The List 

I had my list of reasons on standby in the back of my head. Like a wallet full of condems, I kept them there ‘just in case.’ If ever there was a chance that I could feel like staying, I would quietly recite my list of reasons in my head.  

1. He didn’t hold me when I needed him to. When I had delivered a fetus into our bathtub, he should have held me. He didn’t. I wasn’t looking for sympathy. I just wanted him to hold me. I was emotionally and physically drained from the ordeal. I was sore and numb at the same time. I only wanted him to hold me, nothing more. He yelled and dismissed me. He complained about the dirty dishes. He told me to get out of bed and clean the kitchen, while my uterus was still spilling out of me, tears still wet on my face.  He made me feel hollow at a time when I needed to feel solid.  

2. He scared me. My anger rises slowly, like a burning piece of paper under a magnifying glass. It takes a while to get going, but when the flames rise up, they engulf the paper completely and all at once. His anger was like rogue bottle rocket ricocheting through a house. I never knew what he was going to hit. I never knew how far he would go. I only knew to get the fuck away from him when his passions flared.  His temper was unpredictable and abusive.

3. Instead of supporting me, instead of building me up, he criticized me and shot down my dreams like enemy aircraft. He didn’t believe in me. He treated me like some sort of fast food burger that he had to settle for because he couldn’t afford a real meal. He treated me like a mistake, like I was a karmic punishment.  

4. I did the same to him, and that hurt just as bad.

I never really loved him, and yet I did and still do. There’s another list too. The list of reasons why I stayed for as long as I did. The list of all the things he got right.  That list is just as long as the other. But for a long while now, no matter how hard I strained my eyes, I couldn’t read it.  I didn’t want to.  I still don’t want to.

Back to Reality 

My ex husband and I have been spending a lot of family time together. We’ve sat down to have dinner as a family every time we meet up to swap kids for the weekend. I absolutely love that my little divorced family still shares a meal together every couple of weeks. A lot of ‘together’ families don’t even do that anymore.  

Lately those dinners have branched out into Sunday afternoons of hiking together and going to the theater. We’ve even discussed taking a vacation together this summer.   It feels like it’s a bit too much.  

I’m not going to lie, it feels good to get out and cover up that single parent shame. It feels good to see other families out together, and not long for that primal feeling of belonging to a tribe. Because I have that belonging feeling when I am with my family, even when we’re just pretending to be complete.  

I felt awkward when the lady at the park asked how old my dog was. I had walked my ex husband’s three-legged American bull dog down to the lake for a drink. I just looked at her, wondering if it was worth the effort to explain that I had no idea how old the dog was, because he belonged to my ex husband.  

‘He’s three.’ I was impressed with my ability not to share my story. To just keep it short and simple.  

The truth is, every one is always complimenting us on how well we coparent our children after the divorce. And we do an amazing job of it, now. But it hasn’t always been this smooth. It hasn’t always felt like a genuine friendship. It does now. But that friendship comes with a price.  

I am sitting here, smoking a hookah, getting my night cap on, thinking about how I will graduate in one week from massage school. A career I was pursuing when I had met my ex husband. I’m thinking about the two hour phone conversation last night that started out about the kids and ended with reminiscing about our first date when we got high on my parents front porch and listened to the frogs in the pond. We joked about how his suitcase was always packed because we fought so much and he was always running away. And I would always call him back. It felt like a conversation we would have had when we were dating. It feels like I’m time traveling through the late nineties. 

And my eight year old daughter cried after he left this past weekend. She has never done that before. She asked me so sweetly through her tears why her dad and I couldn’t get back together. ‘It can’t be so hard to just get married again.’ She demanded. I couldn’t help but laugh, appreciating her innocence and naïveté. I started to realize that all this family time was having an impact on her, that we hadn’t expected. It was having the same impact on me. Nostalgia is a seductive liar.  

Maybe spending so much time together is not as healthy as we had thought. It was like taking your dream car out for a test drive, and then walking home. A thrill for sure, but not realistic. So many obstacles lie between the car and me. The last time I drove it, the car was mine and I walked away. I didn’t want that car after I had it. I hadn’t wanted that car in years. But lately, I’ve been remembering all the things I loved about that car. Maybe the car reminds me of home. Maybe the car is my daughter’s idea of normal.  

