Tonight I was standing at the sink washing the pile of dishes from the last three days. Since I left home at age 18, I’ve lived in one apartment that had a dishwasher. I was there for about nine months. We didn’t use it because my ex was sort of philosophically opposed to dishwashers because he didn’t think they did a good job. I lived with my in-laws for four years and they had a dishwasher, but other than that, since I left home, I’ve been washing the dishes by hand.
I remember making a big deal about my ex-husband helping me with the dishes when we were first married. He did this willingly and quite often. It was something my mom always liked about my dad, the fact that he would pitch in with household tasks like dishes. So I thought this was the mark of a good husband and I was anxious to perpetuate that culture in my relationship.
Anyway—dishes. I’ve washed lots of dishes by hand over the years. Tonight I was standing at the sink with my hands in the suds and I found my mind wandering back to the years before my marriage ended, nights like tonight, standing at the sink, washing dishes. And I wondered to myself if I was happier then than I am now.
I thought about those evenings, after work and grocery shopping and making dinner, how I felt. I did have a sense of contentment that is now absent from my life. Maybe contentment is the wrong word. I had a greater sense of predictability. My days were all very similar to each other and there was something really comforting about that. Life had a rhythm that was intricate and exacting but well-rehearsed, like a classical piece memorized years ago for a piano recital.
My current life feels like a jazz tune with huge stanzas that are marked for improvisation with only a chord structure as a guide.
Improvisation—that TERRIFIED me when I was a budding, adolescent saxophone player. I was a total square in the jazz world. But I guess the work of a jazz musician is really my work too. To forgive myself for the very square attempts at being cool, to learn to trust myself as I swing for the fences with a crazy riff, to quiet the inner critic enough to become comfortable with the sound of my own voice.
When I emerged from my marriage, I felt like Kind Theoden of Rohan after he shakes off the cobwebs Wormtail has been insulating him with.
[Really, Michelle, you’re going to talk about jazz, dishwashers and The Lord of the Rings in one post?].
I guess that illustrates the difference for me between then and now. Now, I feel alive. And for the first time, I fear the things I used to cling to—predictability, contentment. I fear anything resembling the recipe for happiness.
I am not sure if this rambling post will make sense to anyone. I’m not sure it makes sense to me. I’m processing a lot right now. I guess I will end with this from Tara Westover’s Educated:
“Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.“Tara Westover, Educated
Happier may not fit, but I have a voice.