Remote Control

By Susan Harvey

In hindsight, I recognize many milestones in my life, but at the time they were happening, I viewed each event as a natural progression through life – high school graduation, marriage, childbirth, my daughters’ graduations and their weddings. However, when I decided to divorce my husband of twenty-five years, I knew this was not a natural progression. A divorce would be a milestone that would change my life forever. My losses would be great: home, financial security, social status, companionship – okay, so I would take the cat. On the other hand, my immediate gains were undetermined, perhaps because my immediate goals were undetermined. I wanted to be independent, the same thing I wanted at age sixteen. I could think of only one positive aspect of divorce: I would have total control of the television remote.

At the time of my overwhelming need for autonomy, I worked as an accounting clerk making approximately one-tenth the salary of my engineer husband. We lived in a five-bedroom house nestled in the middle of a four-acre wooded lot. This house was the home of my dreams, literally. Several years before, I had found the lot and designed the house with a local architect. I told myself that this house was what my failing marriage needed. Building the house would give Hubby and me a common goal, an instant topic of conversation as we sat together in the same room yet in separate worlds – with only one remote.

Somewhere along the path of life, my dreams changed; I changed, but I was still married to my high-school sweetheart, an ambitious man who promised me the moon if I would help him attain his college degree. I fell for him and his if-I-have-an-education-you-will-never-have-to-work theory. After our marriage, I worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office to put him through college. Once he graduated and found a job, I became June Cleaver, and yes, in those early years of marriage, I dressed in heels and pearls to clean the toilets, and I never once thought of touching the thermostat or the TV remote. Was that love or what?

Eighteen years and two children later, I knew it wasn’t love. Something was missing in my life, and I wanted it. The only problem was that I wasn’t sure what IT was. I had memorized the words to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman, and I wanted to roar.

I wanted to be in control of something more than the dinner menu, rotating the mattresses and putting the kids to bed. After years of soul searching, goal setting and planning, I knew what I wanted: a college education and a career as a writer. At that time, I must have been going through the change because my estrogen supply was depleted, and the testosterone had kicked into high gear – I wanted control of the TV remote!

With one daughter in college, and the other graduating from high school in a few months, I waited and planned my escape. I came home at lunch and watched TV to practice clicking the remote control, just to make sure I could handle this soon-to-be newfound freedom. I even reset the thermostat on several occasions, such as in the morning when Hubby left for work and again before he came home. How brave was that? What a rebel I was! But I have to admit, I was afraid the Thermostat Police would invade my home and find my fingerprints all over the casing, so I dusted it every day. Smart girl! Lucy Ricardo would have been proud.

When my younger daughter left for college, I was alone with Hubby for the first time in many years. After two weeks, I quit my meaningless job, crammed my low self-esteem and what little courage I had into the back of a U-Haul truck, and ran away. In case you are wondering, I left the television, but I took the remote.

I completed first an undergraduate and then a graduate degree in English and discovered a career I love: teaching and writing. Often during those college years, I wanted to give up; I felt too poor, too old, and too tired to continue, but each time these negative thoughts crossed my mind, I brought out the old remote and stared at it to gain courage to move forward, one day, one week, one semester at a time. Soon I would have my own television and remote control.

Fortunately, my career path led me to a profession I love. The road was not easy, and I probably will never make the best-seller list, but I don’t look back or try to second-guess myself on making the decision to leave the marriage. Seventeen years post-divorce and ten years after college graduation, I’m happy, productive, confident, and yes, single. I attribute my new life to the fact that I chose not to focus on what I lost. In Helen Reddy’s words, “I paid the price, but look at what I gained…” – independence, self-respect, and total control of the remote. I am woman; hear me click!

About this writer

  • Susan Harvey Susan Harvey is a humor writer who teaches college English. She lives in Murrells Inlet, and in her spare time enjoys cooking and reading mysteries.

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