A Journey Out on a Limb By Laurel-Rain Snow
Saturday, April 03, 2010
Not rated by the Author.
A young woman picks up the pieces after a divorce...
During the summer of 1979, I bicycled to the campus every day, finishing up coursework and writing my thesis. Bittersweet memories tinged the moments, as I compiled my notes, gathered them into a semblance of order, wrote my outline, and finally finished my first draft. For even as my exhilaration soared, I also dreaded what would come next. Jeremy and I had come to a decision, and once I completed my master’s degree, we would be parting.
Was I wrong to do this? We had two children together, and at the end of this decade that had begun with so much promise, so much love, would we be able to turn the pages to that final chapter without regrets?
No, I didn’t think so. Regrets would surely follow me all the days of my life.
But at the same time, I knew we couldn’t go on. Trust had been broken.
First with his affair and then with mine. Had I tumbled into bed with Matthew because I desired him so much, or was it revenge against Jeremy for his numerous lapses over the years? I had convinced myself that Matthew was my new love…but at moments when I was being totally honest with myself, I had to doubt that. Even after only a few months together, I was already finding little annoyances…things that would definitely interfere with compatibility.
He was a slob. There was no nice way to put this. The first time I’d crossed the threshold into his private sanctuary, I’d thought “oh, no!” I was kind of a neat freak, and even though I sometimes didn’t dust when I should, I was scrupulous when it came to kitchens and bathrooms. And using the shower in his space was so revolting that I thought I would have to end this thing immediately. But then I reminded myself that my compulsions did not warrant such a judgment of others. They were my habits and not necessarily better than his. Just different.
Over time, I learned to adjust my expectations. And reminded myself that once I had my own place—after my separation from Jeremy—we would stay there. There would be no need to visit his less-than-spectacular home again.
Which reminded me…I had one more week to turn in my completed thesis and garner my advisor’s signature. Then it would be over. When Jim Colton, my advisor, had read my last draft, he had actually teared up. What was that about? I must have given him a questioning glance, because he simply nodded and said: “This is really good! You should publish it.”
Feeling somewhat embarrassed, I’d thought about all the personal stuff that had gone into the paper. Besides my research, I had shared bits and pieces from my own life—anecdotes from my journey toward liberation. It was a declaration about twentieth century women and the exploration that had launched this second Feminist Movement, sparked by Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” and reinforced by Gloria Steinem and Ms. Magazine.
When the phone rang, I was jolted back to the present. Glancing up, temporarily disoriented, I headed toward the kitchen wall phone. “Hi,” I murmured softly, hoping it would be Matthew, but then again, a part of me still longed for Jeremy’s voice, with the love connection we’d once shared.
“Hey, Hannah,” Matthew interrupted my reverie with his somewhat abrupt tone. “Are you finished for the day?”
Then I recalled that he wanted to go downtown to a gallery showing.
He’d been impatiently postponing it until I could join him. Now I realized that I didn’t really want to go, but I’d kept him waiting. So I said: “Sure. See you in a bit.”
Several hours later, I dragged myself home. By then, I could see Jeremy’s car in the driveway and could hear Hilary’s exultant chortle from inside the open living room windows. I just stood there for a moment, clutching my arms to my chest and feeling a deep, poignant sorrow. But now was not the time to meander down those memory trails, so I forced a cheerful expression onto my face and burst through the front door. “Hey, baby!” I clutched my three-year-old as if my life depended on it. Only after my hug fest had ended did I glance toward Jeremy, who was casually leafing through a magazine. That’s how things had been lately. We pretended. Acted as if. Maybe there was no other way to unravel a marriage, but I often wondered if we should have just avoided talking about it all until we were halfway out the door.
My first marriage had ended that way…I’d just moved out one day when he was on a business trip; looking back on it, I’d thought that if I’d been honest and we’d discussed it all, there would have been less hurt and bitterness. Which is why I’d decided to go this route this time. But this method hadn’t helped me avoid the pain. That was evident at every turn.
“Did the kids eat dinner?” My casual question brought Jeremy into the here-and-now, and his polite response again touched that bruised part in my heart.
