|The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Aug 11, 2013|
At first I did not think revisiting The Grand would be feasible because it is very expensive. Only a couple of months later they ran a sale that brought a one-night stay into reach, so after I arranged a work schedule change, I booked a room for Sunday August 11th. As soon as the reservation was made I was filled with ambivalence. Facing one's emotional demons, though worthwhile and freeing, can be a daunting proposition; that's where I was.
There was no turning back, the reservations were non-refundable and I had six weeks to get more comfortable with the idea of going back to the place where, while on my honeymoon, I received a glimpse into the future of my marriage with the lingering pain of blunt-force emotional trauma. What happened the first time I was there 30 years ago was that I found myself in all my youthful naivete in the most romantic place I had ever been and eagerly looking forward to making love in that place on that night. That was not to be. Much to the contrary, while getting appropriately dressed for the formal dinner included with the room, I expressed my desire and hopeful expectation only to be told coldly and bluntly that there would be no such activity and that the subject was not negotiable. I can still hear the cold words, "I am not going to make love to you here" and the sting that came with them. I was devastated and heartbroken and flooded with thoughts of what a mistake it might have been to marry this man.
I remember holding back tears at dinner and straining to keep the conversation light. I kept my pain hidden from him and he proceeded as though all was well. We took in the sights of the hotel and watched the sunset over the Straits of Mackinac, we had our picture taken by the hotel photographer, we strolled the famous porch hand-in-hand like every other honeymooning tourist. Acutely aware of the presence of other couples, they seemed to be everywhere and larger than life. The others seemed completely immersed in one another and took advantage of the romantic atmosphere to enhance their experience while I walked with a smile on my face to hide the tears I was choking back. We went up to our room relatively early and went to bed... to sleep. I drifted off easily enough, but awakened in the wee hours of the morning to the clip-clop sound of horse-drawn carriage taxis dropping off guests from their night on the town, and that is when I cried silently next to my sleeping husband of three days. I felt utterly alone.
That was my first real experience with The Grand Hotel. Before that it was through the movie Somewhere in Time with Jayne Seymour and Christopher Reeve. Now, in 2013, it would be MY "somewhere in time." I was traveling alone by choice, this time, with my thoughts, my camera and my journal; just as it should be.
In the weeks leading up to my trip, I felt the need to purge my life of some things from the era of my marriage. I went through my closets and removed every stitch of clothing that had remained. I went through seasonal storage bins too. Yes, I left over 15 years ago, but I still had and wore clothes from back then. I don't get rid of things I like and I keep wearing them. Yes, this is weird. So am I! Regardless, I did bag up a huge amount of clothing for Good Will. In the process of rifling through my clothing I found the nightgown that I wore that night. It was a long gown with slits on each side to just above the knee in lavender and white, demure and innocent. Immediately I tossed it in the bag but several hours later, I pulled it out and set it aside. It was coming with me to the island.
The purging of the clothes beckoned old emotions. I started to replay parts of my marriage in my mind and allow feelings to surface. What emerged was the pain of continual rejection followed by emotional withdrawal and shutdown. These emotions were distant and though I recalled them they were nebulous, thankfully having lost their power over the years. I deliberately spent time regressing further back to the emotional places of my adolescence where the first rejections came with a fervor from their origin. I got to a certain point in my memory of high school, where it hurt the most, and I then began slowly heading back to the present. I would spend some time every day working through emotional memories until I came to a thought I had before but did not pay close attention to: I married my first boyfriend, the first man that would have me because I had believed without question that no one would have me. After all, no one ever did and every time I had those little lustful teeny-bopper feelings, they were never returned, so all of that bad stuff must be true. Right? I believed that this first man to pay me attention would be the only man who would ever pay me attention, therefore I had better do whatever it took to keep him. That part I had thought before but this time I added more: I finally understood that I made one of the most important choices of my life because I wanted to prove the bullies wrong! I made that choice.
