December 31, 2016

Crowded beds

I like how many people know I'm obsessed with the Golden Girls. I was a strange kid with odd interests who would get picked on or teased, so I kept really quiet about my quirks until I got older. It's absolutely the most refreshing thing about being an adult: to love what I love, fearlessly.

I've got every season on DVD. I can quote episodes - whole dialogues, even - with ease. Before I had Noah, it was my go-to when I was grading tests and papers - put it on in the background so I can listen and laugh but I can still grade since I don't need to actively watch. Now, I don't watch it as much - I try to do as much work on-campus so my time at home is wholly dedicated to Noah - but whenever it's on, I like to tune in to an episode while I fold laundry or do the dishes.

When a show has an ensemble cast, it's not just for diversity of plot lines, but for diversity of the characters - the more people on screen, the more likely the viewers will find someone to relate to. Think Friends, think Sex and the City - everyone who loves those shows finds a little of themselves in a character.

For me, it's the Golden Girls, and I'm totally a Dorothy. There are some details that don't match up entirely - she got pregnant in high school, she got divorced after 38 years - but I see a lot of myself in her. Bookworm, sensitive but tough on the outside, strong, sarcastic, and deeply loving to her friends and family. I see a lot of her bad traits in me too - I've definitely got know-it-all tendencies, and I definitely get my heart broken a lot from being perhaps overly trusting, from wanting so badly to feel loved and connected to someone that you're willing to overlook a lot of terrible things because this moment feels alright. I forget what movie or show I was watching, but one of the characters said something to the effect of: when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags. That's definitely Dorothy - and it's totally me, too.

Over the seasons, Dorothy has a few different relationships, but the biggest recurring one is with her ex-husband, Stan. They got pregnant in high school, married, then divorced after he ran away with a woman with whom he was cheating. Dorothy's hurt, for sure - and in an early episode, she finally tells him off and gets the closure she wanted from her divorce. But he doesn't disappear - they've got kids, not young ones, but they still have that shared history and future.

Stan is comic relief - he's a caricature of a man, the butt of every punchline in each of his episodes. He often makes efforts to redeem himself, but they're almost always driven by selfish reasons. He claims to want forgiveness, he says he wants repaired relationships - but mostly, he wants things to be better for himself. His bottom line is that he wants to do right by Stan - and Dorothy gets hurt a lot by this, because she's overly trusting. She remembers the good times, she enjoys that comfortable familiarity of being with someone with whom she has history - but the leopard doesn't change his spots. He's still the man who cheated. He's still a liar. He's still deeply immature as far as relationships go.

Still, they rekindle their relationship at various times - just physically at one point, then dating, then even a proposal that gets as far as the wedding day before Dorothy comes to her senses. On their second wedding day, Stan asks for a pre-nup - which offends Dorothy, because if anyone should have trust issues in the relationship, it should be her. They may still have feelings for one another, but that doesn't mean they ought to be together - and remarried?! Certainly even less so.

The one unselfish thing Stan does for Dorothy is in the series finale. (I hope it's not a spoiler but, some on, the episode's almost 25 years old.) She's getting married to Lucas, a man who adores her and treats her right, a man who loves her for who she is. And she discovers in her limo on the way, Stan's the driver. He's upset that he wasn't invited to the wedding. And he goes into an anecdote - a strange metaphor about his hair. About how he's loyal even though he irritates her endlessly, and what that ought to mean to her. And she confesses why she hadn't invited him:
Dorothy: All right, Stanley, the truth. Things have been going so well with Lucas, I didn't want to deal with you. But, as Freud said: our beds are crowded. When I sleep with Lucas, I'm not alone. There's this phantom of you there, and he has the haunts of his prior relationships, and, well, I can't pretend you're not a part of me.
Stan: So, what are you saying, you slept with this guy?
Dorothy: Stanley, you're missing my point ... what I'm saying is thank you. Stanley, for the first time in a long while, you're really acting like a man.
Stan: I love you, Dorothy. I've always loved you.
Dorothy: And I love you, Stanley. Now drive.
At the church, we hear Dorothy's internal monologue. She's happy - really happy. She didn't think she'd ever be loved like this. Didn't feel like she deserved real joy. But this day - this love - this is all for her. The priest asks "unless anyone here has cause for objection..." and the camera cuts to Stan. He looks humbled. He finally knows what he's losing - and this time, she'll be gone for good. And the first, best thing Stan does for her in a decades-long relationship - he keeps quiet. It's his first unselfish decision in the series, and likely ever.

The first time I saw the episode, I sobbed. And I wasn't even married at that point. I don't think I'd even met Matt, to be honest. But now, as my relationship continued, then ended, and now exists as it is ... it rings truer.

I love Matt very much. It's hard to explain, because I also don't love him, and I care for him, and I can't stand him, and he understands me, and he doesn't get me at all, and I still feel incredibly angry a lot of the time. I can forgive how badly he hurt me, because I know there is good in him, and I believe in second chances and redemption. But I can't forgive him leaving Noah. I can't forgive him valuing whatever is in Chicago more than this time with his little boy. Maybe it's socializing, maybe it's the job - I don't care, there's nothing he could say to justify it. I'm selfish in a lot of ways, but not when it comes to Noah.

I definitely relate to Dorothy in a lot of ways surrounding relationships. I wonder a lot if Matt was my one chance, if I will be alone if I don't settle for him or someone just as wrong for me, if I will ever know what it feels like to be honestly loved by someone. Sometimes he visits and I'm angry, remembering so many difficult times - and sometimes he visits, and I wonder why I was so desperate to leave him.

In those times, I turn to my writing - not just blog posts, but little notes I composed for myself along the way - like time capsules for me to reread in weak moments down the road. They're very raw, very emotional. I reread them and remember just how I felt: so hurt by someone who was supposed to love me, so alone even when we were in the same room. It's important to remember that for all of the good history, there's just as much of it (or even more) that was painful.

It's been an interesting week, for sure. I've enjoyed having him around, not only for the extra help while I've been still fighting a cold, but just in general. It's been nice to not be alone. It's been nice to feel like a family again, even if it is a little broken one. I'm trying to be Dorothy - loving, but firm. Allowing him closer, but not losing my head. Forgiving, but not forgetting.

Certainly not how I expected to spend the last day of 2016, but somehow, it fits.

December 29, 2016

Green and bright

Perfectly fitting for the year we've had, this Christmas, we went to the woods.

It wasn't exactly roughing it - we had a cabin, with a kitchen and a bathroom and even a television with more channels than at home. But it was perfect. Such a gorgeous park - I thought out loud as we pulled into the park, this was the best decision, for sure.

Noah and I explored a bit on Christmas Eve, went down to the lake to play on the playground and just take in the incredible scenery. After dinner at the cabin, we made drove to the airport and picked up Matt - his father, my ex-husband, the man who was in town to spend the holiday with us.

It was a nice drive back to the cabin - Noah asleep in the backseat, and we talked, not about anything in particular, but it felt friendly. When we got back, we tucked Noah in, laid out the presents, and headed to bed - him on the living room futon, me and Noah each on a twin bed in the bedroom.

In the morning, we opened gifts - small, but meaningful ones, not anything extravagant or expensive. Noah was happiest to receive the toy cash register he'd asked Santa for, as well as his ranger's hat and binoculars.

We did a two-mile hike through the woods, noticing all kinds of plants and animals. At the half-way point, there was a little picnic table where we stopped for a snack. After the hike, we headed to the ranger station to rent kayaks - he was out for lunch, so we walked on a boardwalk on the lake to pass the 20 minutes or so. Then, we got in our boats.

I was nervous. The last time I was in a kayak like this ... I was under 200 pounds, I was in California, everything was completely different. I was so worried I wouldn't be able to do it.

And then I did it. With Noah up front to be the lookout, we paddled across much of the lake - including a cypress grove, where we turned back to make sure we were back on the beach by sunset.

We turned in the boats and life jackets, went back to the cabin for dinner, then walked around the cabin area, just looking at millions and millions of stars.

It was an incredible day, that's just all there is. When I tucked Noah in, I cried a little, and gave him a big hug: thank you, for the best holiday I've had in a very, very long time.

December 23, 2016

Perfect and imperfect

On Sunday, we woke up, had a nice breakfast, and did a few chores around the house. We went to the grocery store, then came home and put the groceries away before heading to a state park - we'd gone to two near Charleston on Saturday, which was a long drive, so this time, we went to one near home that we'd visited before. It wasn't about sightseeing this time, just some good exercise and fresh air.

We didn't take the camera with us, just our hiking pack, and we hiked a different trail than we'd done the first time we were there. We packed a picnic lunch which we ate by the beach when we were done, then we checked out the gift shop where we got a souvenir pressed penny (and Noah got some ice cream).

We went home, showered off the bug spray, dressed nicely, and headed to the University where I work for a local ballet company's presentation of "The Nutcracker." We'd seen a billboard for it driving back from Charleston, and since I got a faculty discount, the tickets were very reasonable.

The ballet was so beautifully done - but to tell the truth, I watched him as much as I watched the dancing. It's so wonderful to look at him when he doesn't know you're looking at him - to just casually observe his little mind taking everything in.

In the middle of the second act, I started crying a little. He was so excited - the Russian Candy Cane dance was uptempo and exciting, and Mother Ginger came out with her dress full of little ballerinas - and my eyes just watered up.

We did errands, we went hiking, and we went to the ballet - all in one day.

We had a really rough year and a half during the divorce process - but now, things are different. I'm less anxious, less worried about finances. I can breathe a little - no, a lot better. And we're making this a really wonderful little life together.

