Sea Salt. It’s something that I never thought would bring me to tears or cause my throat to feel choked. It’s been a long process emptying the house that was our home. We watched it be built, chose the hardware, designed the kitchen, and where we grew from a family of five to a family of six. It was also where we decided to separate, told our children we were getting divorced, and where many tears were shed.
I have moved out of the house that I dedicated multiple Pinterest boards to and into an apartment. The apartment presented itself with a bit of magic. It’s in the perfect location; close to my kids’ school, an easy spot for their dad to drop them off in the mornings before school or pick them up after work. The apartment gives me conflicting feelings that I am continuing to work through. I have been reminded of why I dislike apartment living with its shared walls, breezeways, and neighbors who live above us. At the same time, I am so grateful to have somewhere safe for my children to live. They are enjoying have pool access, but still ask when we are going home.
Home. They miss their friends. They miss having their own rooms that were painted in colors they chose. They miss their bikes, their trampoline, and the backyard that they explored for countless hours. We all miss our bullmastiff that had to go live with their Dad because she was over the weight limit for the apartment complex. It’s been an adjustment going from 2100 square feet to 1100 square feet. I’ve given away, sold, and left many things that I simply do not have room for. My dining room table, although terribly scratched on the seats by the cats, doesn’t fit in the apartment’s small dining nook. It was one of the first new pieces of furniture that my ex and I ever purchased. I remember it being delivered and set-up. We hosted Thanksgiving for the first time that year; our table being the star of the show.
Trying to follow the Marie Kondo “thank it and let it go” mentality has been hard because, deep down, I don’t want to let it go. I want my table. I want my house with the walls that I agonized color choice over. The walls that were painted as we sang Hamilton loudly and off-key. I miss my deep kitchen sink and my abundant counter-top and cabinets. I miss my laundry room that wasn’t an odd shape and that allowed me to easily load and unload clothing. I miss my walk-in closet and the gorgeous Sea Salt walls that I painted the master bedroom. I found myself longing for the ability to go sit on the back patio, swinging as the night looms and the frogs sing. I miss the possibilities. Walking through the store a few days ago, my son announced that he thinks we should plant a garden for vegetables. The hurt he felt was apparent as he told me to never mind; we can’t plant one because we aren’t living in a house anymore. Maybe, he added, he can plant one at Daddy’s house.
As I’ve unpacked, I’ve tried to make this feel like home. I’m trying to hang pictures and art back on the walls, but it feels empty. They don’t look right against the boring beige walls compared to the way they complimented the blue-grey walls in the living room in the house. Some of the feelings are deeper, darker, and hurt to work through. A large part of me is embarrassed to now admit that I live in low-income housing. Trying to dismantle the shame that creeps up feels impossible some days. It causes my throat to tighten and my chest to ache because this was something I never wanted for my children. Despite all our issues, my ex and I wanted to make sure our children had a good childhood; one that was happy and filled with the opportunities that we never had. I hate that I can’t sign my five-year-old up for dance this year; I simply can’t afford it. The after-school clubs that my oldest daughter and son enjoyed last year won’t be happening again this year.
Last year as I school-shopped for my kids, it was fun and exciting. This year has been stressful and full of tough decisions. What school supplies do they absolutely need to start out the school year? Can I swallow my pride again to email the school and request help with some of the Waldorf supplies that I just can’t manage to find the money for? My older two still need shoes for this school year and my kindergartener needs a rain-coat and nap mat. Last year, an $18 nap mat would have already been purchased and washed, possibly even embroidered with her name. It now sits in my Amazon cart taunting me because I can’t afford to click check-out. The child support that I received last Friday is already gone. Keeping the electricity and water on took a huge chunk of it; what’s left is going straight to rent. This leaves me with roughly $50 to survive until next Friday. That money was borrowed from my sister.
$50 doesn’t seem that bad until I remember that my gas light is on in the van. We live in Florida—it’s August—and the air conditioning in my van isn’t working. I need an oil change; I’m already 1,000 miles over. The internet is going to be shut-off soon. It’s not that I’m horrible with money; there just simply isn’t enough. Now that three of the kids will be back in school full-time, I’ve begun looking for a job. I received a conditional employment offer and will go to fill out paperwork on Monday. If everything works out, then it will make the difference between being able to live and just scraping by. I chant this in my head as I try not to cry. This is an overnight shift; the kids, including the baby, will have to spend three nights a week with their Dad. As of today, the almost-two-year-old has only spent one night away from me. Pour more guilt and shame into my growing paradoxical emotions.
