About a week ago I was waiting in the dungeon-like parking garage at Kaiser in Oakland for the valet to bring out my car. He walked up and said, “Who has the Honda Odyssey?” A lady and I both stepped forward and said, “I do.”
Another valet pulled forward in a white minivan, my minivan, and the lady said, “That’s mine.”
“It’s mine,” I started to say, and then I realized that I had actually driven a white Mitsubishi Outlander that day, the only car I own, and that it has been five years since I owned a white Honda minivan. That’s the car I used to drive when I was married. I laughed and shrugged and watched the other woman drive away in what I thought was my car.
It’s one of those things that make you go, “Hmm.”
There are days when I wake up and for a second, don’t know where I am. When I’m asleep, I’m still in a certain house, my little girls in their beds, or the baby crying in her crib. Then I open my eyes and I’m in my own bedroom; my eldest daughter is in London, my teens are in their own rooms, and here I am a single mom, still marching along, still hanging in there.
It’s been five years since I became a single mom, and in that time I’ve enjoyed the full gamut of emotions — rage, sorrow, loneliness, depression, then a glimmer of hope, a sliver of contentment, a moment of cheer, mellowing into a new confidence, the rise of hope and fulfillment and joy. Finally, in most ways, I think I’m through the worst.
What shocks me now is that it has taken this long. I look around and see others who are slogging through the Slough of Divorce, who are gaily leaping right into other relationships and/or marriages, at how some people seem not to have learned anything at all from their mistakes. And I look around at others, the ones who are still curled in a fetal position, and I want to tell them, “Hey, it’ll pass. You’ll come though it, eventually. Patience, my friend, patience.”
I had one friend who said for the first year after his divorce his brain felt like pancake batter. Another said she just sits at home in her echoing house and waits for her kids to come back. One friend waits cringing for the phone to ring from the ex with more drama, while another is on such friendly terms with her ex that they share a house.
We hear tell of couples who split and feel we are forced to take sides, even though we hated it when it happened to us. We gaze in wonder and gratitude at the friends who took our side, and in shock and sadness, or relief, at the friends who took the other’s side. We look at the half-set of fine china, the four steak knives instead of eight; we wonder what happened to the watering can, and then see it in a photo the kids bring from the other house, with Dad’s new partner holding it.
We try to sharpen a knife or find the cordless screwdriver before remembering that we don’t own that item anymore. We want to take the kids camping but no longer own sleeping bags or didn’t get custody of the tent. We want to take the kids to Disneyland but find the other parent already did that over winter break. We want to host a birthday party but that weekend is the other parent’s visitation.
We watch the other parent do things we absolutely disapprove of, and can do nothing about it. We hear things and bite our tongues. We wonder how long it will be before this feels normal, this half-life that isn’t really single parenting, but double parenting, holding up all the tent poles and trying to keep the roof from caving in. We fall into our beds at night numb with exhaustion and fake smiles, night after week after month, until we slowly start to sleep better, we slowly start to breathe deeper, and finally, finally, the dark part begins to fade.
Then there is a day when we don’t cry, we don’t cringe, when we don’t feel the burn of anger like a bad bowl of chili. Eventually, whether we’ve had therapy or taken up tai chi or started a course of antidepressants, turned to our faith or against it, there comes a day when we have passed through and landed in the light, able to see and think and breathe again out of the shadow of the marriage that went awry.
There is no magic pill or substitute for time – and lest that be awarded the most trite and tawdry line of the year, may I just say that, hey, friends, those of you who’ve done this before, you were right. We should have thought twice before marrying that person. We should have known from the start about that little quirk that now seems such an obvious flaw. We shrugged off hints and even blatant signs of danger because we were younger, hungry for love and marriage, and couldn’t see the forest for the wedding cake.
And you were absolutely right, wise friends, we should have given it another chance and tried a little harder for the children’s sake. Brutal honesty here — if I had known how hard this would have been on the kids, we would have stayed together, I would have tried just about anything, as long as I could. But I didn’t think it would be so hard, and once again, couldn’t see the forest for the misery.
And so it goes — we carry on and find that there are no greener pastures, only other pastures, and that my father was right, suffering does build character. We take our stronger characters and try again, and try harder, because there isn’t going to be a next time – only a last time.
Advice for Aspiring Writers: Think about it. Then think about it again. Then sleep on it. Then think again before saying yes — or no — to a lifelong commitment.