For three years, my son has been having a glorious love affair with the lovely grandma next door. They play marbles and dinosaurs, This-Little-Piggy, wrestling, and we all have dance jams to “All The Single Ladies.” This summer, a particularly romantic ritual developed: Jean would leave a bouquet of flowers from her yard woven into the chain link fence by Theo’s window so he would wake up to beauty. First thing in the morning, my son would push up his window to shout good morning to Jean in her yard, and the two would have a visit over the fence that often led to a cup of coffee for the ladies in my living room while my son romped, pranced and basked in the spotlight.
In late August, Jean put up a For Sale sign, two days later the house sold, and she and her husband spent September packing up for their new life in the country. A young family bought the house, I was told, with a daughter six months younger than my son and a baby on the way in November. I was excited about the possibility of my son having a different kind of friend — a peer.
This family has spent the past few weeks getting the house ready before moving in, and I’ve found myself getting increasingly upset. I decided, for no reason that I could back up, that the husband who is clearly accomplished at project managing a major house transformation effort, was a jerk. When the beautiful wife came by with her daughter, a friend and the friend’s daughter to have a picnic in the side yard that my office overlooks, I drew the shade.
This weekend, a fleet of cars and a UHaul arrived en masse. Men poured out and in a synchronized swarm spent the day unloading the new family’s stuff into the house. By the end of the weekend, a pair of Subarus was parked in the driveway side-by-side. The family was in. I had been strangely angry that the backing-up UHaul combined with the simultaneous street-parking cars blocked my dogs and me as we were headed out for our morning walk. We stood waiting for a few minutes, dogs confused and edgy, before there was a safe passage. I was angry, too, that a car parked directly across my driveway, though my car was parked on street and unimpeded by this choice.
I was underslept, over-stressed and a grump; that much I knew. But why was I so aggravated, in particular, about this family moving into their new home? As I asked myself this, I stood alone in my office window. My son was with his father for the weekend. I sat down to do a little investigative writing about why I was so uncomfortable with a happy family of three starting their new life together in the home next to mine, and I came up with this:
They took Jean away from my son. (Completely absurd and untrue, of course.)
It is unfair that this woman is being well cared for by her husband so she has space to have a sweet picnic with her child and a friend. Why isn’t she (nine months pregnant) doing more in this move? (Equally absurd.)
And, finally, the answer: I didn’t get to have the family I wanted, the relationship I thought I was creating, the love or the home that would or could hold me–hold us.
All that envy and anger was the path to this little fountain of grief. When my words arrived there, I let the tears come. We sat together, my tears, my dashed dreams, my words and I. And as they flowed, the family next door became just a lovely family again, who I might even get to know and like. I felt my vulnerability, my ache. I asked myself: What do you want now? The clarity took shape word-by-word on the page. I named my desire to share my life with someone who loved my son and me––someone who had the capacity to care for us exceptionally well.
Seeing something that looked like a refraction of my own desire happening close by got me uncomfortable enough to clearly articulate for myself what was missing and wanted. Clearly, I had made it through the grief and relief about ending the relationship that was not a fit. And, now it was time to hold myself accountable to what I would invite and create next. Envy + inquiry gave me this gift.
Who do you see out there in the world whose writing or lifestyle or books or accomplishments irritate you? It’s unfair that they have this, you may tell yourself, because that should rightfully be mine. Bingo. When you hear a story like this rising up in you, listen very carefully. Because this is your soul breaking ground with the tender secrets its deepest desires. Sometimes, you have to step in your own shit pile of judgement, anger and resentment to get to know more truly who you are — and find that this is actually the place from which new dreams are seeded.
So when envy comes up in your writing life, I suggest that you don’t stuff it in the name of propriety and good citizenry. I hope you will do the opposite: investigate it until you get to that place in you that says: I want, I need, I DESIRE. Stay with the tears as long as you need to. Then, buckle your seatbelt and get your pens and keyboards ready, because life takes such clarity seriously.