Island life

A blogger friend shared a bit with me about his recent divorce last week. And he’s a man who thinks, not a man who leaves relationships lightly. Another friend struggles with a recent upheaval in her life, trying to find the bravery to face what lurks just below the surface of everyday life. And they make me remember . . . it takes a whole lot of messy and chutzpah to be a real human being. For those of you brave enough to attempt that task . . . a few thoughts from the road I’ve traveled.

I’m supposed to be on vacation but I’m having a miserable time.

Turn back the clock more than a decade, circa 2010. The scene: Mackinac Island, a quaint little place in northern Michigan, at the peak of the summer rush. Throngs of vacationers milling about the town, historic Fort Mackinac, biking the island’s paths. My two young sons, my husband at the time and little ‘ole me are part of those partaking of fudge, summer sunshine and what is supposed to be a little R&R.

I’ve visited this island since I was a very young girl, par for the course when your parents are native Michiganders. As an adult, though, I’m giving my kids what my parents could never afford—a chance to stay on the island instead of ferrying back to the mainland each night. My inner child—the little girl with the big blue eyes, wayward hair and an inner (if not outward) sense of adventure—well, she is thrilled. After years of begging for a single night on the island, she gets several.

The furthest thing from my inner child—my very adult self—is aware that something has been amiss in her marriage for some time. But her upbringing—12 years of Catholic school and a mother who could have run a convent—remains despite her modern demeanor. Marriage is for life, forever, you grin and bear it, you power through it, perseverance is rewarded in the end. Do you have a platitude of your own to offer? Please, be my guest.

We have photos of this trip. Photos that I used later that year to grace our Christmas card. My boys playing on the rocks near the lake, posing in front of the hotel gardens, playing with the cannons in the fort. If you just looked at the photos, it appears to be an idyllic trip. No one would know it was very much the beginning of the end.

I think, in part, I have my inner child to thank for that. As much as she was not one to contradict the adults, she knew what was what. She had an intuition not yet honed but oh so instinctual and on target. She could read a room’s emotions just by standing in a doorway. And this trip is full of emotions.

The substances my husband has been ingesting—which I have no idea is happening at the time—caught up with him on this trip. He was “too tired” to climb the flights of stairs up to Arch Rock. The boys and I did it and took the requisite pic, without him. I suggested we forego the easy route around the island and instead bike through the center of it so the boys could see some of the cemeteries dating back to the War of 1812. Traveling through the middle of that island is like traveling back in time, truly. My eldest and I bike ahead and then sit, wondering, by the gravestones. Where are they, my husband and my youngest? What seems like many moons later, they appear, with my husband cursing at me and –telling me he is likely to have a heart attack because of the hills we must bike. And then his nose starts to bleed and I give him the tissues I always have on hand because—well, I’m a mom.

When we finally get back to the hotel, the three of them take naps, exhausted. But I need air. I need room to breathe, to think. I take a walk. And instead of walking toward the throngs in town, I head up, up, up. Up the steepest hill to the road where the grand dames of this island sit, proud and majestic. These old homes, visible from the ferry, are a sign of a former, simpler time. There’s no one on this road but me. I can’t hear anything but the water and the birds. And that’s when my little girl whooshes past me—hair flying in the wind, favorite red tennis shoes barely skimming the pavement. Away she goes. She turns back to face me: “Remember this?” she asks. “Remember what this feels like? Freedom? Innocence? Happiness in the moment?”

In that moment, I do. The stress, the hunched shoulders, the sad eyes—I feel them slip away. And I walk, a little faster, with a little more energy, and I think—THIS. This is what I miss. Me. Independent, brave, strong, free. Unedited.

She laughs and skips ahead. “You could be like this every day, you know. If you’d just face it. Move away from what makes you sad. Move toward what makes you smile. It’d be like staying on the Island every darn day.”

Children do oversimplify, don’t they? But she may be right. I’ve done all the interventions—multiple marriage counselors, work on myself, more self-help books than you can count. I’ve looked at said marriage counselors and stated unequivocally: “There’s only so much I can—or want—to change. We’re down to my core. And I’m keeping that, thank you very much.”

In the end, when your soul tells you it’s time to go, time for new lessons, new love, new happiness, new things that might scare you but will make you grow—you listen. But it takes a former you—a little tiny you with bright red shoes and unruly hair and sparkling eyes—to get your attention. She is near the age of your kids and reminds you that children are resilient. That temporary unhappiness caused by extreme upheaval in their lives is something they’ll recover from—even learn from—but permanent unhappiness in their home has the potential to cause irreparable damage.

“It’s time to go back to the room,” you tell her, partly because these ruminations scare you too much. But she pleads for more time. “Just a little farther. I’ll stop talking. Just take in the view,” she says. “And feel what you feel.”

