Forty

I have thought a lot of what it means to start over since I turned forty last November.  But like an engine that won’t turn, that is what I feel like.  Every time I get a spark of hope, foot on the accelerator, it’s gonna catch this time, I’m disappointed. The engine coughs, struggles and then just stops.  I listen in the silence, pray up a silent “please,” and press the pedal one last time.  Nothing.  Still.  Not.  Ready.  Again I sit alone in the car hoping that there might be another chance.  Another opportunity.  This is the story of my life.  The lifelong search for something connected and not rejected.

Growing up it was the inner monologue that told me I could never measure up to the perfectly knit family that my mom, dad and two sisters had so easily embraced.  In high school and college, it was the friends that found ways to rebel and get close to the line of no return, yet never truly crossing over.  At one point in my 20’s, it was a charismatic church cult that took me in and took advantage of my naivety and youth.  In my 30’s it was the pursuit of a career that would mean something, make a difference, make me somebody who made a difference.  And now I’m 40.  Forty.  Even saying the word drops with a thud that simply doesn’t bounce back up.  Forty. Forty. Foooorty.  I try to turn it over in my mouth so that it sounds perky like twenty or serious like thirty, but all I get is the dead weight of an anchor called FORTY.

Perhaps it’s not the age that pulls me down, but the realization that I am consciously looking to the next forty and counting backwards instead of forwards. It is the visual that the clock stopped and is now moving counterclockwise.  And I don’t know what the end will look like, I don’t even know what tomorrow will look like.  Loss and grief have stolen a sincere outlook that my life is perfectly in tack and on track – an unstoppable meaning making machine. A life filled with daily passion for an exciting future with greatness around every corner. But one day, I woke up and realized I may just be ordinary. And ordinary sounds a lot like forty. Lifeless and hopeless. This is what loss and grief do sometimes, steal your perspective.

Loss and grief are thieves.  They wear dark masks.  The sneak around in the background of your life.  They carry their bags filled with YOUR moments, YOUR memories, YOUR life.  And they steal them right out from under your nose.  You never see them coming, and when you turn around and look for the things you once had in your heart they are gone.  The love you had on your wedding day.  The joy shared with the man of your dreams.  The friends you miss dearly.  The children you thought your kids would become.  The people who never said goodbye and then died.
And then it hits you, and you turn around and look for those things, and realize you have been robbed.  You should not have to live without those things. “Love lives in your heart.” I would tell my children. “You have the memories to carry with you forever,” like the cliche that someone would dress up for a fancy pinterest post. BULLSHIT, I want to scream at it.  Give me my stuff back. Give me the love, and joy, and disillusionment that a happy, perfect life is mine. Give me the unbridled lust for life and compassion for the daily grind that I know will bring me meaning. Give me twenty again, or even thirty, but please take forty back.

Give me twenty again, or even thirty, but please take forty back.

Reflecting in the Rain

I love the sound of rain as it pours down from the sky.  The past few days have been soppy, sloshy, my-cute-hair-is-now-a-frizzball kind of days, but I love them anyway.  There is something about the cleansing power of water.  It washes over me and makes me feel new, refreshed and ready to face the next moment with grace and fortitude (even if I am still dripping).  I have been listening to the rain and reflecting over the past year.

It has been one whole year.  June 13, 2014 marked the day I sat on my couch, across from my ex, and told him I wanted him to leave.  Facebook reminded me that on June 13, 2013, I was sitting at a bar in Las Vegas with my sister where my whole family and a good friend had joined me to celebrate the earning of my doctorate degree.  I should have known then that there was a problem when I offered, without thinking, to share my room with my girlfriend instead of my husband.  That should have been my first clue.

I will never forget the night I asked my ex to leave; it was a defining moment.  One I knew that as I sat there and said the words, I made sure to look around the room and take it all in.  I noticed how I put both hands on the couch by my sides, calmly looked him in the eye and said, “I want you to leave.”  As shock–then anger–took hold, I just sat calmly and watched as if he was inside a TV and I was mindlessly holding the remote semi-uninterested in the background noise.  But then, like all good TV shows do, they pull us in a bit.  It was actually more like a commercial rather than a season-finale, but still I noticed him react.  I watched as the raw emotion took over.  He really had no idea.  None at all.  The woman who always supported, encouraged, and believed was saying words that were opposite of what he heard his entire marriage:  “I can’t make you happy, and I don’t want to try anymore.”  “You said you didn’t understand the purpose of marriage.”  “We are just different.”  “I don’t make threats.”  The more calm I was, the more frantic he became.