Proving someone wrong is not a reason to marry someone else. It is possibly the antithesis of a reason to marry. But that is what I did and that realization is what I chewed on for two weeks. It was the personal responsibility piece that I owned in a new way. It felt different and things were beginning to shift inside.
August 11th approached and I packed my bags (including the nightgown) hopped in the car and headed back to Mackinac. The drive up was uneventful and I got to the ferry docks by mid afternoon which gave me plenty of time to settle in before getting ready for dinner. I was feeling strong when I boarded the ferry and the excitement was outweighing the anxiety. We pulled out and headed across the straits to the island. The ride was fun and I enjoyed listening to the other people talking with excitement as they planned their visit. As we got closer to the island it became easier to discern buildings from bluffs and at the first sight of The Grand Hotel, I was overcome with sadness. My throat closed up and for a moment it was hard to fill my lungs as I struggled to keep the tears from welling up. "Where the hell is this coming from?" I asked myself.
I closed my eyes and breathed deeply for a minute to connect with what was going on inside me. I recognized the emotion, but it seemed out of place. It wasn't just sadness but something far deeper. I was experiencing grief; palpable almost debilitating grief. What was that about? I had let go of my marriage over a decade ago. This made no sense. A few more deep breaths and I knew what the answer was: The unalterable consequence of my decision to marry the wrong person is that I am childless. I knew at that moment that I was responsible for that reality because of the decisions I made, now understood as the result of what I believed about myself because of that ancient ridicule. I unconsciously made decisions that sealed my fate to never become a mom; the most important thing I had ever wanted to be, and I sabotaged it. Being childless is a pain I have wrestled with multiple times over the years and one that may be ineradicable. I can hold it at bay for years at a time but it will always creep back. In fact, this paragraph was written through tears. When I allow it, the experience is visceral and totally encompassing.
I hadn't even set foot on the island yet and I was already a wreck! I took a few more keep breaths and tucked the grief back in and watched the island get bigger as we approached. I waited until last and disembarked the ferry behind the other passengers and followed the crowd up the dock to the busy street. I hopped into a taxi and headed for my final destination: The Grand Hotel. I admired the shops and all of the flowers as we wound our way through the streets and up the hill to the hotel. This time, unlike on the ferry, the first sighting of the hotel brought that sense of awe at the grandeur and beauty of the aptly named place. It's breathtaking!
After checking in I went to my room to wash my face before heading out to explore. I had a few hours before I had to dress for dinner. (The Grand Hotel requires that men be in coat & tie and women be in dresses or dress pantsuits after 6:30 PM.) I walked out onto the world's longest covered porch and soaked in the view of the straits and the Mackinac Bridge and the scent of the ubiquitous red geraniums lining the porch's length. I peered out over the edge to the great lawn and noticed that people were gathering there for a wedding. Circumstances were ripe for the emotional journey I was there to take. I took it in and started walking down the hill toward the wooded path that leads to the lakefront. I stopped regularly to photograph my surroundings and noticed that I did feel "somewhere in time." I was there in the present day to be sure, and part of me was revisiting my first experience there some three decades earlier. It was quite surreal. My inner voice was encouraging me to explore both my surroundings and my psyche.
I found the path back into the woods. The songs of dozens of birds filled the space beneath the trees as I walked the path that I was sure would lead me to the lake. I rounded a bend in the trail and came upon a small carriage that was shaped like a bonnet. Its footman was atop his perch with the reins in his hand. When I dared to peek inside I found the bride, beautiful and waiting patiently for the cue to make her entrance. I asked if I could take her picture and she agreed. She looked radiantly happy and I knew she was filled with eager hope for a long-lasting and fulfilling marriage. I wished her every happiness and walked around the horses and back onto the path feeling joyous hope that her marriage is more than she could imagine.