I get sad a lot, thinking about when I was a kid, and what I'd wanted my adult life to look like. I didn't want to have kids before I was married - and when I had them, I wanted a few. I wanted to marry someone who loved me, someone who chose me for the right reasons, someone who wanted to be with me forever, and who fought to make that reality. I wanted to be happy, and that's how Little Me imagined it.

My life doesn't look like that - it's nothing like I ever could have pictured - but I think Little Me would still like how it's turned out. I'm happy - really, really happy - and my son is, too. He's my best little buddy, my co-pilot adventurer. And the life we're living right now is perfect and imperfect and everything in between most days, but we've fought for it and it's ours.

I've been sick all week, and he's been so good - he even slept in his own bed for the first time in longer than I can remember! I'm doing the best I can to make sure I am as back-to-normal as possible before we head out to our cabin.

I'm so, so excited for Christmas with my little one - for being active, for having an adventure, for spending a holiday being present with one another and not just focusing on material things. It's going to be really special, I just know it!

December 21, 2016

Forgiving

Our last Christmas together was one of those times when I knew - if this isn't rock bottom, I don't know what could be lower.

He'd found a staff position at the same university where I teach, which was good news in general, but it meant he'd be stuck on campus later than I would for the semester. So Noah and I flew up north to visit my family, he would drive up once work was done, and we would drive back down together when the holiday was done. He arrived on Christmas Eve, and I let him rest - it's a very long drive, and holidays with my family are certainly intense.

Christmas morning, we opened gifts with my family. Noah was about a year and a half, and my niece was just over six months old - it was really beautiful. We ate my mom's usual insane feast and after dinner, we all sat around the table to play Cards Against Humanity - one of the gifts I'd purchased for him, since he'd loved playing at a party we had gone to and wanted his own set so we could host a game night some time.

And while we were playing, he kept getting distracted by his phone. Come on, let's play! everyone kept nudging him along. I knew what was going on - I knew what it meant. By this point in our relationship, I had come to understand what that distracted secrecy was all about. It was a girl we both knew, a friend he'd made online in South Carolina. And he was telling her how unhappy he was, how he didn't think I was happy, and how there was nothing he could do about it ... but that they should go grab a drink some time.

When the game was put away, we headed upstairs to the room we were staying in. We laid in bed, and he reached over and put his hand on me.

Don't you dare touch me, I whisper-shouted at him. I told him I saw what he was saying, and asked why. The response I got was his usual one, full of regret at being caught but not for committing the actions: I'm a shitty person, I don't know why I can't stop doing this.

We had the same fight dozens of times over the course of our relationship. He'd get sneaky, I'd get upset, he'd get defensive, I'd get quiet, he'd get sneakier. Maybe it's just me, but if someone I loved said they were suspicious about something I was doing, I would sit them down and ask what I could do to repair the trust. I would show, I would explain - I would make absolutely certain that my partner knew that I could be trusted. He isn't like that. He started erasing messages, changing passwords, deleting our computer's history.

He said it wasn't cheating, that he never actually did anything. And I said it didn't matter: I'm telling you it hurts me, and you don't care. I'm telling you that this upsets me - I don't care that it doesn't lead to anything physical, I care that you know this hurts me and I don't matter enough for you to stop.

Well, what do we do now? Are you going to leave me?

I wanted so badly to say yes. I wasn't strong enough yet.

No. I don't know. But I need some space.

The next day, I drove him to the train station in New Haven. I told him to go stay with his college friends in New York City for a few days, and we'd talk about when I'd pick him up. Noah was in the backseat with my brother, who was entirely unaware of why we'd stopped at the train station, and who was as comforting as a 13-year-old kid could be when Matt walked away and I started bawling.

A few days later, I got him at the station, and he handed me a present: red toile potholders from the gift shop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And I was so ... angry. I should have said a million things other than thank you. I wish I'd said what I'd actually thought, which was fuck you for treating this like a vacation. This was supposed to be time apart to think about why our marriage is barely a year old and completely falling apart - not a joyride with your bachelor buddies while I got stuck at home, again, taking care of our son alone, and wondering how much longer I'd be married.

I knew things weren't getting better, and I was terrified to think of how I would feel if they got any worse. Three months later, I found out. And that was it. Rock bottom. The end.

I have never been over-the-top with Christmas spirit to begin with, but when Noah was born, I started to feel a little more joyful. That was deeply upset by that last Christmas we spent together, and last year - my first year post-separation - I didn't want to travel north and rehash all the memories up there. Noah and I spent it quietly at home in South Carolina - no bells, no whistles, and my own safe home space for the grieving tears.

This year, with the divorce paperwork resolved and a better sense of self, I'm out to reclaim this holiday, to make it a source of joy for me again. I rented a cabin in one of the state parks, and we're bringing our little tree. We'll make decorations for it, and this year, we'll be leaving Santa a s'more from our campfire.

And - a surprise for Noah - his father will be joining us for part of it.

Let's get one thing completely, certainly, absolutely clear - what I want to reconcile is our past, not our relationship. Whatever romantic feelings I once had are entirely gone - no physical attraction, no interest at all. Right now, after our last time together ... I don't know if I could be with anyone right now without crying. That part of my life is still deeply traumatized and grieving. When I am ready, I need something meaningful, and right now I know - I am definitely not ready for anything like that.

So what do I want, really?

I want to make peace with what our relationship was, and with how it ended, so the new role we have as ex-spouses and co-parents is smooth and peaceful. I want to find it in my heart to forgive him. And I want to have a nice holiday for my son where I don't put him to bed and spend the rest of the night crying and feeling like a worthless failure whose husband of barely a year spends Christmas night complaining to some woman he met online. That year, I felt humiliated - and the next year, it was all I could think about. I don't want to associate that with Christmas anymore.

I'm really proud of how assertive the divorce has made me. I've always been quieter, very non-confrontational. Not that I'm loud and aggressive now by any means - but I am certainly much more vocal now about choosing what is best for myself and for Noah.

And oh, is sweet Noah so excited for the cabin! He told me what he wants to eat for Christmas dinner, he helped me pick out little $1 headlamps for an evening hike, and we've looked up maps and pictures of different things we're excited to see at the park where we'll stay. And this year, finally, I'm looking forward to the holiday again.

My word for 2016 was reclaim - reclaim my life, reclaim my health, reclaim my happiness. And I'm ready to reclaim my joy - to take it back from the sadness and anger and frustration and everything that was so prevalent last year.

December 16, 2016

Together

The timing of his remorse is not at all surprising. He didn't say anything about regret or wanting differently for a year and a half while we were divorcing - coincidentally, for that year and a half, he was living with family members, enjoying a social life without restriction, going to the movies, attending football and baseball games. In the last month and a half, though, he's been brought back down to earth. Now, on top of a hefty monthly child support payment (and five-figures of debt for 18 months of retroactive payments for which I argued and fought hard), he's finally back to living on his own - with all the expenses that come with that.

He's never lived on his own, completely. He had a roommate when I met him, then we moved in together, and then we were three. Not everyone enjoys this particular solitude, and I think for him, it has less to do with his extroversion and more with responsibility. He's never been fully responsible for anything, including himself - there's always been someone to share the load, to help carry the burdens. Even if it was just a roommate who divided expenses and cleaned up once in a while - it was help.

And right now (and rightly so) - he's feeling helpless.

He called Noah infrequently while he was moving and settling in, mostly talking about the expense of furnishing a place from scratch (as if his three-year-old understood or cared). A few nights ago even, he called to talk to his son but spent most of his time asking me questions about how to cook.

This is an almost 30-year-old man who doesn't know how to bake chicken. I feel almost guilty, like I need to help him, because I've enabled him to get this far without knowing. (Because, you know, continuing to enable is the right response...) Cooking was something I always took care of - even when I was working full time and he was staying home with the baby, I'd come home and cook a dinner from scratch. It was our deal when we were dating - I cook, he cleans - and I didn't mind it for the most part, though it certainly would have been nice to come home one day to a meal he made - it didn't need to be fancy, even spaghetti with sauce from a jar would've been one meal I didn't have to cook after a long day at work.

Right before Thanksgiving dinner, I was sitting with a friend of Matt's - they'd grown up across the street from each other and despite countless differences, have maintained a good friendship. Mike is the kind of guy I wished Matt would pursue as a role model: he didn't always have his life together, but he knew how things could've ended up, and he worked hard to choose a different path. Matt was there too, and as we talked about Mike's applications to pharmacy school, Matt mentioned something about how he used to be smart but isn't anymore - and Mike (who isn't afraid to tell anything like it is) called him out on it. It's not that you're not smart, he said. It's that you don't want to do the work.

Later that night, in my suite alone with Matt, he made a separate comment that I wish I'd connected as soon as it was made. He was saying that he didn't think he'd ever be in another relationship, and that he'd had a conversation with his youngest brother where he said the family was "cursed" as far as relationships go, and it infuriated his brother.

It was such a dizzying conversation - I'd also just heard him say he wasn't sure getting divorced was the right decision - so I wasn't as sharp or quick as I usually am. But the next day, with hours and hours of flights and driving time back to South Carolina, I got to really, finally process it all, and try to make sense of it. Matt is a really smart guy - when he chooses to be. The capacity is there, the ability is there - it's just very selective drive. And that was frustrating to me, as his wife and partner, to see such wasted potential.

When Mike wanted to go back to college, he asked me to proofread his application letter. I looked over papers and essays for different classes, and I reviewed and sent notes on his application to pharmacy school. It was a process of several years, lots of work, and plenty of sacrifice - but now he is on the path that he wants for his life.

