Excerpt of The Marriage Sabbatical by Cheryl Jarvis
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Im sitting at the dining-room table making phone calls, struggling to get a job in a city where creative opportunities are limited. The right side of my neck aches from my prolonged, hunched-over position. A pain shoots its way down my arm. Im longing for a shoulder rub when the phone rings. Its the senior producer of the television show I worked on before it moved east. The producer who replaced me isnt working out, he says, and her successor cant start for a few months. Will I come to Connecticut to fill in?
By the time Im off the phone, Ive forgotten the pain. I start to feel light-headed as I think about how luxurious it would be to focus on the job without feeling pulled in all directions. Before, when I was at work, I was thinking of home; when I was at home, I was thinking of work, my loyalties divided always. Rushing in late to the office, after negotiating breakfasts and schedules and last-minute school projects, racing out early for baseball games, tennis matches, music lessons, I always had the nagging feeling that the single producers on staff were putting in longer hours, achieving more. I think of the shows I could create if I werent constantly worrying about who or what I was neglecting. My thoughts meander to living alone for three months, to having Sundays just for me. I fantasize about long walks in the New England countryside. Guilty pleasure suffuses my body like an endorphin high.
At dinner I barely touch my food as I talk excitedly about my opportunity. My husband says little; after years of practicing psychotherapy, he is well trained to listen, well trained not to react. The boys, ten and fourteen, ask a few questions: When would you leave? How long would you be gone? Later that evening, Im reading in bed, psychologically already airborne, when my younger son walks in, closes the door behind him, and sits on the edge of the bed. I dont want you to go, he says. School will be starting then. What if I have a problem? I need you when school starts. You can go another time. Please dont go now. Later, my older son comes in, closes the door, and sits at the same spot on the edge of the bed. Same plea, different reason.
Feelings whirl through me: sureness that I wont accept the offer; dejection, now that my chance to live and work alone for a few months has vanished; elation that my sons need me. But something significant has happened. I have admitted to myself how much I long to go.
I was thirty-eight then. Over the next ten years, I celebrated my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, sent two boys to college at opposite ends of the country, and navigated through five different jobs. Every time I saw single co-workers take off for Chicago or Los Angeles or New York, I felt a pang for the path not taken. Many of them, I knew, looked at married colleagues and longed for a couples steady intimacy the way I looked at them and longed for their freedom. Is it just human nature that after fulfilling our desire for one, we yearn for the other? Or is it that we really crave both at once? Each time I helped one of our sons packfor Outward Bound, for a summer in Oregon, for a semester in SpainI envied his going away on an adventure by himself. Id take him to the airport, feeling his life widening, mine narrowing, a sense of time and opportunity slipping away. Somewhere in the goodbyes, amid smiles and hugs and admonitions to call/be careful/stay safe, Id utter what! had become my standard line: In my next life.
The year I turned forty-eight, something clicked. What next life?
This book was born out of conflictbetween loving my husband yet wanting to leave him. No, needing to leave him. It wasnt frustration over traditional gender roles. He has been doing the laundry since I spilled bleach on his favorite tennis shirt the first year we were married. It wasnt irritation over masculine deficiencies as depicted in womens magazines. Im the one who scrambles at the last minute for his birthday gift, Im the one who drops my clothes all over the bedroom floor, Im the one who spends hours zapping the remote. He was a feminist when we met, and we had a peer marriage before sociologist Pepper Schwartz coined the phrase. We lead independent lives. We have what some people call a long leash. Feeling free at home, however, was not enough. I needed to go away, alone. Not for a weekId done that often. Just for a little while. But the yearning felt unnatural, and guilt invaded my body like the arthritis Ive developed from years of over exercise. As the guilt deepened, anger flashed: Where was it written that I couldnt take a solo adventure, that because I was married I couldnt take time off, time away, time alone? What did one have to do with the other? And where were these emotions coming from? I had no answers to these questions because I didnt know any married women who had done what I wanted to do. For the first seventeen years of my marriage I didnt imagine it. Once I imagined it, I couldnt voice it. Growing older, however, meant I came increasingly to believe that if I felt something strongly, there must be other women who felt the same way. I wrote this book to find these women, women who had successfully left home to pursue a dream, women in good marriages who could explain the journey and support me along the way. I wrote this book because I needed answers to my questions. Subconsciously, I needed permission to leave.
From The Marriage Sabbatical: The Journey that Brings You Home, by Cheryl Jarvis. © December 26, 2000 , Cheryl Jarvis used by permission of the publisher, Perseus Books.