There’s an aching inside me right now that wants to give her normal. But normal has never been an option in my life. I could never risk her heart to split our family up again. We have to keep aiming our lives in separate directions, because the pull towards family is very strong. But the pull towards each other is not.  

This retrograde is pulling at heart strings I had tucked away a very long time ago.

Freedom is Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

My therapist and I hashed out some of my commitment issues today. It was my most uncomfortable visit so far. But it was also one of the most enlightening.  

When I was married, I thought that being a wife and mom was it for me.  That was my life. There was no sense of adventure. No dream to work for, because the American dream was already mine. I had a lovely home, a beautiful family, and an adorable rescue dog. My old laptop has about 2000 pictures from that era of my life, and they are all kids and dogs. That was my life, and I feel guilty for admitting that it was killing me. But I was hungry for something more than just repeating the life of my parents.  I had terrible cravings, but I wasn’t sure what for.  

When I got divorced, my life got washed away. I moved into a shitty old house. I had to rehome my beloved rescue dog. Not one landlord in my county would let me keep a 140 pound French mastiff. But something magical happened, when my life was stripped down to the bare bones. I had the realization that I could build my life in any way that I wanted. My life was a blank canvas, washed clean. I had found a new sense of freedom that hadn’t been experienced since the day I got my drivers license. I found adventure in my life again. 

 My first weekend out as a single mom, I ended up stoned out of my mind in a soybean field, surrounded by friends that I hadn’t seen in years. I will never forget the feeling I felt when I looked up at the warm July sky that night. I could see so much space. I could feel so much space. It was the first moment of absolute contentment that I had felt in a long while.
And my life became an adventure.  

My kidless weekends were intimidating at first.  I didn’t know what to do with myself, the quiet, the freedom.  Then I began to embrace my me-time.  I started to date myself.  I would take day long road trips by myself.  I would go to restaurants by myself.  One time I even went to the movies by myself.  And I reconnected with friends.  I danced.  I had a crazy night in Detroit, where my best friend and I crashed three bachelor parties, triple kissed a stranger, and ate fried alligator that we didn’t pay for.  I went to concerts.  I had sex with a twenty-something guy in a Walmart parking lot.  I made out with a hot doctor on the hood of his sports car.  These are all things that my married self would have never dreamed possible.  These are all the things that helped to revive the old me, that wild girl who died when I had to be someone for somebody else.  These adventures saved me.

But eventually, I had convinced myself that I needed to share my life with someone. And we all know how that went. But what’s important is that I realized that the old feelings of hopelessness came back to me when I was living with my ex boyfriend. That smothering feeling like I’m heading into the last chapter of my book because the adventures have all been had and it’s got to end soon. And that quiet whisper in the back of my mind starts getting louder and louder. ‘This is not how your story ends!’ She screams from my soul. And then I walk away. And with every step, I feel myself come back to life.  

I love the idea of sharing my life with another person. But I don’t like the reality of it. I am madly in love with not knowing where my life will be tomorrow, or next year, or in ten years.  It’s the curiosity that keeps me entertained.  And my shrink thinks that is okay, for now. So I guess I will too.  

Old Friends 

Last night, for Christmas Eve, my ex husband stayed overnight. I had invited him to stay on the couch so we could share the experience of Christmas morning with the kids. We have had a pretty amicable divorce, going on six years now. We often have dinner together while swapping kids. We go sledding together as a family. He even bought my grandmother an 80th birthday card last week and showed up to her party.

Since we split up in 2010, I have been very proud of the friendship that we have cultivated for the purpose of coparenting. I have not thought of him romantically since we stopped sleeping together shortly after the separation.

 The past several years have been a bit of a roller coaster. There have been times of grace and friendship, and brief moments of bonding over our common experience. There have also been times of screaming at each other and massive amounts of doubt and mistrust. He has held and comforted me while I cried. He has also been the one to make me cry.  He has looked down on me and up at me and every other way to try and assign his opinions to me.  I have done the same to him.  