And I look at Matt, and I look at our relationship, and I put it all together. It's not that he's "cursed," as he put it. It's that relationships are hard work, and he didn't want to put forth the effort. It's hard to be married and make sacrifices and adapt and share. It's fun to celebrate together, but it's not all celebrating - you have to also be there for the struggles, for grieving, for challenges. As soon as it got challenging, he gave up. And that's the most painful part of processing this all: trying as hard as I can to silence the voice in my head that screams you weren't enough for him to want to stay - you weren't worth the work - what you had wasn't worth fighting for.

It's hard to overcome that feeling of not being enough. It's something I've fought my entire life, from my family to my friendships to my career to my romantic relationships, and even now as a mom. I never, ever feel like I'm enough, even when people promise and reassure me that I'm everything that they need, and more.

I'm still unsure of what happens next after our Thanksgiving conversation, and I'm a bit nervous already thinking of our next holiday: the language of our divorce paperwork has Noah with me through Christmas, and with Matt the day after through New Years. After how Thanksgiving unfolded, and since we're mostly getting along right now ... he'll be spending Christmas with us.

Together.

My family doesn't know this. I don't know if his family knows this. Our son doesn't even know this. It's part surprise for Noah, and part me not wanting to hear what anyone else in my family will certainly have to say on the subject. I didn't tell most of them about the conversation Thanksgiving night, and the responses I did get were exactly what I expected: he's insincere, and even if he isn't - it's too little, too late.

I know him better than anyone, and I know he was sincere in many the things he said - but I also know that he's still got so much maturing to do, so much more that he needs to make his own peace with. My heart is really, really struggling to make peace with the events of the last few years. And I don't expect one or two conversations to change everything - but at least they're the start of something, right?

That Thanksgiving conversation is still so raw. I need to know what he meant, even if it hurts.

God, what a mess.

December 12, 2016

Practice

It was the first night we were in Minnesota. His youngest brother was there, the middle one would come in a few days, and he would arrive later that night. We were out at dinner, and it was a quick comment - the punchline of a joke the youngest had overheard at his fraternity. Sparing the exact terms, it was about non-Jewish women, and it was filthy.

It jarred me - not just his candor in retelling it, but repeating the punchline several more times to more laughs from his mother, while my non-Jewish son and I sat across from them.

We'd left the house almost 12 hours earlier. Three and a half hours of driving, time at the airport, three hours in flight, then baggage, waiting, finding dinner, and waiting some more - not to mention the time change of an hour, just enough to be bothersome to a toddler and his worn out mom. We were exhausted, beyond that even. And now, there was this.

I quietly ate my salad and encouraged my son to sit still and finish his meal. I just wanted to get some sleep, and in our first few hours of a week-long visit with my ex-husband's family, I wasn't looking to make any waves just yet.

The next day, the joke was repeated, now with my ex-husband present, and this time, I silently cried. And I knew he saw me wiping the tears, and I could sense him coming back to life, in a way.

There's this big, heavy problem on the table after divorce: figuring out how to reconcile past positives and negatives, and how to treat future experiences with both. It's not like the entire relationship was bad. There were reasons I dated him, reasons I became a parent with him, reasons I married him. It's just that at the end, there were more reasons not to do those things anymore.

There were moments - little things here and there - and in those moments, I loved him so intensely. It was in those moments that I knew he loved me too - he's a man of few words, even fewer so when they're about relationships or feelings. But in those moments, he demonstrated genuine caring in a way that wasn't always easy for him. Once, when I was pregnant, he ran (physically ran, even) to my favorite bakery and ran back with a cupcake for me. And another time, after his father surprised us with a weekend visit that left me feeling completely lousy about myself, he returned from dropping him off at the airport with flowers. It was a simple gesture that meant the world to me, because I knew he sincerely meant it. He knew I needed something, and he offered what he could. And I loved him.

The next day, when the joke was repeated for the seventh or eighth time, and I was presumed out of earshot - he stood up for me. He defended me and our son, he told them to stop. And I pretended not to have heard any of it, mainly because I didn't want to cry again over the joke, but also: because here's one of these moments, a moment when I loved him again, even in the aftermath of divorce mess and in the midst of a million other issues. There's a feeling of recognition here: I know what it takes for him stand up to them like that, and this is a meaningful expression from him. He could join in, but he doesn't.

By Thanksgiving - our last day in town - I was burned out. I was overtired from staying up too late and then getting up early to use the gym, I was feeling uncomfortable after a dozen or so restaurant meals (even with staying in my points range, it was excessive, and I felt lousy), and I was just so done. They hadn't repeated the joke since he'd called them out on it, but I hadn't forgotten it either.

His mother hosted the holiday. Once everyone had left, everything was tidied up, and our son was put to bed, he headed upstairs with me to talk while I folded our laundry and repacked our suitcases.

And I cried, and I cried.

And he cried, and he cried.

And it wasn't meant to be That Kind of Talk - we were discussing his next visit, I think ... honestly, now, I don't remember what we'd intended to discuss, only what ended up being mentioned. But we went there, and we cried.

I told him the joke hurt me, and that I didn't know if they understood what it meant, otherwise I don't know if they'd have repeated it so often in front of me. He explained they probably didn't get it, or if they did, that the community is incredibly insular and they see me as family, so my non-Jewishness hadn't crossed their minds. It didn't forgive the action, but it explained the intent, at least.

And I cried, and I cried. Because for so much of our relationship, I felt like I could never, ever make him happy. Because I could never, ever be Jewish enough. And he assured me that wasn't the case, but I was too emotional to reference the messages I'd seen - ones that are impossible for me to forget.

And I don't remember the segue, but I told him, finally, honestly...

I am so, so mad that you left.

And I meant it. And I still do.

I wanted some space - but I wanted you to move across town and I wanted us to go to therapy and sort this out like people do. I didn't want you to move a thousand miles away. I didn't want you to disappear.

I know.

And I cried. And he cried.

I have thought a lot since I left about whether or not getting divorced was the right choice.

And as much as I regret not responding to that now, the truth is, I didn't know how. I'm still a little floored by it. On the surface, it's maybe a sweet statement - but honestly, for me, it raises so many questions. Why would you even say something like that? What do you mean by it? Do you love me? Do you miss me? Or do you miss being loved, being cared for, and I happened to be the one who was providing that? Why didn't you say something sooner? From the day he moved out to the day the papers were signed, he had nearly eighteen months to say something. 536 days, thousands of minutes, millions of seconds.

Why now? And ... what's next?

We held each other, and we cried. And we cried, and we cried. And it felt good to be sharing this physical space. I wish I could say it's the grieving I needed, but his statement just reopened the wounds and left me uncertain and unsure.

These moments - the good ones full of love, the tough ones full of anger - are like stones. Some are big like boulders, some are little like pebbles. And so has been my relationship with Matt over the last five and a half years. My problem is sorting it all out and figuring out the weight of it all. Standing up to his family for me, that's a boulder - maybe not to someone else, but coming from him, it was big. Flowers after his dad's visit - boulder. But they happened so infrequently - for most of our relationship, it felt deeply imbalanced, and I couldn't keep giving boulder after boulder while I hoped to someday maybe get a pebble in return.

It's been a few weeks. I still don't know what's next. I still don't know what to think about all this, and I'm sure this (on top of the rest of that week, and work stuff, and everyday life stuff) has been part of why I've been all out of sorts lately. It's a heavy messy situation.

To be continued, for sure.

November 21, 2016

I can't do that anymore

I think a lot of what connected my ex-husband and I initially was how we complemented one another - we had quite a bit in common, yes, but especially, we had needs and offerings that could assist each other. For instance: Matthew is nearly always pessimistic, but I'm deeply optimistic (to a fault sometimes) - he'd see the worst in a situation, and I'd bring him back up. He'd lose something and get upset, and I'd logically step back and retrace our steps to locate it. He'd get frustrated with his job and feel like it would never get better, and I'd reassure him while also helping review his résumé and find positions to apply to.

It didn't feel like being taken advantage of. It just felt like love. I like helping people. I like being that friend, that family member - the one who is calm and collected and rational when things aren't going well.

The greatest compliment I received during the divorce process was one I heard somewhat often: that I handled everything with such grace. It's easy to name call, it's easy to broadcast what happened to the world and let them judge. I am someone who holds her head high and carries on, even when I'm not sure what the road ahead looks like, because I like to be brave for the people in my life who need it. I saved the stories for here, a private space where I can clear my mind - and publicly, most people didn't even know I was getting divorced until it was done.

The problem now is figuring out what my role is in his life, and what his is in mine, beyond co-parenting as best as we can with a thousand miles between us. It's not easy, and the distance makes it perhaps more of a challenge. It would be one thing if we saw each other often and could navigate through bigger issues based on our smaller interactions. But with several states and many miles separating him and me, it can be hard to determine what the appropriate course of action is when something comes up.

Last week, he went radio silent for a few days - not unusual, as sometimes he's busy with work and there are long gaps between his calls with his son. But typically, even if he's got something else on his plate, he'll send a quick message explaining the situation and let us know when he'll be able to chat.

But nothing.

Finally, we were able to video chat with him, and Noah wasn't talking for a few minutes before Matthew started to cry. I asked what was wrong, and he said the post-election unfolding of events was really getting to him. He talked with Noah for a little more time, then signed off.

That's where it gets hard. Finding the balance between wanting to care for someone who still has a big role in my life, even if it doesn't mean what it used to, and letting him be an adult and be responsible for himself. My family is very quick to offer judgments, and I don't necessarily disagree: they say he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants the love and support of a wife without the responsibility of ever having to return the favor. He wants someone to talk him out of his dark places instead of finding his own path to the light.

Add in that Matthew has other concerns at hand, namely that as a result of being on the spectrum, he's processing things very differently than other people. He thinks things are bad even when they're alright - so when something feels actually quite bad, he feels almost paralyzed by fear and concern.

