My life has been turned upside down in the last two months. I am living in limbo, while all the legal issues I can’t talk about move like molasses in a cold jar. I am not living where I should be, or where I want to be… and I am paralyzed by the tyranny it took me years to escape. It is frustrating, infuriating, and – at times – depressing.
I had a really, really bad night two weeks ago, a night that followed Ava’s heart wrenching cry-herself-to-sleep-“because I miss you” routine that precedes every night she will spend with her dad. I had to work, but that didn’t stop me from choking back my own tears all day long remembering the sound of her little voice and the feel of her small body quivering in my arms, the tears silently slipping away as sleep overcame her. Knowing I couldn’t hold her again for 3 days. Feeling helpless to comfort her when she seemed so devastated by all the necessary changes. And missing my son who, at 11 now, is careening toward adolescence in the forward-backward jerking motion of the 6 local… burying himself in online games and not talking about the divorce, he seems frightfully “well-adjusted” and yet feels compelled – after every genuine and unsolicited acknowledgement of the good in others – to declare his father the greatest man who ever darkened a doorway. Not that he shouldn’t. Every boy deserves a Superman dad – a man capable of amazing, improbable things while still harboring real human weakness. And from this day forward I promise to pray (at least once a year) that his dad will be that for him, for his sake. And that he’ll never let him down so hard he cannot be forgiven. Or at least break that family’s belligerent chain of fathers vs. sons.
I digress. Work has become a welcome respite from the anxieties and stress that plague me every hour of every day. Keeps me from focusing on absolutely everything… like whether I should say this, or do that, how or whether it can be used against me, what it says about my character, parenting skills or my judgment… you get the picture. I begrudgingly look forward to work, until I get going and my stress melts away as I “forget” for a few hours who I have been all week and what horrors pass through my mind like a camera’s flash.
So – anyway – on that particular night I tried to focus on the folks around me and the beautiful house I was standing in… and these people were all so kind, so real … I felt blessed to be there and to be received so well by so many strangers. It went very well. I got in my car to go home and turned on the radio. I don’t remember which song it was, or how many minutes into the drive, but I snapped back into reality and I thought my heart would explode. To feel so alone in the car, in the dark, hearing my daughter’s voice crying to me and feeling so far away from my children, knowing I can’t just “go home” where they are all snuggled up in bed and fast asleep like angels in heaven. That – for now – I don’t have “home.” And the floodgates opened and I just lost it. I cried tears for every injustice, every reality and every imagined reality… I even cried tears for things I didn’t even know mattered to me.
I pulled into Todd’s driveway and tried to pull myself together, you know, Miss-Joy-come-knockin’ – and I did a pretty good job… it was dark so the makeup I’d lost on the way home would be less noticeable. I found him inside – the love of my life for 25 years – smiling and welcoming me into this peaceful home where I should have been long ago… and I just dropped my bags and felt my knees buckling under the weight of 50, 000 more tears. And it just didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. I never shed one tear since I’d filed for divorce – I’d always known it was right, never looked back, never felt sorry for him or had any regrets – and on this night it felt like the final release of anything and everything I’d felt over the last ten months. It had to come out. I felt shattered. And I wanted desperately to write about it while it was still fresh and steaming, to capture the pain I was feeling right then, before it slipped away into my history’s many compartments and I “forgot” about how horrible it had been, as I always do.
But I didn’t. I chose to bury my head in the proverbial sand… the other defense mechanism that works very well for self-preservation. Meanwhile, after the storm, I began to realize how blessed I was to have the flexibility to do what I wanted, when I wanted. Sort of. Finishing up a divorce, fighting over property, child custody and the dog… nobody ever told me it was a full time job. And in the middle of this mess, moving forward with my life because that’s where God sent me.
It occurred to me that in the middle of this mess were many blessings… I have spent so much time with my family since the divorce and subsequent, not to mention sudden, move from my home. Time I haven’t really spent with them since my marriage began. My father has opened up his home to us since all the ugliness began, and I have spent hours talking to him by phone and at his home as I sort out the legal bullshit. My daughter has grown closer to my stepmother, and developed compassion and caring for the elderly as she assists Sherry with the care of her parents. My children and I have spent far less time in front of the television, and far more with our family.
Even more amazing is how I’ve watched people open their arms to me, offering help and their compassion or even just a shoulder to cry on. People I hardly know, people I haven’t seen in years, people who occupy space in my everyday life. I’ve always believed I was blessed. But in this I have discovered just how blessed one can be… once you open your heart and speak your truth, and become yourself again. A few weeks ago Todd and I went to church for the first time, and I sat next to an old acquaintance from my children’s preschool who held my hand and welcomed me with joy in her heart while her brother is fighting cancer in the hospital. I’ve discovered just how many other women out there are living in similar circumstances to those I have left, and I felt the tears well up in my own eyes, because I know how hard it is to finally admit you’ve had enough, and the fear of mountains that lie ahead. And I’ve found that my own family has grown, as Todd’s family has welcomed me as one of them since the day we reunited, without question or suspicion. Finally, I learned that no one is immune to the travesties of divorce, and that we must all pass through the hell before we can truly embrace the Joy on the other side.
I was out with my mom one day, after another thousand dollar day with the attorney, and we decided to have lunch, after which she told me she was picking up my grandmother. I decided to ride along. I’ve actually been able to spend more time with Mom-mom too, between dropping off and picking up the kids and killing time before appointments, rather than go somewhere and be alone. This is a blessing, as before I never seemed to find the time to see her often enough and she’s 86.
So, we take Mom-mom to this Consignment store she had wanted to go to and she just disappears in there for an hour, looking over used furniture and housewares until finally arriving at her destination: women’s clothing. And my mom is up there with her, just perusing the goods to kill time. Mom-mom holds up shirts and asks mom what she thinks; mom says “no.” Mom-mom looks at me and says, “she never likes anything I hold up.” She continues moving through the racks. Mom pulls out a pretty top, looks at me and says, “watch this.” “What do you think of this one?” she asks Mom-mom. “Oh! I saw that one but wasn’t sure you’d like it.”
So we’re driving me back to my car and I’m riding in the backseat watching the conversation between my mom and her mother, as I had done so many times as a child some 30 years ago and I felt so at peace with them. Not to mention amused, as they two can banter like the best of them. We’re coming up on a manure spreader but thankfully mom turns off at the first road to get away from it. About three minutes later, a noxious odor fills the car. I’m having immediate flashbacks to last week’s elevator ride with Mom-mom to the first floor of her apartment building. Mom interrupts the conversation to ask Mom-mom to hand her “that little can in the door” (which turns out to be air freshener, which also raises the question –to me – of how frequently an item like this is needed if it remains in the car). Nevertheless, Mom starts spraying the air with it and I start to crack up. Mom-mom’s head whips to the left and says to Mom, “if you’re spraying that because of me, I’m getting out.” Yeah. She’s going to get out of the car on a back country road with her cane and walk eleven miles home. With this, my hysteria breaks the silence that follows and Mom-mom says to me, “you! You shut up.”
Joy is back.