Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lifting the Curtain

I had an epiphany today. I realized that as a "good Christian," I'd basically rewritten 14 years of my life, from age 14 to 28. I'd taken the R and X-rated truth and made it PG for the benefit of my family and friends. I quickly picked up on the expectations that if there were egregious sins in my past they weren't to be mentioned except obliquely, and then only to "give my testimony" about how God saved me from my wicked ways.

I complied. I was ashamed, even horrified, by my past. I buried it and praised God for forgiveness and another chance. But midlife reevaluation has hit and now I realize something. I hate having almost a third of my life hidden behind a veil, shut away even from me. No one really knows me, because what I went through those years is an important part of who I am. Along with the things I did that I really do regret, there are some gems. There are relationships that may not have been good choices, but were, and are, sweet memories. I've hidden almost everything for years in fear that anyone who knew what I was really capable of would reject me. All those Christians would be horrified. And I think there is truth in that fear.

I'm not interested in bragging about indiscretion or flaunting sinful behavior. And I would be more than sad to see my children making the decisions I made. I'm not glorifying or rationalizing. What I'm doing is saying is stuff happened, and it's part of who I am.

I started talking to Will about it all when a song on the radio brought back a long-forgotten memory. The memory was so powerful that it overwhelmed me, and I felt like I was shaking for several days. One of the reasons I was so shaken by it was that even though the memory should have made me feel sorrow at my actions, it only made me feel pain and a longing....a longing to remember more.

The memory was from about 30 years ago. I was 22 and had been in an emotionally and sometimes physically abusive marriage for almost three years. My husband, Dennis, was a racehorse trainer and we were stabled at Timonium, outside of Baltimore, MD. I remember it was spring and beautiful...everything smelled fresh and new. One day when I was holding a horse for our farrier, Peter, Dennis asked him if I could stay with him for the weekend. Just like that. Like I was a pet dog and Peter was going to dog-sit. Peter had been flirting outrageously with me for months, but that was par for the course at the racetrack. I was female...that was the only criteria needed for every male to make a pass at you. Pete didn't hide it from Dennis, and it didn't matter 'cause Dennis considered it a joke, or some sort of backhanded compliment. But Dennis wanted to go away for a long weekend with the owner of our racehorses, supposedly to an auction, but most likely just to party. We only had one vehicle and our apartment was 45 minutes from the track. I needed to be there each day to take care of the horses, so Dennis needed to find a solution. Pete was his solution.

Pete said sure, and I said nothing at all. Pete was a nice guy, late 20's, good looking and fit. He also drank all day from a flask of vodka and orange juice. I still remember how he always smelled..of horse, leather, vodka and orange juice.

After I finished with the horses the day Dennis left, I climbed into Peter's Volvo wagon and we drove on out to his place farther in the country. I don't remember feeling anything in particular. Perhaps I was even glad to be somewhere else for a change, for Dennis to be gone. Pete and I never even talked about it, or acted like I didn't always go home with him. I know we had a good weekend. We were at the racetrack every morning to work, and spent every afternoon together. I slept with him at night. He packed a lunch for us one day and we drove to a beautiful spot by a creek and we ate lunch and talked. On Sunday, which was Mother's Day, we helped Pete's family deliver flowers around Baltimore. That lunch and the time at the florist shop made something snap inside of me. I felt like I'd been drugged and had finally awakened. I knew I didn't have to live the way I'd been living.

When Dennis returned he picked me up at Pete's house. We all went out to dinner like it was the most normal thing in the world. Pete didn't ask me to stay, although he would have let me if I'd wanted to. I didn't want to. He was sweet, but he had a drinking problem. Plus he worked at the race track, and I was beginning to understand I couldn't stay there forever.

Pete and I remained friends, and he even recommended me as an exercise rider to the owners of Right Pot. But by the end of that summer I had decided to leave the track. Four months after that, Dennis and I officially separated. Within a year after that weekend, I was divorced and never saw Pete again.

I don't plan on dragging up episodes from my past private life for all to dissect, but at the same time I am not going to deny that they exist. Many of the memories really are painful, with no real redeeming sweetness. Maybe only Will will hear about who I was, and how that affects who I am. He assures me he'll love me just the same, and I believe him.

I really am thankful for the chance God gave me for a new life with Will. And by the way, the song that sparked the long-buried memory was Make a Memory by Bon Jovi.


Kansas Bob said...

An amazingly transparent post Carrie.. kudos to you for bravery!

Katy-Ann said...

I love you Mrs. G!

julieunplugged said...

Wow. Carrie, I want you to know that I think your relationship with Pete strikes me as the first step toward recovery in leaving an abusive husband. I've been discovering (through research, in fact) just how instrumental "other men" are in the lives of abused women to help them "wake up" and realize that they have been living in a drugged state.

Brave of you to remember, to share and to integrate.

Midlife - a bitch.

SUSAN said...

I think we need a mid-lifers retreat. I am just amazed at how many of us are going through such self-evaluation right now.

Carrie, I admire you. Things that are repressed/hidden have to come out in order for us to heal. I keep reading that every where I turn.

We are human and we all have stories. It's just that we are afraid to tell them. Thanks for being brave.