And there, at the top of an island you’ve visited for decades, the tears come. Silent and streaming, they won’t let you ignore her counsel anymore. You flash back to a scene from your walk-in closet a few months prior, in which you closed the door and sobbed into a sweater so your boys couldn’t hear you. And you prayed to just get cancer and die so you wouldn’t have to continue in a life that was so miserable. See what those damn platitudes can do? Except then you remember—your kids. And they need you. And by the way, what kind of fresh hell have you entered when you would prefer to die than to face what you need to face and get back to really living?

Up here, on the bluffs, you see it all so clearly. You see how far you’ve sunk and that it’s time to begin rising again. You don’t yet know why but your marriage hasn’t worked in a long while. And it’s time for a life that works. And as you contemplate the younger you who skips along ahead of you, you realize it’s the adult you that is the only one that can bring this life into existence. And you realize that many will say this means you lack character, stamina and the morals to honor what was supposed to be a lifelong commitment. You mentally leave those people by the side of the road before having to physically do so in the coming months.

Holding your own inner child close, you take a tiny resolute step toward your own happiness.

But that’s a story for another day.


47 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow. What a powerful piece you’ve written here. And having read your blog posts for these several years, one can’t help feeling very thankful that you took the path you chose. Brava, my sister.

    1. candidkay says:

      🙏🏻. Means a lot coming from you, Cynthia.❤️

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    What a beautiful piece of writing, and on a subject which will resonate with many. I’ve come around to the view that all of us remain bound by societal conventions of relationships, partnerships, marriage – and reinforced by laws – which leave us unhappy. The free-love hippies of the 60s had an alternative though unsustainable philosophy. Whatever, we are only here for a short period of time and we should be able to be happy in our lives without having to compromise to such an extent. Just don’t ask me how.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Roy. I appreciate the kind words on my writing–but of course, wanted to ask you about the “how” of your sage advice:). You preempted me (wink). I am always wary of those who proselytize, so sure there is one right way for everyone. Love those wise enough to admit there are so many things we can’t account for . . .

  3. You are a grand storyteller Kristine who inspires others to remember that inner knowing who is guiding us always through life! When we feel anything less than marvelous we can suspect we have wandered away from our path! In a way it is a great guidance system we can all best tune into and save ourself so much heartache. I know it’s not easy to break away from habit and comfort, but if we can give ourself a chance we will reward ourself with a beautiful life… maybe challenging, but that is part of our journey, no… embracing our most highest potential of independence, uniqueness and loving power❤️ So grateful for your words and may you wander further into your own grand dream🙏 much love x barbara x

    1. candidkay says:

      Such kind words. Thank you! And I love the idea of a “grand dream.“ I do think my soul has a grand dream and it looks like I’m going to be one of those people who hopefully lives on into it later in life. You have certainly created a wonderful life for yourself and are an example to us all.

  4. A fabulous post Kristine – we should listen to the girls we were more often!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Andrea! I agree. They carry so much wisdom and it’s in the soul . . .

  5. Ninasusan says:

    Excellent post…I felt the raw woman in there…the pain and the hope!

    1. candidkay says:

      Love it when y’all can feel it. Thanks for reading and letting yourself feel it🙏🏻

  6. mydangblog says:

    I can’t add much to the conversation except that I adore your writing:-)

    1. candidkay says:

      Aw, man. Putting you on speed dial🙏🏻😃! Thank you!

  7. Thank goodness for that little girl with the bright red shoes! Sending love and thank you for sharing …

    1. candidkay says:

      Sending love to you also! I hope you are enjoying your little slice of paradise that you call home.

  8. KDKH says:

    Many of us remember that kind of moment when we realize we can’t keep doing it. I can relate to all you say. I’m glad I know that it all ended well for you!

  9. Masha says:

    I didn’t know it at the time, but asking my husband for a divorce was the greatest thing I ever did for myself. Like you, I wanted my freedom, I just wanted to be free because I knew that I had come to the end of the rope and if I stayed one more minute I would die. Thanks for sharing your story. xoxo

    1. candidkay says:

      It does end up feeling like that, doesn’t it? And yet the actual process of it also feels like it’s tearing you apart at times. Thanks for sharing your story, Masha. I think it really helps people to know that what they are going through is survivable.

  10. Beautifully expressed as always, Kristine. And I can so relate. Leaving my first marriage was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Like you, it took a long time, but it was also the wisest decision I ever made.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks for sharing your truth! And I know what a wonderful relationship you are in now from the things you’ve written and shared. I’m so glad you have found a happily ever after that works for you.

      1. Thank you. I wish the same for you. 💕

  11. When I finally began to do what was right for me, it challenged me. Change is a slow process. I give thanks every day for taking that step away from a relationship that almost destroyed me. You did it, too. Live well. 🌟✨💫

    1. candidkay says:

      I had no idea. Thank you so much for sharing. I don’t know why some of us go through learnings like this but I guess we signed up for the PhD course in life :-). So glad you stepped away and were able to find happiness again.

