A Hallmark kind of love

Packing up my half of our shared family house to move to my new home, I didn’t take the time to go through every piece of paper, or book, before they went into the many boxes. I knew that I really needed to make the time to do this before I moved out, but between the spiraling depression from the aftermath of our divorce and the house closing process dragging on longer than I expected, it just didn’t happen.

New discoveries, adding to the existing drama, were popping up like weeds. It was just too depressing some days, trying to pack things up without a solid destination secured, not sure if I would be able to move anytime soon, while at the same time being pressured to get out. In the end, in the days before the moving truck arrived, I just grabbed piles of things, emptied drawers, and threw it all into boxes unsorted.

It could wait until I unpacked.

And it has waited, in the many boxes around my house. The boxes that I keep moving from one room to another to make room for furniture in the living room, or to “organize” the office so we can actually use it. I’ve unpacked most of the boxes now, but there are still a few stragglers.

During the unpacking, I’ve come across some things that have made me stop and pause, with a melancholy look on my face and tightness in my throat, remembering the happier days and the love in our family. Pictures, notes, books, cards…

My heart aches.

Cards from Mother’s day, Valentine’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries. Some from my kids, but mostly from my ex. I saved all of them, even now. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away, so I packed them into boxes and moved them with me, just like I’ve done with every other move. I’m a sentimental idiot sometimes, leaning towards hoarding tendencies, I’ll admit.

When I had them in our other homes, they were kept safe in the back of my dresser drawer. Under my pajamas or underwear, but still available at any time for me to flip through to remind myself, on a tough day, that there was love when I wasn’t so sure.

I have unpacked them from boxes, from a sideboard cabinet, from a dresser drawer. It was as if they were hiding, lying in wait, to jump out at me to take my breath away, make me do more than just pause.

Stop me dead in my tracks.

At first, I tried not to read them. Then I decided that I would, as if someone else were in the room daring me to, with the notion that they wouldn’t make me feel anything other than angry and disappointed. If anything, I told myself, they would reinforce the idea that my sense of security and love all of these years was just a false curtain. They would be dripping with false promises and proclamations, and I would see that now.

And I know, I should be thankful that I even received cards from my ex-husband, since I’ve now learned that not all couples exchange cards (or gifts?!) for anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Christmas or birthdays (who are you people?!)

I read them with spite and disgust, so certain that they would make me shake my head in disbelief. Knowing that they would cut through my heart with a swift force and make me wince, possibly causing me to beat myself up (once again) over how stupidly trusting I had been for so long. Wonder to myself how I didn’t realize that it was mostly for show.

But I was wrong, for the most part.

They are still painful to read, painful in a regretful way, similar to the way you feel when you think of someone who has died and you regret not making more time for them while they were living. Reminding yourself that life sometimes gets too busy and we miss the  simple opportunities to connect, we neglect to make time for what should really be important.

Realizing the connections that were lost along the way.

Some of the messages are the usual “I can’t wait to see what the future holds” or “I’m so glad that we are on this crazy journey together” type of sentiments. But others are a bit more detailed and personal, what I knew when I first met you memories and inside jokes that only we could remember why they were so funny or so endearing. Things that only couples understand. But they all read like a gauge of our relationship at any given time, how good or bad it was during that particular chapter, that place in our history.

I can almost feel the energy from each one, good or bad. Or just lukewarm.

I admit there were times that writing inside of a card for our anniversary or Valentine’s Day felt forced, staged for public consumption, following the same scripted outline because that’s what married people do.

Sometimes we fake it till we make it.

During a holiday or milestone celebration, we look for the silver lining in our relationship to highlight, even when we can’t really see it or feel it. We need to dig ever deeper for that proper sentiment because that’s the “right thing to do”. We celebrate another year of togetherness, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of happiness at that point in time.

Because marriage is hard. Marriage has good days and bad days. Everyone knows that.

It is a rollercoaster of work, with some very high highs and some even lower lows. Nobody can be happy and content every moment, of every day, with anyone. Nobody is completely in love with each other at all times for all their days. It ebbs and flows.

You can tell from the written messages inside of each card where we fell on our timeline of love at any given holiday. The messages would be long and flowing, filled with appreciation and devotion, during our happier times. Those were the days that we both felt secure and trusting, or maybe more comfortable and relaxed? Not just in love, but loving towards each other.

At least I thought so at the time.

Looking back at the last few cards now I can’t help but wonder how I missed the signs. How could he be so unhappy with me, discontented with us, and still write some of the most loving words imaginable inside of a twentieth anniversary card to me?

“I love you now and always will. You’ve been an incredible wife and friend over these 20 years and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have someone as warm, loving and thoughtful as you. Love, your husband of 20 years…xoxoxo”

Followed by my birthday card only two weeks later,

“You’re as beautiful now as ever. And I’m not just saying that to be nice. It’s absolutely true.”

Four weeks later, sitting in our living room, he was telling me everything he hated about me, how I had disappointed him and all of my shortcomings that he couldn’t bear any longer.

I guess Hallmark doesn’t make a card for that.

