Thursday, February 4, 2016

An Open Letter To Me, On The Day He Asked For A Divorce

Today is the last day of my marriage.

It has been over for a while now; we haven't lived together in a year and a half.  The papers were signed and sealed months ago, but in our state there is a waiting period before the marriage is considered legally and officially over.

That day is tomorrow.

It has made me reflective, because if you had told me on the day my husband asked for a divorce that my life would look like it does today I would never, ever have believed you.

I decided to write her a letter, that broken, sobbing woman who had just heard the words: I want a divorce.


My sweet, sad girl:

I know this feels like the worst day of your life.

He takes you to the beach to tell you, and you don't know why but this makes it worse somehow. It's not like there is a good place to hear your marriage is finished. Maybe it's because as you spread the blanket out on the warm sand, a tight ball of anxiety frozen in your belly because some part of you knows - just knows - what is coming, you have hope. You still have hope.

You start babbling, avoiding his gaze, because you can't stand the depth of the sadness -- no, worse: pity -- you see in his eyes. He waits patiently for you to fall silent, and as he takes a breath and begins to speak you wince, as if physically pulling away can forestall the sting of his words for one more merciful split-second.

This isn't working, he says. I can't do this anymore.

All the air rushes out of your lungs. You start slowly shaking your head - no, no, no - and silently pray: please don't say it.

I want a divorce, he says, like every cliched movie you've ever seen.

The ball of anxiety in your belly cracks wide open, and cold fear rushes through you; your hands and feet are suddenly freezing on this humid July day.

The world goes quiet; you can see his lips moving but there is no sound. You observe the family next to you, as if in slow motion: the mom is pulling sandwiches out of a cooler and the Dad is smearing sunscreen on his toddler's chubby cheeks, such familiar gestures, things you and he have done hundreds of times together. But now there is no you-and-he. There is no us.

Something inside you breaks. The wall of denial you have been pushing against, desperate to keep it standing, crashes down around you.

You walk to the water's edge and gaze out over the sunlight dancing on the water. You can't fix this, a voice in your head says. This time it's really and truly over. 

Tears stream down your face, but you keep your back resolutely turned towards him. You don't want him to see you cry, this man you swore to love forever, whose babies you had, who has stood by your side for half your life. You hide your tears from him like a futile punishment, one that has no teeth.

Hitching sobs erupt from your throat, and right behind them comes the rage; how dare he? After all we have been through he's just going to quit? To walk away?

You storm back to the blanket, sobbing, and say something like: we got through all this crap - the cancer, the death, the rehabs, all that LOSS - and now I'm also losing the love of my life? 

He tilts your chin up and forces you to meet his gaze: I'm not the love of your life, Ellie, he says with determination, resignation and - dammit - love.

This is when it happens, my sweet girl, it's just that you can't feel it yet: a tiny spark comes alive deep inside you, a pilot light, a fledgling flame that signals the birth of something new.

It's a gentle stirring of something - is it freedom? possibility?

But right now, dear Ellie, all you feel is unadulterated fear. A deep, primal certainty that nothing will ever be okay again. He has been your mirror for as long as you can remember; you have measured your happiness, your sense of purpose, your value against his reflection for decades.

You have no idea who you are without him. You desperately don't want to know, but he has given you no choice.

Over the coming days, weeks and months people will tell you over and over that everything will be okay. They will deliver well-meaning platitudes: he has no idea what he's missing, you're better off without him, if he can't see how amazing you are good riddance. Their words bounce off of you, because they don't understand how convinced you are that you are never going to be okay, that you're broken beyond repair, unlovable.

Here's what you can't see, not yet, but it's happening: that little flame is growing. You feed it every day, even without realizing it. You open your eyes each morning, feel the plummet in your gut as you instinctively reach over to his now-empty side of the bed and feel like you can't go on, but then you do.

You cry and wail and curse and scream and trudge through each day, and it feels like you're dying, but each day you make it through is a stitch in that open wound.

And then one morning you won't reach over to his side of the bed. Your first thought of the day won't be one of rejection or despair, but rather about something you have to do that day, maybe, or a cute thing one of the kids said. It won't hit you until breakfast that you only have to serve three plates instead of four, and that one whole hour went by where you weren't in emotional agony. Stitch.

You'll kick your socks off and leave them right in the middle of the bedroom floor, which used to make him nuts, and giggle like a lunatic. Stitch.

You'll sprawl out in your king sized bed like a starfish, or wrap yourself up in all the blankets burrito-style. Stitch. Stitch.

You'll grope your way through things he used to do, like paying bills, resetting the fuse box, replacing a broken shower head, schlepping the garbage to the dump, snow blowing the driveway, muttering and cursing all the way, but you'll do it. Stitch. Stitch. Stitch.

That little flame will grow stronger, until it begins to throw its own warmth. You will no longer need his approval to feel a glow of accomplishment.

You haven't worked outside the home in over twelve years, but you'll get a job. A good job. You'll buy your own car.

After taking a year all to yourself, with no romantic entanglements, you'll feel ready to go on a date or two. This will be just as awkward and amazing as you pictured it would be. You'll realize you don't need to be someone's other half to be happy, and when a few people you meet want to date more seriously you'll resist, because you're doing just fine on your own.

The voice in your head - the one that sounded a lot like him - will lose its critical tone. Slowly - oh so slowly - it will be replaced with your own voice. A whisper, at first, but it will grow louder each day.

Each day you step closer and closer to the person you were meant to be, before you gave your power away and tethered your self-worth to him.

The gut wrenching sadness, anger and grief will fade. You will travel deep into yourself and face difficult truths you spent a lifetime avoiding, but you will be able to do this, now, because you matter to yourself. You will discover that the key to peace of mind has been in your hand all along, even though you kept trying to give it away to others. To him.

And although you can't believe it now, on this scorching summer day with the words I want a divorce landing on your heart like a ton of bricks, he has given you a precious gift. Because, you will come to learn, he was right. He isn't the love of your life.

You are.