I want to grab this opportunity with both hands and hold onto it tightly. I sternly remind myself that this will let me pay off the amount I owe on last semester and it will let me go again in the Spring. It will let me pay bills. It will allow me to buy Christmas presents and birthday presents. I will be enough. I can do hard things. Sometimes, it feels like I’m lying to myself. Right now, I don’t feel like I can do hard things. I don’t feel like enough for anyone. It feels like I’m failing at everything and that my descent is gaining speed rapidly. The momentum grows and I begin to doubt if I will ever be able to stop this.
I am going to unload my van. I will bring in the boxes from the house and stash them somewhere. I will find my journal, pen, and sunglasses. I think I will go sit on the beach, hoping the waves calm my soul enough so I can pour all my emotions and thoughts onto paper. Maybe I’ll find some peace in the consistence of the tides. Maybe there will be a bit of hope that I can grab and hold tightly in my hand. Maybe I’ll begin to feel like I can do hard things again. I can’t have my Sea Salt walls back, but maybe I’ll find some comfort in the salty sea air that I will pull into my lungs as I step foot in the salt water that caresses the shore. Here’s hoping.
The thing that stands out the most to me is the terrifying fear and panic I feel in each pen stroke. No wonder I latched onto Celexa like it was a life-saving device when I was drowning. I thought it had saved me; why would I ever consider that it was also harming me? Had anyone suggested such a thing, I would have laughed in their face. “Nonsense!” I would have cried. “This medication is life-saving. It’s completely altered my life. It’s allowed me to live and breathe!” It did for a time. I don’t know when, and I don’t know why, but at some point, Celexa quit lifting me up and began to drag me down.
For the past couple of months, I have searched through my mind in an attempt to find the moment that my miracle drug turned from savior to executioner. I play over conversations in my mind, scanning photos trying to find the day that I vanished from them. If I’m honest, I can narrow it close to roughly a year ago; sometime at the end of May and the beginning of June.
Until that point, I had honestly felt very little change in my day-to-day life. A heavy weight seemed to have been lifted from the relationship I had with my husband. We were getting along better than we had in awhile. I was very much sleep deprived; my youngest took a hard hit during the four-month sleep regression stage and decided that sleep, in her opinion, was not a necessity. I was trying to come to terms, in my own Type-A personality way, with the idea of divorcing the person who I had once had a crush on at thirteen. It felt overwhelming; where did I start? What steps are involved in a divorce with children? It was a blessing to be able to hold tight to my researching urges and dive in. I looked at lawyers, filing for ourselves, child custody, child support, the best visitation schedules. At one point, I printed out the eighteen page child-custody agreement that Florida follows and began to fill it out.
I reached out to friends who had gone through divorces. I asked what were things they recommended; what were things they wished someone had told them; how did they manage to keep their relationship working even though they were no longer a couple? I got many responses. A few warned me that things were going swimmingly now, but to be aware that things may not always go that way. I did not give it the attention it deserved. We were doing better than we had in such a long time; we had decided to try to co-habitat for the kids and both agreed that dating wasn’t something to be pursued until years down the line.
The cracks started to form in the perfect veneer. As I sit here, I can’t remember what started the first weakened spot. Maybe it was the fact that I was exhausted caring for four children, the house, and picking up so many pieces while it felt like my husband?—my soon-to-be-ex-husband? my separated husband? my ex?— was suddenly free to live a carefree and fun-filled life. He was gone most of the time; between a heavy work schedule and whatever plans he made, it felt like it was rare to see him for more than a handful of minutes per week. It made me angry; why did he get to go out to bars and make new friends? Where was he when it was time to change the fourth poopy diaper of the day, make dinner, start baths, and being the nightly bedtime square-off? I didn’t want to hear about how great this band sounded live. I didn’t give a damn about an awesome place that served bottomless mimosas. It hurt to be stuck in a house that was no longer wanted with a family that was broken apart. Anger turned to resentment, resentment morphed into jealousy. Jealousy, well, she’s a bitch. I started to become slightly obsessed with where he was, what he was doing, and why he got to go find himself well I sank deeper into a pit lined with crumbs, toys, and dirty clothes.
I realized very quickly that he wasn’t just going out “with the boys” and having fun. It sickened me to discover that he was already dating. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, An Open Letter to My Husband’s Girlfriend, I was able to shift through the hints that he slowly dropped.
I knew he wasn’t going to wait to begin dating. I knew this when he told me he was thinking of waiting a few months, maybe a year before he would begin dating. It was then that I knew he had already chosen someone to date.