So, I read through them once more and tucked them away once again. Not sure why, or when I think I will need to pull them out again. Am I saving them for our children to see someday, to reassure themselves that at one point we really did love each other? Or will they feel even more betrayed once they read these hollow hallmark promises?

I don’t know.

But I hope, if they get anything out of reading them someday, they will realize that marriage takes more than fancy cards, expensive gifts and beautiful flowers. It’s not just about celebrations and dinners out. That’s only the surface stuff, and it doesn’t guarantee success in your relationship or your marriage. You need to dig deeper, to give more, to say more.

You need to go beyond the silver lining and deal with the clouds and the storms together.

Hallmark will always have a card for every occasion, but it doesn’t have the answers to your real life questions and struggles. You can’t hold it all together with card stock, ribbons and glitter.

Marriage is about the life that happens in-between those holidays and celebrations. It’s about the everyday challenges that you have to choose to stick together and to make it work. It’s choosing each other, not another card.

 

 

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Is this all there is?

I was watching an episode of “Dexter” with my son the other night – yes, we bond over serial killers and crime scenes, there are worse things. In this episode, Dexter is helping a woman track down her rapists – yes, plural – to kill them.

What are friends for, right?

She recounts the experience of leaving her fiancee at the altar only three months before her life took this ugly turn, and how she had arrived at the decision not to marry him. It was so real, so full of truth, and sounded so eerily familiar that I almost couldn’t breathe.

She told Dexter how she had pushed herself hard all of her life to please her parents. She was a good student, the first in her family to go onto college to get her degree. Followed by her masters. She was involved, athletic, smart. She was a good girl. Then she met the “perfect” guy, fell in love, and that eventually lead to planning a wedding. She had checked all of the boxes, and done all of the right things, her entire life.

It wasn’t until she was almost at her wedding day that it finally struck her. This is it.

For the rest of her life, she would be part of a couple that had the same friends, the same neighbors. They would have cookouts in the backyard on weekends, visit their families for holidays, attend PTA meetings and birthday parties for their kids, and have “date nights” once a week. They would do these average but good things, for the rest of their lives, and grow old together. That was it, that was the sum of her future life.

Is that all there is? she wondered. And so, she didn’t show up to her own wedding.

The reason that this struck me, made me sit still as stone as I listened to her, was the fact that I had basically the same epiphany about 18 years ago. Not at the altar, of course, already married with a child.

It was a typical day in our fairly new tri-level home. I was already a stay at home mom, taking care of our baby, who was about a year old at the time. He was in the pack ‘n play in our bedroom, watching a kids singing show, while I scrubbed the toilet in our attached bathroom. Innocent enough.

Something that I did weekly, along with all of the other household upkeep and day to day life. But for some reason, that day, it suddenly washed over me…this is it.

This is my life for the next thirty, or probably more, years.

We will have the same friends and neighbors, that we have over for barbecues on weekends and parties for our children’s birthdays. Our families lived close enough that we would see them on just about every holiday (and I’m talking every holiday – that includes Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and any other “day” holiday you can imagine), every birthday, milestone and reason to celebrate. We would probably live in this house for awhile, until we could afford to move into something bigger, but not too far from the same area most likely.

There would be football and basketball games for the guys to watch at the bar, Tupperware and Candlelight parties for the wives to attend to order more of what we really didn’t need. Possibly a group camping trip, with all of our kids, once or twice a year. Baby showers, graduations, funerals, weddings and everything else in-between with the same people.

That was it. That was our future. My future. For the next thirty plus years.

And for some reason that day, with the toilet brush in my hand and the sound of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ being sung in the background, I thought to myself “Is this all there is? Is this it? There has to be more.” I could see our future like a movie montage, because it was all so familiar already.

How did I get here?

This is what I had always wanted, had dreamed of, wasn’t it? I wanted to be married to a good guy, live in my own house to take care of, have kids and be a mom. But that wasn’t always the end story I had seen for myself, had always dreamed.

In the beginning, I had also seen a career in a big city, meeting new people, making big decisions and earning my way through life. Having one of those cool apartments with the hardwood floors and glass doorknobs, downtown over a convenience store or bar. Walking to museums and plays, getting opportunities to travel and see the world somehow. I had dreamed of being independent.

I wanted more.

As much as I loved what I had, and really did want it, I also wanted the other side of the dream that I didn’t really give myself much time to figure out. After graduating from college, the constant mantra of “you need to find a job” was pounding in my head, and repeated by my parents, so I basically took the first job I was offered. Not in the city, not in a cool design firm like I had always dreamed of, but instead a corporate art department job with benefits and vacation time. And a commute of about an hour, to another suburb, still outside of the city.

All of this came flooding back to me that day, while I looked around, toilet brush still in my hand.

When my ex came home that day, I asked what it would take for him to be offered a position in another country and if it was possible. I had heard of others in his line of work taking jobs in France, England, Germany. Why not him? He explained that he didn’t have the qualifications to go; he didn’t speak another language, he didn’t have any foreign clients, and he was married. They usually preferred to send single people who were more available and easier to move.