I messaged him, I asked what was wrong, I asked if he wanted to talk through it. I listened as best as I could while also making sure not to shoulder the entire weight of the responsibility for what happens next. It's painful, because he never opened up to me like this when we were married - he just isn't much of a talker. He'll write you messages for hours, but won't sit down and chat for five minutes. It's one of just a million things I wondered about when I was considering ending the marriage - it's not that he doesn't open up, he just doesn't open up often, or in the way you'd expect. We struggled so much with communication, not just one of us or the other. It is so critically important to the health of a relationship - without it, we fell apart.

I don't love him anymore, but I know him better than anyone else, and my heart aches to understand what he's going through. I know he's hurting so badly - but I also know he's not my husband anymore, our mutual decision, so I feel deeply conflicted about what - if anything - should be my response. The right words are hard to find - he's not my burden anymore, he's not my responsibility ... neither of those feel quite right. Too hard, too cold. It's not authentic to who I am.

It's not my nature to just turn away from someone who needs help. Matthew hurt me more than I have ever been hurt by anyone, he broke my heart in ways I never even knew it could be broken. But when he's hurting, when he's struggling - when anyone is - I want to do what I can to help. I want to make things better. I want to cheer people up. I don't care what our history is, this is a new situation and a new opportunity to change the course of things.

November 19, 2016

La veille

When I was a kid, I was terrified of dying. It's perhaps the most irrational of fears - it's entirely unavoidable, so why lose sleep over something so completely out of your control? But I would. I'd stay up late, crying quietly, worrying about when it would happen, what it would feel like, what would happen next.

It makes sense. I was a deeply introverted kid to begin with, and so much of who I am today has been defined by experiencing (and growing through) losses back then. The losses in my waking life were overwhelming, and the worst possible thing I could imagine was the inevitable state where that loneliness and grief were permanent and out of my control.

I still have fears, but with age has come at least a little wisdom, and I know how to recognize when I am irrationally panicking and when I need to step back and be gentler with myself. These days, I'm surprisingly really calm about getting older. Just as I don't mind my stretchmarks left after the many sizes and shapes my body has taken, I don't fear the eventual creping of my skin and graying of my hair. I love my body and my life, regardless of the struggles and in spite of the challenges. I love it so much that I am fighting every day to make sure it is its healthiest and best.

I'm pre-writing this post, since we're traveling to the Midwest today. But when it goes live: this day, today - it is the last day of my 20s.

I've gone back and forth a bit between excitement and odd anxiety about turning 30 - with the anxiety really only induced when I realized I'd be spending the day with my ex-husband and his family. It's not the age that's worrying me, but just the idea of spending a big day with someone who heavily influenced much of the decade I'm leaving, and whose impact will certainly affect how I approach my next ten years.

I am finally now in a good place mentally, where I can actively pursue weight loss and where my relationship with food feels healthy. I eat what I crave, in healthy portions, and I don't cry or worry about food decisions. I am getting active again, I am enjoying being outside with my son, and I'm hoping to get back into the running hobby I loved so much a few years ago.

But when he's around, I'm a mess. It's a weird, confusing mess, that's really all there is to say. There's confusion and anxiety and even with the closure of the divorce paperwork, there's still a lot unresolved in my heart. We rarely spoke about anything serious during the marriage, so there hasn't been much discussion after the fact either. I wrote about it a while ago, on my other blog, but honestly, what I would love so much is to hold him, to cry, and to grieve together. To mourn this loss with the only person who knows this situation precisely as I do.

It's an impossible wish. It's exactly what I need, but it's not his nature at all. It's not just that he's not emotional - but he doesn't hurt the same way I do, so he won't heal the same way either. And it's not a loss to him. It wasn't a loving marriage, it was a business deal - it was paperwork, it was something that got him health insurance and got him out of his hotel night shift gig. He mourns the simplicity of having a partner to help - but doesn't mourn that the partner he lost was me.

It's something I recognized long before the final decision to separate - that feeling of being completely replaceable. One of the more painful experiences was when we would try having sex - I would always communicate yes, I like that - no, I don't like that but he never remembered. I would have to remind him every single time no, don't do that, that hurts - he could tell you exactly what counties in South Carolina prefer mustard to vinegar barbecue sauce, but he couldn't remember how his wife liked to be touched.

"Couldn't" is the wrong word. It's not that he wasn't able to remember, it's just that I wasn't a priority.

I was less important than barbecue sauce.

I could be anyone, I remember thinking one night, laying in bed next to him. I would beg him to say good night to me, to say good morning, to touch me in simple ways - a hand on my back, fingers in my hair. Just please, interact with me, make contact with me.

I'm a pretty simple person. I didn't think I was asking much when I asked him to connect with me. But it was more than he could offer - or more, at least, than he wanted to.

For his birthday a few years ago, we went to a restaurant he'd been dying to try - it was more than we could afford on one salary, but I budgeted and made it work. We ate, we went down to the beach, and we enjoyed a walk together as a family with almost-one-year-old Noah in tow. It wasn't fancy, but it felt nice to be together and to be celebrating.

In the middle of that night, I caught him texting a girl he knew back in Chicago, talking about regret and wishing things had gone differently with her.

I can't do anything right, I thought. Even when I think I'm doing something nice, it's never going to be enough. I'll never be enough.

I had my own regrets about past relationships, too - I just didn't act on them. I knew it wasn't a good situation, but I swallowed it up and let it go for what I believed was the greater good. It's arguably poor advice, but I tried to throw myself fully into believing "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."

Five years ago, I spent my birthday with someone I cared deeply for, and who cared for me in return.

There's a man in California, married to someone else now, who thought I was beautiful and respected my journey. He stood up for me, he believed in me. We adventured together. He brought me out of my shell at a time when everything in the world felt entirely new to me.

Five years later, my heart is still heavy, wishing I'd done things differently, only now understanding how naïve I was and how little I understood about adult relationships. It was a hard year for me - having just lost 150 pounds, having just moved to a brand new state, having just started a brand new job - and navigating real relationships for the first time was deeply challenging.

Funny how much it sounds like what eventually happened with my now ex-husband: a relationship perhaps doomed by not receiving enough attention in a time of excessive and overwhelming transitions.

History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

November 3, 2016

Wins and losses

When we first started dating, I was unemployed ... well, "between jobs." My one year temporary post-grad contract in Chicago had ended and, although I didn't know it yet, I'd be moving to California only about 6 weeks later.

As nerve-racking as it was at the time, my best friend Lorelei and I talk about that summer often as one of the best times of our life. I'd lost a ton of weight, she'd finished her Masters, and we were broke and adventurous and active. We made fun where we could, and it was fantastic. We even both signed up for the same dating site, and tried to meet guys to join us our adventures.

That's how I met Matthew in early June, and I loved that he was fully supportive of low-key inexpensive date ideas. We went to different branches of the library, or made dinner at home. He worked overnights, so going to the movies always meant cheap early morning matinees. It was perfect for my financial situation.

I knew he loved the Chicago Cubs, so when I saw a ticket giveaway hosted by a local running store, I entered - and I won. We met near Wrigley Field, grabbed a bite for dinner, and headed in. The seats were incredible, and he was so thrilled for the opportunity.

Not for being with me, but for being there.

The Cubs were playing the Giants, and there were a couple of Giants fans to the right of us. He spoke with them the entire time, and I mostly just sat there trying to figure out where to look and what was going on. In the end, the Cubs won, and we stood up to cheer and sing with everyone else. It was a long night, but I was happy that my new boyfriend was happy ... at least until we got on the subway to leave.

It was crowded, of course. And moving slowly, of course. And there was his trademark lack of patience I'd started to recognize even three weeks into the relationship, of course. He got off after a few stops, saying he'd parked his car at his aunt and uncle's and was going to get it then head to work. No hug, no kiss, no thank you even - a half-hearted wave goodbye, and the doors closed behind him. Another hour on the train with transfers for me, because I lived in a completely different part of the city.

There are a lot of his behaviors that I only recognized in retrospect, but this isn't one of them - I knew even then, this wasn't how I deserved to be treated. It was early, it was new - but I already knew with certainty that it was wrong for me. He got off the train, I cried, and a week later, we were done and I was applying to jobs on the other side of the country. On top of everything else, I'd caught him sending sexy messages to some other girl, so I took the books he'd lent me back to his apartment and left them on the front porch with a note saying we were looking for different things and good luck with someday finding what he was looking for.

Not that I have too many preferences in that department to begin with, but now, I especially don't like the Cubs. There are certain things he's always going to be connected with in my mind, and I just can't help but change the channels, close the books, turn off the radio, look away. 

The team did well this year, and ended up in the World Series. And he called Noah to share the news, which Noah couldn't have cared less about. He said he'd send some Cubs shirts for Noah, and that didn't receive the very excited "thank you!!!" he expected.

Kids don't care what you love, they care what you share with them.

Noah doesn't want a father who sends a baseball team's shirt - he wants to watch the games with his dad. He doesn't want gifts, he wants presence.

Last night, the Cubs won. There was no celebrating here in South Carolina, at least not where we could see or hear. It's nice, sometimes, to have this distance. It's hard to be the only parent 355 days a year, but sometimes ... it's just nice.

October 30, 2016

A small loss

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. All over social media, I've seen pictures and stories shared from family, friends, and colleagues who have walked through the most challenging journey, who have grieved the greatest loss imaginable.

In 2012, my then-boyfriend had hernia surgery, and I stayed by his side through the recovery process, helping in anyway I could. After a few weeks, he felt able to resume all normal activity, and we tried having sex again. It was over as soon as it started, something we thought was due to the dry spell but turned out to be nerve damage from the surgery, and it would never be fixed again. The result, though, made itself known a few weeks later in the form of a positive pregnancy test.

