The summer right after I turned thirteen, my two year old half-sister fell into our neighbor's pool in Michigan. We never knew exactly how long she was in the water, but it at least the length of time it took for my three year old half-brother to make his way across two one acre lots and into the house to let us know what had happened. By the time my step-mother and I raced to the pool, she was floating face down in the deep end.
Shrieking to raise the dead, my step-mother bolted back to our house to wake my dad up to help. And, as I stood by the fence surrounding the pool, I realized with a horrible lurch of my stomach that if anyone was going to pull my sister out it would have to be me. I looked back in the direction of our house and saw my step-mother on the ground screaming while my baffled dad stood over her in his underwear. I wanted someone - anyone - to come and take over, but knew that it wasn't going to happen. My step-mother was too far gone. My dad never even knew what she was screaming about until he saw me walking toward them holding my limp, wet sister.
I got her out of the water and gave her mouth to mouth until she vomited up a huge amount of pool water and started breathing on her own. Knees shaking, I handed her over to my dad and ran full-speed next door to get the nurse who lived there. As soon as she arrived, I walked straight to the bathroom and locked the door. And for the next hour, as my dad and step-mother were already moving past it, I curled up in a dry bathtub and sobbed. They even said, "We don't know why you're so upset. Everything worked out fine." Funny. I didn't feel fine at all.
And so the pattern was set.
I'm really good in a crisis. I hold it together, react with pure gut impulse, have inborn triage instincts. But when it's over, when it's "safe"...I fall apart. Not at work, where, in spite of my soft heart, I'm still a (semi) detached observer. I can count on my fingers the number of times I've "fallen apart" at work. (And there weren't many witnesses, believe me). But in my personal life it's been a pattern as long as I can remember. One of my biggest fears this past year has been that I would come unglued when it was all "over". I don't want to fall apart. I've done such a good job getting through the last eight months. I don't want to blow it now.
But as I feel myself retreating, avoiding the phone, the email, and my support group, I have the feeling of standing on the edge of a fall. Only days away from a final divorce decree, I'm struggling not to go off the deep end.
Because when you come right down to it, I'd love to lay this particular pattern to rest.