In the Middle with You

It must have been nine or ten o’clock, because that was when we usually called to say goodnight. The air around me hovered thick with the same sweltering heat it had carried in twelve hours earlier, and which would probably be with us the next day as well. Some days even a well-conditioned home can’t bring relief from southern summertime heat.

Sitting there, beads of sweat forming along my brow, I stared at my suitcase and called him, crying. By this time the next day, I would have taken my things hundreds of miles, back to the place I’d left only months earlier, to stay only several months more, before completing the exact same migration in reverse.

Ry? What’s wrong?

He always knew ahead of time when something had a hold of me. Still, I sat there in silence, on the other end of the line, for probably too long. He was starting to move from worry to frustration and I could hear it.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t share what was on my heart, or even that I didn’t want to. I’d called, hadn’t I? It was that I didn’t have a solution, and neither would he, and besides, the last thing I needed in that moment was a mansplain, however well meaning it might have been. Several entreaties deep, I saved us both from myself and launched into the first of many tear-filled conversations on the topic.

I don’t know, I just don’t belong here anymore. I don’t think I ever really belonged here, but I don’t belong there either. And I don’t want to leave but I don’t want to stay, and nothing feels like home anymore and I feel stuck in the middle and…

Ry, it’s going to be ok. I know it.

At least that’s probably what he said. I say probably because it’s usually how Husband starts to respond when I’m crying and word vomiting – the latter which I do too frequently, the former which I don’t do enough, and together, which make me downright impossible to handle (I’m working on all of these things).

I don’t recall exactly how that conversation ended, but I ended up back in New York a day later, and once classes and work and everything I’d longed to return for started, I was mostly okay, he was right. I would be okay until approximately the same point in May, when I’d be sitting in that bedroom, probably crying, packing my things in advance of yet another move from one home to another.

It’s still going on a decade later. I still struggle to describe what it’s like to feel you’re perpetually somewhere you’re not supposed to be, without knowing where you’re supposed to be instead. For him this must seem crazy, because he’s from one place, where everyone else is from, and people just don’t leave, so there is no alternative but to feel at home and comfortable.

This is the one aspect of our marriage where I feel we will never fully understand each other – and where I am subsequently grateful for his loving attempts to try. To be fair, I’m not certain full resolution is possible, or even that I’d want this to resolve. I worry that resolution would express itself as complacency, something I have next to zero patience for. I’m a doer. I do. Complacent isn’t in my vocabulary.

Of course that has its disadvantages. Like being uncomfortable about the idea of being stuck in between two places, two homes, two lives. It’s not a sexy or exciting thing. It’s not like opening a novel, starting in the middle of the story right there on page one, and letting waves of excitement lap over you from the thought of what’s to come or even what you’ve already missed. It’s mostly just anxiety-ridden.

Every step towards becoming more settled in fact courses fear through my veins. Are we making the right choices? What are we leaving behind? Who are we losing time with? Will we achieve what we set out to achieve? Share life with those we’ve come to love and those we have yet to meet? What if we miss the point and fail on all fronts? And then of course, what if we succeed? What will we reach for then? In what direction will we strive, hope, wonder?

These are actual thoughts I have on the daily. They’re not always helpful. Most of the time they’re annoying and make life more difficult than it needs to be. But let’s not pretend it would be easier if our situation changed. I’d have the same nervous line of questioning if the roles were reversed, if we were in my home rather than his. I’d be just as caught in the middle there too. And, to set the record straight, living literally in between our homes, in some state between here and there, has been out of the question for ages. The only thing worse than feeling stuck in the middle is to actually be stuck in the middle, while also feeling that way. So for now we are in one place, and then another, and in one place, and then another… as much as we were a decade ago.

It’s maddening, disorienting, and tiring, but mostly beautiful, our perpetual state of between. We’ve come a long way, up and down familiar paths, for as long as we’ve chosen to journey together. As far as we’ve traveled, we’ll go further still, and though it sometimes feels like we’re caught in the middle, we’ll never be stuck. The next journey is always on the horizon.

Ryan Vale McGonigle

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