I walked into my little Victorian house in Berkeley expecting an immediate confrontation with Paolo since I was later than usual, but he had his sly I-have-a-surprise-for-you smile. I stared at him as though he was a stranger and wrestled with the puzzling fact that I had once imagined I was in love with him. He was still the same compact muscular man with loose curling brown hair, mischievous dark eyes and asymmetrical smile, but I had long since learned to shield myself from the icy mistrust of his penetrating stare. I really did not want anything but a long hot bath. But then he revealed that he had just bought a new Chevy Camaro. It was like getting a punch in the gut. I felt horror. I knew it was financial suicide. There was no way our budget could handle the payments and keep me in school and pay for childcare.
Had this event occurred one day before, had I not only, at this very moment, returned from a fulfilling sojourn on another continent, had I not just entered the house with a panoramic vision of future possibilities, had I not just exercised my lungs and spirit so fully, I might have experienced this impending financial catastrophe like an avalanche of mud. Instead, I calmly removed my still sandy sandals and walked barefoot out onto the porch, stealing a wistful glimpse of Mount Tamalpais rising above the skyline toward the Pacific Coast, which had shielded me all day.
Then I saw the car. My inner calm, my sense of renewal, my hopes for securing any kind of tranquility in this marriage, vanished like a mirage. His new Camaro was brilliant yellow, trimmed with orange and black stripes and was loaded with every extra there was. I would not get in it. I had a fit of rage. Didn’t he know what a sucker he was, etc.? Couldn’t he take it back, say it was a mistake? What had he done to our credit? I carried on operatically, jumping around to make my point and ended up falling on my ankle the wrong way and spraining it. How would I get to finish school? Our deal was that I put him through four years of college, and now I only needed another year and he had agreed to help me. Why couldn’t he wait?
My rage was futile, and now my ankle was swelling, and it was impossible to put weight on my foot.
The only consolation was that he said the old white Ford van was now mine to use as I wished. He had not traded it in because my name was on the title and without my release of ownership he was powerless to sell it. I thanked the women’s movement for this small grace.
As I stared at his Brandoesque stance, with his eyes attempting to bore into me with his terrifying confidence and the sexy grin that assumed I could be charmed into accepting his new car, I let go of the last substance-lacking strands of our marital bonds. I wistfully recalled memories of our wedding on the hillside: the Unitarian minister wearing bell-bottomed leather pants, the guitar, my sons wearing red bandanas, my cerulean blue, handmade wedding dress that I had designed, printed, dyed, and sewed, and the leaves of the buckeye bursting into the spring sky like fireworks. My chest opened, I drew in a long breath and exhaled Paolo and the memories of seven years into the night sky toward the west and over to the ocean lying beyond the majestic mountain, its distinct profile of a sleeping woman that inspired local variations from the classic legends of an abandoned maiden. I directed my breath to the place on the beach where my footprints were erased that morning. I saw Paolo moving on as though he were a teenager whom I had raised, a young man who was now ready to leave home. Only then could I see into the new vistas I had opened for myself.
The real challenge presented itself. More accurately, that sentence should read, the aspect of an awesome female deity appeared, challenging me to proceed like an Amazon warrior on horseback and take charge of gracefully navigating around whatever obstacles life would present. My inner voice was often that commanding. Merely seeing into these “new vistas” with my leaps of insight acquired at the beach was not enough. The real work had to be done from within. Healing is a trivial word; the body could manage that quickly, but real physical and mental restoration required scraping away layers of scar tissue. It was time to begin stretching muscles and joints, opening intellectual and emotional channels that impeded and restricted the fullest movement of my body and, most importantly, it was time to learn to leap the hurdle of the actual physical and human barriers that skewed my balance and caused me to slink back along the path of least resistance. “Stretch, open, learn,” I repeated over and over to myself.