A long time ago, in a small market town, there lived a woman who thought she knew what it was to be loved and that if she didn’t feel loved the problem was with her. She spent a lot of time adjusting her attitude, practising gratitude, and learning all she could about how to keep her husband and children happy. Because that was a her role, her aim in life, and her happiness. She knew this. She also knew that she would die someday and her gravestone would read ‘could have done better’.
When she met a man who seemed to offer everything she needed, Who understood her need to be used, and that it had been sublimated into her family and manipulated by her husband. He accepted her with no agenda. He used her, and then cared for her, and it felt good.
It seemed too good to be true.
It was, of course, because that is the way of the world. It likes to put what we want into our lives in a way that isn’t immediately obvious, that requires us to work out when to take the fox across the lake, when to take the chicken in the sack, and when to leave them to fight it out between themselves on the river bank and get the hell out of there in the rowing boat.
He asked her to paint her smallest toenails purple as a sign and token of their relationship. They were, in mathematical terms, a fifth of each other’s lives. A significant amount but not enough to topple anything it seemed. Just two little toes.
Do you know how crucial your smallest toes are in maintaining your balance? Try standing without them now. See? They’re small but crucial.
When it became obvious that she had to leave her husband, the man was supportive, but she kept remembering a conversation earlier on in their relationship where he said that what they had would not be enough for her on its own. This was a truth, they both knew it. Her family were the ballast that kept her grounded, her centre, and the soil in which she stood.
What they had together though, had it not become the sun and the rain to her? And did not everyone need soil, sun, and rain, to grow?
Anyway, events overtook them. She found herself suddenly without her soil, without her ground, and for a long time that was a wound that would not heal. Everyday she woke with the sense of being in the bottom of a dark well with only a ladder for company. Every evening she concluded the day higher up the ladder. Every morning she found herself at the bottom again.
In those moments of endless climbing she realised something about herself, that she hadn’t known before.
She unable to give up.
She held this close. It was a commitment to herself to survive and then to thrive when that moment came.
During this time, this awful, gruelling time, she kept her little purple toenails, because they were a marker; of hope, of self-knowledge, of pain, of love. They were an unspoken ambition for the purple for her life. They were desire in a bottle, delivered by a brush, that could not help but shine and be noticed in-spite of their size.
She realised she knew very little about him and found it strangely untroubling even though many thought it should be. It reminded her of her own training as a counsellor, where she learnt to be a mirror the client could see themselves reflected in without being distracted by the counsellor’s selfhood. Through that relationship the client is enabled to see themselves and their situation more clearly. See the parallel here?
This focus on herself in the relationship was freeing as otherwise the learned and encouraged need to fix, resolve, claim, help, encourage, identify, aid and nurture the other would once again propel her to focus on him more clearly than herself. She recognised that this was a paradox, as when they met her focus was wherever he directed it, and mostly, she reflected, it was directed to herself, her body, her emotions and her need.
As years went on she learned more about him, she knew where he lived and even visited his house. She knew what car he drove, where he worked, the names of his relatives and how he liked to spend his weekends. She sat beside him on flights to shared holidays on his beloved beaches, she wrote whilst he dozed, she cooked the food they bought together. She slept in his arms.
Her tiniest toes remained purple, except now they weren’t a reminder of the limits of their relationship. They became a reminder of its start and its focus on their us.
She realised that she had found her own ground at last. The greatest joy was realising that he had found his too.
This piece of writing won’t be for everyone I know, but that’s OK because if you know, if you understand, it will be for you, and it’s you I am talking to.