Spring Without Honeysuckle in the Land of the Live Oak

by And the White Lion Roars!

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There’s that song again. That damned song that always fills me with longing and regret. I put the music on for the first time in a while, and Jackson Browne came on. Talking about “I wonder what became of the changes we waited for love to bring. Were they only the fitful dreams of some greater awakening…” If anyone has read my old blog at questionevrthing.blogspot.com, you know that in the spring, as life came back to flowers and vines, and humidity increased in the Texas air, I waxed poetic on more than one occasion about the languid, heavy perfume of the honeysuckle over the evening air as I walked my dog. Well, in late November of 2013 we bought our first house, in a new subdivision, in a small “bedroom” community of Fort Worth. Remember the old folk song “Little Houses?” Five months into living here, that song seems so apt for our neighborhood. The houses are built with slight variations on a theme to make them seem individual, and the builder took the time to put a couple of trees in each front yard. All live oaks. There are a couple of houses that have different trees…there was a different builder around before ours, who apparently had to stop after the 2008 housing/financial crash; those houses have small magnolias. But all the newest houses, including ours, have two or three live oaks in the yard. There is nothing wrong with live oaks. I’m sure they are fine trees, and I’m told they are very hearty, drought resistant, and get quite large. But only one type of tree, and no honeysuckle? When I walk the dogs around some older neighborhoods, just to get past the confinement of our little 4 streets, I see some other types of trees; there are a few cottonwoods, which many people hate because of the pods that can drop on cars in spring and ruin a paint job. There are some other varieties of oak. Maybe the time I spent in college studying environmental science makes me shudder at all this monoculture planting…no. It’s my sensual self. I need to see more than one type of tree. I need to smell spring in order to have my spirit lifted up to be filled with the life that spring promises.

I remember a guy that I worked with when I was in my mid-twenties, and married to my first husband. I had so many romantic notions about love and marriage then. My husband and I worked different shifts; he worked nights, and I once asked him to hug my pillow as he left for work so that I could smell him as I slept. My friend said to me, “You are a very sensual person.” Until that moment I hadn’t thought about it that way; sensual meaning moved by the senses. I always thought of sensual and sexual as the same thing. But he was right, I am very sensual, and my emotions and senses are tightly knitted together…that honeysuckle smell goes a long way toward helping me feel spring.

I have been married to my second husband for about 14 1/2 years now, and we’ve had happy and hard times throughout, as I guess all couples do. I’ve experienced depression, loss, joblessness, and family drama and struggles, a total knee replacement, again, as all people do. I’ve also experienced many moments, days, weeks of reflection, lately included. When I go through these times it becomes easy to pick things and people apart, especially the ones closest to me, I.E. my husband. And so I’ve been very unhappy lately. Unhappy enough, once again, to think about ending the marriage. I know, statistics show that women think about divorce more often than men, and initiate divorce most often. There are so many reasons for that that this post could go on for days. Back in November of 2009 I wrote a blog post called “Marry Me,” in which I discussed my feelings about the need for a new definition of relationships in this world/country. Marriage was always a financial transaction between families, and that’s why we still “give the bride away,” and so forth. All the trappings have become, not only archaic, but they make the subservience of women to men even more glaring. I also know that from a very young age that I didn’t trust men much. When I was a young child, my dad was serially unfaithful to my mother, but I can’t imagine that I was really aware of that. Is it something I was born with? A leftover from a previous existence? There was a time I remember riding the bus home from school when the driver was flirting with a friend of mine. She said to him, “Aren’t you married?” He replied that he didn’t have a ring on, and I jumped in and said that lots of married men don’t wear wedding rings. He said, “You know too much.” And for some reason, I guess I did. Or maybe my mistrust has just led me, always to self fulfilling behaviors?

I guess the first question is, “Why did I get married in the first place?” Did I love the two men I’ve been married to? The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!” I loved them both, and still do. But the first question is not answered by that answer. I love lots of people that I don’t believe I want to live with; nor do I believe necessarily that the love I feel for anyone is eternal and “ever green,” as the song says. Why do girls get married? In my case, I have to look at my “raisin’.” I clearly remember going to the movies by myself when I was younger. I wanted to be an actress, so I wanted to see every movie that came out. I would take my allowance, and walk to the nearby movie theater and watch whatever was on. One day my maternal grandmother was at our house, and asked where I was going. I told her to the movies, and she said, “Don’t you have a boyfriend to take you to the movies?” Those kind of messages are fed to us (at least in my experience, all our lives. If you have value as a woman, a man will want you. Okay-I know it isn’t just my experience; I recently watched (for the second time) on PBS a documentary about the women’s movement, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin talked about her college days, when it was expected that a woman went to college to find a husband. She talked about how all the women would come to class the Monday after they got engaged, and would hold up the ring when roll was called.

