December 21, 2016


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.

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