The friendship that we have is rare. It is born from a mutual love for our kids.  It is one of the most interesting relationships that I have ever experienced, a post-divorce friendship.  I think of him now, as a brotherly type figure. He is my family. This man created children with me and watched them hatch out of my body. We grew up together and then watched our babies grow up together. We went through miscarriages and funerals together. We shared nieces and nephews, holidays, our home. We shared our bodies exclusively for a decade. But that sexual attraction died immediately for me when he gave his heart to my replacement before we had even filed for divorce. Watching this woman swoon over my family, just months after I tore it apart, was really hard to do. The very mention of her name felt like a punch in my guts. I felt so betrayed by him, that I lost all romantic interest. Even after they split up a year later, my feelings for him remained platonic.  He had skipped right over the friend zone and landed directly into the bro zone.  Last night was different.  Last night a peculiar remembrance of the way we used to be came rushing back out of nowhere.  

All of a sudden, I had begun to remember all of the good stuff that I had buried in my grief after we had divorced. I had been so busy villianizing him in an attempt to grieve him, I had forgotten about the parts that kept me holding on for ten years.

When things were bad, they were absolutely horrible. But when things were good, they were fucking beautiful. That’s when it felt like nothing else mattered. Last night kind of felt like nothing else mattered. The heartache, the divorce, the fights, the two hundred miles between us, none of it mattered.  All those harsh memories took a back seat to the good stuff.  Steamy nights making love in front of our fireplace. The excitement of watching our daughter ride a two wheeler for the first time. Rushing through the courthouse in Toledo because we only had fifteen minutes to get married before they closed.  Last night, we were those two beaten up old souls who remembered a comfort in each other. Well, I remembered anyway. Who knows what he was thinking.

Last night I watched him cuddling with our daughter on the couch while we all enjoyed a couple movies and the nostalgia of Christmas Eve together. I couldn’t help but to be attracted to him. I sat there staring at him and having flashbacks of the night we conceived that child in his arms. It could have been the Mercury retrograde. It could have been the urge to rebound after a recent break up from an asexual man. It could have been my hormones raging nine months into a celibacy bender. But I wanted to invite him into my bed for the first time in five years. And I could not get those thoughts out of my head.  

I am certain that after watching my ex boyfriend fall lightyears behind in being a father figure to my children, it was a sight sweeter than sugar to see my children so loved and cared for by their very own dad. It was the sexiest thing to me anyway, watching him fall so naturally into our world. He is so natural at fitting in with us, because he is a part of us. He is our family. This is something I could not see until after I had failed at trying to replace him.

We put the kids to bed and he offered to pour me a drink. Drinks lead to smoking a couple of bowls and some awkward conversation. We hadn’t hung out like this, just the two of us in years. We had a pretty good buzz going on, and our conversations tilted from the kids to the past.  It was a bittersweet moment.  That’s all we really have in common anymore…the kids and our past.   

We had been free to go our separate ways, and we went as separately as we could. He moved south, I moved north. He lives in a very dense suburb of Detroit, I live miles away from civilization. He works out every day, I’ve gained forty pounds. He still listens to that god awful techno music. I still listen to my old acoustic folk jams. But we are deeply connected through our past and the shared experience of growing up together. There’s an unspoken bond that has not gone away.

It felt really good to feel a connection with someone again, after the passionless relationship I had just escaped.  I’ve compared my feelings about love lately to the feelings an atheist has about God.  I walked away from the last guy feeling incapable of forming a connection.  So it felt really amazing to feel something again.  Even if it was just a quick remembrance of a connection that must stay buried in the past.  I am so very thankful for the brief night we spent together as a family. I remember how it felt now, and I remember it was real. I remember that even though it wasn’t perfect, I once loved someone so much that I called him my husband. And that crazy little moment of seeing what could have been if maybe things were different, had given me more hope than I had felt in a very long while. Not hope for a reunion with him, ultimately we had been through irreparable damage.  But hope that one day I could feel connected to another person like that again. I wonder if he felt that too.  I wonder if he has ever felt like that before.

I have so much gratitude for my broken little family and the guy whom I still call, “friend.” I  know that this strange little relationship is one that I sometimes take for granted on the outside.  But deep down on the inside, I treasure it more than gold.