Today, he claims that he told me he was going to start dating. I disagree vehemently with that statement. Had those exact words left his lips, or his fingertips, I would have ironed out no-nonsense rules regarding our kids. Instead, I found the proof through our cell phone bill and bank account.
The whirlwind of emotions that threatened to flatten me were fierce. I raged. I ranted. I wanted to cry, throw dishes, and raise holy hell. I did none of those things, however. I found that I couldn’t shed a tear; I yearned to sob and release some of the tension, the pain, but it was as if all my anger had removed all tears from my body. I did not throw dishes; I couldn’t justify the waste of breaking a perfectly good item and chancing a sliver of glass would make its way into a child’s foot. The holy hell that begged to be released was eventually quieted, hushed into submission, and that’s when the numbness began to take over.
A dear friend told me that I shouldn’t pay attention to what he is doing; we had decided to separate. His choices were his alone and I needed to focus on myself and my children. I listened to her. I stopped checking the phone records. When odd purchases or cash withdrawals showed up in the checking statement, I ignored them. I believed the lies that I was told because it was easier, tidier, and calmer. The fire that had once roared brightly was nearly snuffed out; I felt cold, numb, and very detached.
During this time, I began reading. I read about co-dependancy. I discovered the laundry list of adult children of alcoholics and dove in. I researched childhood trauma and its effects on adult relationships. I began therapy. Within the past few weeks, I discovered podcasts that have covered these topics and more. The words I’ve listened to have shaken me to my very soul. I’ve laid in bed at night with tears streaming down my face as strangers described my life and how I was feeling. The pain was immense. It throbbed and ached like a bad tooth. Sometimes I would feel my breath catch, the sharp jab near my ribs reminding me that the pain wasn’t merely emotional, but physical as well. Then, in late fall, I met my husband’s girlfriend.
Our initial meeting was brief. I was dropping the kids off at their new apartment. I had heard how she couldn’t wait to meet me all day from Lee. As I climbed the steps, I had no idea what to expect. This was such a new territory; one I hadn’t planned on entering until I had years to work through the demise of my marriage. Now, I was about to knock on the door of the apartment that the man I was still married to shared with another woman. Awkward doesn’t quite cover it.
There are times I run
My thumb over
The smooth indent.
to fix the ring
that is no longer there.
It lay uncentered
On my finger
Stone weighing to the left
My finger has been
Empty for months
Like my bed
Like my messages
Like my life
I reach out
You were mine
Your heart is not
Your touch Is not
Your name is
July 20, 2015
It’s my first day at home with the kids. It’s going good. I was terrified. I had a mini panic attack last night. My lower back spasmed and the nerves started firing; my right leg was shaking so hard & I couldn’t control it. Then my left leg started. Thankfully, Lee was right there and was holding me. If he hadn’t, I’m pretty sure I would have fallen on my face.
July 23, 2015 (an excerpt)
I’m afraid to say it outlaid. I’m even afraid to write it. I don’t want to jinx myself. I want to keep getting better. My next big goal is picking up Violet (15 month old), then getting up and down off the floor…So many things scare me now. Will I hurt myself getting up? Will I spasm today? Will I fall? More things for anxiety to feed and grow on. Yay. I’m about to get up and I hate that I’m nervous. I hate all the nagging doubts in my head. I hate the little voices that whisper and cause me to doubt and fear.
July 29, 2015 (an excerpt)
I’m so tired of being afraid of my own body. I have o faith in my back, my legs, my body. It scares me nearly every time I stand up; is this going to hurt? Am I going to cause damage this time?
I went to the ER because my back was hurt. I expected a handful of muscle relaxers and pain pills. I never expected surgery. I never expected to stay in the hospital for a week. I still can’t wrap my head around this. I feel like I’ve lost weeks worth of time. When I left, Violet was still a baby. Now, she’s a full-blown toddler. I don’t know where anything is in my house….
I’m pissed that I still hurt. I hate being anxious. I hate being afraid. I hate not being able to pick up my baby. I hate that diaper changes hurt…I’m angry that it hurts to cry. That it hurts to laugh. That I’m unable to do all the things I had planned. I can’t go school shopping by myself. I can’t put Violet in her car seat. I can’t install the car seats that were taken out. I can’t go to the store without being scared someone will bump into me and make me fall. I have to have Lee babysit me. How is that fair?
August 5, 2015 (an excerpt)
I hate anxiety. I hate it. I hate the stupid scenarios that I know are stupid, but can’t stop thinking about. Why am I worried about bears? Why am I coming up with scenarios that involve saving my kids from bears?
