December 12, 2016


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.

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