It was late in the spring of 2000, and I was angry. I didn’t know that I was angry though. Not until Mark uttered these words a second time: “Is that what you want?”
I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. His repeated question hung for a space of time that allowed me to live through the experiences that had gotten me to that particular moment – the way someone’s life flashes before them when threatened.
Did I feel threatened? Mark had – quite possibly – offered me exactly what I wanted and even needed. I had simply to respond: “yes” or “no.”
His question came after I blasted into the video editing bay where he was working on a project for Waldorf College in order to harangue him. It was a long diatribe. Something about the college (who happened to be his employer and our primary source of income) and how we had tied ourselves to a place that had announced a little more than a year earlier that it faced dire financial circumstances. I also included some fierce sounding accusations about how he spent an exorbitant amount of time at the college and that it didn’t seem to be appreciated. The entire episode was tinged with overtones that said I was tired of being the go-to person on certain matters related to our sons’ care.
Only seven years previous, we had chosen this life arrangement: Mark becoming our family’s primary breadwinner rather than me continuing in that role. Me becoming our children’s primary care provider, and our family living in a city with a population that represented 2 percent of our previous hometown.
Stross was 9 and Skye was 5 at the time. And, evidently, I was tired of being the home-based parent, because these incredibly revealing words tumbled accusingly from my mouth: “You know, I could have been the vice president of communications for some company somewhere by now.”
Mark and I looked at one another, me unflinching as I – in private horror – wondered where my statement had come from; he unflinching as he gathered his thoughts and then offered a genuine and animated response that affirmed my anger.
“Is that what you want?” He asked, looking part relieved and part frustrated. “Is it? Because if it is, I’m game. Just say the word, and we are out of here. I’ll go to my office right now, type up a letter of resignation and start packing. You mean more to me than this place. A hell of a lot more. And if you’re not happy, I’m not either. So if it’s time for us to leave so you can do what you need to, let’s do it.”
His words were exactly what I needed to hear, but I couldn’t determine if they were what I wanted to hear. I said nothing. He continued even more pointedly.
“Is that what you want?”
There it was again, but this time my life flashed in a dizzy mess.
I did not want to say “yes” just because I was angry – and I could no longer deny that I was angry. In fact, I was something beyond angry. I was not living the kind of life I wanted to live. I had tried so hard not to become a victim of circumstance after Stross’ birth, but I had finally begun to acknowledge what I had lost. Stross’ dramatic needs now shaped mine. He was born with conditions regarded far outside the realm of normal. My life now reflected his realities. No, they were my realities. Non-normal realities. Whatever that meant.
I also could not say “yes” out of a selfish need to preserve an identity that fit about as well as my pre-pregnancy jeans. But I was scared. Mark knew it. He was scared too. He didn’t want to lose any more of me than what I’d already shelved.
I answered using the word that best matched my mood.
“So you don’t want that?” Mark asked. “I know you are right. You could have been a vice president. I won’t hold you back.”
“I said ‘no.’”
“Then what is this about?”
“I don’t know.”
That was more than 10 years ago. And I did not know what it was about then. But I do know now.
Two roads had diverged in the woods that was my life. And looking down one as far as I could, I had not liked what I could not see beneath mounds of nettles and undergrowth. However, I could not take the other road either. Instead, I had hoped it would keep for another day.
Yet way leads to way, just as it did years before that moment when we decided to have a child. And then again when we decided to have Mark become a stay-at-home father, and yet again when we decided to move and switch roles, and still again when we decided to have a second child, and still once more when Stross became gravely ill and we thought about moving after he recovered as a way to manage our debt.
I have never been able to figure out a way back. I can only hope to keep moving toward new diverging paths that pose easier choices. And I learned long ago –simultaneous with Stross’s first breath – that it is futile to wonder where other paths might have led.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Can you hear me sighing? I sure hope so, for if you can, that will make all the difference.