September 25, 2015
Today, I decided I can’t see the big picture anymore. That saying “Can’t see the forest through the trees?” Pretty sure I can’t even see the trees through the fog at the moment. And no one seems to notice. No one seems to notice I’m drowning…
October 6, 2015
I should be cleaning, but decided journaling would be better. So much has happened in this past week. I started some meds, Celexa, and I’ve seen an improvement. The anxiety isn’t constant. It isn’t pressing down on my chest all day long. I feel lighter. I feel happier. I don’t know if this is a placebo effect or if it’s truly working. I don’t think I care.
That was my last entry for two years. The next entry was only a single page. The words feel haunting now.
January 25, 2017
I’ve been outspoken lately, saying things I’ve held back on. It hurts. There have been so many to react negatively. Am I hiding myself? Have I compressed myself so much that people assume I’m complacent? How can people “know” me and still be surprised? Have I lost my voice? Have I spent too many years quieting it?
That’s the last entry in my waterlogged journal. I found three other journals as I opened boxes, looked on bookshelves, and rummaged through my nightstand. Two of the journals were empty, still waiting to be written in. One has two letters from 2017. One is a letter to my oldest daughter who was turning ten, the other letter is for Violet who had turned four. I sit here, stunned.
I have written in journals since I have been eight years old. I filled them from cover to cover. There is only one that I’m missing; I’m positive that an abusive ex held onto it. For several years, I used an online journal. I’m desperate to get it printed out and bound. It worries me that I’ve gone nearly two years without writing a journal entry. This feels as horrible as a physical blow to the gut. Two years lost. Two years I will never be able to look at for insight. The last fact is especially troubling.
On June 13, 2015, I underwent emergency back surgery. According to my surgical report, I had a bilateral L5 and S1 laminectomies and epidural abscess evacuation. A lumbosacral epidural abscess caused my spinal cord to swell (or, in my doctor’s terminology, “lumbar spinal canal stenosis”), which was resulting in paraparesis, my lower limbs becoming paralyzed. That, my friends, is a story for another post. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride. The journal entries above clearly show some of the psychological trauma and damage that occurred. My anxiety was at an all-time high. At the beginning of January 2016, I went and saw my doctor. I cried and explained how horrible I felt. How I was scared all the time; I thought I was depressed. We decided to try Celexa to see if it helped after I told him I had been on Zoloft for years and didn’t see much of a difference. I had also tried Prozac but it gave me horrible insomnia. While there, I was also diagnosed with “walking pneumonia” and told to take it easy. Ha!
I still remember the first dose’s effect. I felt amazing. I had energy. I wasn’t afraid to breathe. I felt giddy. Standing by the stove, I clapped my hands together and just grinned. I felt normal. I felt like the girl I used to be. The fearless one who walked Randy-Mac’s campus and enjoyed climbing mountains. The one who smiled in all her photos and didn’t have scars that were invisible to everyone else. I felt happy. It was intoxicating. I never wanted it to go away.
However, just like a buzz from fizzy champagne, the high faded. For the first time in my life, I felt like an addict. I wanted to chase that high. I wanted it back. I needed that joy, the unbridled thrill of being alive. We upped my dosage. The desperation that clawed at me then is now a vivid memory as I type out these words. More than anything, I wanted to be happy. I wanted to wake up and be able to move without fear. I needed to be able to pick up my youngest, hold her close, and never worry about my back seizing again. Desperately, I yearned to be able to play with my kids and enjoy them again. I wanted to experience, explore, and enjoy life in a way that had been absent for a marked amount of time.
For awhile, I’d like to believe it worked. Or I thought it worked. As it usually does, weight began to creep up on me. Clothing stopped fitting comfortably. Shirts grew tight, pants became too small. One morning—I have no frame of reference for the date—I remember eating three Dunkin Donuts French Cruellers. I think this was the first real moment that I began to realize something wasn’t right. I didn’t want to eat three donuts. I wasn’t hungry enough to eat three. I didn’t need three. Despite knowing all this, I stood there and ate it.
At some point, I googled the side effects of Celexa. I discovered that binge-eating can be one of them. The details are fuzzy on the how and when, but I remember changing doses again. This time, however, we lowered the dose to see if it would reduce the binge-eating effect. Looking back, I honestly can’t say if it altered the binge-eating. I know that I was easily eating more than I needed to. I couldn’t lose weight. When we moved to Florida, I was 34 weeks pregnant. Prior to becoming pregnant, I had been a size six. I had been easily in the best shape of my life. After having my third child, the weight stayed. It stayed until my week-long stay in the hospital that resulted in a massive weight loss.