I still pushed on with the idea, telling him that if an opportunity ever came up to go somewhere else, like another country, I was willing to move. To have a new experience. If I couldn’t make it happen personally, I was willing to support him to make it happen.

Oddly enough, only a few weeks later, he was approached for a foreign assignment.

And as they say, the rest is history. That began the crazy, and challenging, journey that lasted close to ten years. And that journey brought me here, to this place. This place in time, in location, in mind and soul.

Almost back home, but not quite. Almost back to “normal”, but not really.

It wasn’t the dream I had dreamed when I was a child, or in high school or college, but it was very much like a dream in many ways. The meaning to the old adage “be careful what you wish for” became incredibly clear as time went on though.

It was amazing and exciting, the new experiences and meeting new people from different backgrounds, speaking different languages – so much to learn about the world! So much to explore. But at the same time it was also scary and confusing, and sometimes more difficult than I ever could have imagined. There were many highs and lows along the way,  over the many years and multiple moves, making me stronger in the end.

It had challenged everything I thought I knew or understood, pushed me out of my comfort zone, made me question everything about my previous life. There was more than one “right” way to do things, and more than one type of person or food or language. It changed the very core of who I was, for the better, in my opinion.

Would I have been just as happy without this experience? Would I have gotten over my feeling that there had to be more to life, blamed it on hormones or sleepless nights with a teething baby? Shut my mouth and just went along with the program, like everyone else was happily doing? I mean, what you don’t know you don’t know, right?

No need to second guess it or go through the list of possible “what if” scenarios now, it was the life I was meant to live. It was more than the life I had ever expected, or even thought I wanted. It was life changing.

I had asked myself so long ago “is this all there is?” never realizing where it would lead, how it would end, or how it would shape me in the future.

But now I know, no this isn’t all there is, there is so much more.

 

 

 

 

He’s not the guy

I’ve dabbled in the dating world this year, and realized all too soon that I just wasn’t ready.

It happens, I know. Some people can jump right into it after a breakup or divorce, they need to find someone to ease the discomfort, or they crave affection and attention, human touch. Sometimes you just need to know if you’re still ‘marketable’, attractive enough, to attract someone new…that isn’t a freak or total creep, preferably.

But that’s not me, obviously. I need time to figure out where I belong, how I fit in, and what I truly want for the next phase of my life. I need to know that my kids are secure and ready for another possible change to everyday life. I need to feel that the time is right for all of us, it’s not just about me.

It was so much easier when I was in high school (sigh)

So, I’ve made it clear to anyone who will listen, that I am not looking for anyone. To date or otherwise. I am focusing inward instead of outward, marketable or not.

I had this conversation with a new friend recently, who is also a hired consultant that has helped me forge this new path in my life. She has been really enlightening and supportive, and I don’t know how I would have survived all of this upheaval in my world, intact with my sanity, without her guidance and expertise.

A short while after my divorce was final, we were meeting about whatever, she asked how I was doing and how the dating world was treating me. I explained that I was no longer in the market. It was too overwhelming and disappointing. I was getting out of the game before I was too battered and bruised to want to play anymore. I just wasn’t ready. She understood, she was encouraging and supportive of my attitude, and agreed with me that sometimes it just takes longer than you think.

But…I should let her know when I was “ready” because she has the “perfect” guy for me.

All I could think was, ‘and so it begins’. The sitcom set-up that I’ve watched play out a million times on TV. Blind dates and stiff introductions set-up by well-meaning friends and family, grinning at you both like idiots because you are ‘so perfect for each other’ and they knew it! They know a guy from the office, from the gym, from their cousin’s friend. They truly just want to see you happy, smiling and excited with pep in your step, and with something positive and uplifting to talk about.

They want to see you whole again.

I politely explained that I was really not ready, and probably wouldn’t be for quite some time. My focus had changed, and it wasn’t all about me feeling good about myself, through someone else’s eyes, finally. She nodded and said that she understood, but just to let her know when I was ready because she didn’t want to ruin this perfect match with poor timing.

That was a couple of months ago.

We recently met again about other details of my new life, she sent an email that morning explaining that she was bringing her partner along to meet me and to help answer my questions. It was unexpected, but I didn’t think anything of it.

The morning that they came to my door, I was in jeans and a hoody from the Hot Chocolate race and simple makeup, my basic everyday attire. Her colleague was pleasant and friendly, a clean cut middle aged guy, nothing out of the ordinary. It actually made me a bit nervous to have a man join us for some reason, usually the two of us worked on my stuff while we talked like girlfriends. I liked it that way, swapping stories of our lives while planning my future, it didn’t feel so “necessary” then. Now there was a guy with a crisp white shirt and tie standing at my door, his leather satchel slung over a shoulder, smiling but in a business like manner.

This was serious. There wouldn’t be any girl talk this time.

I was a bit bummed, but shook it off. Every meeting shouldn’t be a coffee klatch I told myself. I didn’t hire her to be my friend…did I?

As the morning went on, and we talked about my accounts, he easily took over the conversation as the expert on the subject, and not only answered my questions but asked them of me too. He was teaching me how to look at it all, more than directing me, which I liked.

He was complimentary about my grasp of everything. I felt more confident.

