A fish swimming around in a fishbowl knows nothing at all about water. Water is the fish’s life. It’s enclosed and implanted in water. In that sense, the fish doesn’t really know water. If you want the fish to really understand water, you have to take the fish out of the fishbowl and say, “Look, that’s water.” Now … if you put the fish back in … the water never looks the same again to the fish.
Well, possibly, that reminds you of your mama; she’s never been out of her fishbowl.
Caught up in the pain of divorce, most women naturally want to share it with their mama. It may take a day. Maybe a week. But sooner or later, there’s going to be that moment when it can’t wait any longer. You might be pumping gas, or dropping the kids off at school. It could hit you at work, or at the dentist. Maybe not until the next time you step on your mama’s front porch. But sooner or later there’s going to be a second when you can’t exist another moment without sharing your pain; the latest crap he’s pulled, and how you can’t sleep without the TV on to numb your mind. You may be a bit daring and reveal the time he hit you and you’ve finally got the nerve to tell her; or how you cried for three days straight when he walked out. Ignoring all hints of caution, you might even tell her about your recent message from the Lord.
You’re a woman, you need to talk to her. But she says, “I’m sorry, Sugah. Don’t fret, it’ll be fine.” Somehow that’s not good enough. You respond, “But Mama, I was standing in line at the Food Lion when Jesus spoke to me ...” and your mama interupts, “Uh huh. Sorry honey, what d’you say?”
You watch her eyes glaze over as she smiles, nods, and glances over your shoulder out the window at your dad, worried he doesn’t mow over her newly planted hosta. So you try a new approach. “You know, Mama, I found a psychiatrist,” and before you even finish—the dryer buzzes, she pats your hand, then heads to the laundry room. “That’s nice,” she says like a good Stepford wife.
But suddenly, she’s giddy when your sister calls to tell her about their new car and invite her and your dad to dinner. Your mama hangs up from your sister and replays all the great things you’ve missed because you married too young. After all, your little sister is on her third new house … and you’ve yet to own a first one. Her comments pull down on the corners of your mouth as you try hard to smile while she lists all the wonderful things your sister can do because she married the right man. A man with money. Like throw that big party she gives every year for your dad’s birthday … where everyone asks about you, and inevitably about your ex.
Then she jumps to last night’s episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.” She insists on telling you about the abused and missing women. Her voice raises as she shakes her head and clucks her tongue. She just can’t believe women put themselves in such predicaments. And you want to crawl out of your skin.
She folds towels at the kitchen table, avoiding your eyes, but you say it anyhow. “Mama, I have a bankruptcy hearing next week.”
You hear yourself sounding pathetic. You know, in your world, if you start a sentence like, “I received a final shut off notice…,” that doesn’t sound odd. But can’t you just see your mama rolling her eyes? You’re going to have to choose between sounding pathetic … and being silent. You long to go home … where you can be normal.
And maybe your life seems over back home. Empty. One that was once really comfortable and promising … only now the rug’s been pulled out from under you. Oh boy. All those times you tried to get her to understand your world. Some of it feeling a little forced as you could tell she didn’t want to hear it. Your heart had been ripped out of your chest wall, but she just didn’t want to hear about it.
Your relationship with your mama might not feel like it used to. Like an old pair of jeans that’s comfortable … but no longer your style. And you think, “I just can’t do this any more.”
You have become independent and genuinely concerned about the world outside. About other people. Stronger. Braver. Better than you were before divorce opened your eyes to the way the world looks at you. The life you had planned for yourself might not seem big enough all of a sudden. You’re thinking about changing directions. A new career. Maybe even a new home. Move out of state. How will she ever understand?
Does it matter?
Time to move on.
There are a thousand little ways in which the world doesn’t fit from this point forward. Television commercials look really stupid. Material possessions have no meaning. Your mama’s house is now disgustingly sanitary. Salespeople look at you like you’re an idiot when you try to bargain, but they’ve got money in their pockets, you don’t. And everybody has too much … stuff.
Even words don’t seem the same. You hear, “Family Court.” Family Court is a place … it’s not just words any more. How could you possibly have imagined spending the rest of your life getting chills whenever you thought of the words, “shared custody” and “court-ordered child support,” with the steady haunting cry of your children in the background. Who else will ever understand that? The world is never going to be the same again.
So what do you do? First, forgive your mama. When she listens to you it reminds her of the hell she never wanted for herself. Her idea of trash comes from a long line of pretentious women. Face it, she’ll never, not in a million years, understand you. It’s not the same as having been there. You know that. Your dad worships the ground she walks on. Always has. She quit high school to marry him and never worked in the public a day in her life. Sure, her life wasn’t a bed of roses, but her husband loved her to pieces … she got past the thorns.
You look hard at other people’s marriages now, fully aware nobody knows what goes on inside one. Be assured, they’re going to be looking at you too, and listening to see how you survive this. After all, you’ve lived it. It’s changed you … it hasn’t changed them. So you have to be a little patient with them … you have to be a little forgiving if they don’t quite get it. But I think you can only do that if they are willing to let you be the person you have become.
It is not the crap you’ve been through …and it’s not the good things that you’ve done since that have to be shared. It is who you have become that has to be shared. You don’t have to find people who’ve been divorced to understand you, but you have to find people to understand you. Can accept you and your mistakes, love you unconditionally. And if your old friends won’t let you be the person you’ve become, make new friends. There are a lot of good people out there. You know that single mom down the street? The one that mows her own yard, and has a garage sale every year to make ends meet? Go talk to her.
You’ll find friends who can confirm who you are … and who you are becoming. Even if that is not clear to you now. In many ways, the person you will be six months from now is still developing right outside of consciousness. You don’t know yet how much you’ve changed. And you won’t know for another six months or a year. It isn’t a good idea to make any major life decisions before then. You might want to … but give yourself some time.
Find a cause … something that you believe in … and work for it. If the world doesn’t fit any more, then you have to create a world for yourself that does fit. A place where you can feel at home.
Some of us have been taken out of our fishbowls and put back in again. Your mama’s from another time, another place. It’s her life. It’s the way it is. Love her, but go on. After all, she’s never been out of her fishbowl.