Celexa’s urge to eat caused my weight to soar into the 200s. It felt like it was beginning to go down when I became pregnant with my fourth child. It was painful to look at the scale during my doctor’s visits. I actively avoided doing so for the entire pregnancy. I even told the office staff that I did not want to know and to please not tell me. I am beyond grateful that my OB and my midwife understood the fragile state of my relationship with food and weight. They never shamed me or made me feel more insecure about myself.
To compound this issue, early on in my pregnancy, I was advised to quit Celexa cold-turkey and immediately switch to Zoloft. This was a horrible, traumatic, insane thing to do to me. For the next few weeks, I was in extreme distress. I felt like I was losing my mind and rode a roller-coaster of emotions. During this time, I quit my job because I couldn’t handle the stress of interacting with customers. As each shift began, I was terrified that I would snap at someone and be fired. I tearfully confided to my manager that I was pregnant, switching medications, and could not handle anything other than inhaling and exhaling. She was gracious and handled my freak out with a kindness I will always remember.
Nearing a panicked state, I went to my pharmacist and begged her for help. I explained what was going on and the amount of anguish I was currently in. She was aghast at the instructions I had been given and told my she would be happy to call my provider and tell them she would rather me continue a medication that was working versus taking a medication that was causing me such distress. With her guidance, I stopped taking Zoloft and switched back to Celexa. The relief was indescribable. I was now thoroughly terrified of being taken off Celexa. It seemed that this was the one medication that made my brain function normally. I swore I wouldn’t go through that pain again.
The crapshoot of genetic material also prepositioned me to more likely to face postpartum depression. This happened after my first pregnancy. It happened after my second, but not to the same degree. I had taken medication throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period in order to prevent it. Despite this, with my third child, we again played Russian roulette trying to find the magic combo that worked. I suffered a deep postpartum depression that was coupled with a crippling postpartum anxiety that caused panic/anxiety attacks. It was a very dark time.
My daughter was 15 months old when I had emergency back surgery. I had began therapy a few months prior and was beginning to pull myself out of the dark hole that had taken over my life. I felt more in control that I had in awhile and was making progress. Then, back surgery threw me so far back in the hole that I couldn’t see even a tiny pinpoint of light.
This past June 13 marked four years since I underwent that emergency surgery that altered the course of my life. June is a particularly hard month for me. Thanks to Timehop, I revisit the insanity every year. The first year, I skipped it. I couldn’t handle the thought of looking back. I was able to look at the photos and memories the second year. Last year was in such an upheaval with being separated from my husband, having a newborn and handling three other children, that I rarely opened any app’s memory function. I found the courage to this year from going back and reading the journal entries that I transcribed above.
The thing that stands out the most to be is the terrifying fear and panic I feel in each pen stroke. No wonder I latched onto Celexa like it was a life-saving device when I was drowning. I thought it had saved me; why would I ever consider that it was also harming me? Had anyone suggested such a thing, I would have laughed in their face. “Nonsense!” I would have cried. “This medication is life-saving. It’s completely altered my life. It’s allowed me to live and breathe!” It did for a time. I don’t know when, and I don’t know why, but at some point, Celexa quit lifting me up and began to drag me down.
I miss my friend. I miss having someone to text. I miss right now, supervising the hot pink Barbie driving duo, having someone to converse with. Or someone to text if they aren’t here.
I miss having someone to share my day with; the big things and little things. Triumphs, failures, frustrations, and laughter.
It’s almost time to go inside and put kids to sleep. I haven’t eaten and I have zero appetite. I don’t look forward to the quiet that is overwhelming. The irony that I wish for silence often with four very loud children isn’t lost on me. When I have it, it feels so loud. Although I often feel touched out and just want space, this silence falls and I find myself wanting to touch someone. I want be on the couch holding a hand, propping my feet on a lap. The absent-minded stroking of a thumb on the back of my hand or neck.
There are times I feel like I’ve finally broken out of a dense fog. It was so thick that I struggled to make sense of the shapes my eyes found. Words were muffled and my skin felt frozen by the white swirls. Suddenly, I feel like I’ve stumbled into a sunny meadow. Everything is too much. The light attacks my eyes. I’m overwhelmed by the sounds of wind, birds, animals, and people shouting. Sweat forms on my skin, droplets sliding down towards the earth and blazing a trail of fire along the nerves.
