The Road Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

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.

I don’t know why I wanted to start this entry with “The Road Not Taken,” but hopefully by the time I finish it, I will.

My baby shower was this past Saturday, at an Airbnb house my sister rented in a neighboring town. The house was cozy and well-decorated, styled as a seaside cottage. My mom and sister, strangers to Jimmy’s family, hosted the shower, arranging it from afar (and in my mom’s case, from the other side of the country). They were excited to get to do something for me, and to get to plan the reveal of the twins’ sexes, which I appreciated. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve allowed them to contribute to me like this. It felt good to open myself up and receive for once.

My mom of course spilled the beans to me about the sexes by accident two days before the shower. I wasn’t angry with her, but I was confused as to what to do at the shower–do I still act surprised? Unsure, I asked the wisest person I know when it comes to matters of the heart: Jimmy. He said I needed to do whatever was authentic for me. Since lying makes me wildly uncomfortable, I figured I should come clean–but then that would mean diming out my mom and changing the experience for others expecting to get to see my reaction.

“Well, let me ask you this,” Jimmy said. “When your mom accidentally told you, did you take the information in? Did you let yourself experience what it meant to you?”

“No,” I said. “She and my sister were so upset that the surprise was ruined that I immediately shifted into supporting them to get past it.”

“Then one thing you can do — that I think will still be authentic — is allow yourself to take it in during the reveal, at the same moment everyone else finds out. Let their reactions and emotions support you in connecting to your own.”

So that’s what I did. And I deserve a goddamn Oscar (or Jimmy should pursue a career as an acting coach?), because even my sister and mom seemed a little stunned by my sudden display of emotion when the reveal occurred.

The experience of the shower was otherwise heart-filling, but imperfect. My sister, mom and I — despite talking daily on gchat — struggle to connect in person. It can feel awkward, and we tend to be extra-sensitive to what each other does/says. I wanted to be more freely expressive around them than I was. Still, it felt powerful, the three of us now mothers, the three of us together after all we’ve been through.

As for Jimmy’s family, I felt a little excluded. Weird, right? It’s my shower! But it didn’t feel that way. They were there for Jimmy, and his mother, and the babies — not me.

It’s not their fault. They’re as warm a family as you’ve ever met, and they love Jimmy so much that they would never be anything other than completely accepting and supportive of me.

It’s me.  I’m closed off from them.  Sometimes I wish I were different–but then as Jimmy has reminded me, that’s just a choice. But why does it feel so difficult? Why am I so intent upon protecting myself around his family, who poses no threat? Certain of them I have connected with (over time and because of different experiences), and I talked to those folks the most at the shower, but why must my “warm-up” process be so slow?

A memory got triggered by this. I dated many men in between my ex-husband and Jimmy, but only one was someone I realized I wanted to fall in love with. After we had been seeing each other only three weeks, he invited me to his cousin’s birthday party on Long Island (he was from Georgia, complete with the accent, but half his extended family was on Long Island). He said the event would be casual and that several of his other friends would be there.

Not quite. None of his other friends were there. It was instead about 40 of his extended family members, because his cousin (who I had assumed was his age) was turning 50 (he was 35). I panicked.

Holy shit, I thought. He’s serious about me.

Had it been anyone else, it wouldn’t have scared me so much. The reason why it did was I wanted to be serious about him, too. But I was terrified of an actual, real relationship. That meant working toward another marriage, and for me, marriage had become synonymous with crippling heartache.

So what did I do? Suck it up and act normal? I tried, at first. But then his family kept grilling me as if I were a long-term prospect, and talking to me as if we’d been dating for months. Things came to a head when the birthday girl brought out a photographer to take a group family picture, which she wanted as a special memento of the day.

It was at this point that my efforts to be “normal” went out the window. I pulled him aside and told him I could not be in that photo. The permanence of it bothered me; would his cousin really want some random girl he was dating at the time to forever be in her treasured 50th birthday photo? I asked him in a panic what to do, while at the same time his family started herding us toward the group. He was, as you might imagine, taken aback.

