Today I am thinking of Lady Caroline Blackwell. Besides being exquisitely beautiful, wealthy, and possessing those odd antecedents of eccentricity found in the British aristocracy, she was also brilliant, a scholar, a mother, and many times married. She rather famously was married to the hopelessly philandering Lucien Freud, who painted the portrait above, and they used to row like speed addicted drunks on Telegraph Avenue circa 1966. If someone as dynamic and brilliant and unstable as Lady Caroline could haul her children from marriage to marriage, perhaps there is hope for me, a being of lesser blood all around, to make it alive through the failure of my own union. And barring my own survival, I at least can work on the lives of my children, keeping them protected, and whole, and away from the blackened ruins of discouraged love.
There are many ways to manage oneself during a marital separation. Sleeping with others, perhaps, though this has not been an activity of any temptation for me. Perfect control and organization might be another route, one that I imagine would require many Chanel suits and an appropriate mix of vodka and Valium. I have somehow chosen the path, or it has chosen me, of chaotic numbness. I plan: the house must be perfectly reorganized, I must start dancing at least four days a week, I must publish a poem by September, I must make sure the children have every opportunity for joy and comfort and activity humanly possible over the summer months, lest the fissures of my failure crack open and reveal to them the horrendously fucked up and selfish creature who happens to be their mother. I must lose weight, at least five pounds, so that I can see every rib, not just the easy ones; I must collect art and travel and practice and teach and meditate and let all the bullshit go, including of course the fucking plans.
More planning: I will practice pranayama at 5AM, and I will prepare perfectly made gluten free oatmeal for my children that will be presented in lovely unchipped bowls by 7:30. We will cook. Every evening. I hate cooking. But the plan is to change that. We will garden. I’m a big fan of gardens, but not particularly of creating them. I’d rather have big pots of flowers – easily enough accomplished – and then spend the afternoon reading. Oh yes. Reading. I plan on reading passionately and effusively and carefully, and learning enough French I can begin my life long dream of reading the real Proust. I will go to bed at 9 and wake refreshed at 4:45. I will only drink a quarter of a glass of rose and stop eating chocolate. Actually, I’ll just stop eating, to ensure the right dose of purity.
With all this planning I usually go to bed at 1:00 AM. I take care of the children. That, I really do. I shower them with adoring love, even when my two year old spends twenty minutes on the freeway indulging herself in her newly found phrase: “You are stupid. You are stuuuupid, Mama.” It’s as if my inner voice has found its outward valve, and it happens to be through the mouth of my youngest child.
Stupid I am. Stupid with a numbness I’ve never known, stupid with a denial of the present, a terror of the future. As our current political situation so richly reveals, nothing creates stasis and stupidity like fear, and I’m awash in it. An idiot of grief.
Alors. There are many ways to face a marital separation, but only a few English phrases name it. And so at least these words, this little essay, scattered as it is, brings some relief to my burning mind. My husband and I are separating. We have told the children, we have told enough family that I could give a damn who reads these words that will forever be available in some form on the vast Internet. By June 1st, a few days before the anniversary of his proposal to me, my sweet and angry husband will be living in a different residence.
My great hero, one of the truly great loves of my life, is Edward St. Aubyn. Brave, strong, brilliant, literally tortured man – a horribly elitist aristocrat who I would imagine might look at someone like me as an almost alien species, but for the background of secrecy and incest we share – he wrote an almost impossibly sad and funny book called At Last, never, I am sure, having heard of Etta James. The book, outside of recalling his own failing marriage and struggles with addiction and fatherhood, is also about waiting. Waiting for finality, waiting for an end, waiting for his wretched mother to, finally, die, and perhaps leave him some legacy of peace with her absence.
While I don’t believe my marriage to be dead, at least not now, I have been waiting. Waiting for change, waiting for some shift to take place, whether it be together or in solitude. Also, there exists the horrible wait of knowing I must live in loneliness and secrecy about the fact of my failed attempt at intimacy, and knowing that once I could name it, call it a failure, in print, out loud to the few people who might even care to know, would be a relief. So much of life is lived as a lie. At least this part, this partnership of love and also years of tension and struggle, is no longer shrouded in deception.
There is an old Craftsman house, surrounded by fog and insistent rain in the winter, a chilled distant sun in summer. The wooden planks are warped by sea-water, decades of damp wind, but with every season its charm grows with its age. Upon seeing the house one thinks more of the sea than the land upon which the home is perched. If Poseidon were forced from his throne he might use it as a resting place before making his way back home. I know this house. My children will know it. How does dissolution occur without total destruction? Does my husband have visitation rights? Will he be the occasional companion, you know, “for the sake of the children…,” or will the house be a small temple of solitude, or, more accurately, a fortress against fear?