He started spinning.  Threats.  Promises.  Pleas.  I looked around the room, focused on the minutia.  The dust on the table, the picture tilted just slightly to the left, the newly remodeled kitchen that still smelled of fresh paint.  I saw it all sitting perfectly still while his tornado of emotions began to swirl out of control.  I knew my life was never going to be the same, and I was willing to step directly into my greatest fear:  perceived personal failure. I was going to give back my academy award for best supporting actress.

It’s funny how it took me forty years to realize that the only happiness I can control is my own.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he was always unhappy, I just think that at some point his unhappiness became the focus of my happiness along with the perception of others’ perceptions of our marriage.

It was like a bad, overly complicated math problem.

Him + Not Happy (Avoiding (Him) – Confronting (Me)) / What Will People Think = Try Harder to Convince Everyone (Myself Included).

Instead it should have been:

Me + Him = Happy.

That’s all.  Simple.

Simple like the rain.  For me, it has finally stopped raining, and I am ready to go out and enjoy the sunshine.

Reflecting On

Part of what I have done with this blog as used it as a reflection.  Writing has helped me to see and understand the things that for so long I felt unable to admit. I was talking with some friends yesterday about a friend we know who is basically “lying to himself” when he talks with us.  “Does he think we really don’t know?” we asked.  I started to think about it. For years, I tried to convince myself my marriage was good by sharing with others how great my marriage was.  The scenario went something like this:

I’m out with a friend or I’m at work or I’m standing in line, and a conversation occurs about the other person’s husband.  I listen and wait. I am waiting for my moment to sing praises to my husband and my wonderful marriage. I would say, “I love him so much.  He is such a great guy.” I tried to never complain about my husband because that would mean deep down I was admitting that things weren’t as I wanted others to perceive them. I went out of my way to show pictures of us to others, tell stories that sounded like our relationship was amazing, and find opportunities to share with others how marriage can be hard but so wonderful. And I did this for many years. My only defense it that I really didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted so bad for it to be different, something that I could be proud of, something that it COULD be, and I tried to make it that way for everyone else, but I had lost myself in return.

And that’s why people were surprised by my divorce. Shocked. I was shocked. I not only had convinced others that I lived a fairy-tale life, but in the process had convinced myself as well. This was a result of two-things:  believing and doing. I am a “gut” girl. When I know something is right, I don’t second-guess I just act. That part of my brain that was protecting me was shielding me from reality. By convincing myself to believe things were different than reality, I could live the happy life I deserved. Until one day, I no longer believed it. I didn’t believe the lie that I told myself any longer. That was the beginning of reality.

People hide in the shadows of disillusionment because reality is too hard to face. Reality requires maturity, insight, and acceptance. It requires uncovering deep truths that have been buried. I lived two different lives. I thought they were the same, but they weren’t. The blurry reflection in the water was distorted, and I was not going to be able to make it clear no matter how hard I tried. So I simply stopped trying and started living.

The Safe Zone

I have a friend who is considered by many a “safe zone.”  When you talk to her, you don’t feel judged.  When she asks you questions, you know they come from a place of understanding and not inditement.  When people are looking for clarification or help processing something emotional, they want to talk to her.  She is a “safe zone” for many.  I have been working the past nine months to create a safe zone with my kids and in my home.  It has not been easy and I have probably screwed up more than I have succeed, but we have made PROGRESS.

Before the divorce, pulling the two kids and husband together to do something was torture.  When I think back about it, for the past few years we were dividing the kids and living separate lives.  For example, we split the parenting duties rather than shared the parenting duties.  I took one kid to a practice, he watched the other at home.  One wanted to go to the store, the other got to stay home.  I lied to myself, “We are so smart.  Look how effective and efficient we are at life.”

One of the biggest challenges has been the relationship between me and the kids and between the two kids themselves.  Prior to the divorce, they were two independent people who just so happened to live in the same house.  There was not a real sense of connection or emotional need between the pair of them. At one point, by examining their relationship with each other, I realized they were playing out the roles that they saw me and their father living out before them each day.  When my husband told my son, “you don’t put down your sister,” deep down I think he knew it was bullshit because that wasn’t the example he observed between his parents.

