Single Mom Stories: The stages of divorce - goo and all

This month we celebrate the many experiences, lessons, missteps and triumphs of single mothers for Single Mom Stories September. Join us by reading, sharing, commenting and -- if you have your own story to tell -- contributing here as we strengthen the circle of support of mamas. 

Contributed by 'A' My name is Amy

Here’s the benefit of dating someone who’s not really ready to be dating: you get to see how far you’ve come since your own divorce.

I’ve been trying to keep it in perspective. I’ve been trying to remember what it was like when I was in the thick of ending my own marriage five years ago - when my days were filled with attorney letters, financial spreadsheets and venomous texts from my soon-to-be-ex.

It’s made me think a lot about something I heard on the radio a few weeks ago that blew my mind. Actually, my girlfriend told me about it first as we were driving alongside the ocean on our way for a walk through the woods. It’s where I do all my best talking and thinking.

My friend had been listening to Radio Lab on our local public radio station and caught a segment about metamorphosis. Although her retelling was pretty fascinating, I needed to go home and download the podcast to listen for myself.

The actual segment was called “Goo and You,” and it explains that -- contrary to what I always thought happened when a caterpillar entered its cocoon -- it doesn’t just chill and then start to sprout wings and all the necessary accouterments for flying off as an eventual butterfly. Instead, the little critter actually dissolves into some gooey matter, the consistency – the reporter notes – of snot. It just freaking dissolves, becoming a “soup of cells,” and then reshapes itself into a butterfly. It literally dies and then comes back to life.

I know.

But it gets better.

Scientists wanted to see how much the butterfly retained from its time as a caterpillar. Does it bring memories with it to its reincarnation?

So, in a fairly cruel experiment, scientists at Georgetown University subjected some caterpillars to this really horrible odor and subsequent terrible noise. Eventually, the creatures pretty much freaked every time they come into contact with the yucky stimuli. Then, after the caterpillars transformed into butterflies, they were subjected to the same noise and stink and – you guessed it – had the same negative reactions.

Memory carries through the metamorphosis.

I mean, talk about some crazy-good metaphor for divorce.

I think it’s safe to say that during the whole terrible divorce process - the period when your adrenaline is kicked into permanent overdrive and you eat/sleep/breathe heartache - you are pretty much reduced to a puddle of goo. You’ve crawled inside whatever your chrysalis is – like a giant glass of wine – and start to let go of the person you were just days before. Everything you’ve known for sure up to that point begins to dissolve.

But eventually, you start to get yourself together. You become more of a fully formed human being that can talk and think about stuff other than your divorce (much to everyone’s relief). You’ve sprouted your wings and can feel the wind from them as you flutter through your days.

So now that I’ve been spending some time with someone who is in his own gooey stage, I’ve been trying to recall my own dark days. I even dug back into the journals I kept around that time to jog my memory. Turns out that during most of 2009, I was a bit of a wreck; apologies to anyone who had to put up with me.

Witness an entry on October 1st of that year in which I recount my reaction to learning my husband had just returned from a 10-day trip to Italy with his girlfriend after we had split up just three months earlier. “My pain is searing,” I wrote. “My agony has no end.”

I then recount how, in what could only be described as a psychotic break, I tried to smash the Murano heart necklace the pair had brought home for one of my daughters with a giant bottle of Bumble & Bumble hair conditioner. I pounded it repeatedly with the heel of the giant plastic bottle like a crazy woman.

I had forgotten about going nuts on that thing. Banging the shit out of it as it sat on my kitchen table, a symbol of how seemingly easy it was for my husband to move on with his life. How easy I thought I was to replace.

Turns out, Murano glass is pretty fucking shatter-proof and held up to the attack, which could also be a handy metaphor for my own seemingly fragile heart. It, too, held up after a pounding.

Well, ruin is the road to transformation, says my girl Liz Gilbert.

But I never would have remembered that incident if I hadn’t written about it in 2009. Turns out, my memory of that gooey stage of my life is pretty sketchy. I can recall big moments, like the day we stood in front of the judge in the seedy county courtroom and ended our 20-year marriage. But the day-to-day occurrences, all that yucky stimuli that I reacted to during that tumultuous time, have started to fade from my memory.

I think it’s a matter of self-preservation.

But here’s something else I learned during that Radio Lab segment: memory also works in reverse. Thanks to the fiddling of some 17th century scientist, it turns out that if you carefully peeled back the skin of one of those tiny caterpillars, you would find structures within of the future butterfly: microscopic wings, antennae and legs. They somehow survive that gooey stage.

And I think if you were weird enough to try to peel back my skin in 2009, you would have found deep inside me, pieces of the girl I was to become.

Wings and all.

Follow Amy on her personal blog and Twitter.