with Karli Larson
The transition from stay-at-home mom to divorced-and-working-full-time mom can be challenging, and sometimes very lonely. Throw in a few cats, an ancient dog and one very brave boyfriend, and life gets downright crazy. Join me as I talk through my thoughts and struggles, my miscalculations and my triumphs. We're in this together, you and I.
When I'm not writing here you can find me over at work on the TisBest Philanthropy blog.
Then, yesterday, just like that—it edged a foot through the door.
All at once it washed over me. The familiar sense of missing…what?
Someone, something. I’m so familiar with missing what came before, I no longer recall exactly what it is that is gone.
Yesterday: He has dropped off the girls’ autumn coats and jackets, unexpectedly. I hear his voice in the hall, hesitant, calling to us. When are we? For a moment, I forget, can’t say. Could be ten years ago. Could be today. Is today.
The girls run to him. “Daddy!”
I measure my steps carefully. I walk to him. I accept the bundle of pink and purple and magenta warmth. We speak politely, as we often do, for a few minutes. Then he must leave.
“Goodbye, Love,” he says to one daughter, kissing her head. I envy her, although I instantly deny the emotion, stamp it out. I struggle to recall if he ever called me this: “Love.” I was Sweetpea, Petunia, Honey. Wasn’t I?
It matters not a bit, not now.
This is what I marvel at over and over again: that something that mattered so much once can shift, transform, dissolve—then matter not at all.
Yesterday: I hear from a friend, a charming intellectual who likes to feign snark and preach media savvy. I suspect there is far, far more to his heart than he likes to let on. He pretends, sometimes, to not understand my simple poems, and this amuses me.
My friend and his wife are separating, have separated. I wince. I resist the urge to beg him to reconsider, warn him of the danger in diverging, the hidden dangers that lie in wait in this simple term: separation. The word is innocuous, but the consequences are extreme.
I say nothing to him. I write nothing to him. If I have learned one thing, it is that each must go about this particular life lesson in his or her own way. The soul wants what it wants, until it does not. The soul wants union, then chafes at this close proximity. No. Nothing will be heeded. Emotions swell, take the reins. We hear nothing we do not wish to hear—not when we have come to this, the precipice, the verge of going separate ways.
I cannot guess how they came to be where they are. I choose not to guess. It is folly and sport at best, such guessing; cruelty at worst. You have been warned.
Sit them both down, and neither would be able to give me the same directions, draw me the same map.
Months ago: I am at a party. Couples, all. I take a seat on a painted Adirondack chair near a tiki torch. I sit alone, I observe. I am all right with this. I watch now, detached. Whom did I miss before, when I was coupled? Whom did I not see before, sitting alone at the perimeter of the gathering?
A woman approaches, sits beside me, introduces herself. We chat pleasantly in the early autumn air, occasionally swatting the last of the season’s Vermont mosquitoes. She asks me if my husband is here.
I tell her I am divorced. It is a small world, especially in small towns, so I ask my requisite question: Does she know my ex-husband?
The name sounds familiar, she tells me. Yes, I agree, it probably does. We agree they have probably met, somewhere.
“Whose fault was it?” she asks, suddenly.
I turn to look at her, my mouth open.
Quickly, she apologizes. “I’m sorry. That was an awful thing to ask. I can’t believe I just asked that.”
I put my hand on her arm. “I love that you asked that,” I say. “That is the most authentic question I’ve heard in a long time. Thank you for daring to ask it.”
I am laughing, suddenly. She joins in.
“Let me think about how to answer,” I say.
We sit companionably in silence, watching the other guests play a lawn game.
I never answer the question, because there is no answer that will do. Nothing is true, and everything is true. Nothing is fair, and everything is fair.
She seems to understand this as well, and lets me be. We speak a little longer, about children, work. Eventually she drifts away, smiling apologetically, beckoned by her husband.
Yesterday’s melancholy deepens today, settles in. The rain, which usually cheers me (no need to dress to impress, no need to make the requisite conversation about lovely weather, release and relief), darkens my mood.
The girls have friends over, also sisters. They will return home tonight to a father and a mother both. I type this at the kitchen table, listening to the unusual bustle upstairs, double the running feet, double the clattering of toys. I am keenly aware of the sparseness of this house, of the furniture that used to be here, the art books, the husband’s barn coat hanging in the hall, his fleece slippers near the door. All gone, long gone.
This has not bothered me in some time, but today, listening to the rain on the metal of the air conditioner (so many things to do, to deal with), I miss the old objects, the worn textures, the welcome residue of a shared home.
Sometimes: “But wouldn’t you say you’re better off?” friends will occasionally ask, with thinly veiled frustration in their words.
I know which answer is expected. But try and try as I might, I cannot define the where and what of the present as better. I have given up hoping for the day when I can answer, Yes, yes, so much better. I can only say that this is different, very different indeed. Lessons have been learned, a few minor goals achieved, a few new dreams concocted. Some unkind people left behind; some very good ones, too. Some new souls met, lovely souls. Certainly. All this. Yes.
I have been seeing someone. He is as swift and certain as I am slow and musing. His boldness makes me laugh. He charges ahead; I wade cautiously. He lives far away. We have all the time in the world. I have loved and lost too much for my own comfort. Some days, I am still sick with loss.
His divorce is nearly final. He reacts with shock and amazement when I tell him to be very sure, to be absolutely certain. That perhaps, just perhaps, he and his ex should try again. If any part of him wishes for reconciliation, wishes to repair instead of replace, well, the hours are growing short for this. And there is a child involved. I would not fault him an attempt to repair a life, to reclaim history with the woman he used to love, must still love. I would not fault her. I would understand. I understand less and less of this world and its unions, its fragile bonds, but this, I would understand.
This worries him—understandably—when I say these things. But I want to speak honestly, to a fault.
I am not trying to provoke a reaction. I am simply saying what I wish to God that our families and friends had said to my once-husband and me, at the time. Whether or not we would have listened is another matter entirely. But there are children. We needed a village, a scolding yenta, a shaman. There was none to be found. Modern society frowns upon meddling. Modern society celebrates leasing, upgrades, upcycling, new starts, new parts.
I wanted someone then and now to vouch for me, to vouch for this heart of mine. I wanted someone to plead to my then-husband on my behalf: She is good. She is scared. Listen. She is still there. Go to her. I wanted someone to plead to me on his behalf: He is good. He is scared. Listen. He is still there. Go to him. I wanted someone to take us by the hand and lead us back to each other, remind us of all that was good, tell us in plain words what we could not find the words for ourselves.
But this is not what happened. I wonder, these days, if that ever happens.
I have no games in me, no malice. I have no use for blame. I have no patience for false starts, false alarms. I am simply tired. I have yet to believe in the darkest corners of my heart that divorce makes anything better, anything at all. Divorce necessarily tears doors off the hinges, and new air gusts through, bidden or not.
I am still too close to see well. I am hanging new doors on my life, new windows, choosing new curtains. I heed the tattoo on the soft skin just above my wrist: forward. But sometimes, unseen hands on my shoulders turn me around, and I cannot help but see what I see.
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