One day, prior to knowing that I was going to get a divorce, I was sitting in the waiting room at the therapists office.  A family walked in for what must have been a family therapy session.  There was a mom, dad, and two kids.  The kids looked about the same age as my kids as the parents did my husband and me.  They had a healthy banter with each other.  The dad hugged his daughter and asked her about something at school.  She didn’t shrug or feel embarrassed.  The dad and mom began to talk to each other, so the kids sat down on a few empty chairs by me and started to talk to each other about school and friends.  I was so annoyed.

I couldn’t believe that this fake family, coming into the therapists office, was putting on a performance for me.  They had to be acting – showing off for all that observed them in the waiting room.  A part of me was annoyed while another part of me was so jealous.  If these actions were the indications of a “real” family, what was my family?  What were we?  That day began the understanding that my reality didn’t match the definition I had believed and created.  My house, my relationships with those in my house, were not safe.  They were independent of one another.  This family was a living  safe zone.  Watching them gave me hope and gave me a vision for the future I am trying to live today.

Finally, I can feel the kids and I starting to become a safe zone.  Last night I brought home 1000 letters that needed to be stuffed into envelopes and labeled for a large mailing at work.  The nice guy I work with offered to give them each a gift card to help out (I like to think they would have helped out anyway).  So we set up an assembly line style, put on the radio, and started our system:  fold, stuff, label.  As you may imagine this allows for a natural flow of conversation, especially after two hours of stuffing at the table.  It took time, but the transparent conversation began.  The kids began to share memories with each other.  When I walked out of the room, they continued to talk to each other in a respectful way.  They talked about what they remembered from the divorce, they began to ask me questions, they teased each other.  It was a win.  It was safe.  It was confirmation that this pain, this suffering, this year has been worth it.  We are becoming the family that I knew was possible.

Creating a new family is like a glass mosaic.  Someone took a hammer to our family of four and shattered the already broken pieces.  I then looked at the pile of rubble, and I picked out the pieces I wanted to keep.  I have been working to glue them together to make a new beautiful piece.  You can see the edges at times if you look closely.  You can see where we have had to use extra glue to hold the pieces together.  But when you stand back and look at it, the glass pieces glimmer in the light.  They give hope and provide a reminder that broken pieces can still be beautiful.

Hide and Seek

My soul plays this game with me.  It hides deep inside covered by a shroud of darkness.  My soul is broken and the pieces are scattered remains that cower in dark corners.  They are jagged and try to cut those who come too close.  They have names:  Fear.  Doubt.  Guilt.  Worry.  Sadness.  But they are quick and shifty.  They are shapeshifters.  Fear quickly transforms into Worry.  Guilt turns to Sadness.  Doubt and Blame combine and transform into Regret.  But they all end up looking the same way:  Hopeless.

So I hide. Inside.  I hide.  From myself, from the world, and from those who love me the most.  I cower.  I hide in the recesses of a cavernous, empty cave that reverberates back my fears lest I forget why I am hiding in the first place.  I hide in the box marked “FRAGILE.”

But I have people, who have whole souls, that will try to pull me out.  They aren’t afraid of boxes that are stamped FRAGILE.  Their souls have sharp scissors that can cut through the protective barriers my fragments of soul pieces try to protect.  Their souls have words of encouragement.  They have words of hope.  They push open anyways.  They grit their teeth and dig in.  They let in the light.  They call out, “Ready or not, here I come.”  And they come around each corner, looking in each crevice, and they PULL ME OUT.  They tell me, “it is OK to let people see your hurt.”  They say, “Just come out with us for one drink.”  They encourage and say, “Everyday won’t always be this hard.”  They say, “One day I got my soul back, and you will get yours back too.”  Some bring their broken soul pieces and begin to weave them with mine.  Some push past the tears and fears and reach deep down. They pull out the pieces, even in the midst of shapeshifting.  They keep pulling, even if they get cut.

On Being Happy

Before I began the divorce process, I downloaded the song “Because I’m Happy” on my ringtone.  Growing up my dad used to (and still does) sing the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  Happiness has kinda been the soundtrack of my life.  It’s how I strive to live and how I want others to think of me.