Hiding isn’t an option; as far as I can see shelter is now where to be found. For a brief moment, the fog seems like home. I want to race back into the mist, letting it embrace me like a college friend who just moved into my city. Instead of an embrace, I sway in the breeze. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block out all the pain. It doesn’t work. When shrouded by the fog, I didn’t realize how numb I had become. Now, emotions break over me like waves smashing against a rocky out cliff. I can’t stop them. They rush at me so fast, so frequently, it seems that I can barely breathe before bracing myself against another onslaught.
I feel like I’ve entered this odd phase of mourning in regards to my separation. Earlier this week, I realized that I miss my friend. I miss the person that I used to text all day. The person who I could share the kids’ hilarious thoughts, complain about them fighting over air, and the person who I could count down the minutes until bedtime. I miss the person who I could share my worries and anxieties with. The person who would tell me it was going to be okay. I want to have someone to share memes with or to message Timehop memories. For over eight years, I had a person that shared these moments with me. Even if I was upset at him, I could still save a meme and send it to him and break the tension. I had someone who came home and made it so I wasn’t the only adult in the house. I could tag myself out and let someone else soothe a fussy toddler while I hid in a bath full of hot water.
These emotions are more confusing when I remind myself that things weren’t always sunshine and rainbows. There were days I didn’t want to talk to him. There were days I wish that he would stay at work for another hour. The good and bad intertwine and make the already murky pool of feelings even more stirred up and the bottom impossible to glimpse. For the past week, things have been increasingly tense and awkward. It feels like weeks have passed when it has barely been seven days. I haven’t been at my best and have allowed pointed jabs and unnecessary comments to slip past my better judgement. Even acknowledging these mistakes brings a wave of chaos. Am I sorry for the words I chose? Honestly? No, I’m not. I’m human. A living, breathing person who is angry and hurt. I’m angry for so many reasons, at so many different variables that it feels it would take hours to list them. The hurt, which has surprised me, caught me off guard.
From March 2018 until the end of April in 2019, I was caught in a swirling vortex of mists that blanketed my thoughts, my emotions, and my ability to process everything that was happening around me. For months, I listened to people praise me for “handling it so well.” The praise felt hollow then. Handling it well? Why wouldn’t I be handling it well? Look at me! I’m evolved enough to handle this separation, his new girlfriend, and my children’s emotional pain with dignified class and an unshakable grace. Actions that bothered me were easily vented to close friends, acknowledged, then pushed out of my mind. I never expected them to come roaring back, demanding to be examined again, screaming for an autopsy to determine what I really felt then, what I have to feel now, and what the hell to expect in the future.
Anger is easier. If I’m angry, then it doesn’t hurt. If I focus my anger, sharpening it like a sword, I can pretend that the fuel behind my rage is how easily he moved on, replaced me, and started his new life. With the fire dancing around me, it is easy to make pointed jabs, roll my eyes, and ignore everything. If I continue to feed the flames, find new reasons to be angry, the hurt doesn’t appear. It’s when I exhaust myself from attempting this bonfire to end all bonfires that the hurt creeps in. My brain quietly makes connections and slides them to my conscious as if on an assembly line. Oh, you think you’re mad because you’re picturing him snuggled up with her enjoying a romantic evening for two? Nope. You’re hurt because you realize how out of sync things became. When it’s easier to think, easier to feel, anger isn’t the first emotion. I find that I miss the simple intimacy that comes from being married for a number of years. I miss having someone to share those things with, someone to end the day with.
Doubt creeps in and I begin to fear that I’m creating this perfect image in my mind that isn’t real. It stings to realize that part of the problem was yourself. I can’t pretend that I don’t deserve my fair share of blame. I also know that I can’t go back in time and change things. I can’t fast forward to the future to see what lies ahead and strategize. I can only feel the waves of emotion that threaten to knock me down. I am allowing myself to be angry. I am allowing myself to be sad. I am allowing myself to miss my friend. I wish I knew that simply experiencing the emotions will be enough. I wish I could skip ahead a few months and be able to judge how I’m handling myself. I’d like to see if the easy, carefree, and fun relationship between us has returned. I want to know if we ever get on the same page again or if we are doomed to constantly be out of sync.
Lately, I’ve been tempted to just find someone new. Find a new person to text all hours of the day or night and allow them to become my friend. Does that make them a crutch? Does it make me a user? If only I could find the answers to these questions in the back of my life’s manual.
