February is just about here. It’s the month of Valentines sent and not sent, the month when the New England mud begins in earnest, and the month the ghosts here get restless. Already I can feel the melancholy creeping this way, up the hill, to my door.
I really hate that damn word depression. A depression is a crater, a dip in the road, a surface bent out of shape. A depression is one spot, simple to point out. There, there it is.
I keep moving—years of moving on, how absurd can it get?—but my melancholy follows me. This is grief, yes? That’s my guess, anyway, and since I’m the last one standing here, I suppose I can call it what I like. Complicated grief is the official term for a loss so massive, the mind cannot work it out. Oddly enough, complicated grief has yet to make its way into the official manual of psych disorders. When it does, I expect the editors will take pains to make sure the definition refers only to the unshakable sadness that follows the death of a loved one—and only death. The big guns. They won’t let me get near that diagnosis, because there’s no death certificate.
Divorce, well, that’s something else. One is expected to recover, get over it. Was this always the case? At a certain point, one is expected to absorb the divorce into one’s being like anything else that identifies us: eye color, a scar, a middle name.
A comedian I like was talking about divorce. His point: no need to feel bad for a friend going through a divorce. After all, he argued, no one’s leaving a happy marriage.
I don’t agree. I think some of us do leave happy marriages—happy-enough, good-enough marriages. In my case, the happiness was profound, for years. At least, for me, it was. Then some Really Bad Stuff hit, and hit hard. I had a breakdown—the real deal, leave your watch and your electronics and your socks and your self-worth at the front desk—and my marriage did too.
It’s not clear which came first, which lost its way first: self or the marriage. Chicken, egg. You try having these conversations alone. This is why Sherlock kept Holmes around.
I made mistakes, trying hard to be heard, to be found, blah blah blah. We both did, I would say, but like I said, there is no one to chat up about this. It was all over before there could be any brave talk of this: shared failure. He’s still breathing, so he’s had his own journey, certainly. But these were two solo treks, happening on either side of an unscalable mountain. No guess as to whether he’s still on the other side, scratching his head, holding the other half of the cartoon map, swearing at its Comic Sans punchlines.
I don’t think there’s anyone on the other side of the mountain, anymore. I don’t hear a thing. I think he’s out of the valley. He got the better side of the map, likely.
I woke up, eventually, in an unrecognizable place in the shadow of that mountain. No one came for me (who does she think she is, expecting someone to come for her?). No one recognized me, except my children. Can you imagine? My children were still with me, are still themselves. But I didn’t know anyone else around me.
I’m still not sure who you are, if you give a shit at all. Why should you? I don’t say that meanly. I just really don’t know the answer.
My actual dreams—the nightmares that will not quit—are like this: I cannot find anyone who knows me, I cannot find anyone I know. I run and duck and scan the horizon for anything familiar. I get frantic. The kids are never there. If I recognize anyone, they’re running the other way, want nothing to do with me.
I wake up. I laugh at the unoriginality, the repetition of my dreamlife. And then I cry. And then, I start my day.
This is bullshit, I think sometimes, to no one in particular. I’m still the person who I’d been before. I am more, now. There are so many words, heaps upon messy heaps. They spill out of my closets, out from under my bed. I would give anything, I understand now, I want to tell you, I want to say I am sorry, I want you to know why, I want to know why.
The worst words are the ones I wake up in bed with each morning. Each morning, yes. You think I’m exaggerating. That’s funny. People assume hyperbole when they’re uncomfortable, I get it. I’m not mad at you for that.
But listen: The worst words, I sweat them out through my skin, where they bleed into the morning sheets: Please, let all the good I’ve ever been matter, now. Please, let all the good I’ve ever done matter, now. Let this all be over, let the new life begin.
These words do damage when they have no audience, nowhere to go. They wreak havoc inside: how can it be, that I can come to be so much nothing to someone I loved with all my heart? To be so much nothing.
These are needy thoughts. No one likes needy thoughts. I’m not an idiot. I get my oil changed regularly. I know better than to say needy things to your face, you and you and you. Because I’m not needy. If I were needy, you wouldn’t be able to unpeel me from your leg. And I haven’t been anywhere near your leg.
If my rough stuff makes you feel helpless, if these thoughts of mine make you feel annoyed or irritated or bothered, hey, relax. Take a load off. I am also saying I am angry. If I have not said it before, I am angry. I AM ANGRY. I think it must be a good sign, that I am angry. If I’m angry, it’s because I believe in myself again, somewhat. That I see goodness and beauty here, again. I am saying I know, now, how to love better, how to love stronger, than I did 10, 15, 20 years ago.
I could have less-good, less-true. There’s plenty of less-good, less-true out there. Some of it is cruel; some of it is just clueless. But all of the less-good, less-true hurts. It cuts deeper than you might expect. I know to keep walking, but the temptation to stop for a little while is strong. We’re like that, you know.
Here’s something else I know better now: we humans cannot put on a price on this thing called forgiveness. When I see it now, in action in this great big world, I weep. Because I can see how stunning it is, how wonderful and rare. But this is what it is to be human, I have learned: believing something can be fixed and made beautiful again does not make it so. No amount of wishing can make it so.
This is the new “here.” The “moving on” from the loss of my marriage, my family, my circle of friends, has been coming to grips with this: I will not wake from this particular dream. There is no going back, nothing to go back to, nothing to wake from. This is my waking life, as bizarre and surreal as it continues to feel.
So I work. I recreate. I re-create. I do Stuff That’s Good to Do. I Go About My Business, like anyone else. Each word is a little prayer. Some words, you see. Some, you don’t.
I still can’t smile at divorce humor. I can’t. I can’t comprehend it. It’s a language I just never learned to speak.
Around me, people divorce, seem to heal, find new love, move in or remarry, have children with their new loves. It looks awfully nice, I have to say. I have tried, I have hoped, dared to hope, even publicly. I’ve felt the keen humiliation of new collections of mistakes, new boxed sets of failure. It’s been an unpleasant journey, despite some gorgeous views. I see now why people choose to travel alone. I don’t understand the massive numbers of human beings who have managed to find partners, the people who make the decision simply and powerfully to choose, to stay. To choose to stay. How does this work? In this no-longer-new dreamworld, I can’t fathom it. I would like to fathom it.
It’s not a question of not being hopeful enough, of living in the past by choice. I resent that narrative the most, I think. For me, this is simply a question of what the heart knows to be true—or to be truer, perhaps, when it comes to authentic connection. We don’t have to call it love. Call it what you want, but there is no undoing this sort of knowing. Or I might choose to undo, to un-know.
In my case, for whatever reason, this is a knot that was broken, torn, not untied. That’s what this heart says, and there’s no one left to argue the case. Why wouldn’t my heart assume it had gotten the last word?