When the farewells become the firsts: Saying goodbye to what was


I leaned in close to the mirror this morning and stared into my own eyes. I was applying mascara, and because the house was quiet, I was taking my time with each sweep across my lashes. That minute felt like a luxury, and as I considered that, I moved in even closer. Face to face with myself, I realized that it has been almost 10 years since I left a home and then a marriage.

Isn't it funny what triggers a memory or realization? Right then, with my wrinkles magnified, the tired puffing up under my eyes and all of the marks of a life lived during some very hard and also amazing years – all of it came into focus. 

I sobbed away a lot of mascara a decade ago. I wailed that it felt like my limbs were being slowly torn off. The pain was that palpable. I cried myself to sleep and awake and on yoga mats and in the car and in the bathroom if my boy was at home. I cried to friends and with family and even in front of the attorney who I'd quickly hire and who I still check in with all these years later. 

Some of the weeping was in saying goodbye to what I had, and what I thought I had and what I'd hoped would be. With all those visions in my head washing away, I was left with nothing. A blank gray screen where a happy family lived and worked and laughed and listened to Jack Johnson and ate a lot of pasta. I mourned what I didn't know and couldn't see. 

Ten years ago today, I knew something wasn't right. Depression? Being broke? Exhaustion from raising a small child? I couldn't pinpoint it but I knew my relationship was under pressure. I tried and tried to make it right. I kept on. I believed. Months later, it came crashing down in a tsunami of lies and other stuff that causes a lot of destruction. Things happened fast after that, and within five weeks, my son and I were living with my parents out of laundry baskets of clothes and books and woobies, and I was scribbling my name across divorce papers. 

That's not uncomfortable to remember — the part about choosing to file and then the hard work and emotional water-treading I did over the course of the next year-and-a-half. What's hard to think about is the time before, stuck between unhappy and unmarried, when I could hear the rumble and feel the ground underneath me shaking before I could clearly see the wave approaching my shores.

There were many farewells, not just to my ideals, but also to our apartment, the way we were, the things we'd built, the nightly rituals and muscle memory of where each book and stuffed animal is tucked. There was the send-off wave to my legal identity, to friends and a family I'd tried and tried to make my own, to some money and many personal treasures that somehow got lost forever in the gulf of divorce. There was a big adieu to the woman I was. Or at least to a part of her, the piece that was attached, anchored and aching. 

The tears were a release and also a lamentation when all I could see were endings. 

And then something happened. One day, I whispered aloud to the universe, "Please let me find a job that supports us." Another day, I asked for a really good preschool for my son. I begged for more friends. The job appeared, perhaps too easily. A single spot opened in a classroom at a great school. People I hadn't heard from in years reached out and filled the empty pools left by the friends afraid of another person's divorce or who'd chosen to swim far out from where I was. The endings became beginnings. The farewells became firsts.

First night in our new home. First business trip for my big new job. First trip for a family of two. First dates. First time locked out with no phone, no credit card, no extra time in the schedule. First taxes filed as single, head of household. First court dates. First year.

And soon, first decade. When I get as close as I can, I see all the places the experience of divorce has changed me and aged me and made me wiser and given me strength. There's no hiding any of it. All that crying along the way helped me get OK with being vulnerable, raw and open to what might appear on the horizon. 

There could be another tsunami. The longer we live, the more we connect, the more likely it is that we will have heartache and endings as we go. But I am sure now that I know how to swim. And that I will survive as best as I can, just as I have before. 

What would the woman who looked into the mirror ten years ago say about the woman who she has become over these ten years? I hope she'd recognize her. I hope she'd be relieved. I hope she'd tear up to know how much was ahead, and how many things were just beginning while she took the time and care to say goodbye.