On Being Left by Shari Simmons.
I am left handed. Very left handed. If I had a stroke and lost use of my right side I would still function fairly well. I guess I would consider myself a left thinker too, although lefties use their right brains, as I understand it. I’m not sure what a left thinker is exactly but it seems to fit how I feel sometimes.
I like being a lefty, minus a few inconveniences like right handed computer mice, and scissors and having no one want to sit next to me at a crowded dinner table. But it’s part of who I am; a little quirky, a little left of center if you’ll pardon the pun.
But that’s not really the left I’m referring to here. There’s another “being left” that is also a big part of who I am.
When I was eight years old my dad left. Well, he left my mom, and technically not my brother and me. At least that’s what they told us. But the fact that he packed all his stuff and moved out sure felt like he left to me.
He left my mom for another woman, and two years later he left me for another state. California to be exact, which was 3000 plus miles from my house in Maryland. Again he said he wasn’t leaving me. He had to go; had no choice.
“For a job.”
“There are jobs here.”
“I looked and couldn’t find one. California is beautiful and it’s warm and sunny all year round.”
I’m sure he had said he thought I was beautiful at some point, although I couldn’t admit to being warm and sunny all year round. That was a tough one to compete with. That and all the movie stars and palm trees, which California was also full of according to my dad.
“You’ll come visit every summer. You’ll love it. We’ll miss you.”
And he left. And I cried. Again.
And so my brother and I hopped on our first airplane by ourselves that next summer. My mom cried and loaded us down with about eight peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each and various snacks for the five and a half hour plane ride.
He was right. It was warm and sunny and there were palm trees but as hard as I looked I never found a movie star.
At the end of the summer, as we headed back to the airport to go home, it felt as though he was leaving us all over again, even though we were doing the actual leaving this time. And so we left. And I cried. Again.
I got used to the summer visits but never to the leaving part. Every time I cried and every time I felt as though I was being left again. What did California have that I didn’t? Well, my dad, for one.
I grew up and went to college and fell in love and got married. I took all the precautionary steps so that I wouldn’t get left by my husband like my mom had. I communicated my feelings about not wanting to be left. He said the same. I became the wife I thought he wanted me to be and the mother I knew I could be.
And in all the precautionary steps I took, I missed the biggest one. I left myself. I lost myself. And he left me anyway. He didn’t leave my children though. That’s what he told them. He left me for another woman, and because we weren’t right for each other, according to him. I think that’s better than being left for another state. Better than being left for a piece of land with sun and palm trees.
Alone, I found myself buried just beneath the surface, and told myself never to leave again. My mom, who had always been my brave inspiration and rock and best friend in life, helped me through being left by my husband, just as she had been there when I was left by my dad.
I could see the physical pain on her face of not only watching me go through what she did, but reliving her own pain of being left.
I poured my feelings out to her and she poured hers out to me, as though we were sharing the same pot of heartache tea. And life had a way of finding a new normal. The empty spaces were filling in and raising my two daughters were the main fillers.
If I were to be asked what my biggest fear in life is, one would think it would be being left. In actuality my biggest fear is the fragility of life. Being left may be a part of that, but it’s the bigger thing that anything can change at any moment. The train can be derailed by the smallest crack in the track.
My own train derailed one December afternoon in the form of a phone call from my mom where she painfully forced herself to tell me she had pancreatic cancer. I sucked all my breath in and I don’t remember it ever coming back out.
“That’s the bad one.”
“No I think it’s early. I can beat it.”
The crack in her voice betrayed the conviction of her words.
I cried. I didn’t want to but it just happened.
“I will beat this. I will.”
And she certainly tried. For a year she fought and fought and then, in the simplest of terms, she lost the fight.
And in the most incomprehensible of all situations I could imagine, she left me. I know she didn’t want to or even mean to, but that is still what happened.
She left. She left her husband. She left her children. She left my children. She left me. And left or right, everything in my brain felt wrong. A pain in the left side of my chest, where my heart should be felt like an empty, gaping hole.
And so, as it so often happens whether you want it to or not, another new normal formed. One without my mom but with my beautiful daughters beaming light out of the darkness. People say only her body left me but not her spirit. I think that may be true because I feel her at times, but it doesn’t make me feel any less left.
A few years after my mom’s passing, my stepdad who was kind and loving enough to raise me as his own during the non-summer months and in the absence of my real father, left me as well after suffering a fatal stroke one summer evening. He had promised my mom that he would look after the girls and me (a symbolic gesture as I was in my 30s at the time), but I suppose the pain of my mom leaving was too much and he went to be wherever she was. At least that’s what I like to believe.
The loss of my stepdad brought on a feeling I wasn’t expecting at the age of 40. Despite my father and stepmother still being alive, albeit 3000 miles away, I suddenly felt orphaned. The two parents who raised me were gone. I felt alone. And sad. And angry. And left.
And so I’m forced to think and write, with my left hand and my right brain, why have all these people left me? Did I do something wrong? (Ok, my ex-husband may have something to say on that matter.) Sure, there are some positive things I’ve done with my life that perhaps I wouldn’t have done had all these people not left, but in the case of my mom and stepdad, I would hate to think they had to sacrifice themselves in order for me to stop procrastinating something. Certainly that would be a high price to pay for laziness or unseen opportunity.
But I’ve also noticed that although people have left me, others, while not taking their place, have entered my life in a way that perhaps wouldn’t have been possible before. Lovers and parental figures who, for good or bad, have kept me company during a sometimes lonely journey. The pain is still there, but so are the smiles, the laughter, the love.
And so I have stopped asking “why?” because one, I don’t think I will ever get an answer, and two, if I did, I don’t think I would like it.
I’ve just had to learn to accept this as part of who I am: I am a mother, a lefty, a writer, a massage therapist and a health nut who has been left more times than she would care to count. However, this also means that there are a few empty seats next to me if anyone would care to take a load off, and casually discuss the abstract and obtuse topics of life, love and yes, being left.
Shari Simmons is a freelance writer and massage therapist who enjoys writing about personal journeys and holistic health issues. She is a self-proclaimed health nut who isn’t afraid to admit to occasionally putting gummy bears and Oreos on her fro-yo. She lives outside of Philly with her two daughters.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen leads her signature yoga/writing Manifestation retreats all over the world. Next one with availability is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, London, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.
Next Manifestation Workshop is London July 6. Book here. Seattle July 26/27.