Editor’s Note: Maria will be back writing new articles in a couple weeks. In the interim, this weekend’s selection was originally published Jan. 7, 2012 — a classic tale of loved ones trying to give to each other, but at cross-purposes. — Amanda
By Maria Padhila
It was an O. Henry holiday. Gift of the Magi, I mean. We all seemed to be offering each other things we hoped would please each other, at a cost of compromising what we most needed.
I had been looking forward to the season for at least a month. On the day after Christmas, Isaac was going to take our daughter to visit her grandparents. He has done this several times since she was born, and I luxuriate in the time alone — once I painted walls and made curtains and rearranged the furniture, once I did a seven-day ritual, often I’ll go to as much theater as I can stand and afford. Best of all is the freedom from the primary responsibility of making sure a small and very vulnerable being is always OK.
It’s something awesome in the old sense of the word, if you think about it, how frightening it is to care of a child. Mostly we all just do it and don’t think about how important it is, how much is riding on every move. It’s one of those denials that’s necessary for survival, much as denying one’s enjoyment of being free from it is. Issac was the one taking the hit for this trip, with hours in a minivan ahead of him. But one can learn to enjoy a week of child care and grandparents when you have a nice ocean view.
This time, Chris and I had made plans for a full menu of cheap and free things to do, fitting them around work we both had to get done. Most of all we were looking forward to being free of a schedule once in a while. The freedom to lie around and read together is terribly underrated. And it would mean we could spend an overnight or two together, something rare.
It’s a very hard thing for Isaac to deal with, with good reasons. He doesn’t want to have to explain to Tobi where I am, for one. It’s a big part of our arrangement that no one uses each other as convenient babysitters. No one wants to be the one sitting at home wondering how much fun the other is having. We have dates on nights when the other one is busy with work or has something fun of their own to do, to try to avoid that.
But when it’s happening many many miles away — like when we’re at burner events or festivals — Isaac is OK with it. And an overnight, in a real bed, is something Chris wants very much. I can understand both of them — especially in this season of the long cold nights, sleeping alone is an unpleasant prospect. I love sleeping — in the literal sense, in this instance — with each of them. There’s something so tender and trusting about it when someone falls asleep with you near them.
Unless I’m truly panicked about a loved one or work, I can fall asleep anytime and anywhere. I could doze off on a cart to the gallows; ah, that gentle rocking of the horses and the security of the ropes. But I haven’t been sleeping much the past few weeks.
Two days before Christmas, Isaac’s father went into the hospital. It was extremely worrying and disturbing; he is a much-loved person and a larger-than-life personality. He is home now, with various bionic parts installed, and a long recovery ahead. We’ll probably go visit a few times over the next few months, in singles and as a family; Isaac is down there now. But at that point, a visit that meant a house full of children was out of the question.
So I found Tobi in tears on Christmas, because she loves her grandparents and the whole family scene. I admit I cried a little with her, out of disappointment and shame at my disappointment. Issac felt sad because I was disappointed, but also angry that he had to even worry about something like that. Chris stayed on the high road, with a listening ear and healing energies, but he had his disappointment as well.
It was a sort of strata of sadness, with the most visible, thickest, and obvious layer being fear and worry about a loved one. More layers: Considering our own health and mortality; how we would take care of each other; what was ahead for us; how little time anyone gets in full health and energy.
I’ve been closing in on a state of depression for a few months. I always have it in me somewhere, but I keep it at bay largely through exercise and cognitive techniques. Doing any kind of creative work is both salvation and danger — you have to go deep into things and risk stirring up the Bad Thoughts.
I’ve been getting flashes of feelings that ruled me for much of my early life. I’m deeply discouraged about the state of our country and fear for the future. In the past month, two extremely hurtful incidents took place with family members — one with my own family and one with Isaac’s — that eroded my trust, which was barely a veneer in any case, and made me doubt myself and everyone around me.