“Is Nicholas in his room?” It was almost as if I were trying to connect with him…struggling for something abandoned along the way. A semblance of who we had been.
“Um-hum,” he murmured again, but frowned slightly when his gaze met mine. “What’s up?”
But I shrugged and stood up. Heading toward the guest room, where I’d been hanging out lately, I assembled my notes and paperwork. It was all ready to go, I confirmed. Tomorrow I would turn in my project.
Once I had turned in my thesis, there was nothing keeping me in this marriage any longer.
I had found an apartment just down the street, hoping to make the child exchanges smoother. But as I walked through the duplex that Jeremy and I had shared for the past couple of years, I felt that sinking feeling of loss. Was I already having second thoughts? But it was too late for that, I reminded myself, and plunged into the task of packing up my former life.
Jeremy and I had very rationally divided up the spoils. I got the furniture in the guest room—that couch that pulled out into a bed, those tables and lamps—and he got all the living room furniture. I had bought bunk beds for my second bedroom in my new apartment…since Jeremy would be keeping the kids during the week, while I had won the weekends. I often wondered how we had decided that. But then I recalled that we hadn’t. That had been Jeremy’s insistence. He had made all kinds of points about his schedule being more flexible than mine. I was still subject to long hours with my social work position, while his teaching job afforded him many more hours at home.
Now I was feeling resentful. It felt like he was calling all the shots; I wished I had just left. Like I had the first time!
But suddenly the movers were here and I directed them to the furniture and boxes that were mine.
Hilary started crying. “They’re taking all our stuff!”
I sat beside her, stroking her hair, and reminding her that the things were just going down the street to our new place. “You can come on Saturday,” I promised.
Nicholas, who was eight and much more wise to these things, just stood there scowling.
This was so much harder than I’d thought it would be!
Unpacking seemed to flow quickly. I was motivated to get everything set up so that some kind of normalcy would return to my life. And I had to get everything together before the weekend.
Matthew’s knock on the door reminded me of our plans for the evening.
There he stood, with several bottles of wine and hard stuff…he was helping me stock my liquor cabinet. Which was actually his cabinet, something he’d brought from his childhood home. I had placed it in the small dining nook, just beyond the arched passage way that had sold me on this particular apartment. I liked the slightly Mediterranean appeal of the space, and these features helped me ignore the less-than-attractive qualities. Like the fact that this apartment was in a huge complex, and it was on the second floor. Not something I relished, whenever I thought about bringing bags of groceries up those stairs, or carrying loads of laundry up and down.
This wasn’t really a home, but was more of a way station—on the road to what, I had no idea.
Knowing that Matthew was ready to party reminded me again that I had moved on to another kind of life, and that the old one, the familiar one, had died.
He placed the bottles carefully inside the cabinet and then stood back. “Ta-da!”
It was amazing the things I was learning about him lately. Things that gave me pause. Who says that, anyway? At the end of an era, or a marriage? But his experiences were so different than mine. He had just separated from his wife of eight years, but they hadn’t had any children. His biggest angst was all about the two Dalmatian dogs!
Not that I had anything against dogs, but you couldn’t really compare the two losses.
But that was Matthew…more and more, I saw the differences between us and wondered again, for perhaps the umpteenth time, what had drawn us together. Sure, we worked together, but he wasn’t even really into social work. To him, it was simply a stepping stone to something else. He was working on his MBA and hoped to be moving up in the corporate world within the next five years.
Attractive in a dark and brooding way, he was certainly great at stroking my ego. Making me feel beautiful when Jeremy just made me feel sad and unloved. Which wasn’t really an accurate assessment of our relationship, since I still believed that Jeremy and I loved each other. Just not enough to overcome the betrayals between us.
Now Matthew headed toward me with a wine glass. He’d poured a red wine that looked really expensive. “Thanks,” I murmured, gazing into his eyes and hoping to recapture that feeling between us. The feeling that seemed harder and harder to retrieve lately.
“Here’s to the future!” He clicked my glass with his own. “May the party never end!”
Months later, I would look back on that day with a much clearer eye. By then, I had suffered the usual ugliness of the divorce. What I had believed would be amicable and easily wrought had turned into a nightmare odyssey through a living hell on earth.
