A CHRONICLE OF ONE MAN'S DIVORCE
No one tells you how grueling, how eviscerating, it's going to be. Not that it would help to have any warning. It couldn't capture the feeling and wouldn't deter most of us anyway. Because when a marriage is dying the course of action feels inevitable.
Still, even in its death throes we cling. We break out the paddles, rub on the gel, yell clear, and—buh-bam—shock the torso over and over and over, searching frantically for signs of life. Mouth to mouth, check. Shot of adrenaline, check. Beg, bargain, plead, check.
Sometimes, I suppose, for some couples, the measures work. Too often they don't.
Self Professed, Profound
Life since the split has been…disorienting. I didn't feel it deeply at first. We framed it as a trial thing and it was good to be doing something—anything—different. Apparently, she grieved a lot at first. That I didn't just underscored one of the bigger issues in our marriage: pacing.
Anyway, while I was hanging out in limbo, she began moving on. Looking back, I suppose I was in denial, but it felt then like a much-needed vacation that we could possibly return from refreshed and renewed. In reality, we were just continuing our drift apart. No—in reality, I was continuing my drift. She'd picked up her oars and started rowing.
Now, I say limbo, but it actually felt different than the word suggests. Life felt big again. My horizons seemed limitless and enticing. I was working out more than ever. Started doing yoga again. I was getting more work and doing better work than ever. I felt like I had in my 20s, minus the angst. I was actually reveling in my perhaps-temporary bachelorhood. I was sad that we were apart, but it was tempered by newfound mental health and a sense of liberation.
Till The Chips Were Down
I felt my first wave of grief when she talked about moving away. I wasn't surprised by her discussion of the move. Moving had been in consideration for a year at least. Still, it hit me hard. Made our split more real.
Honestly, the grief was welcome. I was beginning to think that I was callous and shallow and that the marriage hadn't meant anything to me. (Of course, it did, but the mind can be a vicious bastard.) Still, I was wary of it. After years of therapy, initiation ceremonies, anti-depressants, a wilderness fast, and medicine ceremonies, I've attained the mental health mentioned above and I was wary of losing the ground I'd achieved. I was afraid of spiraling downward into depression.
Which, thankfully, didn't happen. The grief passed in a couple of days, I continued pouring myself into work, and we continued our near-daily check in calls.
A Losing Hand
Until one night, maybe a month into the separation, she called to tell me she'd started seeing someone. It's funny, I knew by the tone of her voice before the words ever came out of her mouth. (Now, I start reading her well?!) All I could do was smile. I had the strangest feeling of relief, followed by laughter, only then followed by shock. I happened to be in Safeway and walked around the store mindlessly with a carton of chocolate milk, my latest guilty pleasure. (Eventually I set it down on a random shelf—it took me ten minutes to track it down.) Once we got off the phone and the shock started to subside, I called a friend and went out for drinks.
I wasn't angry. I wasn't even that surprised. But I was stunned. I mean, I knew the day was coming. Hell, just the day before I thought to myself, "I know she's going to hook up before I do. That's going to be tough, but part of the process. Wonder when it'll happen." All while thinking it was going to happen in a couple of months or more. Once it sunk in, though, all I could think was now?!? Little more than a month after our separation? Fuck.
Not long after that I spent the night with a good friend. It was a sweet night and I thought just what I needed (and hopefully what she needed, too). But the initial elation gave way to realization that I was still energetically attached to my marriage. (Given everything I've ever believed about love and sex and my relation to the two, this was indescribably painful and loathsome to learn.)
A Fate Resigned
Since then, and after a couple of unbearably awkward interactions with the new guy, the disorientation has accelerated. I've cycled through anger, sadness, brief moments of calm, terrifying fear, bargaining, grief, acceptance.
The week before last was my roughest. One night, in a pit of despair, I wailed in grief, and mentally flailed for someone to relieve my pain. I thought about calling friends. I considered calling her while she was away with her new guy. I considered writing her. Somehow, by the grace of the gods or a momentary lapse of poor judgement, I found the restraint not to. Instead I wrote a song. Its writing offered a surprising succor, though one that was too brief.…
Last weekend, away from town on a journey intended as a fun vacation away from this emotional stew, I spent a sleepless night creating fantasy rom-com scenarios in which we got back together and made it work. My thoughts were tormented, what little sleep I did get was troubled, and my body was wracked from the reality settling in.
Over Futile Odds
And then came another swing. Upon my return to town, I checked in with Facebook to see what was happening. While on, I got an IM from a woman I'd met at an ayahuasca ceremony I'd taken part in in January. She was attractive and we'd had a brief connection and I liked her energy, but it was such an absurd scenario to meet someone in that I just filed it under "brief gift from the universe" and let it go.
Anyway, she IMs me and suggests we grab some food when she's in town this weekend (she lives three hours away). Now, it's not clear to me whether she's talking just having a bite with a cool new friend, or whether she's thinking, date. But I'm saying yes to as much as possible nowadays, so I agree.
Okay, really what happened in my mind was "Goddamn, I just had a grueling two-three weeks, capped by a horrendous night, then followed by a sobering talk with my soon-to-be ex-wife, and here's this stunningly beautiful and sweet woman who's reaching out to spend time with me and, good fucking christ, yes, I'm going to have dinner or lunch or mother fucking crumbs with her." (Where's that eye-roll emoticon, damn it?)
As I said, I couldn't suss out whether she was thinking date or hang out with new friend, but I made a decision to think date and to allow myself to get excited by it. I needed something to shift my energy. And I've played it so safe so often, I just decided it was time to lean into a different stance.
You can see where this is going…
We connected via phone later in the week and made a tentative plan for Fri. night. It was starting to sound more like a date, but idiot that I am, I never got clear with her. (And she wasn't a very clear communicator. Or her style of communication is so different from mine I couldn't grok what might have been clear to her. Or I'm just plain obtuse.) I figured I'd get a chance to suss it all out over dinner or drinks or something.
Except it never got to that point. I won't go into details, but the night shifted far from my expectations, I ended up way off center, felt extremely vulnerable and like an awkward 13-year-old, and we never really got a chance to connect. We parted ways at 10 pm and I spent the remainder of the night leaning on a very gracious friend. One last try to get together the next morning fell through, too.
And Laughed At By The Gods
And now for another low. I know that I fucked myself over with the expectations game. I knew the risk when I decided to play it. But I need to do things differently at this stage in my life. I needed to throw myself into the excitement and the anticipation of a possible new connection. And I was thinking, we've already had Ashland's version of the meet-cute, so how could it go wrong?
Whatever. All this shows me is that I'm still in way too vulnerable of a place to be messing with the capriciousness of romantic love. (Again, a loathsome realization.) Which is fine. As it should be I guess. And frankly, I should be thrilled to be free of the meshugenah.
I've resigned myself to a months-long stretch of self-improvement and serious rom-com avoidance.
And I'm left with an endless loop of Amy Winehouse tunes and Dorothy Parker's famous quip coursing through my brain ready for the next thing to come my way: "What fresh hell is this?"