In the days (and even the hours) before the test, I fantasized about leaving him, about packing my things and just disappearing one night while he was at work. I had recently discovered a series of messages he exchanged while I was busy waiting on him hand and foot in his recovery - the details are painful, and the content was explicit. But I'd left my job to be closer to him, and the jobs I'd secured locally had fallen through, so I stayed quiet and stayed put and tried to figure out what to do next.

When I told him about the test, his reaction was exactly what I expected: shock, then silence, and eventual anger. The first painful question: "how do I even know it's mine?" - as if he expected my fidelity to be as flimsy and negotiable as his was. Then: "well, what are we going to do about it?"

I've always maintained that I am pro-choice, with an asterisk - that I fully support the option being available to any woman who wants or needs to pursue it, but in the position myself, I did not know if I would be able to make that decision. It was a difficult concept to consider when it was theoretical, and infinitely more so when it was tangible. He said over and over, "it's just cells," and I tried as best as I could to see through his eyes.

We made an appointment with the therapist at Planned Parenthood, who met with us calmly, asked for our thoughts and feelings, and sent us home with brochures on what she called "our three options." My boyfriend, who needed the counseling as desperately as I did, was defensive and quiet during the session.

I told him I would think about it, and in the meantime, I carried on as if I would be keeping it: eating well, taking prenatal vitamins, staying as active as I could while nurturing a almost constantly queasy stomach.

He was working overnights at that time, leaving for work around 10 PM and returning home shortly after 7 in the morning. The contrasting schedules that I'd loved so much when we were dating - enough overlap for time together, enough time apart to satisfy our introversion - were now painfully difficult. He would come home from work, and I'd want to try to talk through things, but he would head straight to bed. As someone who has struggled with depression for much of her adolescent and adult life, I recognized his behaviors, and did everything I could to coax him out of it - finally, at the recommendation of his father, he started seeing a therapist.

The decision about therapy was made shortly after I announced my own decision, that I would not terminate the pregnancy. It was a decision I had thought about for months, that I had discussed with every close and trusted friend and family member, and what it ultimately came down to was a conversation I had with my boyfriend. I couldn't stop thinking about the lewd conversations from a few months earlier, mainly how specific they were to a particular interest of his: being Jewish. And I asked him, through tears, if he would still be this staunchly in favor of termination if I was Jewish. And the defensiveness came back, and he insisted "no, no, if anything, it would be worse. My parents would kill me. You can't abort a Jewish baby."

When it was mine, it was cells. If I was Jewish though, it would have been a baby to him. And in that moment, I knew what I had to do: I needed to protect the little person inside me at any cost. Whether my boyfriend was in or not, I would be strong enough, I would be parent enough for this baby. He said he was in, but not the resounding excited "yes" you see in commercials and romantic movies. More resignation than anything else, he would rather be a halfhearted-but-present parent than a deadbeat.

As the pregnancy progressed, his demeanor shifted, but always manically. At dinner, he would ask how long we have to wait before we could take the baby to Disney World - but it wouldn't be long before he was back to his claims that the idea of being a father had him actively suicidal, that he could not shake the thought of jumping in front of the train.

The most painful comment he made was actually one that he made not once, but many times. He told me with depressing frequency that he kept praying that something would happen, that I would lose the pregnancy, that it would all be over.

Prayers from a self-proclaimed agnostic are more like wishes, going against what he otherwise so firmly stood for in a last ditch effort, desperately grasping at straws when faced against something so impossible that only something as equally impossible could shift the future to his favor.

And what devastating wishes these were. And so selfish.

In wishing for it all to "disappear," as he often put it, he focused only on the situation is he perceived it. Because at no point would it just disappear for me. A miscarriage would require medical attention, and that would be just the beginning of a grieving process I can't even begin to imagine.

When, I wonder, would he have approved a deadline for the loss? Before 12 weeks? Before viability at 27? Making it past 12 or 27 weeks isn't a guarantee. Actually taking a baby home from the hospital is not a guarantee.

I've seen how my friends and family and community have grieved these losses. It's not simple. It doesn't just disappear. I don't know if he thought in that moment about the gravity of what he wished for, about how we would be affected by miscarriage, by stillbirth, by a sudden and unexpected death in the hospital or at home. He was thinking out loud, processing his feelings, not thinking about the consequences or even the person he was sharing these thoughts with - the pregnant and scared girl who had wanted this experience so badly, but never like this, and never with him.

I was tough and strong, because I had to be, and I let him express his feelings even though they hurt me so incredibly. I just encouraged him to keep going to therapy, hoping the professional help could reach him in a way that he found meaningful. And it did: the prayers for an ending eventually ceased, and once he could see and feel the baby growing and moving, he even started to get excited.

The months following the birth of our son were a whirlwind: vacations to visit family and show off the baby, back to work for him, interviews for me, and finally, a job offer in hand that led to an out-of-state move. Shortly after we arrived in South Carolina, we realized how difficult and expensive it would be for him to obtain health insurance on his own, so a few weeks after arriving, we headed to the county courthouse, paid our $50, and got married on a Tuesday morning.

The "proposal" had been more functional than romantic, and ended with the phrase "so, what's it going to be?" verbatim. He talked about Karl Marx, about assets and tax brackets, and admittedly, I don't remember all of it. Still recovering from childbirth, adjusting to nursing at all hours of the night still, and transitioning to my new position at work, I was exhausted and overwhelmed and depressed. And - I knew what he was getting at in the conversation, and wanted to do whatever I could to mentally remove myself from that place. I can remember certain experiences from my life with excruciating detail, but this was one that I wanted to forget even before it finished unfolding.

The marriage was doomed from the start, mainly because we were marrying for the wrong reasons, but also, don't forget that barely a year earlier, I'd been ready to walk out the door on someone who so clearly did not love or respect me. At the time though, I thought I was doing what was right for him and for the little family we'd created. The first year of the marriage, everyone told me, is the hardest - so many adjustments, so much to adapt to once the honeymoon phase was over. We were less lucky in that there was no honeymoon phase, that we were thrust into the new title without any of the excitement or joy. Our first year of marriage was also our first year of parenting, our first year in the south, our first year with new job responsibilities. A person facing even one of those things would struggle to feel like he or she had it all together some days; to have all of it felt like running a race with a perpetually extending finish line. Even on the best days, we were exhausted.

I thought about asking for a separation at several points in that first year, but did not verbalize it until our first wedding anniversary. A few days earlier, standing in the greeting card aisle at Target, I realized none of the anniversary cards had the exact sentiment I needed. "Thank you for always being there," "you are the soulmate I've searched my life for," "your love carries me through our greatest challenges" ... everything felt inauthentic. So instead, I handed him a letter, saying that we needed to either see therapists or separate, because I could not keep pretending that things were okay as-is. We both cried, we both made promises, and we both kept doing what we had been doing, because again, it's hard to overcome that exhaustion. When it takes so much effort to simply get by, it's hard to imagine finding the resources to do anything beyond the essential. We were equally guilty of this, not just one partner or the other.

I was working full-time at the University, and he stayed home with our son, a situation that was not ideal but gave him an opportunity to reset after working overnights for so long and also to think about what different career path he would like to pursue. The time he promised to fill with housework and career research was mainly spent on social media, and the conversations with other women started up again. I felt so profoundly betrayed - if he didn't want to be with me, why did he say he would? Why did he marry me? I was barely sleeping, spending time at the office every single day, all to take care of everyone, and this was what I received in return.

The last straw for me came on March 10, 2015, and I'll never ever forget this moment. It was the middle of the night, and I woke up to find him on top of me, holding me down. Half-asleep, I asked what he was doing, and he whisper-growled, "I'm going to fuck you." Part sleepy and part shocked, I consented - or at least didn't refuse. As had been the situation for the last few years, it lasted less than fifteen seconds, then he dismounted and retreated to the bathroom, then crawled back in bed, turning his back to me to fall asleep. I laid there staring at the ceiling, in disbelief of what had happened but also calculating as quickly as I could to see if we would remember that night nine months later.

In the morning, our alarms went off, and he rolled back over to face me. "Did we..." and he trailed off, adding insult to injury - it was not only meaningless, but not memorable. "Yes," I said, knowing exactly what his next question would be. "Are you going to get pregnant again?" And I responded that I didn't know, but the window of possibility was certainly open.

And once again, there we were.

"If you get pregnant again, I'm going to kill myself."

No concern about how I would manage another pregnancy when I was struggling to recover still from the first. No concern about how I would manage the sleeplessness again, since nursing gave him what he thought was a valid excuse for staying asleep whenever our son cried in the middle of the night. No concern or apology for his wife, whom he had essentially assaulted only a few hours earlier. Just selfishness, just like it always had been.

I did some research, made some calls, spoke with the lawyer, and on March 19, I told him definitively: I want a divorce. He cried, again. Not as blindsided as the first time, but still upset. This time, though, I kept my composure calm and relatively unattached. I did not yet know if I was pregnant or not, but I didn't quite care. I could not endure nine more months like my first experience had been - I could not go through that again with him.

A few days later, my period begin, to my terrific relief. He wasn't there when I found out - not because he'd moved out, but because he'd taken a vacation to explore the area while he still lived here. Faced with the idea of taking care of his son without another adult there to help, he instead retreated back to his comfort zone, back to the life he'd felt robbed of when the first pregnancy test showed positive. Interesting that the man who stayed in order to prove that he was not a deadbeat later turned out to be, in fact, perhaps worse after all. It's easy to walk away from something you aren't familiar with - but to hold your newborn son, to feed him and care for him and love him, to watch him grow and change, and then walk away ... that's heartless in a way I cannot fathom.

