A Life Unexpected / by Alison M. Newcomb

Thursday morning, 5:45am

I’ve been the only one in the office for hours. I’ve been on this streak all week, where I wake up ready to go at 2:45am. After trying to force myself to stay asleep, I just gave in and starting getting up for the day. Every day this week, I’ve gotten in my full yoga practice and made it to work before 6am. It is peaceful and quiet, except for the hum of all the printers. And the sunrise over Denver, which I watch from my 8th-floor window in the Wells Fargo building out in Lakewood, is especially brilliant today. And in just two weeks, this view, this office, the building keycard that gets me inside outside of normal business hours, will no longer be mine.

Today I am just a few years shy of forty and, last week, I did something I never expected to do. I resigned from my job to “spend more time with her family” as the official company announcement email read. Not for a new/better/higher-paying opportunity to spread my wings and soar up even higher in my career, trying to catch even a glimpse of that glass ceiling people have always told me about.

Nope. I quit my job to spend time with my family. Which currently consists of myself, my husband, his two young sons, a Great Dane named Zelda (my contribution to the family headcount), and a soon-to-be adopted baby sister, whose name the boys are convinced is theirs to choose.

We are what you would call a blended family. And though that term can take on all kinds of different shapes, sizes, skin colors, and tone (and our own has morphed through several drastically different iterations), my family’s blend today is better than it was six months ago. Unrecognizable when compared to the dramatic, roller-coaster blend we lived through together  three years earlier.

I would not have believed it, if someone told me we would be where I am today—with a full-time family, chaotic yet somehow still running like a (mostly) well-oiled machine, in its very own manifestation of disorderly order. And that me, the girl who has always only been good at one thing—working—would find so much excitement and anticipation from taking care of my family.

And, though not one single part of my transformation that has been easy, what I have learned is that “we” do hard—really damn well. What I have finally come to realize is that my solitary self, the one wearing that  independent, had-it-all-together (but awfully heavy) suit of armor, simply ran from the hard things, the ugly, shameful—even despicable parts of myself that I wanted to disown. I was safe if I kept me to myself. As long as I was the one in control of the self I projected to the world.

If you never say your name out loud to to anyone, they can never ever call you by it.

-Regina Spektor (Better)

Life had its own plan for me and I have been an eyewitness for how skilled it can be at breaking a person into all their pieces, both the ugly and the good. It took the repetitive shattering of that persona I’d worked so many years to develop, being laid bare in unavoidable public ways, to finally force me to a point (of exhaustion, well before acceptance) where I had to let go of control.

And what I saw, the shadow I could no longer hide or disown, did not look like “me.” Or at least the version whose skin I’d been living in, and whose mythology I’d woven most of my adult life.

If it weren’t for the circumstances that brought me to this place of reckoning, where there was no place left to hide, and if not for the man who, during this acutely humbling time, somehow chose to stand by my side (or, more accurately, take steady hold of my arm to prevent me from falling), I cannot say with any confidence that I would have held steady in my commitment to accepting this new me.

But, thankfully, that choice is not on the table. I still can’t say I like her all that much yet, but I recognize her—almost like a childhood friend whose name you may forget but whose face visit you, decades later, in a dream.

I believe the state I am supposed to be striving for is called “integrated.” But today I know the road there will not be one I will walk alone. And that whatever future state of integration I reach will be plural instead of singular. I am returning to myself, by way of a family that has, and will continue, to recreate “me,” as we work together to continually rejoice in, refine, and recreate “us.”