Sprinkled into the conversation were personal details about himself, tossed in from my friend. He was divorced, from a narcissist, and he agreed with the adage of “if I knew then what I know now” with a chuckle. He’s a beekeeper as a hobby, and loves it, stings and all. He said beekeeping was therapeutic and relaxing, he also cans his own honey.

Being the thoughtful hostess that I am, I offered something to drink along with the cookies that I had baked the day before. I also offered the Italian lemon cookies that I pick up from the farmers market each week, joking that I “knew a guy”. That lead us to the talk of farmers markets in the area, which markets we visit and love, and the idea that I often buy local honey, usually with nuts mixed in. We must have talked about this for fifteen minutes. He asked to see my jar of honey, and was so interested in the idea of it, that he took a picture of it to use as a reference later.

As the conversation moved on, he mentioned his talent for betting on horses as a way to compare financial risk taking – then went on to say his good luck with betting on them comes from the fact that he owns horses, and has always loved them. He was a new age kind of guy, in my opinion, white collar work with a farmer’s love of nature.

An urban gardener type, unlike most of the men that I had recently met, and I liked that.

Suddenly I realized that I found him much more attractive than I had when I first opened the door, only an hour before. I now noticed that he was cute, easy to talk to, had a personable way about him. We had things in common that I never would have guessed.

That’s when the thought occurred to me, was this the guy that she wanted to set me up with?

My mind began whirling, trying to piece it all together. This was a sneaky way to make the introductions, not what I was expecting at all, but I wasn’t that upset about it. I started thinking about the idea of going out with him, or someone like him, and it didn’t scare me. It felt right and fitting. He was funny, honest, personable, interesting and smart. He was the best of both worlds, white collar job with a love and appreciation of nature. It was like finding a unicorn sitting in my kitchen!

I began to smile a bit more, with a slight flirt in my voice, and it felt good. Natural.

Once they left, after our two hour meeting, I shook my head and smiled some more. She was sneaky, I had to admit, but she knew me better than I had ever imagined. I didn’t expect anything that morning, so I wasn’t nervous or overthinking, and I was dressed like I always am – not trying to impress. A great way to meet someone, definitely more organic and less pressure. Her instincts about this match seemed pretty dead on, too – how did she figure me out so quickly?

I was impressed. And a little excited, I will admit.

I waited to hear from her, maybe giving me a little hint about what I had already figured out, patting herself on the back for being so sly, and yet so right. But I didn’t hear from her.

I figured that she must be busy, the weekend was coming, etc. Or maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t nearly as impressed with me, as she had promised him he would be? Maybe he didn’t think we had as much in common as I did, or I just wasn’t his type? And why would she share someone else’s disappointment with someone who didn’t even know there was a motive to meeting them to begin with?

Better to leave it unsaid, making it easier to go on with a professional relationship.

As the day went on, I couldn’t stand not knowing if this was the setup, and if it was did it go as well on his end as mine. Did he even ask about me? So I texted her and asked, “just out of curiosity, is he the guy that you wanted to introduce to me?” I didn’t want to seem too excited or give her too much credit…yet. I was playing it cool.

She responded almost immediately, “No, it was Jeff :)”

I stared at the message for a minute, sitting with the small disappointment in my gut for a moment. He wasn’t the guy. This guy that sat at my kitchen table today, seeming to possess all of the qualities that I would be interested in, surprising me with my level of interest and tiny hope that he felt it too, that guy.

He wasn’t the guy?

He wasn’t the guy.

‘Jeff’ had better be pretty amazing when the time is right, since he’s ‘the guy’. The bar has been set high now, maybe too high. And I didn’t even know I was picking up the bar.

What if…

Such a common thought, for most of us at some point in time…”what if?”

I’ve had too many to count of these unsettling commentaries running through my mind over the past year or two. If I’m honest, I’ve had that commentary running through my mind for years, always looking for the hidden answer, the deeper meaning or secret message.

Like a game show, I always wonder ‘what was behind door number three?’ What did I miss?

The internal conversations of “what if” range from small scenarios, maybe tiny bits of conversations that went wrong, or smaller actions that became something bigger and harder to live with than I had ever imagined or expected.

What if I had done it differently? What if I had said yes instead of no this time?

When the idea of getting divorced was first brought up, said out loud in an almost business like way as a solution to our stalemate, it seemed surreal. The room seemed to get bigger and I felt smaller, quieter, my brain was filled with cotton dulling the sounds and senses of it all. I was numb. It felt as if it wasn’t really happening to us, I was just witnessing a movie or a scene from a play from another seat, in another room.

Maybe it was all a dream? Or a nightmare?

It didn’t seem like something we would really do, considering our level-headed decision making history. We had done so much together over the last twenty five years, experiences that challenged us beyond our imaginations sometimes, and still managed to stick it out to figure out solutions together, as a partnership. This was just an idea, right? It was a test for both of us, a game of chicken really, wasn’t it? Was it really so broken that we couldn’t fix it this time? Were we really that far apart in our goals and future plans?

Shouldn’t someone say something, back pedal, stop us from doing this? But nobody did.