But in my case, while born (I suppose) with that distrust of men, I was also born with a fierce loyalty to my family and friends, and an almost fearful desire never to upset or displease my mother. I see this in her regarding her parents, too, and I saw it in my maternal grandmother as well, so I guess, as they say in the south, I came by it honest. But what it has led to is a grave dishonesty with my mother, and a grudging acceptance of what she wants for me, including marriage. I think this came full circle for me this week, with all the discussion about equal pay for women, who “still make only .77 to the dollar what men make in the same professions.” The hideous personage of Phyllis Schlafly was quoted as saying, “We need less equal pay for women so that women will need to find husbands.” Now, I’m sure it’s no surprise that Ms. Schlafly turns my stomach, and she too was referenced in that PBS documentary, but my reaction to her comments at this time in my life was pretty extreme. She is what has killed (in my humble opinion) the souls of so many women of my generation. Women who have felt pushed into marriage and shouldn’t have been. Women who have felt pushed into staying in unhappy, though not definitively “bad” marriages for the sake of pleasing whatever societal norm they were born into. Divorce from a nice man is a failure. You can make it if you want to. Sometimes you have to stick it out to get to the best part. Oh, you are middle aged and in a sexless marriage? Well, sex is only a PART of marriage, you’ll be okay. If he isn’t beating you, and isn’t drinking and whoring away all your money, what are you complaining about?

What, indeed. Well, it really sucks to be this high on Maslov’s pyramid, donnit? I’ve  even made this comment to my youngest sister when talking about being unhappy or down. If only we were still hunter-gatherers, trying to get enough food to survive, and avoid the predators who preyed on us when we came down from the trees. Now we know when our dreams remain unfulfilled, and we can feel badly about our lives when we don’t find the Hollywood ideal of love, passion and romance.

I recently made a new friend who lives in a far away country. He and I share a taste for music and art, and, at least to me, we hit it right off. He is a gay man who lost his partner of forty years about two years ago, and he still misses him terribly, and speaks of his soul mate. I know only two or three other couples who feel so strong a connection with their partner, even though the majority of the people I know are either married or in a relationship of some sort. Most of them are relatively happy, but only the tiniest percentage would call their partner “soul mate.” Are we so driven by that expectation of an adult, long term relationship that we settle for something that isn’t optimal in order to “fit in?” When my second husband proposed to me, he didn’t want to get married. He wanted to move in together-which would have required me to move to another state with a man to whom I wasn’t married, and with whom my relationship was very worrisome (to say the least) to my mother because of certain aspects of his history. I told him I wouldn’t do that to my mother. I was forty-two. So we got married. He was staying at my parent’s the night before the wedding, so (in keeping with tradition) I spent the night at my youngest sister’s. I was terrified. I had already failed once, and we had marks against us-I’d almost broken up with him over lying about smoking, and about his racial attitudes. But I didn’t. And here we were, about to tie the knot. I told my sister how scared I was, and she offered to help me call it off. No one else had expressed an interest since I’d been divorced-what if no one did? What would people think of me? “Oh, there’s that woman who was married once, and then lived with her parents for the rest of her life.” “He did leave her for another woman, you know. never happens if things are taken care of at home.” It mattered to me, though I can’t imagine now why. All I can think of at this point is that it is easy to place blame about why I allowed that unreasonable fear of my mother’s disapproval, society’s expectations, to create my own feeling of having settled. Twice.

“…out into the cool of the evening strolls the pretender. He knows that all his hopes and dreams begin and end there.” With the smell of honeysuckle in spring.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs (top of the pyramid is (among others) the need for self actualization.
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November, 2009, questionevrthing.blogspot.com, “Marry Me”

Phyllis Schlafly, ultra right wing, anti-woman’s rights activist. www.phyllisschlafly.com/Letty Cottin Pogrebin-founding editor of “Ms Magazine,” www.lettycottinpogrebin.com/