My son thinks nothing grows in the winter but, he’s wrong. I do.
In all fairness, he hasn’t been made privy to the story of how his father and I came to know one another. He doesn’t know how we fell into a raw and complicated mess that broke both of our hearts. He doesn’t know that his father was brave enough to forgive me and he doesn’t know how transformative it was for his mother to lower her fists, or that I almost didn’t.
I met my husband in the fall of my 25th year. Every Sunday night, after a restorative yoga class, I went produce shopping with two of my dear friends who were coupled at the time. He worked there and I noticed him. I thought he was cute, quite, actually, and found the manner in which he carried himself enticing. I was only mildly interested whether he had anything to offer beyond that. Mostly, I liked to watch him work and I liked that he watched me back.
It’s no secret that secrets are hard to keep in small towns and, as it were, news travelled fast. We were quickly set up by mutual acquaintances, and we did not have much choice in the matter. Truth be known, I didn’t much resist: it seemed like something to go for. After all, winter in Tofino was fast approaching and it would be dark very, very soon.
We met up, hung out, and then, with my closed heart and big mouth, I spent a few months participating in the sport of pushing him away. I was finally successful, only then to realise in the depth of winter, at christmastime, with him now long gone from my days, that despite my pretentiousness, protectiveness, and preconceived ideas about partnership, I had, despite all efforts, fallen in love with him.
At that stage in my life I had a habit of being stubborn to the point of self sabotage and I was, specifically, overly proud around matters of the heart.
I had to be. I was recovering from a significant car accident that had devastated me a year prior and though my bones were mostly healed, shadows still rattled me in secret. I was a different girl. I felt vulnerable in multiple ways and I wasn’t too inclined to make myself more so. I was wounded in other, less specific ways, too. I hate to admit it but the ghosts of a breakup past followed me around. Despite my voodoo efforts to shake him, his memory and the lessons I needed to learn haunted me, finding me at inopportune times, mostly when in the company of boys. As it turned out, one minute I’d be laughing, glass of wine in hand, and the next, when my eyes met theirs, there he’d be, infiltrating my consciousness, without consent.
Ultimately, this burden resulted in me keeping myself emotionally distant from most individuals of the male persuasion. It can take a while to shake someone out of your system, as I happened to learn twice that winter.
My husband surprised me, the first of many surprises about what kind of man he is and what kind of woman he makes me. I was the bold, loud, assertive, and dynamic one and I thought I was in charge- untouchable, even. He presented, to my judgemental eyes, anyhow, as passive, uninterestin, unexperienced, and limited.
I did what I did. I drew lines in the sand before him just like I had for others. He didn’t listen. He didn’t fight me with force but he did stand steady: solid and open, and persistent in his gentle and unassuming way. I kept it frivolous, as I was in the habit of doing. He was not afraid to let it be known that this was not an insignificant union for him. I made sure he knew he was nothing to me, and never would be. He took it away with him but he always came back. I engaged with him exclusively on my terms and disregarded what might have been his. He was patient with my arrogance, and my neurosis.
After a while it got complicated. Our dance became an unhealthy culmination of bad decisions, consequences, shared horror and, a dangerous codependency. So, like any decent woman would do, I took him out at the knees: chose to proceed, alone from him, and I forced goodbye.
It wasn’t the end, however.
Weeks later I could no longer deny that this foreign creature had gotten into my bones- deep where a constant ache was already the new normal. And, like my pain, I couldn’t shake him. The winter has a way of forcing me to look at myself and that winter was no exception. I realized, then, that for all the reasons I had determined he was unsuitable for me, not of my kind, I had been wrong.
It was his differences from me that were most striking, most honourable, and most respectable. Some distance had let me see that. Some space had given room for me to appreciate what kind of person he was, and what kind of man he had been to me.
I remember calling him for the first time with my guard down. It was Christmas day, actually, and I called a good friend who knew our story first. “Cheryl”, I whispered, “I think I’m in love with him”, I confessed. She, like any good friend who knows when you need to be moved from places of stuck, laughed and pressed me onwards.
I was shaking when I dialed. I knew what it meant. If I opened to him, at all, he would be in my life-in a long-term way. I knew, that for him, that there was more to our story. I tried to trust. Afterall, he had made clear who he was, and he was a good, good man.
I won’t soon forget how he sounded when he answered the phone, or how my whole being lept at the sound of his voice, previously unappreciated. I won’t ever forget how gracious he was to me, me who had been so selfish and so cold with him. He, in line with past behaviour that I had dismissed, received me with grace, curiosity, and warmth. We spoke for a long time, longer then we had before, and, of most importance- I finally listened.
When I returned from the Christmas that I had spent at my parents home, where I had landed, as I often do when I am in a bad way, he greeted me. He brought gifts, of person, of course, and those he had carefully chosen for me, before I had even called. My new life began. The next morning, a friend saw me walking the beach with him. She told me later that she didn’t recognize me. I didn’t either.
The following Christmas he proposed to me. I said yes. The next year, we were wed just as winter was giving up its fight. Like much of our relationship, I oscillated between blissful abandon and crippling anxiety throughout our engagement and, felt both, even, as I walked towards him. There was a giving up in me too, you see, not of who I am, for he has always accepted, honoured, and encouraged me, but of my fear. Letting go of what held me back, even as I was moving forward with him, was met with hesitancy- my ego was a hard match for anyone, even my better self.
Late the next winter we conceived our first son. The next, he was born. If I thought I had grown to be unselfish in my relationship with my man, I was wrong. The birthing and raising of my first son was a time of my most paramount personal growth. We conceived our second son in the winter, as well, and we welcomed him in the late days of fall. This past winter, I grew again: the kind of growth that can only come from sacrifice, surrender, and patience- like my husband teaches me, over and over, if I slow down enough to watch him live.
This day, all days, all these years later, the anxiety is gone. I knew I was on the edge of a life the day I called him, and as many would say growth occurs just outside of your comfort zone. Fortunately, I arrived, and am now deep in the home of us.
Last week, we took our family on vacation to celebrate 5 years of our marriage. While we were away, I looked over from the bed I was sharing with our baby and silently waved at my spouse, who was in his bed with our eldest son, both of our children deep asleep. He and I were laid diagonal, bodies curled inwards towards our children, and to each other, I suppose, punctuating our family like human parentheses.
I was filled with joy, and pride. There we were, as per theme: seeds planted in the fall, soul work every winter, and in spring, our beauty comes evident.
With spring here, my inner effort has been exposed again, the big reveal, and all that has been growing with difficulty but without witness, is blossoming everywhere. A subtle, yet vivid intimacy infiltrates our life and the sun, making me smile, starts to tell the tale.
My son, bless him, is a preschool version of my intensity, and will, naturally, need to be taught and reminded, as I do, that becoming who we are meant to be is a process. Nothing is born complete, though it may seem so, for we are often only shown the bloom.
Heather is a married mother of two and an allied health professional living in the greater Vancouver area. She is the author of www.motheryourbusiness.com where she writes about the business of being born a mother. She is also the co-author of www.rerunmom.com where she publishes her love letters to running.