I’m glad I don’t keep a diary. Sometimes, reminders aren’t the best things in the world.
Bad memories. Nasty, painful ones. Fearful drones mingled with sorrow. Each one of them. They’ve done their time, they spurred me to action. Now, they must leave so that I can see that this divorce isn’t about the ex, so that I can move on in life. So that I can deal with the ex without rising to the victim-villain bait. I had risen to it. The ex is supposed to be our happily ever after, so the whole thing hurts awfully.
And one morning I learned that the ex’s story was the mirror opposite – he, the victim and I, the villain who hadn’t understood him and had done a few nasty things of my own.
“It wasn’t that way at all! This is what happened!”– so I thought.
But, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion says in The White Album.
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If we want to move past these stories that we are losing control over, we must set those memories aside and so set the unwritten diary aside. Don’t mistake me, a diary would have helped me at the time. It would have eased things off my chest when they were pressing down hard enough to break a rib or two.
But reading that diary now doesn’t help me one bit. I don’t want a reminder of the first shock in the marriage when the first harsh, demeaning deed tells you quietly that things can’t be the same again. ’No’, it shakes its head, ‘you can’t turn the clock back to the time when you thought your ex was perfect.’ I certainly don’t need a reminder of the unending procession of flawed instances in perfect detail. I don’t want that any more.
My faulty memory serves me quite well. Although it plays some tricks, with it I have a chance of forgetting the instances and the pain. I have a measure of control over my memory. I can choose to let them slide. I hope you do too.
But a diary? It’s like the photograph of my long gone, dear grandpa – close to thirty years now. His face has receded, so has his voice and the texture of his skin; he’s just a white khadi-clad shadow in my head. The loving detail is gone. What remains in my head with perfect clarity though is my smiling grandpa. Only it’s the grandpa from the frame in the showcase, not the real, living, moving image I had visited in the village, played and dined with.
What goes for diaries goes for memories too. Speak of them often enough, think of them long enough and they become more real than the acts that had happened. They change the person that you can become.
I reread the occasional mail that pops up from the past and I feel the anger all over. But who am I? Was I the peaceful person who hadn’t yet reread the mail? Am I this furious one sucked into the maelstrom once more?
Truth is, the whole deal that I might have put in the diary isn’t about the ex at all. It’s about me and how I respond to the ex’s stimulus. Viewing the ex as the villain rouses anger. But viewing the ex merely as a stimulus places the responsibility of my emotions on me, neat and square.
Can you look at the ex simply as a stimulus? Not as a villain?
If you agree to do so, you are halfway there. You are ready to look at yourself, your emotions and your reactions, ready to tone them down, laugh at them, and to say, “Get away from me. I don’t want you around. The ex is what the ex is. So I’m ending this whole play. Right now, I must deal with the ex and I don’t want you interfering with the things I must do, the negotiations I must carry on, the calm words I must speak. After that, I want to go through my life with the same peace and calm.”
Each time you turn your back on them, they grow weaker. Your happiness is worth far more than your ex’s unhappiness – just in case you are contemplating the latter. And your children’s happiness? That’s the most valuable thing in life.
The one good thing about the past is that it can be left behind – buried, burnt or simply thrown overboard. From it you carry the seeds of learning, of strength. That’s what this divorce is all about. Not about the ex.
Remember, happily ever after is a state of mind.