June 26, 2015
Sometimes, life sets out to humble you. A tidal wave knocks you down, sending you tumbling without knowing which way is up. Your lungs burn from the strain of holding your breath. You ache for air. You surface, inhale, and see another wave. This one smashes you harder than the first. You tumble, weightless and unable to do anything to stop the terrifying ride. Eventually, life spits you out and you land, clinging, on the shore.
Each breath hurts. You throb and feel the pounding heartbeat in places you didn’t know existed. You’re filled with a mix of anger, disbelief, gratitude, and humility. Now, you are woefully aware of how fragile you are. That single strand of knowledge causes intense pain. It stings. It throbs. Your nerves send lighting bolts of pain to travel down your spine.
You are insignificant and the center of the universe all at once. It freezes. Racing down the gauntlet of human emotion, you ran as hard and as fast as your broken body can manage. At the finish line, you emerge badly wounded and exhilarated by cheating death. It is a paradox, a profound oxymoron, and a staggering puzzle that manages to make complete sense when the blood and sweat is wiped from your eyes.
The fragile body that you laid claim to bleeds. Tears pour down your face from overfilled eyes. Scorn radiates from your posture while you shout joyful gratitudes to the universe. A moment. A pause. Fists lifted, angrily shaking at the unseen deity that allowed you to be beaten by the waves, the gauntlet, existence. Hands, folded reverently in prayer, knuckles turning white as lips move in a frantic chant of thanks.
After unfolding stiff hands, you beg. You please. You make offers of compromise, you beg to trade this current existence for something, anything, else. The adrenaline and shock set in; the body begins to tremble violently. Another loss. Another stumbling block. Square your shoulders, push yourself up. Extend the muscles of your legs into propelling your body upward, pretending the burn, the ache, strain are figments of your imagination. Standing, chest heaving, eyes straight ahead, you will one foot to move. Now the opposite foot. Three small steps. Four. Demanding more, the number continues to increase until you find yourself sanding on your sandy salvation once more.
The salt breeze whips hair across your face, entwining in your eyelashes and making it impossible to see without rubbing the heels of your hands into your eyes to attempt to clear the strands. The water continues to tumble forward, draw backward. Memories of salt water invading your nostrils demand respect. The inability to tell up from down causes fear to rise in your gut. Courage fuels the taunt muscles that quiver as the white crests crash into your feet.
It’s another day. Another goddamn beautiful day.
It is a startling realization to make. You aren’t the crazy one. You are the normal one. What happened wasn’t okay. It wasn’t right. It seems impossible at first. The thought feels like an ill-fitting shirt.
When I think of my childhood, the home that sticks out the most is an old white farmhouse that sat nestled between acres of pine trees. We moved there when I was (eleven?) twelve; a girl balancing on the cusp of adulthood and childhood. It was a terrifying and exciting journey.
We moved right before fourth grade finished for the year. We spent a few short weeks in an Alabama school before a teacher hit my brother. Aghast, my mother pulled us out. We would spend the next school year being driven for over an hour to our old elementary school. In 6th grade, my mom decided to homeschool us. I’ve worked hard to repress memories. They hurt to remember them. Logically, I know I need to sift through and work through the memories. Mentally, I know this is the next step in my growing recovery. Emotionally, I’m terrified.
I used to lie in bed at night and imagine an iron safe. I would give my memories shape and toss them in the box. Memories of harsh words would transform into bubbles. All the things I didn’t want to think about were crammed into my imaginary safe. As I stared at the ceiling, I could picture myself wrapping yards of thick, shiny chains around the safe. I would wrap thick sailor’s ropes and add locks. To make the safe vanish, I would shove it into the depths of the ocean or a never-ending black hole. It would sink into inky darkness, never to be seen again. I always assumed these memories would be gone for food and that I would never have to relive them again. Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will eventually be forced to go on an expedition to find these safes. I will have to construct a deep ocean sub, outfitted with bright lights, and begin my descent into the never-ending black. This is my expedition, my journey to find my buried safes. Take a breath and jump.
One of my clearest memories from childhood is filled with a keen sense of frustration and disappointment. I was five and a huge Little Mermaid fan. I had the Barbie and was playing with her outside. I remember digging a whole and burying her bright purple seashell top in the soft dirt. I can’t remember why, just that it was an important part of the play unfolding in my head. I remember coming back later and being unable to find it. It was maddening. I was certain I had buried it near my swing. I just wanted to find my buried treasure!
