Monday, October 20, 2008

Walking Naked into Starbucks

As long as I am posting about my lost Starbucks Card I might as well include another Starbucks story or two. So here's one I wrote a good while ago, also about losing something important...

Walking Naked Into Starbucks

He took his ring off first. Which is weird since he was the one that initially didn’t want the marriage to end. It took my breath away, that evening when, in the high school library, at a parent’s meeting for the track team, the team on which our son was running, I looked down at his hand taking notes, and it was naked. No ring. I was stunned as he had been so hard fixed in denial about the divorce. But his ring was off. And then I knew I would remove mine too. In the car ride home I took it off and slipped it into my purse. The ring had been on my hand for over twenty years, counting the engagement, and somehow, over the years it apparently had formed connections to my lungs, because when it came off so did my ability to breathe without effort. The stony silence that had become the way we traveled together was drowned out in my own head by the thumping of my heart and the sound of air being forced in and out of my lungs. Breathing was painful. This pain was becoming familiar, and a constant companion, but it was especially acute that night when my ring finger became naked.

The next morning, I stopped at my usual coffee shop to get my latte for the drive into work. I hesitated in the car, suddenly not sure if I could go into the shop alone. Every fiber of my body, every stitch of clothing I had on, every breath of air I exhaled was permeated with singleness. I was so out of my element in my own body. I told myself “this is ridiculous. You are the same person you were yesterday. You just don’t have a ring on your finger. And it’s not like anyone will notice.” But it was a lie. I was not the same person. Something had changed. I hadn’t a clue who I was. Just knew I was not who I used to be. And the world was watching and labeling. Or so I thought.

I entered the shop. Two men in business conversation at the nearby table. Even though they hardly acknowledged my presence I told myself they are seeing me, seeing my empty hand. Labeling me a loser. I felt compelled to tell them my story. That I wasn’t the loser. That the loser was my husband and I was the strong one; the sane one. Fortunately I fought the urge. For speaking such things to them would only have confirmed my husband’s assessment that I was losing my mind, unstable, unable to be a good wife. I continued across the room. Past an older couple sharing a scone. Getting in line behind a fellow tribe of working zombies in desire of a nice cup of coffee. I hid my empty left hand in my jacket pocket. Vulnerable to assessment of my very being and value based on the emptiness of my hand. Even though, at some level I knew that nobody probably really gave me any notice at all, I felt so naked. So worthless.

It really took me by surprise. We had been headed for this place, the end of the marriage, for quite some time. By the time it came I had no doubts that my only hope for survival was to leave the chaos, the raging, the 24-7 tension that had finally broken me. Leaving no stone unturned through individual therapy, couples therapy, prayer and support from those who cared about me it was inevitable and finally time, I was ready to be done with it. So when I was finally in a place where the ring was off and the end was in sight I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feeling of nakedness and shame. Nakedness had replaced the clothing of fear and despair that living with him had cloaked me with. My naked ring finger now right out there in full view.

It’s been over two years since that day I walked naked into Starbuck’s. I can breathe without pain on most days. My left hand doesn’t automatically float up over my head with unfamiliar lightness, as if to wave at the crowd, drawing unwanted attention to myself. I actually went out with a new group of friends the other night. Perhaps being in a group of singles (as this outing was an extension of the singles fellowship at church) helped me not to label myself negatively. These were good, fun people. And I found that somehow I could hold my own. Tentatively finding my voice again, without too much concern of being judged or dismissed or corrected cruelly. Usually, my hand no longer feels naked (though I do have my moments, given the wrong circumstances and the wrong frame of mind). I am not breathing with pain on most days. When I was naked in that shop over two years ago, clothed only in my shame and fear, I never would have believed that I would feel fully dressed without a ring.

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