He left a few months later, and now, a year and nearly a half further still, we are less than 24 hours away from our divorce. It's been a long process, and exhausting one, but also an incredibly fulfilling experience. I've realized a bit more of my strength, I've been faced with incredible challenges and come out no worse for the wear. I've continued to nurture and care for the little person I swore to protect way back when he was smaller than a fingernail. And I have thrived. The most challenging and exhausting days are still better than many days when we were married - at the very least, I go to bed exhausted yet grateful that no one is here threatening to take his own life and hiding infidelities while I run myself ragged trying to keep a roof over everyone's head and food and everyone stomach.

A colleague at work called me into her office the other day to share a story about a bad date she'd been on, and she pulled me in with the line "You hate men, I'm sure you'll appreciate this story." I hope that's not the vibe I'm giving off, because it's certainly not true. One man hurt me in ways I hope to never, ever hurt again. That man betrayed me, he deceived me, he abandoned the child we created together. I am angry, for sure. But I don't hate him, let alone his entire gender. I hate that he devastated my self-esteem and destroyed my trust in people, and this will take a very long time to recover from - over a year into the separation process, I feel like I'm really only scratching the surface so far. But I don't hate men. I know so many people in terrific relationships, so many marriages that seem strong and built to last. And I know (or at least I intensely strongly hope) that I will love again someday, that I too can have that kind of respectful and loving relationship.

October 26, 2016

Epilogue

Last week, it ended ... for the most part. There's still a hearing to come, which has unfortunately been delayed due to our recent hurricane, but should be done next week. But it's signed - by both parties. The hard part is done.

My marriage, long deceased, was finally laid to rest. It's both devastating and relieving, and the tears I shed walking out of my lawyer's office were certainly sourced from both sadness and optimism. Everything about this relationship, from its birth to its life to its end, has been complicated. As nice as it finally is to have financial help from my now officially ex-husband, the greatest relief is being able to have my simplicity back.

And, soon enough - my name.

I never wanted to change it, and felt pressured to, not unlike the marriage itself. After everything I had gone through in the previous years - the weight loss, the cross-country move, the pregnancy - I wanted to cling to any shred of anything in which I could recognize myself. I didn't realize just how critical my name was to my identity - with nearly a lifetime of crushes' last names doodled in the margins of diaries, it was always a fantasy life goal.

I never thought it would feel like that. I never thought it would feel like as much of a sacrifice as it did, as much of a loss.

Of course, in the fantasies, the boy from middle school homeroom and the guy down the hall in college all reciprocated my feelings, they wanted that future as much as I did. Maybe the disappointment wasn't in taking on someone's last name, but in taking on the last name of someone so deeply detached and unloving.

One of the biggest goals of my journey has been figuring out who I am. The answer to that is fluid and complex, which it always has been, but it's certainly not a bad thing. The answer to the question about my identity has shifted in every different iteration of myself, not just over the last few years. I was a depressed and obese kid in Chicago with a brand-new Masters degree and time on my hands, and I became a fit runner with a brand-new outlook on life. I became a Californian, and had my very first experience with organic romance. Just as soon as it began, it ended, and I returned to Chicago for rapid fire successive new chapters: becoming a mom, becoming a southerner, becoming a wife.

I don't know if the girl who started this blog would recognize the person I was a year later, three years later, or now. I do know, though, that even if I knew then what I know now, knew that I would lose 150+ pounds, that I would gain nearly all of it back, that I would run a half marathon, that I would get divorced ... I would still have started on that journey. Every heartbreak, every tear, every bit of anxiety and chaos would make me an incredible and multifaceted teacher, mother, sister, daughter, friend.

The name of the blog came from a dream I'd had, where I unzipped my skin and my bones went for a walk. The wind was whipping through my rib cage and making the most beautiful music, but I couldn't hear it, because my ears were left behind with the skin. "A small loss," Dream-Me thought to herself, in a moment of revelation that brought motion to plans I'd always talked about but never acted on in my waking life. I was willing to sacrifice my senses in order to feel what it felt like to be unburdened by the weight I struggled to carry around - that was how I knew, this was my time, I was ready for change.

I'm turning 30 in a few weeks. Six years on this blog, it's a fifth of my life. Certainly the busiest fraction, and not one I am likely soon to forget. As difficult as some goodbyes are, this one actually doesn't feel too bad. There's closure, and as sad as a divorce is, it's an interesting bookend to the story I started in 2010. A lot of blogs end abruptly, the writers disappearing without a trace, leaving us wondering. But this - this feels like sweeping up the floor, putting the chairs up on the tables, turning off the light, and locking the door behind me.

Today, it ends. Not my story, but this chapter of it. Thank you, endlessly and always, for sharing this part of my life with me.

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If you would like to continue reading, I am now writing at a new site. It is open by invitation only, for privacy reasons. Please email me at asmallloss [at] gmail [dot] com with your preferred email address for accessing the new site. This site will remain open until November 5, 2016, then will be marked for deletion.

UPDATE: So, a good problem to have, but one I wasn't anticipating: apparently there's a limit to 100 readers on a private blog. I was expecting maybe 10 people to email me ... I stopped counting at 300. I'm working on figuring out how to get people in - sorry for the delay if you emailed me but can't get in yet!

October 2, 2016

The last chapter

We've had a pretty busy couple of weeks. My husband came for a visit with our son, and while he was here I pushed the lawyers to get everything done so we could get it all signed and taken care of before he left town again. Having to mail everything out of state and wait for responses has stretched this process out far longer than it needed to be. But he signed it last week, I will sign it later this week, and then we have the hearing and it's done.

I'm ready. This whole process has consumed my thoughts and dominated my anxieties for the last year and a half. Even though the divorce is just a piece of paper, having a period at the end of this sentence will bring incredible relief.

I got a little taste of the relief last week when I finally managed to sell my wedding ring on eBay - that was one of my New Year's resolutions for 2016, to get rid of that ring and use the money to get something with my son's birthstone in it. I loved the reasons why he picked it for me, but I never liked the ring itself, and I like it less now knowing how it all ended up. He left his wedding band with me when he left, but I didn't sell that - I figured I will save it for Noah for some day, maybe it can mean something better for him.

I don't know what the next step is, besides vaguely saying "recovery," and referring to many areas of my life. Being able to breathe about finances will help with getting fit again - not having to stress about grocery bills will be great, and for a divorce present, I'm thinking about getting a bike again. I've missed that feeling of freedom and mobility, and hopefully I could get Noah excited about staying active with a bike, too.

At the same time, though ... I'm tired. Of all of it.

I started focusing on (and writing about) weight loss six years ago, committed heavily for a year, maintained for a year, steadily regained for two, and essentially maintained the regain ever since. It's been a frustration, a fixation, an obsession ... and I don't know how to let go of it. I don't know how to make consistently healthy choices without letting the choices consume my thoughts and dictate my moods.

I lost a lot of weight once, but I never fixed the real issue of my relationship with food - the weight has always been a symptom, a side effect from not treating a larger issue. I tried therapy right after my husband left, and ended it when I could no longer afford it - right as we made a giant breakthrough and I remembered something intense from my childhood. Leaving that wound open and uncared for has certainly added to the difficulty of processing things this last year ... maybe once the divorce is done and I finally can get financial assistance, I can take what I spend now on childcare and use some of it for therapy again.

I don't know if I'll keep blogging.

I don't feel safe here anymore anyway, since I know my husband is stalking me here - he never cared what I thought or felt during the relationship, which makes the obsession with my writing even more painful. I can't share the heaviest burdens on my heart because of his incredibly fragile ego. He isn't reading to see how I am doing, or how his son is affected by having an absent father - he just cares about how he is portrayed to a few hundred strangers across the country or around the world. He's not a celebrity - no one cares about the juicy details (not that there even are any). There's just mess that I am trying to sort through, to clean out my mind and reorganize my life.

And - this isn't the blog it used to be. I don't have thousands of followers anymore. Many reached their goals and moved on, others shifted their goals and moved forward in new directions. I'm still here, digging deeper, but not getting anywhere. The people who are still here aren't here for the weight loss - or they are, still hoping that someday I'll get it together. People only care about a weight loss blog if the person actually loses weight, actually exercises, actually accomplishes things. People never tire of saying "you look great, keep it up!" - but there's a limit to how often someone will say "it's okay, keep trying, you'll figure it out soon."

Congratulations. The one safe space I ever had, the place where my first steps toward recovery happened ... it's been invaded and stolen. Everything I had a few years ago - the confidence, the progress, the community - it's gone. I'm far from my friends, far from my family, with no help and no relief except for the 5-7 day visits three or four times a year. I'm alone, with literally nothing now.

And - it just isn't the motivator it once was, either. Once, I shared my stories here, relishing every comforting "yes, me too" as I pushed through the first of the difficult journeys I've experienced in the last five years. But now, I feel like I check in every now and then, share how I've just maintained by repeating my same dangerous binge/restrict pattern, up and down the same 5 pounds for two years. In 2010, I was single, without a kid, and could make fitness a second full-time job. Now, between a full-time job, a part-time job, and being a single mom, I struggle to find the time to take care of my most basic needs like showering, let alone luxury time like going to the gym.

I'm turning 30 in a month and a half, and I'm ready to close the door on these chapters of my life - the marriage, the public struggle with weight loss. I spent so much of my 20s hating myself and my body - I succeeded, for a while, in overcoming that, but the confidence disappeared as quickly as it came. I want better for my next decade. I want radical, revolutionary confidence and self-care that includes using food as nourishment instead of punishment or entertainment. I want to move my body in ways I enjoy, not to try and replicate my life from years ago, but to make the most of the life I have now. I want to be a good role model for my son, because I'm the only one he has here, and he's always watching and listening. I want my 30s to be full of forward motion, in positive directions, towards my best self.