I found my way to the beach for some photo ops and wandered back into the hotel to ready myself for dinner By the time I returned to my room, my luggage had been delivered and was waiting outside my door. I brought it in and began to unpack the items I would need for the evening. Before I got dressed though, I took out the nightgown I brought. I realized it was the only other thing I had in my possession that had been to the hotel before. I looked at it and decided its purpose. I arranged the nightgown on one of the beds keeping it to one side and noticing how empty the other side of the bed was. It occurred to me that when I wore it so long ago, I was alone then too in a very real way. I left it there on the bed alone and got ready for dinner. Before I left the room, I arranged and photographed the nightgown hanging out of the trash bin. When I walked out of the room, I knew that it would not be coming home with me.
At dinner I was again surprised by emotions and I found myself with tears running down my cheeks between courses. It happened twice as I surveyed the room and noticed the families and older couples dining around me. I saw only one other solo diner; a woman sitting next to the window similar to the place I sat with my husband. She was a bit older than I, dressed beautifully and obviously wealthy. I noticed immediately how comfortable she seemed in her own skin as she dined and enjoyed a cocktail or two. She had an air of confidence and ease at being there alone, whatever her circumstance might be. I wondered how I appeared to her, or to anyone for that matter.
After dinner I wandered around for a bit and decided to have a glass of bourbon which I took out onto the porch to enjoy the night. It was so much darker there away from big cities. Stars appeared abundantly in the sky and an occasional fireball from the Perseid Meteor Shower would streak across the black and delight all who witnessed the spectacle. Bats flew in odd patterns as they pursued their dinner of mosquitoes, moths and other flying insects. The air was cool and crisp and I remained acutely aware of my solitude. I sat on the porch for quite some time savoring each sip of my warm bourbon and enjoying the music coming from the ballroom. At around midnight I returned to my room exhausted from a long day of travel and emotional release.
I awoke early enough the next morning to linger lazily before breakfast and getting some things packed away so there would be little to do when I returned. Upon entering my room after a delicious meal, I noticed that the nightgown was no longer draped over the trash bin. My heart skipped a beat as I worried that housekeeping may have emptied the trash when they performed the turn-down service the previous night. As I got closer I could see the lavender reflected in the brass lining of the bin. My reaction surprised me a bit and then I realized that I needed to let go of that item on my own terms which is exactly what I was planning to do.
It became clear during my contemplation that some sort of a cleansing ritual was needed as the final act of reframing those painful experiences and creating a temporal demarcation as a point of both ending and new beginning. So I lifted that sweet, pretty nightgown out of the garbage. I held it up and looked at it for a moment, taking one last look before I began to tear it to pieces. With each tear I would say a healing thought out loud:
"I forgive myself for every decision I made because of the bullies of my childhood."
"I let go of the pain that I have carried my whole life."
"I believe the good things about myself that I hear from those who love me."
"I accept the reality that my choices created and am grateful for joy in my life and the wonderful people who share it with me."
"I forgive myself; the only person I neglected to forgive."
"I forgive myself"
Then I walked to the mirror and looked at the woman staring back, "I forgive you."
I felt lighter, more grounded, hopeful and very glad I made the trip. Picking up the pieces of my old shredded nightgown, I threw them in the garbage, grabbed my things and walked out the door. The slamming sound behind me was a perfect metaphor as I took my first steps into a new future.
Oh yes. I almost forgot: Today, August 26, 2013 would have been my 30th anniversary had I stayed married. It was important for me to finish this post and get it published today.
(IMPORTANT NOTE: Again I must say that my ex was a good man of good values. He was hardworking, honest, kind, helpful, generous, intelligent, supportive and had so many other wonderful qualities. Unfortunately he had issues with emotions and all forms of intimacy which years of therapy did not ameliorate. I am grateful for all of the good that existed between us, his support and encouragement to get me through college, the good times, the laughs, the vacations and more. I have absolutely no ill will towards him and hope that he is living a full and happy life with someone who cherishes and appreciates him... wherever he may be. I had to include certain details because they tie back to the effects of the constant ridicule I experienced several years before I met him.)