After leaving my husband, the first place I moved into was charming. "Magical" is what the real estate agent called it. And yeah. If you like Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs or The Hobbit, the cottage was magical. While it had its own garage and driveway, it didn't have its own address, all the mail going to the main house. So I had to get a post office box and avoid online shopping, which was almost as big a shock as not living with my husband.
But back to the magical aspect. Opening the gate, you'd look out over a truly green swath of lawn, and under the towering oaks was a tiny cottage with window boxes full of red and white geraniums. The big white door was intricate and carved, the windows like eyes on a face. It seemed to be surprised to see me, and I wasn't exactly sure I was happy to see it, either.
The cable to the house was pirated. My landlord--who roamed the entire property each day, circling my house, wrench and rake and shovel in hand--strung it from his house to the cottage, which was partially furnished, the ancient television being one of the furnishings. There was no dishwasher or garbage disposal, the washer and dryer were tiny and stacked in in the bathroom, and the bed in the slightly larger bedroom felt as though it had been slept on by a very large man for several years. Stuck in the middle every night, I would stare at the ceiling, hoping that when the alarm went off, I'd be able to get out of bed.
The room my youngest son stayed in was more like a cabin berth, a room he could slip into sideways, crashing on the twin bed, the closed door behind him slatted as though he were on a Florida plantation resort.
Maybe having so much wrong with the cottage made it possible for me to avoid thinking about what I was doing. What was I doing? How could I have left? Not just my husband but my house? I missed my house. The cable. The dishwasher. The garbage disposal. I missed the deck that overlooked the trees. I missed the creek noise.
From the cottage at night, I could hear BART screech by, its sound electric and fast, and I missed everything all at once, then, unable to keep away the fact that I'd left my husband. As he asked me constantly, "What are you doing?"
I had no good answer. What in the hell was I doing? I wondered, wrapping a blanket completely around me and trying to sleep. What indeed.
The next place I lived was bigger, had both a disposal and a dishwasher (though both in need of constant stroking and slight repair). It was also on a fuse box, which the new landlords were unable to locate the wild rainy day the entire house blew. (I later learned that I could NOT blow my hair dry and run the dishwasher at the same time.)
There was also the ant problem, the colony liking to do Rorschach tests on the big living room wall. A tree! No, a map of the Continental US! No, my mother's picnic table!
By then, I knew Michael, and we would attempt fixes on things, but by myself, I learned to adjust the entire sprinkler system, reset the hot tub controls, put in the red AND the green fuses. This was also the house with the garden, lush and wonderful in the summer, and I slowly stopped hearing my husband's question as often.
"What are you doing?"
"Living. Or, at least giving it a go."
When I decided I needed to move from the ant colony's latest project, I realized that I was actually making decisions on my own for the first time since before college. Michael wasn't keen on living together yet, and I had had enough of the wonky wiring in the house and my own whining about it. So I found my own place, negotiated all the moving details, and took care of what came up on my own. Maybe this seems like a big "duh" to you, but it scared me, all this independence. It scared me to think about being completely on my own. My husband and I had moved in together when I was 21. Now I was 45, and I was paying all my own bills for the first time since then. None of his, as by this point, all was completely split apart. Just mine and my son's, and my husband wasn't there to help me if things suddenly fell apart. And it wasn't about money. It was about life. If I fell apart, there was no one legally bound to me. I was an unattached human on the planet, who needed to figure that out. There was nothing joint about this venture.
Sometimes when I was alone and the Berkeley life was all about my house, and I stared at that ceiling (which did remind me of the Continental US), I would hear that question echo in the room.
"What are you doing?"
I waited for my answer. I thought about it as I slept diagonally on the bed, this bed all mine, too.
"Trying to figure it out," I would say back. "It seems to be okay."
And even now, sometimes, I still am trying to figure it out. But I'm living, too. Giving it a go. Just giving it a go.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org