I’m taking a small break from talking about sex addiction and betrayal this week…sort of. I have a project for school that needs attention so this week I’ll be talking about a turquoise table instead.
I’ve just finished up a class on writing for vocational contexts. It has been through the work that I have done in this class that I feel like I am finally living into God’s calling for me…working with women who have been impacted by their husband’s sex addiction or betrayal trauma.
What got me through many months of darkness and of wandering in my own desert of disillusionment and doubt was the belief that I would eventually be able to make something meaningful out of it by using my experience to help others. This class gave me the push to be brave that I needed as well as a safe space to try my new found voice out.
But I digress a bit because what I really want to talk about is the book How the Light Gets In by Pat Schneider and the writing prompt that reminded me of the turquoise table that my ex-husband built for me during the last few months before we separated.
If you are a writer, and you have not read How the Light Gets In, then please do so immediately. It is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I think that I underlined something on almost every page. The author, Pat Schneider, is making the argument that writing is a form of prayer, but she is also doing the hard work of writing stories from her childhood. Stories that she absolutely does not want to write about because they are too painful, but she also knows that they will keep coming forward, asking to be written, until she does.
You can resist writing about painful stories for a while but eventually, they must be written. They have a will of their own it seems.
One of Pat’s stories describes her hatred of the kitchen table in the tenement building that she grew up in. She describes in detail the squalid nature of the apartment and her overwhelming shame that she felt while living there. I am not doing her story justice so please just read the book.
Pat also teaches writing workshops and she uses the story of this table from her childhood to create a writing prompt, which my professor used during one of our first classes. The prompt read, “Write about a table that figures significantly in your life – your work, home life, family life, religious life, love life, recreational life, gardening life, early life, recent life, student life, traveling life, etc. It must be an actual, physical table.”
In the first moments after I read the prompt, I thought of my grandmother’s giant oak monstrosity of a table. Then I briefly thought of my aunt Ruby’s yellow, Formica table that she held on to for so many years because deer blood wouldn’t stain it. (True facts.)
But then like a ghostly Titanic itself, the memory of the turquoise, farm table that my ex-husband built for me came floating to the surface. As I let the memory of that table wash over me and felt how heavy it still was with symbolism and grief, I relaxed into realizing how that its story was the one that I needed to tell.
I used to host these semi-monthly, new moon women’s circles at my house. Goddess Potlucks were what we called them. I started doing them after going on a yoga retreat a couple years prior and as long as I kept inviting those beloved women to come over, they would show up. I was amazed every time, but they loved it. They truly did.
I would have so many ladies come over that I would end up pushing together two or three different tables and it all felt so hodge podge to me. It just wasn’t pretty and as a type 4 on the Enneagram, I am all about things being pretty.
So, when my ex-husband came home from rehab, he was looking to reinvent himself and his career, which he felt was largely to blame for his sex addiction. As a recovering alcoholic myself, I disagreed with this notion and told him so. But I also wanted to be supportive his recovery efforts and one of the potential new careers he was interested in was making furniture. I asked him to build me a farm table big enough to seat all the goddesses who came to my potlucks.
I sent him pictures of tables that I found on Pinterest and he got to work. He worked so hard. He really did. He had to buy so many new tools, which he loved, and had to learn all these new woodworking skills. He would get frustrated with how the planks of the tabletop were fitting together. They weren’t as smooth as he wanted them to be so he would just start all over again.
At one point during this process, I was participating in a group program led by my mentor, Christine Arylo, on the art of sacred circles and I described my ex building that table for me in support of my holding women’s circles as being an example of Eros Gamos – the union of the divine masculine and the sacred feminine. I remember feeling so grateful. And a little smug.
He and I spent days working together on the table top itself trying to get just the right shade of turquoise stain while still allowing the beautiful grain of the wood to show through. We would paint on layer and wipe it off. Then feel it was too dark or too green and sand it down. Then we’d paint on a different shade of turquoise only to also wipe it off and then sand it down again. Eventually, though, it was the just right shade of sea glass blue and you could still see all the beautiful shapes in the wood grain. I couldn’t wait to show it off at the next potluck.
However, just a few weeks later, a very strange turn of events led him to admit to me that he had been relapsing for few weeks — since just a few weeks after coming home rehab. He had been lying to me on a daily basis during the entire time that he had been building the table. So much for the divine masculine.
Just a few weeks after that, we separated, and I eventually moved out. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “But you’re taking the table, right?” But I didn’t. It was too big and too heavy and there was just no place for it in the rental house that I was moving to with my boys and my mom. I mean, I probably could have made it work but I didn’t want to. It was too fraught with all the things that I needed to leave behind.
When I first wrote about the table for the writing prompt, I called that table a lie. I wrote that it was just a giant, painful symbol of the deception in my marriage. But when I reread what had written a week later, my heart softened and I no longer saw the table as a lie but, rather, as a wish.
There’s this great line from a Wilco song, “All my lies are always wishes.”
I think that table was what we both wished was true. He wanted to believe that he had done the hard work in rehab and was now ready to do the even harder work of restoring our marriage. He wanted learning to build furniture so that he could quit his corporate job to be the answer to his problems. I wanted to him be better. I wanted to stay married. I wanted my husband. I wanted my potlucks around that table. I wanted to not have to grieve anymore.
But none of those things were true. We both tried our best, I think. But in the end, I knew I wanted more than living with the ongoing threat of him relapsing again. It was too great a risk for me. The trauma I had experienced was too profound. I deserved better and so did my kids. They deserved a mama who was happy and felt safe in her own home.
Oh wow. I just realized that I am writing this story on my new, oh so pretty marble-topped table that my husband bought for me as a Christmas present. We just set it up this evening and this is the very first thing I have ever written while sitting at it. Unbelievable. God is good, y’all.
When friends asked me if I was keeping that turquoise table and were shocked when I said no, they couldn’t see then what I could. I knew that I had to leave that table behind so that eventually I would find myself sitting at the right one. One that is safe and beautiful and keeps me surrounded in love. Amen to that.