      1. Beyond my wildest dreams! 🌟✨💫

  12. markbialczak says:

    I think this can help your friends, Kay. And strangers who could become friends.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Mark. Sometimes I think it just helps to know that when you’re going through a hard time and have to make hard decisions that you’re not alone.

  13. Jan Wilberg says:

    I had a similar marriage epiphany on Mackinac Island but wasn’t lucky enough to meet the girl with the red tennis shoes. Beautifully written piece. A lot of echoes there.

    1. candidkay says:

      No way! What is it about Mackinac Island? Must be some strange juju there😉. Thank you for the kind words.

  14. Is it possible to divorce your grown up daughter? A daughter withholding my grandchildren because of the way I think. A daughter who threw away her two older children when she divorced her first and have 4 additional kids with her new husband. The two were given to me as teenagers to raise. They are now adults ( 24 and 19) . My support for my daughter doesn’t even rate a phone call on Mother’s Day.
    I am about to celebrate my 51st anniversary and I can’t decide how I feel about that. I guess maybe I need to climb up that hill of yours.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, Marlene. Life can be really hard, can’t it? I’m sorry you’re living this. And I hope you have a great relationship with the grandkids you raised. Takes a special mama to do that. Fifty-one years is a milestone to be sure–and I’m sure you’re not alone in feeling it may be a mixed bag–so many people experience that. Find your hill or your lake or your quiet church–whatever it is for you. My wisest voice needs a bit of space and time to come through–I hope yours meet you halfway. Hugs to you.

  15. Hi. I don’t know how often anyone mentions this to you: you’re a very good writer. For example, in this essay the pain really comes through.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, that is among the Top 3 things you can say to a writer:). The only thing better is when someone tells me I made them really think or feel something. Thank you! I appreciate you letting me know.

  16. suemclaren24 says:

    It can take a long time for the “penny to drop”. And when it does, it is both a relief and a challenge. Good for you and your inner “child” who is so very wise. Well done.

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes! In equal parts, relief and challenge. That’s a good way to put it.

  17. Dale says:

    Wonderful share, Kristine.
    It takes courage to do what is right for you and your children. You are so right when you say that temporary unhappiness and feeling their world is shattered is the better choice in the long run. To have remained in your situation would have taught them they don’t deserve better, since you didn’t either. Instead, you have taught them how to navigate life and its challenges and come out of the other side, stronger, happier, more grounded.
    Yay, to that little girl who helped you when you needed it. 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Dale. I do hope they took away the right lessons. We try, right?

      1. Dale says:

        I’m sure they did. And they will realise it as they mature and have relationships including children of their own. That’s all we can do!

  18. Karen Lang says:

    Rising from the ashes is hard! But once you decide, it’s possible, which you have. 👏👏👏It will move you into the right spaces to receive what you need. Wishing you love and happiness

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Karen😊. Still moving into those right spaces this many years later!

  19. Beautifully penned story and engaging to have your inner child as the heroine. Kudos Christine on listening and acting. I’ve ignored or been oblivious to my intuition all too often.

    1. candidkay says:

      And tell me how that turns out for you :-). Said tongue in cheek because I have found that whenever I ignore my intuition, all hell breaks loose and it’s not good. Thank you for the kind words. This one was harder to put out there than some because of its raw honesty.

      1. Yes, many a disaster for ignoring my intuition. Thanks for sharing your heart and vulnerability.

  20. Yes. There comes a time when you’ve done all you can do and going your own way is the only way to go. So eloquently written. I had to do a double take on your photo because it looks so much like the harbor in Maine where I worked for most of my twenties and summered nearby my entire young life.

    With my Kundalini awakening changing me so very much on the inside, I sometimes wonder if my marriage will survive. The resonance between my husband and I keeps getting further and further apart. And yet, I’m realizing that coming together later in life we’ve always supported each other’s independent interests and this is still the case.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, a marriage where two strong people can support each other’s independence and yet still come together is a precious thing. I’m sure you know this. And as much as I chafed against some of what she said in the book, I have to admit that Anne Morrow Lindbergh‘s “A Gift from the Sea,” it had many truths in it about how our relationships ebb and flow. But I do believe that ebb and flow depends on two very healthy, evolved people. I know you are that!

  21. Excellent post, Kristine. I faced that walk-in closet twice. I decided enough was enough and moved ahead. Congratulations.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, John. For the kind words and for being brave enough to comment where some wouldn’t. I appreciate it. I’m so glad you exchanged the walk-in closet (twice!) for life again. It’s good to have you in the swim.

      1. Yes, indeed. Best wishes to you.

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