This weekend will mark an anniversary for me: two years to the day since I loaded my earthly possessions in a moving truck and formally separated my life from my husband’s after 11 years of marriage.
The day of my departure played out like a suburban melodrama. I had scheduled my move for a Friday, so that my children would be in school, but that morning we awoke to find my youngest running a fever and generally feeling rotten. So, my five-year-old spent the day numbly watching her mother extricate herself from the family home. Feeling her eyes follow me around the house that day was agonizing. My husband stayed home from work, ostensibly to watch my daughter, but subsequent events suggest to me that he would have been there anyway. That morning, he alternated between standing with his arms crossed, surveying the moving men as if insuring that I didn’t take anything to which I was not entitled, and whistling as he moved through the house taking care of small things with a kind of forced nonchalance that I found grating, but would have gladly suffered all day, had I known what was to come.
A month earlier, my husband had made it clear that, other than tossing all my clothes into trash bags and depositing them in the guestroom (“Was Daddy helping you pack, Mommy?” “Yes, dear. Wasn’t that nice of him?”), he was not going to lift a hand to assist me. So, I hired two strong Mexicans with minimal English and a truck to do the heavy lifting. They were kind and by the end of the day were offering sympathetic half-smiles of encouragement. They could see how much I needed them, I think, because my child and my Mexicans were witnesses to possibly the most hurtful moments of my life that day.
Of all the acquaintances and friends I knew, of all the women and men whom I reached out to during my 12 years in our town, only one friend offered to help me move that day. She arrived, despite her husband’s opposition and the disapproval of our mutual friends, in ready-to-work clothes and with a can-do attitude. Within moments, she had plunked herself down in my living room and was busily packing my china. Had I been less numb, her gesture of compassion and kindness would have likely reduced me to tears, as they did later when I was able to fully appreciate that day.
Next to arrive were the couple that my husband and I had been closest to during the last year or so of our marriage (we’ll call them Brooke and John, because those are their names). John came first, and joined my husband for a beer in the living room, as I bustled around them, removing items and apologizing (yes, seriously) for disrupting their conversation. And then later Brooke came sweeping in, right past me without a word, my former best friend who hadn’t spoken to me since I told her that I was leaving my husband. Just as I finished in the living room, the three of them followed me to the den, standing casually in the middle of room, and I was again reduced to shamefully collecting my belongings as I shuffled around them and tried to be as small and inconspicuous as possible. Even in that moment, I understood their need to punish me for daring to break a covenant that we’d all held so dear, and the nature of my guilt was such that I bore their condemnation with alacrity.
Like most people my age, I have suffered my share of intentional acts of meanness directed at me, but the memory of leaving my home under those circumstances currently surpasses all others. It was a cut so deep and painful that I could barely process it for months. Were it not for my Irish stubbornness and determination, I would likely have fallen apart, truly. Even now, it takes my breath away.
It was a long day. My friend had to return to her familial duties after a few hours, but my Mexicans and I worked until after dark. At the end of the day, I offered them each a beer from my new fridge, which they accepted ruefully and drank quickly. As they left, the older one turned back to look at me and ask, “You be okay, yes?” “Yes,” I replied, but I don’t think either of us was convinced.
That horrible day mostly seems very distant now. Within days of my move, a few kind couples offered various assistance and support, every single one of which brought me to the verge of tears. In those dark days, I saw the true character of many of the people around me. The people who surprised me pleasantly will never know the indebtedness I feel for their small acts of kindness. As for those individuals who were so certain that I was making a huge and horrible and unforgivable mistake, I have thought recently how perturbed they must be to see me now. They say that living well is the best revenge. I hope that’s true. It’s the only kind of revenge I really believe in.
I have often thought that how we feel about a milestone is more about where we are in our life and how our previous expectations fit with where we are, than actually about the date or occasion we’re marking. For instance, my 25th birthday – when I was broke and un-coupled and struggling through graduate school – was far more difficult for me than any birthday since, primarily because I was unhappy with where I was and frustrated that my life didn’t match the expectations I had for myself.
This anniversary is oddly sweet for me. The initial elation of freedom and blossoming possibility that I felt during the first year has passed, but so has the loneliness and doubt of the phase that followed. I feel like my new beginning actually commenced within the last three months, not two full years ago, as if I had been previously in a holding place, a benign purgatory of sorts, over the last two years.
One of my more colorful friends likens my recent history to a difficult birth. She invoked this analogy not long ago to explain to me that leaving my husband and the home we’d made was like detaching from the uterus and beginning the painful journey through the birth canal. I pushed my way through, gradually, until recently, when I finally emerged, damp and blinking, into the new world I’d created for myself. In some ways, her analogy is a bit graphic, but I appreciate how vividly it captures the struggle one encounters when separating from that which is safe and warm and secure and embarking on a world that seems wrought with uncertainty and newness.
Of course I had certain ideas about where I’d be two years hence from my separation, and I can honestly report that not much of my life looks as I’d anticipated it. There have been losses, and regrets, and stumbles, but there have also been insights and gifts and love. I cannot honestly say that I would change much. True, I’m not where I thought I’d be, but I think there’s a strong case to be made that where I am is even better. And for that, I am truly and completely grateful.