None of this had anything to do with my being poly — in one case, a family member got caught out talking trash about other family members, and it hurt one of the only people in my family I’m truly close to and honest with. In the other, some tactless conversations brought out the fact that Isaac and I aren’t on the same income level as some in his family, and it became obvious that this is going to create distance, just when I was beginning to feel a little comfortable that I was being valued for myself. I had to give up my other blog, where I write poetry and rant, because of a troll attack. And the work I do for pay becomes more compromising and spirit-breaking every day.
But we tried to give each other what we could. Issac tried to give me time with Chris; Chris tried to give us time alone; we all tried to give Tobi extra time, but we all seemed to be working at cross purposes. Between the phone calls and passing family kids around so that people could attend to the health emergency, Isaac and I spent some late nights watching rental movies.
One we watched, at my request, was Melancholia, by Lars Von Trier, in which the main character is in a deep depression. I watched the actress, Kirstin Dunst in a masterful performance, literally unable to lift a finger for herself in her despair, and I remembered that feeling in my bones. I saw the frustration and anger of the people around her at her condition, and I felt that in my heart.
And in one long talk, Isaac said he didn’t know how long he could keep going with this arrangement. When we married, I was monogamous, he said. For years, he was “enough.” Why had I changed? As long as he’d known me, I was monogamous, yet in the past few years, I’d said that wasn’t really who I was. He wasn’t sure he bought that.
I began to look back over my life and wondered. What had I done, and who was I, really? In trying to explain something else, I remembered other times and places, and in talking about something completely unrelated, I remembered a manuscript in a drawer. My first novel manuscript, written when I was about 22. An old boyfriend had found it — I had made some revisions on his computer — and given it to me, and I hadn’t had the nerve to really look at it, thinking the writing would be so bad it would just bring me down.
I remembered that actually the writing had been good enough to earn me two months at a writer’s colony. On the strength of two chapters, they’d given me room and board. I’d taken the train, because I didn’t have a car, carrying my electric typewriter — only rich people had computers then. I wrote it there in two months, and an agent had looked at it, but I didn’t have the time or the ability to follow through. I didn’t believe it could be much good.
It was about a young woman, a punk and a stripper and sometimes prostitute, who manages to find a way to live with some integrity. And a large part of that involved living with and loving two men.
As I was sitting talking with Isaac and I remembered this, I could not catch my breath. I began to cry and choke. I felt like I had been punched. I had literally buried this knowledge.
The fact that I had forgotten this vital part of the story just made it more clear to me: This has always been part of who I am. I would like to think that my sexuality is fluid, that it all depends on the person, that with the right ‘one’ I would be able to settle down and live like most of the world. I had denied that for much of my life; I had multiple relationships running on sometimes parallel, sometimes switching, sometimes the same track. I had put all that in a drawer.
So if this is who I am, why did I bury it for so long? And how can I live with myself knowing that being who I am is hurting the people I love? Is saying that this is how I am enough? Who has that right? Shouldn’t I change, forget about it, leave it behind? People change. I asked Issac to change. Why shouldn’t I have to change who I am?
I have never wanted to assert that being polyamorous is an orientation. I’ve always wanted to leave myself an out, while at the same time I’ve always stood up for (politically and personally) the rights of my gay and genderqueer and non-cis (one whose body, gender assigned at birth, and personal gender identity do not match up) and fetish friends to be who they are. I just don’t believe I can claim the same things for myself.
I have to apologize now to all of them. I might have held you when you cried about family cruelty, lived with you when you were thrown out by unaccepting parents, gone with you to get AIDS tests back in those horror days, fed you and tried to cheer you up through breakups, marched in Pride parades, and yet I never understood the reality of the difficulty of knowing who you are, much less being who you are. I don’t know if I do even now. But it leaves me unable to catch my breath.
Right now I’m dragging at my fingers to write. I’m thinking coffee, chocolate, maybe that will fire me up enough to get through this. Issac is reading the manuscript. I don’t know how the rest of the story will go.
At holiday time, Chris quotes a Steve Martin bit that’s a variation on Gift of the Magi. When the gift mixup is discovered, the woman exclaims: “Well, I’ll be hog-tied!”
‘“You will?” he said. And it was a merry Christmas after all.”
Here’s wishing you a happy ending.