though usually she has no problems climbing up two flights of stairs at home when she wants my attention.
In the end two guys came over to help and I felt super embarrassed when one of them said, “it’s not very handicap friendly around here” I saw him glance at the wet spot on the wheelchair out of the corner of his eye and something just shriveled up inside of me.
Anyways, it was all I could do to contain myself on the way back as I called a Grab, struggled to get my mom in the cab and load the wheelchair in the trunk. The elderly cab driver insisted on helping and I felt even more ashamed.
I know there is no objective reason for me to have felt shame in those moments: I needed help and my elderly mom can’t be blamed for her neediness, or even peeing herself – however, my shame about my mother and her indiscretions have plagued me my whole life, and I was churning through a cycle of shame in that moment.
It was hard enough to not lose my cool, but when I was spacing out in the cab, trying to get a grip on my feelings of overwhelm (tears were pricking my eyes and I was desperately trying to hold them back) when my mother turned tentatively towards me, like she was seeking my validation and approval and said, “you can just drop me off downstairs I’ll go up on my own.”
I just snapped and said, “I’ll take you up, don’t be ridiculous.”
I felt angry because I felt she should know that I could not in good conscience leave her at the lobby with her wheelchair. I also felt that taking her up to her apartment would be nothing compared to what I had already been dealing with.
I just needed space to work through my angry and sad feelings, but she wouldn’t give me space and it seemed like she just wanted more emotional energy from me – more than I could give in that moment.
It was hard.
I don’t even know how my feelings towards my mom can be so extreme at times – overcome with feelings of love and affection, and the fear of losing her and then at odd moments riddled with anger and rage, bordering on hatred.
Is this what it means to love someone from your heart?
Is this what it means to see someone you love grow old and lose their capacities?
Is this what it means to cope with grief and loss?
Is this what letting go looks like?
Mark Manson talks candidly about losses:
“Life is a long series of losses. It’s pretty much the only thing guaranteed in our existence. From moment to moment, year to year, we give up and leave behind former selves that we will never recover. We lose family, friends, relationships, jobs, and communities. We lose beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and passions. And ultimately, we will one day lose our existence entirely….
You can never bring a dead person back to life. You can never hit ‘reset’ on a broken relationship. You can never fix a wasted youth or redo a past mistake or un-say the words that destroyed a friendship.
When it’s gone, it’s gone. And it will never be the same, no matter what you do. And this, in a real psychological sense, destroys a small piece of you. A piece that must eventually be rebuilt.”
Even through I agree that moving forward from a loss involves accepting the past and rebuilding your psyche in the area that where you have suffered loss, I have something that will never be lost – a relationship with Jesus that is eternal and constant.
There is so much comfort in knowing I’m am held in His hands, and I can accept whatever happens knowing that He’s protecting and restoring me each day as I turn to Him as a child to her Heavenly Father.
So even if I have “champagne problems” or perhaps in this season something more akin to “hard liquor problems” I can rest assured that He is with me and will never let me go.
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked advance against me
to devour[a] me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
6 Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.
13 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.