I see a man every day that drops my child off. He wears the mask of the man I loved for twelve years. I know what his hand feels like entwined with mine. I know what it feels like to get on my toes to wrap my arms around his neck for a hug. But I don’t know that person anymore. The person I would have moved mountains for no longer exists.
It’s a strange place to be. To recognize someone physically, but not in any other way. It’s like someone was transplanted into his body. This new person has his voice, his laugh. But it’s not him. This man holds himself a little differently. This man is not at ease in my presence. This man is simultaneously familiar and strange.
The longer we navigate this new reality, the more our interactions move between familiar and new. As we get more comfortable discussing the needs and actions of caring for our son, the familiarity of discussing the day to day workings of our life is there. I am reminded of what it felt like to have the daily run down. But it isn’t the same. We stand at opposite sides of the room, closed off to one another. We do not sit across a table sharing a meal. We are causal, but it is only vaguely familiar. It is like seeing a figure through a fog. And it’s void of care. We are no longer discussing the happenings of our lives as partners- we are discussing logistics. We are business associates in the task of raising our tiny human. We are cordial strangers that knew each other once upon a time.
Just as the man I once knew doesn’t exist, the woman I once was doesn’t exist. Time and experience have molded me into a new version of myself- for better or worse. There are parts of me that are the same- defense mechanisms, aspirations, dreams- but there is so much that is different. New hurts. New fears. A new self-respect. I am more than I was before. I am a stronger woman. I am a mother. I am -dare I say it- proud. And even a little hopeful.
As I stand opposite the masked man I recognize, maybe he feels the same way about me. Maybe he sees me as a figure he only recognizes at a distance. I carry myself differently. My back is straighter, my shoulders squared against the world. My new identity as a mother gives me strength and purpose. I am not the same lost girl that I was twelve years ago. I am not the same scared woman that I was seven months ago. I know that I can do this alone. I am good at doing this alone. But my bluster is fading. My overcompensation. Maybe I don’t want to do this alone forever. The idea of letting someone else in is terrifying. I don’t want to be in the same position down the road. I don’t want another masked figure in my midst. I don’t want to risk relinquishing pieces of myself. I fear I don’t know how to be in a relationship without giving too much. Without making too many sacrifices.
In the past, fear dictated many of my decisions. I have missed out on experiences because I was afraid I would feel foolish-or fail. I have had the pang of jealousy watching others experience moments that I dreamed of. But I never tried. Fear would grip my bones and trap me. These events aren’t large in the grand scheme of things. The large risks- graduate school, working with my dad, becoming a mother- I execute. I know what I want and I go after it. But the smaller tasks- singing karaoke, entering a room full of people I don’t know, telling someone I miss them, ice skating, asking someone for help- I hide from.
But isn’t that true strength-to face the storm within instead of locking it away? When I think about my future and the risks I am willing to take- a battle rages within me. The safe choice is to wrap myself in armor and hide. The safe choice is to soldier on as an independent. But safe isn’t what I want to teach my son. He currently throws himself into life with a reckless abandon. He stumbles and picks himself back up, just to try again. If I am the example of playing it safe- will he abandon his unguarded exploration of the world and replace it with overthinking and restriction? And what do I lose, by locking my heart away in the clock tower? I lose the opportunity at a second chance. I lose the chance to see myself through the love of someone else. The opportunity to know myself a little more- maybe even love myself a little more.
So I stand, looking at the mirage before me. The man that used to be home, but isn’t anymore. I no longer desire his embrace after a long day. I no longer want his hand in mine to give me strength as I navigate heartbreak and loss. I no longer wonder what his day was like. I no longer concern myself with his happiness. His touch would feel foreign and uncomfortable. We are no longer the same people. Life has changed us. His choice changed “us”. And my choices are continuing to change me. But I embrace that. I am more proud of the woman I am today than yesterday. I am happier today then I was a year ago. I am more myself today than I was seven months ago. And those things- they make me feel a little stronger. A little braver. They make me think- maybe second chances exist- and maybe they are better than the first.