Friday, April 25, 2003

When Carrie and I started counseling, I had a picture in my head of the Hero's Journey, in which the hero is called out of his ordinary life, fights a series of battles, is initiated into various mysteries, and eventually returns home, gifted now with new wealth, wisdom, or power which he uses to the benefit of his original home. The hero meets a series of monsters on his journey, and must find a way to defeat each one, and in each battle he learns something that is of use when he finally defeats the big bad, after which he can finally return home.

In the typical hero's journey,the hero acquires tools (King Arthur's sword, Perseus' shield, etc.) to help along the way. In my case, however, it was about losing things. When Carrie first moved out, I had to face down a hydra of fear, jealousy, and loneliness, but I drove it off with a chant of "She loves me and she'll be back in August. She loves me and she'll be back in August." That was my armor: perfect, unassailable love, and within it I was safe. Carrie's taking a sabbatical from our marriage put a definite chink in my armor, but as long as I kept my back to the wall, I was fine.

August rolled around, and Carrie came back, but just for an evening, just to tell me she couldn't move back in. What I thought was the road to a stronger relationship turned out to be the road to divorce, and here I was standing in the middle of the road with no armor. It was not a good night. Or a good week. I walked circles in my house, muttering. Called friends, watched movies, walked laps in the park down the street, anything to avoid my own mind, where the hydra was waiting. But all while, I could hear him whispering, telling me secrets about what Carrie was up to, who she was with and what they were doing. But I knew Carrie well enough to know these were lies, and I struck back with that knowledge, used the truth like a sword to cut through his lies.

I went to counseling, and joined a meditation group. I learned to focus on my breath and let my thoughts fall away. I went to a weekend retreat, two nine-hour days of silent meditation, and by hour five, I was convinced I was losing my mind, the hydra's voice had gotten so loud. I finished the second day because I'd promised myself I would, and I kept going to classes for a while, but I was pretty much done with meditation at that point. Every time I sat down, all I heard was the hydra, whispering, showing me pictures. And it wasn't just talking about Carrie anymore, it had plenty to say about me and all the things I could have done differently to save my marriage. But I fought it off. Barely.

After each battle, I told myself it was the last one, that I'd finally beat the big bad. But I knew it wasn't true. Not only was the hydra still out there, but I was exhausted from the effort of fighting it off. I was naked, alone, and scared, with just about nothing left.

Carrie and I signed the divorce papers, and had a ceremony to end our marriage. Not long after, she got a boyfriend. It shouldn't have bothered me; I'd had a 'friend' for a while now, but it gave the hydra a face to show me, a name to whisper, and just enough particulars to drive me crazy. More than that, it took away the only weapon I had left. The hydra was telling the truth, and I knew it.

I dodged for as long as I could, telling the hydra, "So what? We're divorced. It's none of my business. I don't care." but I was full of shit and running out of places to hide. The hydra was in control of my dreams now, sending me images, nightmares that had me on the front porch smoking a cigarette at three in the morning almost every night. Even happy dreams about Carrie gave me anxiety, and left me wide awake with a pounding chest.

I woke up one Saturday morning feeling like I had nothing left. I could feel the hydra lurking in the back corners of my mind, could hear the whispering even though I couldn't yet make out the words, and very literally threw my arms out wide and said (out loud) to the universe, "Take your best shot."

My eyes were closed, and I could see myself standing naked in front of the hydra while it hissed, and snapped, and attacked. But either it was intangible, or I was, because its teeth passed through me and closed on nothing but air. It showed me movies of Carrie and her boyfriend, told me stories about myself I didn't want to hear, but in the end they were just words and pictures and thoughts, and whatever it is that I'm made of, apparently it's more substantial than that. In the end, the hydra lost heart, or got tired, or bored, or whatever, and he slunk off into the shadows.

If I was right about this being a hero's journey, still I know the hydra wasn't the big bad, because I've fought other battles since. Maybe I'm wrong, and the journey I'm on isn't a circle, it's a line, or a meandering path, just a series of challenges, with no big bad, and no returning home with boons. It's probably a silly English major's habit to try and apply a literary model to life, anyway. But so what? We all have stories we tell ourselves to get through life. This is mine.

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