I feel as if I am floating in the middle of the ocean on a flimsy raft. No one is around to help me and I don’t know where I’m going. Almost all of my friends are married and I don’t know how to talk to them about my separation, so I seek solace in books.
While scanning the divorce section at the library, a punch in the gut memory comes to me. I’ve just gotten home from the same library, only this time I’m carrying my infant son and several parenting books. I only need to glance at a few of the back covers, where I see a male author grinning at me, to automatically hurl those books across the room. A quick peruse of a couple more, that state my baby should be sleeping through the night by now, get those books chucked as well. I make a vow right there and then to never trust a smiley-faced jackass over myself when it comes to my life.
I leave the nonfiction section and fill my bag with various fiction and memoirs about divorce. No one is going to tell me what to do, but they can keep me company in my lonely evenings. I’m tired of being alone on this raft.
Although I try to avoid advice, I still glean there are several stages divorced women go through: denial, adjustment, and acceptance. Like my son, I am not going through these phases. I’ve passed through at least twenty in the past four months, but none of them were the “right phases.” But I want to share some of them with you anyway. because I have a hunch, you are not an “appropriate stage” person either.
Salt in the wounds. Obviously a masochist, during my cry for hours and wake-up looking like I lost a boxing match phase, I deepen my pain by holding my wasband’s (isn’t that a better word than ex-husband?) shirts to my face and inhaling deeply while gazing at photo albums depicting times when we were happy and in love. The wedding album serves as the granddaddy rock salt for such occasions.
Purging. I need change and I need it now. Any big idea that floats through my muddled brain is implemented immediately. Chopping off all of my hair, giving away half of my possessions, a service project in Guatemala, and designing a tattoo for myself are a few of these changes. The verdict is still out on which ones are actually good decisions.
I can’t live without this wrench. While grilling salmon for friends, I cry, “He’ll take the grill to his new house.” While unscrewing my son’s bicycle tire, I say, “I love this wrench. It always worked better than mine. Maybe I’ll hide it so he doesn’t take it.” I never mourn any of the possessions I recently purged, I only cry over things I assumed would always be there.
Bumps in the night. Insomnia kicks in and with every 2:00 a.m. wake up comes an onset of fears. What if someone tries to break in? How am I going to afford being a single mom of two kids on my meager writer’s salary? Will I always be alone? What if the hot water heater explodes right now and I have to go to the emergency hot water heater store, but the kids are sleeping and they have school tomorrow, so I can’t watch over them and also clean up the mess while ….
Mother’s little helpers. Along with Simply Sleep sleeping pills, I become very fond of gin, wine and chocolate. Being a single mom becomes a lot easier with the aid of that second glass of wine.
Stalker. The night-stand full of books can only keep me company for so long. Eventually, I need to talk to other women. Whenever someone mentions they are divorced, separated, or single and my age, I stalk them. The woman at Trader Joe’s who bags my groceries, my son’s teacher, and a woman who comes to one of my readings, are a few of the kind souls who finally submit to my pleas for joining me for a cup of coffee. Once I have them captive in my car, I say, ‘Screw coffee, we’re going to go get a drink. I need to hear everything about your divorce, starting with, how long did it take you to stop feeling like shit?”
Ecstasy. Feeling lonely, scared, guilty, and generally as if I’ve screwed up not only my life, but my kids’ and wusband’s lives as well, was mildly tolerable when it was pissing down rain every day, but then the sun comes out and everyone in Seattle acts as if they’re on ecstasy. Not only does this make me hate my situation all the more and resent all of the happy people, I also feel depraved that I don’t know where to get free drugs.
Get Out. My home, which had been my sanctuary for years, begins to feel like a prison. I can’t stand being surrounded by the constant reminder of happier, or at least more denial-filled, days. I take another drawing class, learn how to salsa dance, join a meditation group with free childcare, drop in on friends, drop in on my kids’ friends, go to the beach, have picnics in the rain, and strike up numerous conversations with the chatty, because she’s insane, neighbor all as a way to avoid the tomb that is my home.
3. I start to view the world in threes rather than fours. I set three plates every night for dinner. I am the third wheel when I stow away in the back of my friend’s car so I can accompany her and her husband on their date night. I am the third person in a world filled with twos and fours.
Aliens. But of all of these twos and fours, I do not know a single couple that I admire. I know very few that I would even call happy. I rack my brain for any time or place when I may have known a role model couple, and I can’t think of any. Yet, I’ve ended a relationship with a very sweet and conscientious man, albeit depressed to the point of being emotionally unavailable, because I’m sure there is something better than comfort and familiarity. I’m sure there’s something more than love, there’s being in love. It feels analogous to giving up my life as I knew it to search for aliens and UFOs.
Remote Control. My stalking pays off and I befriend some other “ones.” They are fortunate enough to have survived this heinous thing called divorce and are kind enough to share their experience with me. “You’re going to make it, really,” they coo as they stroke my head and feed me sugar.
“I want to fast forward my life so I can be you (I point to the vertical friend) and not me (I point to the crumbled mass on the floor).”
“It doesn’t work that way. Plus, you would miss out on a lot of joy and healing along the way.”
I am about to scoff, but know they’re right. Sure, these last few months have been brutal, but I’d still take them over the despair and loneliness I felt while being married. Being alone feels as if it has possibilities, whereas, my marriage felt like a dead end.
I’ve laughed, cried, screamed, hurled things, smashed things, and yelped with joy far more in the last few months than I did in the fifteen years I was with my wusband. And my kids, who have witnessed and emoted right along with me, seem thrilled to no longer live in a house deafening with it’s stony silences. They live in a house that is alive. They hug me and tell me they love me more now than ever. Gone are their nightmares and other signs of anxiety and in their place are laughter and statements of, “I can do it myself!” And they can.
And I am a better mother for them and like myself more because I finally feel alive. I am able to have all of my emotions, I’m taking care of myself, and am putting myself and my writing out there in ways that I never would have dared to. My life feels full of possibilities and I am inspired by all of the other “ones” I am meeting. Women who have not crumbled, but rather blossomed after the big “D.” All of this allows me to feel confident that I can endure this journey into the unknown. In fact, I’ll do better than that. I’ll rise from the ashes and soar.