I am the type of person who believes that your happiness is dependent on you, not on other people.  I have zero tolerance for people who blame their disappointments in life on other people or their circumstances.  However, I have learned that when you are married to someone that is NOT happy, it does become a part of your world whether you choose it or not.  I thought for a long time my happiness wasn’t dependent on someone else.  And for every other relationship in my life, that was the truth.  Except for my marriage.  I just don’t believe that you can separate your life from your spouse when you are married.  If one person isn’t happy, you can’t be a happy couple…no matter how hard you try, wish, or want it to be.  You can pretend.  You can live in denial.  You can do the best you can with what you have.  But you can’t be happy together no matter what you tell yourself.  And while I may have chosen to live with someone who wasn’t happy, at some point I decided it wasn’t fair to my children….and ultimately it wasn’t fair to me.  So I left.

I had a really nice dinner out tonight with an old running friend.  She and I bonded years ago when we were in the same running group and training for a marathon together.  When you spend long hours on a Saturday with someone, you become really close.  The shared experience of running a marathon forms a special bond.  Even though we usually only see each other once a year, it is just like Saturday morning runs when we get together.  At the end of our dinner, she looked at me and said, “Be happy.  Wait, you are happy.  Just continue to be happy because that is who you are.”  That spoke volumes to me, happiness isn’t something I am trying to be…it is just who I am.  Being happy isn’t something that I take for granted, it is something I cherish.  This is especially true during the hard times.

This week was a week of breakthroughs.  After some really rough breakdowns, we finally had a breakthrough.  The other night it was really late, way past a reasonable time for the kids to be up on a school night.  My daughter was washing her face in my bathroom and grabbed my fancy towel to dry off.  I wanted to yell, “Don’t use that towel, get a different one.”  But I stopped myself and thought, “It’s a towel.  You can wash it.  Does it really matter?”  A few minutes later, both she and my son crawled into bed with me and we played a picture app on my phone.  We laughed, hugged and the kids were so cute with each other.  This was different.  This was the family time I wanted.  It wasn’t forced, it was just like, this is what we do.  Yelling about the towel could have stifled the love and joy that followed.  I am so glad I decided not to yell.

And one other breakthrough.  My son and his friend wanted to go to the movies; they are 14.  So I parked the car, walked in the movies and paid for them.  I handed them their tickets so they could go to the show and told them I would pick them up when it was over.  Then the most amazing thing happened.  My son turned around hugged me and kissed me and said “Thanks, Mom.”  There were people, lots of people waiting in line and trying to move past us.  It was crowded.  There could have been kids from his school.  He could have just kept walking.  But that it not what happened.  And he did it because he was happy.  It was a natural expression of his happiness.

I am taking it a day at a time.  But when I look back, I see something happening with our happiness factor in this house.  I can feel it.  It is like the cloud is lifting.  We are getting into a groove.  We are finding ways to connect with one another that we haven’t been able to in the past.  We are enjoying the small moments which I can’t remember having recently.  It has been a really rough couple of years, and we have all suffered as a result.  But we are healing.  I can feel it.  I am not just happy, we are becoming happy.  And it’s real.  Not fake happy, but happy-happy.

Dealing with Divorce…and Teenagers

“This is all your fault.”

“I love you, Mom”

“Do you have the legal right to (fill in the blank)?”

“Give me a hug and let’s snuggle.”

“Why are you so rude?”

“You’re the best mom”

“I hate it here.”

“Dad is so much nicer than you.”

If I wasn’t bipolar before the divorce process, I am beginning to think it’s a possibility with the amount of mood swings happening by the teenagers in my house.  Ask anyone who has been through life with a teenager, and they will undoubtedly tell you that the teen years are exhausting.  Let me tell you, they are even more exhausting in the midst of divorce.

For God sake, I started my career as a high school English teacher.  My personal speciality is teenages.  Yet, here I am with these mangey, smelly teens that have no sense of who I am.  Do they not know that my students loved me?  My students thought I was funny and charming, and the “cool” teacher?  I knew how to flip a rhyme or insert a witty comeback quicker than they could like that instagram selfie.  Yet, here I am with my own two teens who think that I am the most uncool and annoying creature that walks this planet.  Did I mention they think I’m annoying?  They think that I’m annoying.

