Recently, I met a friend who I haven't seen in a long time. Hilary and I have been friends for close on 20 years. It must be about 10 years since I last saw her. And, recently, we got together. We caught up on the lost years, we reminisced, we reminded each other how powerful and wonderful we are. Hilary does that for people - she sees the best you can be and then describes you to yourself.
One comment she made has remained with me, circling my attention, for the last week. She reinforced my belief about myself that I am a wild thing. I like to think of myself as a cat. Feral, independent, lone. She described me as a butterfly. It didn't feel like a powerful animal and I was slightly taken aback. She clarified. "You are like a butterfly. And people want the pretty thing to land on them. And you do. You're interested in them. And then they hold on to you so tight they crush you." She was right. I am still slightly fascinated by the fact that I might be a butterfly.
I woke to the world in my mid-teens. At 14, they took me off drugs and I faced a world I was unschooled in, hormones raging, in a new school with new people around me. I learned very quickly how to appear to be part of what was going on while sussing it out. Who was cruel and better avoided, or befriended? Who was cool and interesting? What exactly was expected of me? How could I maintain control? I remained aloof whilst making friends and influencing people. I had several false starts! I did learn how to comfortably interact and enjoy social situations. I made friends. I came to a very clear awareness of myself and my motivations. Unfortunately, I didn't learn about relationships.
I have been a serial monogamist for many years. I don't consider that a viable relationship option for me, now. In my younger years I did, and leaped from relationship to relationship, trying to find the One who would be my other half. It took 30 years, or so, to understand that it was not my fault, or even theirs. It was a mismatch of animal. Like trying to keep a fox,calling him Mr Cuddles and have him snooze in front of the fire, beside the cat. It was never going to work!
Let me be clear that I am not trying to claim that being a wild creature is somehow a better position than being domesticated. People who do not yearn for the open horizon, who can live within the closed gates and high fences, who are willing to be a great half rather than their own, questing, complete unit are more likely to understand and enjoy the world we live in than any wild creature. Society is domestic. To be tame within it is to fit in. I often wish I could do 'contentment'. It's just not in me.
I am not tame. I will not be what someone else requires. I will not curb my opinions and behaviour to make anyone else feel comfortable. I do not kowtow to 'expectation' 'obligation' or 'normal'. I am me. There is space for me, too, in this big old world. If you don't like it, you know where 'out' is. Many people have liked it. Often, they are fascinated by it. The wildness, free spiritedness, is attractive. For some of them, it seems, to be vicariously free is to have the best of both worlds - the benefits of playing the game and the view of forever. Of course, to possess the view you dare not approach you have to gain ownership of the eyes which see it!
My most recent failure to understand this was my marriage. The bottom line is that he wanted to own the free and wanton creature which had settled to spend time with him. I thought he understood my nature, having explained it in words of one syllable. Sadly, he did not. He did not take me at my word. He thought he knew me better than I did. And then, for whatever reason, he started caging me in. I could not 'go' or 'be' or 'do' or 'have' without his input. I could not interact with anyone else unless he made it clear that I was his wife.
The most notable occasion in which he, basically, pissed on his territory, was in Cornwall, NY. We lived in the Hudson Valley, between the Palisades and the Catskills. Relatively close to us was a town called Cornwall. Obviously, being a Cornish maid, I wanted to go and see it. It was a lovely summer's day. July 4th. We had decided to picnic in the afternoon and then look around the town until the fireworks for Independence Day. The picnic was fine. The post picnic nap was strange, but would be a whole other blog tangent. The poke around town was illuminating. I wish I had reacted to it with rather more force than I did. Leaving him would have been a good reaction.
John and I were wandering down a street, past a row of houses. I was walking slightly ahead of him. I don't remember why, now. The buildings were lovely. Large wood fronted houses, beautifully kept. The contrast with the little grey concrete and granite fronted cottages in the misty villages of my Cornwall was startling. I was absorbed. I walked past one house and a man was outside washing his car. He looked up and caught me peering down his drive. He smiled. I smiled. He said good afternoon and I said hello. as you do. John appeared at my elbow. He held out his hand, walking on ahead of me, and said, very distinctly, "Come on, Wife."
Now. The issue for me, which I explained just as distinctly, right there on the pavement, was that I am not 'wife'. I am me. Call me by my name or don't bother speaking to me. I am not anyone's anything. I am just me. Being me is quite enough - I don't need a title or a role to identify me. John was hurt and upset. Apparently, he thought that renaming me as 'Wife' was a nice thing. He felt rejected and confused. I was too angry to care how he felt. In one sentence he had claimed ownership, removed my individuality, warned the pleasant man who had greeted me, and placed me in a box - label on and underlined in red. Do not approach the wife. Move away from the possession. This wife is not for greeting. Do not feed the animal.
Suffice to say, the marriage didn't last very long. That one occasion should have warned me that I was dealing with a domesticator. It didn't, and the ensuing pain and trauma which I survived, in that marriage, is as much down to my lack of reaction to that warning as John's incompetent personality and social skills. It didn't last long and I have to say that I finally learned the lesson about allowing others the right to cage me.
Thinking about it now, the irony is inescapable. The wilderness of the Hudson Valley: the wide open spaces; uninhabited parks; bear and deer filled forests; and beautiful mountains should have been the perfect place for a feral creature to settle. It wasn't. Someone tried to recreate and disempower me. I had never felt more caged, less me, in my life.
I discovered - I'd rather be free in a crowded concrete jungle than caged in a sprawling National Park.