The only other truly significant boyfriend I ever had, decades ago – who has had an enormous impact on my life – once told me that I am selfish. I don’t remember my age at the time – I was 16 or 17 perhaps – but I never forgot that. For some years, I didn’t feel that it was true but, as I got older and older and I started living with severe depression and could never get away from the pain that I’ve felt from life, I realized, “Yes, I guess I am selfish.” Because you know, I don’t think you can accomplish being depressed if you’re not selfish; it requires a lot of introspection. That’s selfishness, isn’t it? It requires a lot of looking at the world and how it affects you. That’s selfishness, isn’t it? So yes, I guess I’m selfish.
And then I also have thought – as I’ve, over the years, come to that realization – “Well, of course I’m selfish.” The people who were really, really supposed to – who were “obligated” to – care about me and really fight for me and be there for me at critical times, failed to do so, left me to flounder and I didn’t do well. So yes, I guess I’m selfish. Because I decided I needed to take care of myself. Nobody else was going to. I needed to help myself. No one else was going to.
And so here I am. And yet, somehow, I’ve been married 30 years, to a man and with sons who all feel that I am the most giving person in their lives; who all feel that I give myself entirely to them and put them before myself all the time. I never stopped feeling selfish but my life has proven that I have the capacity to love others more than I love myself.
Why have I been able to do that with them? Because they love me.
When you see someone you consider to be very selfish, I put to you why not try to get to know them and figure out how they got that way. What makes them so self-centered? Were they forced to be because no one else cared?
Which brings me, finally, to the point of this particular blog entry.
My husband is the most supportive, loving, giving person I have ever known in my life. Since early in our marriage, he has not made a single decision that is not for the good of his family, me and his sons. I have watched this man, this black man – and yes, in this case it is relevant – with a work ethic I am so proud of and anyone would be proud of, give himself to job after job, trying to build a career, being promised things, being given word accolades about how awesome he is at his work. I’ve seen the carrots dangled in front of him, attached to nothing substantial. I’ve seen him learn systems and the workings of jobs and companies inside and out, upside down and backwards, so that he always ends up being the expert in the room, in the department, in the building. He never gets anything from it because he’s not wearing the right “uniform.”
Whoever you are reading this, and however you feel about this, you might as well come to realize and acknowledge something that we’ve always known. Very often, when a white man walks into a job for the first time, he would have to work very hard to keep from being promoted. He would actually have to do things wrong. He’d actually have to mess it up, because he walked in automatically on a management path, automatically a future director. But when a black man walks in, he will have to spend every moment in that job proving his worthiness. And more often that not, even though he’s proven it over and over, time and time again, he will not be rewarded accordingly.
That’s what I’ve seen happen to my husband. It has broken my heart. They give him money but nothing else. I won’t even go deeper into it because anyone with any sense knows what I’m talking about.
Now I need to go off on a little side thing here for a second. I promise, it all ties in together.
For the last 16 years I have been self-employed: seven years as a freelance transcriptionist and now nine years as a dance and fitness instructor working in and from my home, traveling to and from sites. All of my life I have been a performer: music, dance, theatre. But my house – which is the house that my husband has lived in since he was 16, when his father bought it – my house has been my office, my home base for my businesses. Even though my husband built me a dance studio about three years ago, the whole house has been my studio: I stop and choreograph on the spot, with food in my mouth from lunch; I vocalize and sing whole songs in every room walking around the house, to the audience in the mirrors. I write songs out loud and bang out chords on the piano. I have used my house as the main management tool of my depression. I stop and I cry. I yell at people who hurt me, many of whom are dead. My house is my sanctuary. My sanctuary.
Now, back to my husband.
For the first time in his life, someone has made him a promise – in writing, with money, and a position created especially for his skill set, who he is, his accomplishments, his knowledge. It’s at a different company. Not the one where he’s vested and can start taking retirement whenever he wants but a different company; a company which has bent over backwards because they want him, specifically him, on their team. My husband has worked so hard for this. He deserves this. I’m so happy for him.
Except that I’m not. My only other significant boyfriend, who has had an enormous impact on my life, told me once that I’m selfish. Now, I know him to be right.
My husband – with this opportunity which he has deserved, which he has earned – by accepting it, is taking away my sanctuary. I am afraid I won’t know how to live. I am afraid I won’t know how to live.
When my husband comes home everyday, invariably I have been home for an hour or two or three by then and I have cycled through all the madness that is me. I’ve cycled through the tears, I’ve cycled through the conversations, I’ve written the lyrics or banged out the chords on the piano to a song that expresses it, I’ve rehearsed the numbers I need to know for dance company rehearsals, I’ve practiced what I need to practice and prepared what I need to prepare to teach my class when they come in later, I’ve managed my depression, I’ve managed my neuroses, so that when he comes home I’m a person. I’m his wife. I’m his friend. I can listen to his day, the things that concern him. I can be supportive of him. By the time he gets home, I have prepared myself to be what he needs.
But now he won’t be leaving because his new job is from home. He’ll be working from home. My sanctuary will now be his office. I don’t know how I will live.
He’s doing all the right things. He’s going into the basement. He’s going to put a door at the top of the basement stairs; there’s never been a door there. He’s going to insulate the basement ceiling so that I can bang on the piano, sing, dance, cry and he won’t hear me because he knows I’m terrified. We talk about everything and he knows. He has promised not to interfere with my days. He’s done all the right things. And yet, I’m so sad, so distressed and so ashamed of my sadness and my distress that I can barely look him in the eye. I imagine him walking into a room where I am engaged in some neurotic behavior and withering from embarrassment. I’m afraid.
I’m a very selfish person.
He’s given me everything. He’s allowed me everything. Every fiber of my being wants to cry out in happiness for him but I only end up crying out for myself.
My first boyfriend, he was right. I’m very selfish. I don’t know how I will be able to keep being the wife my husband has always known: the one who gives her whole self to him.