The last time I traveled with anyone to Europe was many moons ago. At the time, I was married. It was a trip I made periodically with my husband and our children, as it was the annual pilgrimage to see his family. Since my work also took me to France and Benelux, there were times I’d pack up my little ones, travel across the ocean, leave the children with their grandparents and cousins, take care of my business, then pick up the kiddos and fly home.
lt was an excellent arrangement when it occurred — especially helpful when the boys were babies — as the European relatives were able to dote on their American cuties, and I knew my children were in a loving environment while I worked.
Naturally, the trips at the holidays or in the summer when I wasn’t working were more fun. Although my husband frequently went off to hang with buddies, there were also family meals around the big dining table with hours of food, drink and discussion. Those evenings included him, his siblings, his parents, his aunts and uncles, and a pink-cheeked and boisterous collection of first cousins for my kids.
These are, I am happy to say, very good memories.
Were there deep, special, or romantic times between us on those occasions? Well… not exactly. Still, pleasant memories all the same, at least for awhile. But that last time?
It was a year before the marriage blew up in my face, a year before my world – and that of my children – would change irrevocably. We were a couple with issues (naturally), but issues I had come to accept as manageable. I could never have imagined the devastation that was to follow our split, and the far-reaching consequences that would stay with me forever.
Some of these are health issues. Some of these are financial issues. Some of these are trust issues.
None of these preclude making a good life and knowing joyful moments, but to suggest that shadows do not remain would be to paint a distorted and incomplete picture.
And it was the echo of that last trip that was ringing in my ears fairly recently. While I had indeed been back and forth to Europe several times since I was divorced, it was always on my own, and generally associated with some sort of work. The last time had been several years.
Suddenly, I found myself with the man I am seeing, passport in hand, bags at the ready, sitting and waiting for an international flight. I was surprisingly disoriented, as I was flashing back 15 years, and fighting off tears.
I was drowning in a flood of memories of myself and my ex-husband — hauling babies and diaper bags, laughing at our little boys’ antics, our faces as flushed as theirs and both of us, still so young.
Still so innocent.
It is my conviction that our bodies store memories in a way that we cannot necessarily articulate. Surely this is why certain thoughts or events or images stir physical reactions — and I’m not talking about the usual like a song that makes us feel 17 again, or the aroma of baking bread that reminds us of a great aunt, but rather a situation, a setting, or even words that drop us into a time tunnel and displace us to a different self.
My body was crazily displaced some 15 years; my thoughts were almost entirely on my little boys, and it’s worth noting that for the first time ever (that I can recall), in the four nights preceding departure, I dreamed of my boys as they were when they were two and three, seven and eight, nine and ten.
So realistic were these dreams that I woke with the sound of my firstborn’s voice and a phrase he used to use absolutely sing-songing in my head. It was staggering. I can still hear it. And it’s a phrase I haven’t heard in at least 10 years.
In the days before the trip, I was so busy trying to get work done in order to leave that I couldn’t feel much excitement at going away, but what did seep through was a pervasive sadness. I felt the loss of family, the loss of those moments with my little boys, the loss of all the years of trips that we never had from the moment divorce made its way onto the scene.
As for the trip, there too I experienced strange flashbacks at moments. We were traveling through a country I hadn’t seen since I was last there with the man I married. Those moments were eerie and briefly painful, but I set aside those feelings as quickly as possible by getting out with the man in my life now — as we walked, talked, dined, drank, laughed… and I focused on doing everything I could to be in the here and now — with him.
I suppose echoes are inevitable, for some of us more than others. I am a sentimental fool in some ways, and I readily admit it. And who likes feeling foolish when they wax misty about any aspect of the past that is long gone? When they look at “then and now” and realize how paltry “then” was, and how much more it should have been?
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t still have pangs on occasion, and mixed feelings, including the sensation that I ought to have been able to somehow “fix” everything that was wrong with the marriage. I know that’s unreasonable, but that’s how it is. A feeling — not a fact.
Yet I am also wired to understand the “why” of things, and as my marriage remains something of a mystery to me — and note I say my marriage, not my divorce — I will have to accept that feelings of this sort will arise from time to time.
I am fortunate in being far enough beyond the confusion, the what if’s, and the unresolved questions so as not to dwell. I am long past the tears of anger, self-doubt, bewilderment. But that doesn’t mean that déjà vu won’t poke its head into my moments now and again, and powerfully under the right circumstances. I am happy that I have learned to be kind to myself when these feelings emerge, and to be enormously grateful for those dreams a few weeks back.
I am a believer in the power of dreams both to aid in letting go of what aches and to assist in bringing clarity, not to mention pleasure. Those very poignant and detailed dreams continue to make me smile even weeks later — my little boys at two and three, and then at seven and eight, and my elder at nine or ten — his bright, sweet, gleeful face gazing at me grinning, as he chatters merrily over some new discovery.