Jeremy had turned vengeful, and in the end, I was lucky to have joint legal custody. He won physical custody, and I was ordered to pay child support. How had that happened?
Well, he had a lawyer and I didn’t. I couldn’t afford an attorney, so I had nobody to plead my cause.
Afterwards, I stumbled out to my car, barely able to even see the crisp fall leaves that normally captured my awe. I loved fall, always enjoying the “new beginnings” the season seemed to symbolize for me. Probably because of new school terms that began during the fall each year. But I was certainly beyond school days.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the day.
At home, I sat alone on the little terrace outside my dining nook. The one that had seemed so inviting just a few weeks ago. I sipped my glass of Cabernet and let my thoughts wander.
Hours later, I was still sitting there when Matthew came in.
“Hey, Hannah,” he called. “Did you forget about the concert tonight?”
There was a tinge of irritation in his voice, as he noticed me sitting there, seemingly just dreaming.
I didn’t want to go. I definitely was not in the mood, but when I turned toward him, noticing the frown on his handsome face, I realized, all at once, what a mistake I had made. And there was no turning back! I might be able to end this particular relationship at some point, but I would never be able to pick up and rebuild what I had left behind. If I had ever thought that would be possible, today’s court appearance had nailed that door shut…firmly.
My heart pounded as I moved toward Matthew. I pretended for a minute that all was well, as we kissed.
“I’ll be ready in a minute,” I promised, and escaped quickly.
Fifteen minutes later, I appeared, all ready to party. Too bad my heart wasn’t in it!
Unraveling that relationship was like pulling a thread on a garment.
Once you start tugging at it, the whole thing just falls apart. And that’s how it went with Matthew and me, starting with the day that I told him I was pregnant.
We had been careless and foolish one night in Las Vegas. We’d been quite drunk, I now recalled, and I hadn’t bothered with my diaphragm.
So now I was paying!
But as I shared this little tidbit with Matthew, who had been talking about marriage lately, anyway, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by his reaction. His cold stare. He had a toothache that day, and endlessly went on and on about it. The pain, how much he just needed to relax…
So, of course, my news was like a sharp intrusion and one that he certainly wasn’t relishing. What had happened to that man who had talked about marriage and kids?
But why was I shocked? Had I been ignoring all the other red flags along the way? Our huge differences? The fact that we didn’t see eye to eye on much at all?
Why had I been clinging to that one dream?
“What do you think?” I probed, hoping for something from him that obviously wasn’t coming.
He shrugged. “It’s your problem, isn’t it, Hannah?”
You know how there’s a saying about the “straw that broke the camel’s back”? Well, this was definitely it. I suddenly morphed into a whirlwind of frenetic activity. We were at his place that night, and I started grabbing my stuff—the few things of mine that were at his place. I lugged everything out to my car and started the engine.
When I looked back through the open sliding glass door, I could still see him—sitting on the edge of the couch, glued to the TV. He didn’t even glance at me as I peeled out.
I sobbed most of the night, trying to figure out what to do now.
Later, I called my friend Dee, who was another social worker, and a few years older. She seemed wise, calm, and full of information. With the resources at my fingertips, I arranged everything.
She even drove me to the clinic three days later.
We don’t always get the opportunity to move on from the detritus of marriage and/or relationships with a clear eye and the benefit of new-found wisdom.
That was not my experience, either. I seemingly floundered for several more years, entering and exiting many short-term relationships along the way. I joined a few groups, like Parents without Partners, and then, much later, Alcoholics Anonymous.
At the end of the eighties, I felt completely hollowed out and somewhat cynical. I had decided to give up on relationships. Focusing on my job, my kids, and my single state, I soon earned the privilege of living with the kids full-time. I think it was more that Jeremy got tired of it all. He just showed up one day, with the kids and their bags.
They were much older, of course, and more challenging.
In the early nineties, I bought a house in the foothills and we started over—my little family and I. Financial hardships plagued me for years, but somehow, I managed. And I discovered something else about this new life…sometimes, the journey can be fodder for creativity. I started writing again…something more than just journals.