“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” The late, hilariously funny comedian, Gilda Radner
Happy post-Valentine’s Day–a day that single people like me spend averting our eyes lest we are blinded by shiny Hallmark hearts. I spent the day doing errands and everywhere I went, there were smiling men holding fistfuls of blood red roses, or scanning the shelves for cards with glittery script on their fronts or placing boxes of chocolates wrapped in cellophane on the conveyor belts of grocery store checkouts. Is life like a box of chocolates, Forrest–you never know what you’re gonna get?
Yup, I’d say Forrest nailed it.
I never imagined I’d be a singleton on Valentine’s Day, unless I was widowed. And not to detract from or disrespect those whose husbands or wives have died, but the end of a 30-year relationship does feel like a death–the expiration of a cohesive family, an abrupt halt to romantic getaways with sidelong glances and candlelit dinners, plus the termination of every joint bank account, deed, insurance policy and address label that says Mr. and Mrs.
But I can now say this about the year I separated from my husband, the Year of the Snake, a year where I felt snakebit as I battled night after sleepless night and days of a deep and tearful depression, a very irritated bowel, spiking blood pressure, hair falling out by the handfuls and chest-crushing anxiety that on one occasion took me to the ground: It was the best year that ever happened to me.
Well, except for the hair–sparse wisps of baby fine blonde hair is not a good look for me. I digress.
Intuitively, I knew about resilience, and taking time to grieve and to heal after divorcing my ex, mr. invisible. I figured I had the skills to bounce back from a divorce (I did it before with a four-year-old, patched together daycare and a full-time job that required coast-to-coast travel, for god’s sake). But a 30-year-old’s bounce is far bouncier, with fewer lines etched on her face and skin that’s still taut in all the right places. Bouncing after 50 can be problematic without the right attitude and a good sports bra.
When new friends ask how I did it, I credit my new desert town’s healing karma and the slow, methodical decisions I made. It may seem abrupt to hear I moved across the country away from the only place I’d ever called home–but my hometown no longer felt like a fit. My trusted therapist P. told me once that long time friends and places are like your favorite old sweater–sometimes the sweater is full of moth holes or has become a bit too snug around the middle, and it no longer serves its purpose. Donate or re-purpose it, and move on.
So, step by step, I sold piece by piece the furniture I’d painstakingly selected when invisible and I built our house, emptied boxes filled with snowmen and Santa Christmas ornaments, sent the kids their scribbled artwork I’d saved from when they were little and–the hardest task–removed the smiling family photos that had hung for years on the walls of our forever home from their frames, tossing what was frozen in time into large yellow trash bags for curbside pickup.
Most of this I did alone during the spring and summer of 2014, and my days held a sameness from one to the next: Open a drawer, reach for cards he’d given me, read “you are still as beautiful as the day I met you,” in his cramped script, start to sob, close drawer; move to a closet where his winter clothes hung, pull his cashmere muffler to my nose and inhale as I try to remember what he smelled like when I loved him, feel the anger flush my neck and temples. Stop. Leave the house for a brisk walk along sidewalks I can maneuver with my eyes closed so I don’t have to think, return and repeat, then go to my desk to dig through files in the middle of the night after I give up any hope for sleep.
While it’s not fun to be reminded on Valentine’s Day that I don’t have a sweetheart to send me a fistful of roses, the day still serves as a comparison to past ones where mr. invisible handed me cards that said, “I cherish you!” on them. I searched for years during my marriage as to why his words never fully translated into me FEELING cherished; I became convinced that I was somehow broken inside, unable to embrace the intimate depths I craved from the man with whom I shared every detail, and feeling and foible of my life.
I finally learned that I’m no match for an addiction that takes a man out of the present with his wife, holidays be damned, and into a black hole along with non-judgmental strangers with fake names who coo at every swipe of the credit card or crumpled $100 bill placed in their desperate palms. And I’m reminded daily on the endless loop of news that it doesn’t require a Hollywood zip code for a man to conduct his life in a way that’s unbecoming or frightening or illegal.
But the memory that still makes my voice catch in the re-telling of it involves the very first Valentine’s Day without invisible. Our “couples” friends were in the desert on vacation, a yearly ritual that still happens to this day; I call them the dental group (since the husbands all happen to be dentists). Invisible and I had spent many a Valentine’s Day with them, we girls taking pictures of one another in our sparkly tops while the guys ordered another bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for dinner at a fancy restaurant.
On that first year without him, the dental wives called and insisted that I come to their condo–they knew I was in no shape to go out and they didn’t want me to be alone. The last thing I wanted was to see laughing couples, toasting to each other and to marital bliss, but after much cajoling, I went. My memory is that those five men grilled steaks to order, baked potatoes with all the trimmings, slathered butter on asparagus and sliced store-bought layer cake like high-end chefs at a five-star restaurant. And then they served us, and as they did, handed a rose to each of the wives they’d been married to for thirty plus years–and one to me, too.
It was, and still is, the sweetest Valentine’s Day I ever spent.
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