When I was in the midst of conversations about the divorce with my ex, I often tried to tell him that in all of our decisions we needed to do what would be “best for the kids.”  We (really me) discussed how we were going to tell the kids about the divorce.  We (really me) discussed how we would determine where they would live and how to tell them they were moving.  During every conversation with my ex, I could pretty much guarantee the phrase “best interest of the kids” was going to be spoken by me.  The kids.  The kids.  The kids.  This is what I worried about the most and the topic I felt needed the most attention during the early months of our divorce.  One day he told me, “You always loved the kids more than me; that was part of the problem.”  I have tried to process this in so many ways.  My possible responses included:

“I love the kids in spite of you.”

“They are kids, and you are an adult.”

“Aren’t they your kids too?”

But instead, I had no verbal response. The sad thing is that he did not want to dig deeper to understand why he felt that way, but rather it was easier to blame me for the jealousy he felt about my relationship with our children. Blame has been a recurring theme during most of our marriage.  Blame me for convincing him to take that vacation and then regretting not having money in the bank.  Blame the kids for running around when he was trying to rest.  Blame himself for prior decisions that he made.  Blame and regret were the twin brothers of despair which haunted my marriage for a long time.  For a long time I tried to fix it for him, but I have since realized that those are things that only he can fix.

One of the most difficult things at the end of my marriage was the feeling that I was trying to raise the children by myself.  At some point, I not only realized that I was parenting the children by myself, I was also parenting my ex.  When I finally figured out that I was supposed to be his wife and NOT his mother, I stopped being his mother.  I changed the only thing that I could change:  myself.  I asked him to leave and when he refused, I took my kids and left.  I took my teenagers. My highly intelligent son and my emotionally charged daughter, and I walked out the door and left.  And those very same teens, who now question my authority, talk back with sass, and generally live either as my best friend or my worst nightmare in any given minute—came with me.  Even though they could not even begin to process what had happened, they trusted me and came with me.  Now I need to go with them on the journey they are facing as teens.

So, I have tried to come up with some strategies to help me navigate raising teenagers in the midst of a challenging time.

Be Available.  There is a book I read recently called The Available Parent.  We live in a time of distraction.  Devices, messages, selfies…oh Lord, the selfies.  When one of my kids wants to talk to me, I have to tell myself to stop what I am doing, look at him/her and really listen.  I have to be available when they need me.  I have found that when I am available for them, they have been available for me when I needed them.  When it comes to teenagers, they just need to know that you will be there for them when they need you.  So I make myself go and sit by them, even when I have a ton of other “stuff” I could be doing.  I have to remind myself to stop, slow down, and appreciate the moments I can to just be there physically with my kids.  They will go off to college, live their lives and while they will one day come back to visit, there won’t always be days that I can go and sit on their bed and just be with them.

Take what you can get.  Sometimes they will let me snuggle.  Sometimes they won’t.  I have to take all the snuggles I can get when they are willing to give them.  It is the same with smiles, laughs, hugs, and kisses.  These don’t come as easy now that my kids are older.  They still come, and when they do, I try to embrace them and hope they last just a little bit longer.

Don’t judge.  Teens really do want the approval of their parents, but not at the cost of feeling judged.  I really like people who don’t judge me and accept me for who I am.  My kids are the same way.  When they tell me how they handled something, I try to be thankful that they are sharing their feelings with me.  When I see them make a social mistake, I fight myself to keep my mouth shut.  I don’t need to judge their social misgivings, their peers are way more harsh on them on a daily basis.  They need to feel that when they talk to me they are safe.  It is a place free from the litany of insults, teen drama and discomfort of not knowing who you are or who you will be.  The need for likes should end when they walk in the door.

Don’t break them.  When my kids were babies, I was gentle with them.  I held them closely, cradled their necks so their heads wouldn’t pop off, and softly placed them in their cribs to ensure they would not wake from their precious rest.  Being gentle wasn’t necessary, it was mandatory!  Our teens aren’t much different than babies expect, at times, they make you want to break their neck or wake them up because it is 1:00 in the afternoon and they have been sleeping all day.  When they were babies, I made sure I was gentle so I didn’t break this tiny, precious cargo.  As teenagers they are just as precious, expect the damage we do isn’t as obvious.  We must nurture them, even when they refuse to be nurtured.  When they do something stupid, as they will, we must be sure to mix the right amount of reality with the belief that they will overcome their mistakes.  But most of all, I don’t want to break their spirits.  Both of my teens have a strong sense of their own ideas.  At times, their strength can be overshadowed by my strength to see things done “my way.”  It is good for them to own their attitudes, behavior, and actions.  To make them feel emotionally incapacitated is breaking them beyond repair.