“I guess you could go to the bathroom?” He said. “Or stand behind me, but don’t make obvious.” He was 6’2″. I stood behind him. I don’t know if you can get the visual on this, but it was utterly ridiculous. I was there in a cold sweat hiding behind him, spiraling into a bigger and bigger panic, while they took several pictures of the entire family that I was in (only I wasn’t).

The ride home was rough. He seemed (understandably) confused, and crest-fallen. Meanwhile, I was so angry at myself, and depressed. Maybe I was just too damaged, I thought. Even when I finally found someone I wanted to love, I couldn’t.

In spite of this, we would go on to date for another five months. When he moved to Boston halfway through, I told him–physically shaking and frightened–that I wanted a serious relationship with him. He said no.

I was shocked mostly by my own reaction to his response. I wasn’t as upset as I thought I’d be; I was instead relieved I had been true to myself and taken the risk, even though the result was horrible. Maybe I wasn’t irrevocably broken after all.

Then he called me the next day saying he’d made a mistake. He wanted a serious relationship with me, too.  This is it, I thought. This is my future.

It wasn’t. I ran it into the ground with my fear and self-protection in another series of cringe-worthy events I won’t document here. Understandably frustrated, he ended it for good, walking out on me in a dark hotel room in Boston where I was staying for a three-day work conference. I never went to the conference (my firm didn’t notice). I instead stayed in my hotel room and cried for three days straight, only eating cereal. It wasn’t the loss of him that was so devastating–it was that I now truly believed I would never be “cured.” I would never be able to allow anyone to love me.

The silver lining of this disaster? It humbled me and got me into Basic a few months later. The gold lining of it? During LP, I saw him again. I apologized for what I did over breakfast at a place on the Upper West Side near my apartment. He was so hurt from it all that it took him a while to accept my apology, but ultimately he did, and even began pursuing a relationship with me again.

I had met Jimmy by then, though. I struggled with what to do throughout LP, but the more I saw Jimmy, and felt how when we were together there were no walls between us–our age gap didn’t matter, the unconventional way we met didn’t matter, we could play like children and share our deepest dreams without fear–I knew I had found my real future. My ex-boyfriend’s function during that time became mainly to clarify my choice and remind me to ditch my fear and ego before I ruined another chance at real love. Around the same time LP ended, I told him I was serious about someone else, and we amicably parted ways.

That’s a long digression to get back to the point that being at the shower and resisting Jimmy’s family (still) greatly discouraged me. I’m damaged, was the thought that came to mind. Even after falling in love, getting married, becoming pregnant for Christ’s sake–still damaged. Still unable to function like a normal person. What did I think would be the worst that could happen if I fully embraced his family? What is it that I think I would lose? I don’t have an answer. Something to explore.

It wasn’t until the ride home that I realized none of my friends came to my baby shower. Only family was there. Of course, I didn’t invite many friends, because at this point, I don’t have many. I say this not to complain or elicit pity (and those who did not come had valid reasons), but because it brought home to me that my life is irrevocably changing.

That was my main takeaway from the shower.  My life is irrevocably changing.  I guess that’s the reason for the poem.  I’ve finally chosen a path forward, cutting off all the others (“Yet knowing how way leads on to way / I doubted if I should ever come back” — that was the line I thought of when the poem came to mind).  I’ve know that intellectually for a while, but during and after my shower, I felt it in my core. That, and that the change isn’t especially painful, because what am I leaving behind? A purposeless, hedonistic life with no growth, little challenge, lots of useless “comfort,” and an undercurrent of self-destructiveness. My old life is dead, and though I do not mourn it, I am still struggling to understand the change (my curse as an analyzer–the insistence that I must understand). It’s a theme that has played out in almost every piece I’ve written this cycle, because my brain is still trying to catch up.

My heart, though, is already there. After the shower was over, Jimmy and I went back to the house to spend time with my family. I told them that they needed to pick up every piece of confetti revealing the sexes before we got there. When we arrived, my eyes urgently scanned the floors–not a piece of confetti in sight. But then when I went to the bathroom, there were two shimmering pieces, one for each twin, wedged improbably underneath the corner of the rug. I picked them up and held them in my hands and cried.

I’m not just giving birth to two babies, but to lifelong relationships. To their future as forever-linked siblings–to our future as a family–to Jimmy’s future as a father–and to mine, as a mother.

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