Once the big decision had been made, agreed upon in theory, my mind began to spiral around the events that lead us here. The most current events, not the long list of small slights and disappointments that built up our resistance to one another over the years, like bricks building a wall.

That’s when a new set of “what ifs” began.

What if… I had just agreed to make the move for his new job? All that I had researched about the new location – the housing, the schools, the neighborhoods – proving to me that it was not the right fit for us as a family, put in a box in the corner of my mind, ignoring the deep gut feelings that I had about how our kids would (or wouldn’t) adjust to another move because the timing was completely wrong for all of them.

What if… I had disregarded the disappointment and hurt that would come from my extended family to find us moving away again? What if I had just thrown it all to the wind, blindly trusted, and jumped in with both feet?

What if… I didn’t think about anyone else, not even myself, and just did it?

What if… I had done what I had always done in the past, just trusted that it would all work out for the best, for all of us? What if I had just chosen our marriage, our partnership, over the perceived well-being and happiness of our entire family? Would it have saved our marriage? Would we be blissfully happy in our new location, glad that I was talked into it, with everyone seemingly well-adjusted by now?

What if… I was wrong about my theories, my research, my fears?

Did I put too much stock into some of the reasons not to go, some of it just fear of another change, did I devalue the importance and weight of our marriage?

What if… after that ugly night, when he told me all of the things he hated and disliked about me, I had gone to him and tried to “fix it”? What if I had told him that I would try harder to be a better partner, to be the kind of wife he wanted and deserved, and I would do whatever it would take to keep us together. Even if that meant moving.

What if… I had accepted his offer that we could continue “doing this” for twenty more years? No apology offered, no excuse for his ugly rant tearing me apart, just accept it as our way of life and love and moved forward to the finish line.

What if… I put it out of my mind and pretended that it didn’t really happen?

What if… I had accepted his now obvious peace offering on Christmas day, a trendy designer workout bag and matching top, as an unspoken apology and just moved on? What if I had continued to shop for a Christmas gift for him even while hurting, and gave him a similar fence mending gift?

Would that have been enough to stitch us back together? Would we just pretend that he hadn’t said any of those hurtful things, and just kissed a bittersweet thank you on Christmas day to move past it all, both of us accepting it as one bad night brought on by stress, travel and work.

Would he have continued to commute for us, his family, as a peace offering until we were ready to move?

What if… I had told him from the beginning, from the earliest days of our slowly growing apart, exactly how I felt when he treated me like I didn’t count? What if he had told me how disappointed he was with me and my apparent shortcomings then?

What if… we had figured out how to really communicate with each other years ago? Would we have stayed married this long because we could work things out and understand one another, or would we have divorced years ago realizing that we weren’t really right for each other?

Maybe we would have come to the conclusion that we had different expectations of marriage earlier on, and acted upon it, before we spent twenty years trying to hold it together.

What if… we had just broken up at the end of that first summer or first year?

We never would have gotten here, to this ugly place of broken dreams and unfulfilled promises, and maybe we both would have had happier marriages with other people? Maybe we would have taken completely different paths that made us each happier, and feeling more secure, more fulfilled, more loved. Maybe not.

But, what if…?

 

 

Writing my way to sanity

The question has come up more than a few times since I began writing a blog, with regards to why I am writing about my divorce experience for all of the world to see. Why can’t I just write it in a personal journal, to keep to myself? Isn’t therapy enough of an outlet to clear my head, and my heart, on a weekly basis?

Why do I need to air my “dirty laundry”?

I’ve been called classless and destructive, defaming and selfish, add in a thoughtless and uncaring parent, and I’m pretty much a social media monster.

At first I felt incredibly guilty, so sure that it was all true because someone else felt that way and had said it, or written it, to me. That’s always been a weakness of mine, believing another person’s opinion of myself over my own.

But then I remembered, just because they say it or feel it doesn’t make it true.

When I first began blogging a few years ago I was looking for my voice, for a way to hone my writing skills, and maybe find a new outlet for my creative brain. I had tried so many other outlets over the last half of my life: aerobics, bootcamp, scrapbooking, camping, school volunteering, crossfit, etc. but none had ever addressed the running commentary going on inside of my own head.

No, I wasn’t hearing voices, just my own.

My own view of the world, the events that affected me and my family and friends. I was almost constantly internally narrating, like an episode of the “Wonder Years” or “A Christmas Story”. My mind a constant screen playing the continuous film reel of my life on scratchy, jumpy 8mm film without a soundtrack.

Okay, maybe a soundtrack sometimes.

One day, a few years ago, it occurred to me to write it down. Get it out of my own head and into a space made for such things. I started off with the desire to write a book. Why not? Isn’t that what all writers aspire to do in their lifetime? That’s the only way to become a “real” writer, isn’t it?

I tried to make that happen for awhile, the outline was completed and I just needed to fill in the meat of the stories, but it was more overwhelming and challenging than I had ever imagined. So many directions to go, where to begin, how to end? I read about “building characters” and plot lines, I even joined a writing challenge to motivate me to get it done. I thought you just sat down and started to write!

I had no idea how wrong I was.