I am so thankful that I have this opportunity to raise my teens.  I try everyday to make the best decisions as a single mom and am slowly learning how to help them develop into their own individual people.  While raising them alone was not my first choice, raising them the best I can is my choice and one I embrace everyday.

A Ring of Promise

I have continually seen this commercial by Forevermark lately on television.  The narrator romantically shares, “A true promise can never be broken.”  The man then slips a beautiful diamond ring on the woman’s finger.  I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of a wedding ring.

I remember vividly the day after my ex proposed.  We sat on the couch and looked at my ring.  He showed me the paperwork which displayed the grade, color and cut of the diamond.  He was so proud…so happy he could give me something so special.  We were 20 years old and this was by far the most expensive thing he had ever purchased and the nicest thing someone other than my parents had given me.  I would drive to work and stare at the ring on my finger at each stop sign and red light.  I would put it up to the light and let the sparkles create tiny rainbows on the ceiling of my car.  It meant something.  It represented a dream for our future, for our lives together, for, well, forever.

After we (I) decided to split, he made a list of all of our property.  My wedding ring was on the itemized list.  In parenthesis, he had put “charity???”  When I asked about it, he said “I thought we could give it to charity since it doesn’t mean anything.”  This is what divorce does…it chips away at something that is beautiful and meaningful and important and turns it into something that is unrecognizable.

Over the years, he had a few wedding rings.  He had the one I placed on his finger on our wedding day.  He had the titanium one I bought him one year for Christmas.  He had one that had “Love” engraved on one side and “Dad” on the other.  All in all, there were many rings over the years.  All in all, he never really committed to wearing any of them consistently.  I don’t think he liked the way it felt.  I don’t think he remembered.  For a while, he worked outside and with his hands and couldn’t wear a ring because it would get ruined at work.  At the end, I think he stopped wearing it because he was done.  I don’t think he knew it, but I think it was the reality.

For me the physical ring was not was important.  It was the promise that I made on that day to be his wife.  During our marriage, whether I had my ring on my finger or not, I knew I was his wife.  Even when I forgot to wear my ring at times, I never felt like I was not married.  To me the commitments we made on our wedding day had defined me as “wife.”  For many years, the ring on my finger symbolized an inward promise I had made.  While others may have been able to see the physical ring on my finger, they could not see the promise in my heart.  Now that I don’t have a ring on my finger, I am hyper-aware of my naked left ring finger.

It’s funny.  A ring on someone’s finger was something I never noticed.  Wearing my wedding ring was never an option for me.  It was just who I was and what I did.  In fact, it was something that I took for granted.  Now, it’s the first thing that I notice when I look at others.  Strangers in the store, the cashier at the grocery store, the other parents at my daughter’s soccer game – I look immediately at their ring finger.  Are they wearing a ring?  Do they still hold on to a promise that they once made?

When I see that commercial, I think about the promise of a ring.  They aren’t selling engagement rings, they are selling a dream.  And sometimes dreams turn into nightmares before you have a chance to wake up.

Tears, Truth and Promises

I walked out of the home with my final belongings, closed the back of the truck, and drove away.  I took a few agreed upon pieces of furniture, but there was one item that sat on the shelf that I couldn’t even allow myself to touch:  my wedding album.  The fullness of joy I felt on my wedding day is in deep juxtaposition to the emptiness I feel on this day.  It was the trigger:  the thing that put me into my crying state for the past 12 hours.

I am so sad.  Just so so sad today.  I am sad that there was a promise that is now a lie.  I am sad that I am watching my children bravely face their worst nightmare, the realization that their parents won’t work it out.  I am sad that I made a choice that will have a direct dramatic outcome in three other individuals lives; not to consider the others I have dragged in this fun with me.  I am sad that the dream I once thought I had is dead.  And because that dream is dead, the person who once championed that dream is now dead to me too.  I am sad that I continually try to over-analyze what I could have done different and how I could have avoided this outcome.  I am sad that my children will always wonder if it was something that they did to cause us to give up on the promise.  I am sad because I feel like I have disappointed people – people I care a lot about.  I am sad on so many levels the feelings keep getting mixed with my tears and are’t coming out very clear in writing.