September 21, 2016

Maps

I know a girl going through a divorce right now. It's not a particularly messy one, though it has its moments.

She and her husband could not be more different - all of the similarities, interests, and goals they shared during the relationship are increasingly harder and harder to recall, as the fond memories retreat into history and the present is full of animosity on bad days, indifference on the best ones.

Throughout the marriage, she often commented (to him, and to others) about the difference in their respective relationships with media. She was older by only a few months, but was a class year ahead in school, and in terms of technology, those few months made a world of difference. When she started college, there was no Facebook. Social networking was done almost exclusively offline - in dorm room common areas, in the school cafeteria, in the hallways on campus. But for her future husband, it was different. He started school with the ability to reach out to roommates and classmates digitally, which shapes relationships with an entirely different dynamic.

That difference has continued into their separation. Almost immediately, she cut off all social connection with him, wanting to focus on her healthy relationships instead of fixating on the dying and the dead. But he, even now, well over a year removed, pursues her - not her, but information. He keeps tabs on certain accounts, screening occasionally for any mention of him.

It's a little bit sad, and it shows a deep immaturity. The relationship is over, but he follows her still, disregarding any information about her and scanning only for hints of himself in her day.

Of course he's on her mind. It wasn't a long marriage, but it was a marriage, and even the most amicable split comes with baggage. The problem is, the immaturity is blinding, and he doesn't understand what she's actually talking about when she talks about him.

Even when she talks about him, she isn't talking about him.

Even though he's had a significant role in her life's story, he's not the main character. The story is still hers - past, present, future.

Strong women (or, I suppose, strong people in general) who share their stories are not doing it so that the audience can pass judgment on whoever wronged them, but rather, so the audience can observe the strength she is now able to radiate after having walked through the dark alley portion of her life's journey. It's not about "hate him for what he did," but "love me for who I became because of it."

When she talks about abuse, she's not asking for hate directed toward the abuser, but rather, love and support for her as she processes and moves through a difficult recovery.

When she talks about disappointment, it's not a judgment of him and what he failed to offer, but more of a commentary about herself recognizing what she now knows to prioritize in future relationships.

When she expresses frustration at past or even present actions, she's not gathering angry villagers to attack him with pitchforks - she's talking through a situation with the hopes that someone who's been in her shoes can offer empathy and advice -  she's not looking for vengeance, she's looking for comfort, to not feel alone in all of this.

It's not "look how he stunted me then," but rather, "look how I've grown since."

It's not about encouraging a public to look down on him, but imploring them to look up at her, to see how she was able to rise above and move forward even with everything she was dealt. She's not defaming him, but rather, complimenting herself - marveling at her progress on the journey back to her authentic self, her recovery from the most painful broken heart of her life.

September 12, 2016

Rings

I had it on my heart all week that I'd need to write something Saturday.


I had a million thoughts about it, cried a lot, wondered how I would fit five years of my life, three years of a date having significance, and a year and a half of difficult separation into words.

In the end, as you can see ... I just let it go. No special post, no essay of deep thoughts and reflections on life and love and loss.

Part of it was that I can't say what I'd really love to finally unburden my heart with, because I know he's still reading this, though I'm not quite sure why - my ever-hopeful heart wants to believe that even though he never knew how to express it, there's some part of him that always cared how I'm doing (and that still does) ... but my experienced and logical brain tells me it's more likely been surveillance to make a report to a lawyer. Either way, I'm forced to keep quiet about the biggest things I've struggled with over the course of my relationship with him - the things I recall and grieve anew on anniversaries and holidays.

And part of it was just not wanting to subject myself to the emotional mess I become when I rehash this stuff. I wanted it to be Just A Day, not a special one, just a normal, average, boring day, like it had always been before.

My son and I woke up early, had a good breakfast, and headed to the park. We walked 2K, then I let him run around on the playground for a while. He was very curious about the kids playing soccer on an adjacent field, which is good - he starts soccer in our town this upcoming weekend. We went grocery shopping - just needed fresh produce, really - then went home and cooked up a nice healthy frittata for lunch. After, we went in the pool for a while, had chicken and veggies for dinner, and read a few of his favorite books and magazines. A few video calls from family (but none from his father, not surprised), then early to bed - after my issues with insomnia all throughout the previous week, I'm amazed that I fell asleep so quickly.

Or maybe not amazed, really. Dreading the anniversary kept me up at night; once it was all over, once I succeeded at making it Just A Day and not a source of anxiety or sadness, sleep came easily.

And that was it. Everything was normal - our new normal, like it or not. And the next day, I woke up again, and continued to make good choices - not triggered or upset by the ghost of those painful memories. It's the first time in a while I've made consistently good choices over a weekend, which is really saying something. My recovery is not linear, but there is definitely progress happening. This is the proof.

September 5, 2016

Helicopter

We're a few weeks into the semester now, and while things are still hectic, they're at least starting to settle into a familiar and manageable routine.

The first week was crazy - even more so than the usual start of a semester. There was an incident at work that I witnessed, which lead to meetings and signed statements and all kinds of things that you just don't want on an already overloaded plate - and that was just the first two days.

On top of that, my new boss told me that someone higher than him said I would not be allowed to continue with my second job (teaching one online class for another school once a week at night) after the end of this semester, which is both a relief (I wasn't sure I'd have a babysitter in the spring, and 17+ hour days are exhausting) and a stressor (that extra little bit was how I paid for groceries in the last year or so since my husband left and still has not contributed a cent). I've still not fully processed this. I can't think about finances beyond one day at a time - just praying the divorce is done as soon as the lawyer has promised it can be, so I can get on the path to financial recovery.

Then add in the usual stuff - problems with the school bookstore, students who aren't interested in course policies, office politics - and it's been a tough few weeks.

Overall health-wise, I'm not feeling my best - I haven't been sleeping well, I haven't been drinking enough water, I get so busy at the office that I work right through my lunch and then eat ravenously at home. Usually water is the easiest thing for me at work, since I drink so much while I am lecturing, and we have water stations all over campus. But even that's been hard to keep up with, just forget to drink while I try and get everything done. I was so proud of having lost every pound I had regained in Connecticut right before classes started, but then the scale jumped back up a few in the first few days of classes, and now I have maintained within a pound of that for the last two weeks. It's not progress, but it's not a complete backslide either. I'm ready for this stability at work to translate into stability in everything and better decisions all around.

Sleeping has been very tough - I've had a lot of trouble sleeping through the night, and that's after all the trouble of falling asleep. There have been minor things, like small anxieties about the workday or about flying with my son to Minnesota in November to spend Thanksgiving with my husband's mother. (I'll save that for another day.) The biggest deterrent started with a meeting with my lawyer a few weeks ago, discussing how custody would be shared with my husband. Since then, I've had frequent panic attacks, almost always at night, as I worry about my son being places without me. There's always some trigger - a movie or television show, a picture on social media, a news headline ... I cry, I struggle to breathe, I can't get the possibilities of tragedies out of my mind.

I've told my lawyer often, I don't like my husband at all, but I assure him that he's pretty harmless. I don't believe he's trying to hurt me or our son with the divorce agreement, and I believe that in his heart, he really does love his son, even though he doesn't have the slightest clue what love means or looks like to a three-year-old boy. I trust him to take care of our son when he comes to visit us here in South Carolina - because I am across town, and because honestly, even when he comes to town, he never has Noah for a full 24 hours on his own. I'm always there to help - and I always do.

But being in a big city - with traffic, with loud streets, with subway trains, with ... there's just a lot more to it. And I worry. And I don't want to be that helicopter parent, who bubble wraps her kid to keep him from experiencing life. But at the same time, I know he's an active kid, and I know that taking your eyes off him for a second can be a big deal - especially in a big place, and a new place, and especially if the person watching him tends to get easily distracted. When he left, our son was still barely walking - he wasn't much of a risk. But a kid changes a lot in 16 months, especially when that's nearly half his life.

I worry also, because as cautious as I am with him, I've had an incident like this - when my family came to visit a few months ago, and we were down at the beach, and there was confusion about who was watching him, and for what felt like an eternity but lasted, at most, 20 seconds, I didn't know where my baby was. And in these panic attacks, that feeling comes back, and in spades. That feeling of failure - I can't even describe it, there are no words perfectly strong enough. It hurts more than regaining almost all the weight and more than not going back to school to get my Ph.D. and more than marrying the wrong man and more than getting divorced in my 20s. Feeling like I failed my son, as the only person he has here to keep him safe, is the largest, heaviest hurt imaginable, and it leaves me completely speechless - breathless, even, but in a choking, gasping sense. Like I'm being smothered by pillows or held down under water.

There's a story, a big one - one I haven't shared here, but I'll save for a memoir, maybe someday, or deathbed letter to my son. It's heavy, and it ties a lot of this together. The moral of it: my baby, this sweet, sweet boy - I've always felt incredibly protective of him, long, long before I was able to hold him in my arms. And hearing some lawyer talk about having him travel hundreds of miles away for weeks at a time ... that's incredibly difficult for me. I'm not like this when he's at daycare, or when his father is in a hotel across town. I've never had episodes like this before.

The suppressed, quiet logical voice tells me it's silly to lose sleep over this - that his father is a fully capable adult and worrying about someday just robs me of my sleep and health and sanity today. But in these moments, when the panic attacks are fully underway, it's like I can't stop thinking about it - I can't shut my brain off, I can't think about anything else. I can't breathe at the idea of not being entirely sure he is okay.

And all the while, I'm praying that my shaking and audible struggle to breathe doesn't wake my son, because every single night, since before Christmas even, he's slept right next to me in my bed. Sometimes he'll fall asleep in his own bed, but he always wanders into mine at some point in the night. Because as much as I don't like to be away from him, he doesn't like to be away from me either. Because he got kissed goodnight once and then the person he loved disappeared for months at a time. And because here, in this apartment, in this city, in this state ... we only have each other.