Plus, it would be  time consuming, and as the mother of three, I couldn’t justify carving out the time needed to put my whole heart into it.

Wanting to write a book was like realizing one day that other people were eating and enjoying pie, not just a piece but a whole pie. Pie is good, and I like pie, so I should eat pie, too. Not just a piece of pie, to make sure that I like that kind of pie, no I would get the entire pie, like everyone else had, because I was certain that I would enjoy it as much as everyone else did. Who wouldn’t like to eat an entire pie??

Me. An entire pie is too much pie if you’re just starting to eat pie. Make sense?

So the next best thing was to blog, to write “episodes” of my life instead of an entire made-for-TV movie. Start small and see if it fits. It was a test, really. Can I really write something that other people will read and relate to, or do I only sound interesting inside of my own head?

I stumbled along with the blogging idea for awhile, not really knowing how to hone in on any one area of my life or interest to write about. There are so many possibilities! I was so excited when I had two followers, the thought of having many more than that was beyond my imagination. Who would want to read what I had to say about anything? What made my life so interesting that anyone would care to read about it?

But then life presented a topic.

A topic that affected so many areas of my life, my world, my family and my friends. I began reading articles, books, and blogs on the subject, to understand more about it, but noticed that nobody was really talking about it the way I was narrating it inside of my own head. Not every experience is the same, not every narrative is the same, obviously.

Not every divorce is the same.

I also began to realize that my experience was a slowly growing trend. Friends and acquaintances began approaching me with similar stories once they had heard that I was going through a divorce, looking for support and guidance, someone to say “me too” so they wouldn’t feel so alone. And for some reason nobody was really talking or writing about what was really going on in these divorces, from this point of view or experience.

They felt scared, embarrassed, lost. They felt used and mislead.

Divorce has been around for quite some time, I know. My parents divorced when I was  nine, so it’s not something I had never encountered. But midlife divorce, or what is now coined as “gray divorce”, is a fairly new idea and not one that most people even think about. Once you make it past the twenty, fifteen or even ten year mark you’re solid, right? It’s an easy road from there, you’ve put in the hard work years, sacrificed and raised children together, now it’s smooth sailing and fun until the end of time. Now you’ll travel, take long walks on the beach, grow old together.

Nothing is guaranteed.

So, I began to write. I began to express the voice inside of my own head, my own dialogue, to clear my mind and heart. I also wanted to be a voice for those women in a similar situation, and to let them know that they are not alone. They are not the problem, or a bitch, for feeling this way.

It’s not completely their fault. And it’s okay to have the feelings they are feeling.

I want all of my friends and acquaintances, who are at all of the various points of this process, to know that while it is hard and hurtful, it doesn’t have to destroy you. It can make you stronger, it can make you appreciate who you are and create an entirely new and happy life – now and in the future.

But it will take time.

You can live again, and you will. You can love again, even marry again, but you don’t have to. You just have to find the best version of yourself for yourself, nobody else.

But it will take time.

You have to do what works for you, what fits for you, what makes you feel whole again. Screw the haters, the judges of your life choices, and the stiflers of your voice. Everyone is entitled to their own story and how they choose to tell it, and to whom they choose to tell it to. Privately or publicly, as long as you express the truth, nobody can tell you not to.

But it will all take time. And that amount of time can only be determined by you.

So, I write. It’s part of the process of rebuilding for me, it’s part of the “time” I need. Eventually my plot line will take another turn, new characters and other life events will fill my blog, plus opinions and views that I have on it all…and other people will be upset and judge and hate on it. But that’s okay.

They should write their own story.

A different filter

About a year and a half ago my oldest son broke his phone. Not a new occurrence when you have teenagers with phones. They forget they have them in their pocket as they jump into the pool, or try to tape it to their handlebars to take an action video and inevitably it goes flying off during one of their “tricks”, or any other simple to avoid circumstance that they just didn’t think through. It also gets lost, or stolen.

It happens.

When it happened this time, I was not as willing to get him a new phone. This was the second (or third?) time within his contract period, he was able to repair it the last time, and it was beyond frustrating. So, I “punished” him with my old phone, an iPhone 4s. Yes, I know, the horror! I could have dyed his hair pink and it would have been less offensive to his teenage ego.

But he took it.

This made the most sense at the time, it was definitely cost effective, who doesn’t agree with “free”? Plus, we were still paying off the previous (broken) phone. We agreed that he would use my old phone until the contract was paid in full, about six months. A painfully long time for him, I’m sure.

He assured me that he would wipe the entire phone of my personal data; texts, contacts, email, etc.

Word to the wise: take it somewhere that does this as part of their business. Never, and I mean NEVER, trust your teenage son to do this type of thing for you. It’s bound to disappoint. And possibly instill incredible fear into your heart and soul.

He got his new phone about a year ago and has been happily using – and protecting – his new updated connection to the outside world. But just today, I happened to come across my old phone sitting on the family room table. It looked so small, so out of place, that I didn’t even recognize it as being mine. It had 6% battery life.

