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.