I'm a bit of a mess, for sure. I'm holding it together the best I can, and again, I'm optimistic that the stability of routine at work will help everything else. Properly nourished body, well-hydrated, earlier to bed, and again - and I can't say it enough - the closure of divorce will hopefully help my mind settle a bit and stop the endless running around.

I hope so. I really do.

August 25, 2016

The garden

I got multiple compliments on my dress that I wore to work yesterday. It's an old one, from a few semesters ago. It's faded and stretched from multiple washes and multiple different periods of weight loss and weight gain. But it's comfortable, and I love it, and as one girl said, "you're rocking it." It's funny, in a strange way, for me to have anyone interrupt my day to offer something nice to say, especially from a stranger. But to have more than one person say something ... it really kind of floored me.

My default response when complemented is self-deprecation. I tell them that it is from ModCloth, but immediately follow that up with "they make normal sizes too." And I never look at their faces to notice the reaction to my turning something so positive into an awkward overshare of my personal issues.

It reminds me a lot of a few years ago, before I lost the weight, when I would always have something to say about being slow, or being sweaty, or being out of breath at the top of a flight of stairs. "I don't run unless I'm being chased," said half jokingly but with a feigned air of confidence, as if to make it seem that I was perfectly okay with my struggle.

I wasn't, and I'm still not. Although it's much harder now to make progress, I refuse to quit entirely.

Without question, the hardest part about the weight regain is not the weight itself, but everything else that came back with the weight. The depression. The loss of self-confidence. The return of that feeling of never quite being comfortable in my own skin, even on my very best days.

It's not my husband's fault, at least not entirely. There were so, so many things in the last few years that got me back up nearly all of the weight I'd once lost - not just the pregnancy, not just the failed marriage. But I get so upset sometimes, thinking about how he didn't understand how hard I'd worked to get healthy and how difficult it was for me to turn it back around. He didn't understand the current problem because he had no idea what the problems used to look or feel like. Even still, he has no idea how deeply depressed I was before, or how much I struggle now, and how hard I'd had to work to get as high of a level of self-confidence as I had when I met him. And even that was a work in progress.

Once I started caring about myself, it was easier to care for myself. It was an incredible challenge for me then, and it's a harder one now, with my attention pulled in infinitely more directions than it was six years ago when I was single and living alone. Sometimes I feel comfortable and confident, but never fully and always fleeting. I string together a dozen or so good days in a row, then get blindsided by events, news, or feelings that throw me off and leave me cursing at myself: how were you ever strong enough to do this?

That strength came from being surrounded by people who held me up when I started to fall, and who believed in me twice as hard in the moments when I struggled to believe in myself. Some of them were local, and many were online, found through blogging. Both sources were people who understood where I'd come from - I'm constantly amazed at the number of emails I get from people who say they found my blog, went back to the beginning, and read the whole thing over a few days (if it were a book, it'd be over a thousand pages, easily).

When he found out I had a blog, I begged him not to read it. And he searched around until he found it anyway. And what made me so upset about the whole thing was not just that he read it, but that he only read it from that day on. It was deeply representative of so many of our relationship's problems. He didn't want to know the history, just the present. The struggle never concerned him, because he hadn't been there to experience it first-hand, so it didn't matter.

It took a long time for me to take root, to push through the soil, to grow, and then to blossom. All he did was show up, look over the garden, and notice how lovely the flowers were - no concern or care about how it came to be that way. And when the plants started to weather and brown, when the petals fell to the earth and the stems became frail, and he didn't understand how to nourish them back to health, because he had never been a gardener in the first place, just a visitor. He didn't care about the process, just the result.

Strangers care so much about my story. The man I married didn't. And I know - I need to let go of this anger, because he didn't care then and he doesn't care now, and it only makes me bitter and sad and deeper in the depressed rut. But - as has become my default mantra for getting through this weird bouts of manic emotional thought - it's hard. It's hard to not think about something at the center of my world right now - especially because this reflection, painful as it is, helps me process and make sense of the bigger picture of everything.

August 22, 2016

Lemons

My cousin got married last weekend. There are no fewer than a dozen reasons why I wasn't there, the least of which being work/distance. Still, it got me thinking about my own marriage - and in particular, about my wedding.

My wedding, like my engagement, was very utilitarian. There was no kneeling, no excited tears, no jewelry to show off in strategically posed photos. And the wedding was just as simple. It was a Tuesday, at a courthouse downtown. The only reason we chose that day was because it was his brother's day off of work, so he could drive down from a few states away to take a few pictures of us. I went to work that morning, we went to the courthouse and then to lunch, and then I headed back to the campus to finish teaching for the day.

We did the best we could with what we had. The old courthouse is beautiful, surrounded by live oaks with Spanish moss hanging from the branches. There was no guest drama, no huge poufy expensive dress for one day only, no bills from caterers or DJs. I wore a blue dress I bought a few weeks earlier for work clothes, I held a bouquet of roses I purchased at the grocery store and tied together with a purple elastic band from the previous night's asparagus. He had picked out a ring, which I didn't love, but I loved why he chose it - he's not a terribly emotional man, but the explanation he gave for picking that particular ring was so personal, I loved him for it. After work, I made dinner, and we celebrated with my favorite cheap sparkling wine and a little cake with blue icing roses topped with a bride and groom figurine from the craft aisle at Walmart.

Maybe it isn't everyone's dream wedding, but it was mine. Or, mostly, I should say. I guess in the dream, the groom loves me back. He is honest and communicates with me and thanks I'm beautiful even with the scars and the struggles. In the dream, we're getting married for the right reasons, and not because he needs health insurance.

The only thing that wasn't perfect about the wedding, was us.

We were in such a rush to get married, so we could make the health insurance deadlines. I half jokingly, half seriously suggested getting married at one of the little chapels down by the beach - still small, still just us, but trying to make it as special as eloping could be. He had zero interest. We just needed the paperwork, why waste the money on a ceremony?

I didn't want a big fancy dress, but I hoped to wear something other than work clothes. There was one dress from ModCloth, under $100 for a simple white lace dress. But he didn't want to wait for it to arrive. We are in too much of a rush, and why spend more on a dress than we will spend on the certificate and ceremony at the courthouse? So I put on my favorite new work dress, which fit almost everywhere (not up top, as I was still nursing - I couldn't even button it all the way up). And just went along with it.

It's hard to look at these pictures that his brother took that day. I know what I was thinking and feeling that day, so I can't personally tell if it's obvious - if I look blissfully happy and completely hopeful and entirely in love in the pictures, or if you can tell I know I was making a mistake.

I was happy, and I was incredibly hopeful. And I did love him, very very much. But I don't know if mistake is the right word.

I knew long-term it wouldn't last. But I also believed that short-term, it was the best choice for my little family. And I honestly don't know what choice I would make if I went back in time and had the option in front of me again, even knowing everything that I know now.

I keep saying it, but this time it's finally true: the divorce is so, so close. A final copy of an agreement from us, approval from them, a court date, and it's done. I'm ready, I'm not ready, I don't know what I feel most of the time because it's never 100% anything. I feel sad yet relieved at the same time. I feel angry yet optimistic at the same time. I feel betrayed and yet I still feel love for the person he used to be, the person I agreed to marry even though I knew it wasn't a perfect situation. I knew there would be challenges and struggles, but I wanted to work through them side by side.

I had hoped they would draw us closer instead of drive us apart. I think lately, that's what I cry over the most: feeling like a failure for not being able to weather the storm. It wasn't all me, we are both responsible for sinking the ship. But it just hurts to think, what if I'd said this? What if I had done that? Would he have still hurt me? Would he have still strayed? What could I have done to keep us afloat?

All the hypotheticals and unanswerable questions make the divorce process so heavy. That there is no one simple answer that gives you that perfect closure you need to settle your heart and shift your mind away from what makes it hurt so badly so often right now. My parents got divorced almost 20 years ago now, and they both confessed to me that they still have a lot of "what might have been" thoughts and moments. It will get easier, but it might not ever disappear completely. Bracing myself for the new forever is exhausting.

People who get married at a country club or a church or a botanical garden or wherever, they don't have to go back there to get divorced. But my divorce is going to take place in the same hallway as my wedding, and the feelings attached to that fact (like the feelings attached to everything else in this process) are complicated. The last time I stood on those steps, something began. This time, it ends. (Although, without question, something new will be beginning as well.)

I've been giving careful consideration to what I wear that day. Partly because I had such little say in what I wore last time I visited the courthouse, and partly because again, it's the end of one part of my life into the beginning of the next. I'm not dressing to impress him, or to try and affect him in any way (not that he'd care even if that was my intention). My husband won't even be at the divorce. He doesn't need to attend for some reason, so it will just be me and the lawyers presenting the judge with the agreement.

I'm dressing for myself. I want to look good and feel great and be comfortable and confident as I step into my future. I want to have my picture taken on the same courthouse steps, with the same live oaks and Spanish moss. I want to capture that moment of new beginning. I got married for him. I'm getting divorced for myself. I felt myself disappearing, no interests, no curiosity, no creativity. And I wanted myself back. I gave him everything, and he hurt it and he broke it and he rejected it. Now, I am consciously working on recovery and repair to restore myself to the best possible version I know I can be.


It's bigger than my wedding dress - I'm about 50 pounds heavier than I was that day almost three years ago - but right now, that's the last thing on my mind. This is more than a day. This is greater than a dress. I've been dealt nothing but lemons for the past few years, and this dress is a celebration of just how terrific the lemonade is that I've managed to make - enough sweet to take the edge off the sour, and absolutely, yes, the best is yet to come.