This essay comes from the prompt “The Beginning of the End”, in which we were asked to replay a memory, working with its birth and termination. I’ve been experiencing huge shifts in my energy in relation to my divorce, things rising up that demand attention, and this is just one manifestation of these curious and difficult earthquakes.
“I want a divorce.”
The sounds of early morning chatter and silverware scraping ceramic plates, children fussing and the squeak of wet shoes on tile dimmed around me, the world narrowing to the tiny piece of table that stretched between my husband and I. Forty-eight inches that might as well be a mile.
The words were not unexpected. They were years in the making, perhaps had even been bubbling up since the very beginning. It’s hard to say. Either way, these words marked the end, as they have a million times before. In the days that followed, I would contemplate that moment, replay it in my head until I couldn’t not feel the hard wooden seat beneath me, or see the tired droop of his mouth when I laid down to sleep. A mouth that, years before, made me fall in love with him.
I’ve always been a believer in love at first sight, for the very simple reason that I’d experienced it multiple times. This is not ‘love’ as in ‘this is the person I will be with for the rest of my life.’ It is ‘love’ that can take many forms, love that strikes deeply and demands an audience.
My relationship with my former husband—we’ll call him Adam for sake of ease, though I reckon most people reading this know his Christian name—started in much the same way. Only, the sight that struck me came not from our first meeting, but from me finding a photograph in his apartment, laid absently in an otherwise empty fruit bowl. He posed beside a young woman, wide smiles lighting up their faces. I saw that smile, and knew in that moment this was a person that would be in my life, even though I’d never actually met the man*.
What was I doing in the apartment of a stranger, pawing through his personal belongings? Let’s just say we knew someone in common, and gloss over the insanity that was my life at that time.
There was something in Adam’s smile that activated the familiar gut-tug of falling in love. I figured the woman in the photo was his girlfriend, though, and since I was wrapped up in my own relationship from hell, I thought my chances with this guy were slim to none.
I learned, over the next couple months, to never underestimate my gut. (A learning that I then proceeded to ignore with a steady conviction throughout most of our marriage.)
The woman in the photo turned out to be his sister, and that smile from the photo was soon aimed at me. I basked in it, like a flower emerging from the depths of winter to find the warm rays of the sun gracing it’s delicate petals. His smile held the world in it, I thought. His smile held me, and I needed nothing more at that time than to feel held. Supported. Safe. My relationship with Adam gave me all of those things, and so much more.
In time, though, I would realize that the payment for security is, too often, freedom. That being held can feel like being trapped. That what once felt perfect and complete can dissolve, like metal exposed to the sea air, rusting away until collapse is inevitable. None of which invalidates what was. I’ve come to understand that the success of a relationship can’t be judged by the length of the relationship, but by the health of it. Had neither of us uttered those four words-like-coffin-nails, and we somehow continued down the road we’d been going, there would have been precious little happiness. What’s the point of celebrating twenty years together if both parties are unfulfilled?
I want a divorce led to an eventual blossoming in myself and, as far as I can tell, in Adam, as well. I followed my dreams. I wept buckets of tears, yes, but the extreme pain of grief and renewal were far better than the prolonged pain of stagnation.
From a smile in a photograph to a wedding on a hill to a breakup in a diner, with countless stops in between.
*That I’d never met him before isn’t technically true. Our first meeting involved me being very drunk, in a Walmart, at midnight on Halloween, and is a story best left for another day. Suffice to say I didn’t remember meeting him.