Books are a uniquely portable magic. ~ Stephen King

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Worse Half

My family always camped over Memorial Day weekend. We had a multi-generational group that we went with - some of whom I would see frequently, some only once or twice a year. It was the official kick-off of the summer camping season. It was a trip I always looked forward to and enjoyed. We went to a State Park where there were many hiking trails of various lengths and of various levels of difficulty. There were campfires and stories and mountain pies. And for three years, there was Jeff.

Jeff was my boyfriend and eventually my fiance in college. When Memorial Day rolled around during those years, he joined my family for this trip.

I remember one of those trips - he and I had gone off to hike one of the longer trails on our own. We hadn't anticipated how long it would take us and dusk started to fall while we were still in the middle of the woods. I panicked a little, but he assured me that we'd be fine. I didn't believe him. I didn't feel fine. When we broke out of the woods and into the little picnic area with a stream that led to the campground, my sense of relief was practically palpable. He was clearly relieved as well, despite the confidence he'd expressed while we were still in the woods. He became playful at that point and sort of pushed me into the stream. Now we were back in civilization, such as it was, but we still had a half mile or so to walk back to the camper. Having to do so soaked to the skin, after my perceived ordeal in the woods, left me none too pleasant.

He didn't understand. He was just trying to play. That was what was the matter with me, I was told, I always took things too damn seriously. I mentally added it to the litany of things that we had already established were the matter with me. I tried to initiate play in the stream several times over the rest of the weekend, but it was too little too late.

Jeff broke things off for good just a couple weeks short of graduation, leaving me heartbroken, insecure, and unsure of where the future might lead. My parents convinced me that joining them for this traditional camping trip would be fun - that it would help me get my mind off of things. I didn't see how taking the same trip without him that I'd taken with him for the past three years was going to get my mind off of things, but I was feeling so raw and vulnerable that I agreed. It would be better to be around people than to sit home alone. It would be good to be around laughter. It would be good.

We pulled into the campground and, as we disembarked from the camper we were greeted by one of those people I only saw once a year. He said hello to me, then looked over my shoulder grinning while asking, "Where's your better half?"


My parents hadn't told anyone.

I ran off crying to the bathhouse with all the drama of a young fiance freshly abandoned. Our poor family friend stood at the camper; left to wonder how such a simple friendly greeting could have caused such an extreme reaction. Chicks, man. I sat on the cold concrete and sobbed to the daddy long legs, "Not only am I not whole without him - I'm not even the good part."

More than twenty-five years later - happily married to Tom and with two girls who are my world - I see this all from a different perspective. But I try to keep those feelings accessible as I talk to my beautiful daughters about remaining a whole on their own; even when the temptation to immerse themselves in the pleasures of being a half is strong. Being half of a couple is wonderful. Being a quarter of a family is pretty swell, too. But there is nothing more important than being a whole you.


  1. Man, have I missed you! I've been absent, you haven't. How well I an identify with this. I believe that everything that happens to us counts and adds to who we are. And as you so well pointed out, as painful as times like that are, if we care to, we can learn from them and put them to good use in the future.

  2. Oh dear, not a good way to start that trip! This is my favorite: "I sat on the cold concrete and sobbed to the daddy long legs," Hilarious!!!

    But you are right, sometimes I am quick to dismiss my girls' dramas as silly (not that breaking up with a fiance is silly, but you know what I mean) or quick to pass, but though they might be silly to me, they certainly aren't silly to them. I need to remember that more often.