Not really realizing that it was indeed my old phone, I opened the screen to check the contacts to get an idea of which one of their friends it belonged to. Imagine my surprise when I found my list of contacts, and then looking at texts saw my old texts from two years ago.

At first I panicked, wondering if he had read through my texts or my email. Not that I was plotting or planning anything illegal or immoral, but some of my text exchanges with friends can be a little “colorful”. Not really meant for my kids to read, you know?

As I scanned the list of texts, I came across a set of old texts between my ex-husband and myself. I winced. What would I read there? Would it make me feel hurt, upset and raw like I felt during that long year of our divorce process, or happily vindicated in our decision, glad to have moved on, relieved?

They were texts from only two years ago. It was a crap shoot in my mind, the sequence of events and timing not nearly as clear at that moment.

I scrolled through, holding my breath.

There were texts from the early days of him commuting to his new job, plans for wine and pizza when he arrived home, asking what he wanted me to get from the grocery store for an upcoming fishing trip. Communications about plane delays, weather reports, car repairs and family gatherings being planned. Updates about our kids.

Jokes, intimate only-we-can-understand type of jokes. I could feel the smile that I must have had back then reading his messages, the eye roll I must have done in response to some of his sarcastic comments. And there were “xoxo”s mixed in among the few emojis, usually at the end of his texts.

I could feel the love.

At that moment, my heart ached. And I realized that it was real at some point, or at least we did have some pretty good stretches of “good” in our marriage. Maybe it was better through text and over the phone? Possibly.

Another mark on our permanent record for poor verbal communication skills.

What happened to us? Where did that go? I realize now, that those were the things that kept us together for so long. Those small things. The little stuff that makes you smile, makes you feel connected, and forget that that other person can really annoy or upset you on any given day.

But the small things couldn’t fight off the big things in the end, could they?

It made me sad. It made me miss that part of us, the part that bound us together and made us a family with our boys. At that moment I looked past the sad, the bad and the ugly from our marriage. I changed the filter and saw only the soft edges and warm light. I saw the film reel of the highlights playing in my head. I heard the music of our laughter and the language we shared.

And I missed it.

If only for a moment, for a few minutes, I forgot all about the ugly words we had exchanged over the last year or so. In person, by email.

In texts.

I pushed aside all of the resentment, the hurt, the bitterness and only felt what I thought we had all along. A solid foundation to build on, to hold onto in the hard times, the challenges we took on together and came out on the other side even stronger. A partnership beyond the basic necessities.

Love. Somewhere, deep inside of it all, there was love at one time.

And it made me mourn for both of us. We both went into our marriage with such hope and promise, dreams and plans. So many years invested. All for it to implode almost instantly in the end. How did that happen?

I don’t have the answer, still. I play the reel of our marriage over and over in my mind, I look for clues and hints, but nothing really stands out as “the moment” that it went off the tracks, unable to be corrected. The little things pop up like spikes on a Richter scale, most of them small, barely registering, with a few larger ones over the entire marriage, but nothing of such magnitude that it should have crushed our foundation. At least I didn’t think so at the time.

It doesn’t really matter now, it’s done. It can’t be rebuilt. It won’t be rebuilt.

Finding my old phone, and old texts, made me aware of how the filter that I choose to look through can change everything. It can make me feel a completely different way if I let it. I do like the feeling of this soft focus filter, the warm fuzziness of it all, at least for the moment, for a day.

It gives me a welcome rest from the sharp clarity of my memories, and my everyday real life.

 

 

Unpacking the boxes

One thing that seems to reappear repeatedly over the last six months, is the idea that once you are divorced, and “enough time has passed” that you should be “over it” and get on with your life. The amount of time is a sliding scale, depending upon who you’re talking to, it can range from six days to six weeks to six months or more. Getting over it can relate to anything from the idea that you still cry sometimes for no reason at all, you still cannot speak his name without feeling sick, or the crazy idea that you haven’t started dating yet. What are you waiting for??

Why are you so stuck? they wonder.

At least that is what the message feels like in most of these instances. People mean well, I’m sure…or at least I hope. That would just be one more insult to this entire injury. They really do want what is best for you, what will make you feel better and make you happy once more. Divorce is often compared to death of a loved one, the grief is almost the same they say, there are stages and no two people experience it the same. The only difference is that the so called loved one is still around, alive and well, just not with you.

But I think it’s more comparable to moving to a foreign country, without knowing the language or the customs, and being expected to jump right in and feel at home almost immediately. And you’re expected to not only understand it all, but accept it as your new normal life without any further expectations or allowances. You can handle it, right?

The only problem with that scenario is that moving to a foreign country is not the seamless experience we’d all like to believe, or hope, it to be. And neither is divorce.

First, when moving to another country there is most likely a language barrier. Before you move, or even accept this journey, you realize that there will be a new language to learn and navigate. Of course, you’re usually assured by many caring souls that “everyone speaks English, you’ll be fine!”

Well, that would be lovely if it were only true.

And I think we can all agree that working with a room full of lawyers, paralegals and other divorce professionals, there will be language that will be more than confusing and anxiety inducing. It’s not your regular run-of-the-mill grocery list or coffee chat, is it?