The next two memories are filled with hurt, fear, and anger. I remember the worst fight I ever witnessed between my parents. The exact beginning isn’t crystal clear and neither is the end. I recall my father yelling at my brother and me to sit in two chairs, unmoving, eyes glued to the argument. I remember squirming and wanting to leave. At one point, I had to pee. I close my eyes and imagine my small five-year-old body’s bladder sending frantic urges to my brain. I can feel the hard seat underneath me, my feet dangling as the urge to go grew stronger. I vaguely remember a Coke can being thrown at me. The rest is blurry and I don’t know if I am mixing two separate occasions together or if my five-year-old mind simply shut out parts. I remember my mother ushering us to the car. I remember the house being a mess. Things were thrown around. We went to a hotel. It hosted a pool and a hot tub. When we came home, I remember seeing clothes thrown across the lawn and dresser drawers across the porch.
Hey girl. Welcome to the club. I, first and foremost, want to thank you. Thank you for caring for my children. Thank you for going above and beyond. I know that they are not your responsibility. I know that you are not required to care for them, but you do. I see you and all the little things that you are doing. You’ve taken my oldest figure skating; you buy crickets for my son’s bearded dragon. You take the time to do my four-year old’s hair, cover her in glitter, and ooh and aah over all things unicorn. I see you picking up the grumpy baby and holding her close. I appreciate these things. I know it probably sounds odd coming from me, but I do appreciate them.
I also feel bad for you. I’m sorry that you have entered this strange relationship at such an odd time. We are still technically married, but we have been separated for a year. I do not want him back. I feel that I have to stress this point. I am much happier on my own. I don’t want to disparage him or complain about him to you, but I want to warn you.
You are so young. I know there are only four years between us, but I promise you that four years is a lifetime. In those four years, you likely will grow into a self-assured, confident woman. You learn your boundaries; what you are willing to accept and what you’re not willing to endure. I know I changed from 30 to 34. It’s a good change. It’s one I’m proud of. I fear for you because when I grew and changed, the man that I technically call husband did not change or grow with me.
Maybe these next four years will be different. Maybe he will learn. Maybe he will grow. Please do not hold your breath. Be prepared for him to remain stagnant. I worry that you’ll fall in love, not with him, but with the kids. You’ll be in the same situation I was. You’ll want to stay for them. That saddens me on such a deep level that I can’t fully explain my sorrow. While I appreciate any and all love that you have for my kids, I don’t want it to trap you. I don’t want you to wake up and realize that you’re alone. I do realize that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he will change. Maybe he will be a full-fledged partner that you can count on. My doubts are so great in that area; I can’t offer false confidences.
I see you already taking care of things that he should. You are the one that messaged me and asked for the oldest’s favorite lunch foods. You are the one who messaged me wanting to plan birthday parties. I was the one you called when the four-year-old was having a fit and you needed to know how to calm her down. It’s odd how we both have been thrust into this relationship. We have been forced to quickly get on the same page.
That angers me. It makes me so mad at him. I didn’t expect to have to deal with you this soon. Deal with you makes it seem like you are a burden. That is not my intention. I don’t know if you’re the first and last or just the first of many. The idea of co-parenting with one of his girlfriends sets a precedent that I refuse to allow. It’s not you; it’s the role you’ve acquired. I do not want to have to rely on Amy, Karen, or Judy to send child support payments. I do not want Melissa to have them while he works just because that’s “what we did before.” I will not share all the wonderful joyous moments of my children’s life with whatever woman happens to share their dad’s bed.
When we separated, I told him he needed to take time to work on himself. That I was going to take time to work on myself. I was going to take time to better myself. I said we needed to be the best version that we could be. When he mentioned dating, I flatly told him that it was something that shouldn’t be on the table for years. We were exiting an eight-year marriage. We both had jumped into this marriage shortly after exiting long term relationships. We needed to learn from our mistakes. We need to take time and grapple with codependency issues, being an adult child of an alcoholic, and co-parenting before we introduce more people into the dynamic.
I knew he wasn’t going to wait to begin dating. I knew this when he told me he was thinking of waiting a few months, maybe a year before he would begin dating. It was then that I knew he had already chosen someone to date. He was setting the stage for his newest relationship. I’m sure he thought he was being very mature and very smart. He wasn’t. I saw through it. My suspicions were confirmed when you were introduced as a “roommate” in a one-bedroom apartment with a couch that a child could barely sleep on. I didn’t press the issue because, honestly, what was the point? I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, he is going to run with his plans regardless of the multiple red flags, warning sirens, and people waving their arms to get his attention. When he stumbles, and he will, I hope he doesn’t trip you on the way down.