My 11 year old daughter came to me to remind me of something I missed.  She asked me why I was crying.  I told her it had been a hard day moving all the stuff out of the house. She looked at me and said “but you still have all the great memories in your heart.”  I hugged her so tight.  I do have the memories in my heart.  I get to keep the good memories and make the choice for them not to be tainted by the divorce.  I told her, “you are so smart to remind me that I will always have the memories in my heart and I have lots of good memories from our old house.” She then asked me how her Daddy proposed to me?

I had a choice to make, and make it quick.  So I told the story.  So I explained where we were and how her dad got down on one knee and put the ring on my finger.  She got a little bored with the story as I gave some details of what music was playing, who was in the other room, etc.  I didn’t cry.  I told her the story.  The love story.  I told the story without bitterness, regret, or even sadness.  I told the story with honor and integrity and made sure the theme of love was prevalent.  Because even though the story has changed, that story was the truth at that time and no matter how bitter, annoyed, hurt, or sad I feel, I do not have the right to change the story now to fit my current circumstances.  Even though our promise is not there now, it once was.  I have the ring to prove it.

Being an “official” single mom over the holidays should be less stress for me than in year’s past.   Sometimes he would come to family events, often he would not.  Both scenarios stressed me out.  If he was there, he was disengaged in the family activity.  If he was not there, I was worrying about the fact that he didn’t want to come and making excuses for him when people asked.  The difference is for the past 16 years he had a seat at the table.  This year that seat will be gone.  And it will be obvious.  It will say, you are not invited to our family, fun holiday.  You will not be here to see the kids laugh, wrestle, and joke around.  You will not see them as they make up dances and songs and do non-stop handstands a plenty.  And I will be sad.  And I will try really hard not to cry.  But I can’t make any promises.  Because I am still getting over the last promise I didn’t keep.

Tangled

I remember the exact moment that was a turning point for me in the decision to end my marriage of 16 years. I was sitting in the therapist’s office on the dark brown leather couch loosely holding on to one of the green accent pillows for comfort. I went alone either because he chose not to go or I didn’t invite him. Either way, I was there to talk about my marriage. What I talked about that day in general, I don’t remember; however, I gave myself permission to be emotional–a luxury I don’t often allow.

I looked at my therapist, slowly removed my glasses and set them on the table, and began to wipe the tears off my cheeks. I leaned forward and said, “I am so tired of being in survival mode all of the time. I just can’t live like this anymore.” She looked at me and paused. The words floated up to the surface and began to settle with the weight of lifeless truth. Then she asked me, “Have you told your husband that?” That question slapped me in the face and left a scar.

I drove back to work and those words “I can’t live like this anymore” haunted me. For some going to therapy might lead to answers, for me it almost always leads to more questions. Was I really in survival mode? Did I even know what “living in survival mode” really meant? Should I tell him how I feel? Will he believe me? What can I change? Was I being overdramatic? Couldn’t I just “get it together” like I had so often told him to do?

The weeks and months following that bold admission are as fuzzy as a computer monitor about to go out. The images appear blurred and layered. It is difficult to determine where marriage ends and divorce begins. I try to remember what I said, what he said, and what conversations took place so that I can frame this seemingly impossible mess of a life I am working through. I want clarity. I want to make sense of it all. I want to go back and watch it over and over like re-runs of my favorite TV shows where I have the lines memorized.  Yet, there are no lines to memorize because in order to cope they must be forgotten. The memories of the past year are forever tangled and reverberate back to me jumbled like voices inside of a cave. As hard as I try, they cannot be relegated back to their original states: marriage and divorce.

Upon reflection, I suppose the narrow thought that my marriage ended that day in therapy is a fallacy. That was simply the conscious admission of what I knew to be true for several years. Someone once told me that a marriage doesn’t end overnight, it erodes over time. One day you wake up and realize that the sharp jagged rocks that were once used to keep your marriage safe from outside predators have been worn down and you roll over and realize you are sleeping next to a shark.