Then there are the customs. Some countries expect a kiss on the cheek when you greet people, others expect a kiss on both side of your cheeks, some shake hands with their left hand, others with their right. Some bow, or avoid eye contact all together. There are so many possibilities, and so many nuances, to each set of customs that it can all feel overwhelming when you are first learning the ways of the culture.

It doesn’t come easy.

The same can be said for the journey through divorce, really. You go into it thinking you know how it’s going to go, how people are going to behave, believing that you will all be in agreement for the most part, and understanding where everyone is coming from basically. You will work together because you know each other and you think you share the same customs and values. But it’s not that easy, at least not usually. It may begin that way, and last for the first couple of months, but somewhere along the line you realize that you both have entirely different expectations, and the people guiding you have a completely different playbook than either one of you possess.

You all have different cultures with different customs. And you need to agree somehow.

Oh sure, there are those incredibly amicable couples who basically make up their own agreements, sign them, take a selfie with their divorce document and then go have a drink afterward to celebrate…that’s more than moving to a foreign country, more like moving to another planet! But let’s be honest, that’s not the norm by a long shot.

Then the big part comes, the unpacking.

If you’ve ever moved, which I have numerous times including overseas, you remember the never-ending packing and unpacking that goes along with moving.

Packing those boxes is easy enough. You fill each one until it’s full, tape it up, label it and move onto the next one. You carefully place the delicate items together, wrapped in paper and bubble wrap, to protect them. Sometimes you even hire professionals to do the packing, to make certain that it all gets to the next destination intact (this isn’t always a guarantee, of course, as I’ve learned too many times to count!)

But then, once you arrive in your new destination, your new foreign country, you now have the herculean job of unpacking it all and placing it where it “belongs” in  your new home. Sounds easy enough, sure. Just put it…somewhere. Of course you need to make some decisions along the way; which room, what shelf, which cabinet or drawer. It takes organization, and patience.

And time.

Usually, the normal timeline for one of our major moves was about a year to completely unpack and feel “at home” in our new location. It sounds like a long time, doesn’t it?

It’s not. It sometimes flies by, and sometimes drags by, all at the same time.

Because you still need to learn the language and the customs of this new place while you are unpacking. You still have to go on with “normal” life, grocery shopping and taking care of household details, figuring it all out as you stumble along in this new world. Your phrase book clenched tightly in your hand, panic rising in your throat almost daily, hoping to meet someone who understands you.

There is a lot of unpacking to do after a divorce.

Not just the material things from the life you have just untangled, but the memories and the moments you shared. As a couple, as a family, with your friends. They’re in boxes. Not always physical boxes, but boxes in your mind and in your heart. In the dark corners of your memory, too. Some are unlabeled, others are dusty from being ignored for so long.

In the end, you need to unpack and place it all. Sometimes you give some of it away, or pitch it entirely. Other things are too sentimental to get rid of, but too painful to keep. Those things end up in the basement, or crawl space, to be found at a later time by someone else.

After you die, if you’re lucky.

It takes time, sometimes more time than you ever expected. More time than other people expect, most definitely. Sure, some people are great at unpacking and hanging the curtains and artwork within days of moving. They’re hosting luncheons and cookouts within weeks, they’ve painted, decorated, joined clubs and planned the next holiday almost immediately. They’ve made it a “home” without missing a beat, without missing anyone or anything from their previous home. They adapt easily.

Others of us need more time. We unpack carefully, place and buy furniture thoughtfully, to make sure we will like it for a long time. We are not hasty decision makers, we don’t hang just any curtains to cover the windows or buy just any couch to furnish our living room. We take the time to research it, shop for it, compare it, to find the best fit.

We need to be sure. We want it to be right, to be exactly how we want our home to feel.

And just when you think you’ve unpacked it all, the boxes and the wrappings have been removed and everything is in it’s new place; you’ve started to smile and laugh again, you feel lighter and more positive about your future…you stumble upon another box. It was hidden in the back corner, under a rug or a blanket. It’s small, easily overlooked because it’s been buried for so long. You didn’t even think you moved it with you, or remembered that box being there.

You have to open it though, you know you do.

This box is a memory, or a scent, or a photograph that’s fallen out of a book. It’s a number in your telephone that you come across as you scroll through your contacts, it’s a wrong service call to your house instead of your ex’s, it’s a song on the radio, a name on a street sign. It’s simple, unassuming, and yet so complicated and heavy.

For such a small box it carries a lot of weight.

This isn’t the only box you’ve missed or forgotten, there will be more unpacked boxes along the way, boxes that will open whether you choose to or not. Some of these boxes just burst open, completely unexpected and take your breath away. Blur your vision, get caught in your throat, stop you in your tracks.

Pushing you back to the starting line.

Some you just stumble across accidentally, others are opened by family or friends without any realization that the contents could be toxic, unwelcome or even hurtful.

There are so many boxes that you don’t even know exist. Until you do.

So, the next time it is suggested that I should get over it, move on with my life, start dating again to find someone new, or hear suggestions that enough time has passed why am I still so hung up? I will have only one response to offer.

I’m still unpacking the boxes.