Saturday, October 14, 2023
I try to keep my voice light and untroubled as I quickly tour the movers through the home Mike and I bought only a year and a half ago, pointing out which furniture will go to my new place and which will stay here. Mike had told me to just take everything but the mattress – and maybe the futon so he could still watch TV in the loft. But I figured 2500 square feet of empty house would be depressing for anyone, and our daughter Grace would be here with him half the time, too.
My eyes angle down as I descend the carpeted stairs in the too-short Lululemon skirt I recently treated myself to from the sale rack while shopping with my daughter Alex. I discreetly tug the hem as I walk, trying to keep my curvy thighs under wraps.
“Sorry. We’re getting divorced and it’s just hard,” I say, not really sure what I’m apologizing for. “I had a pretty rough night. I almost canceled you guys, I was so overwhelmed and unsure…” my voice breaks as I look up and into the warm hazel eyes of the main mover guy.
He leans in and says softly, “ I understand. I just went through it myself a year and a half ago. It’s hard, but it’s for the best. Or at least in my case, it was,” he shrugs. His voice is low and calm. He looks right into my bloodshot eyes, and I feel seen. He has wavy salt and pepper hair and his face is lined from years of smiling. Around my age, I guess.
“I think it will be for the best in my case, too. I’m the one who asked for the divorce. But it’s still hard. Still complicated. Still sad,” I say.
“Yeah, divorce is basically an agreement that you’re giving up on your marriage, on yourselves really. You’re admitting defeat.”
“Yes, admitting you failed at marriage… again,” I say, shaking my head. “This is my third time. I never saw myself as someone who would be married three times, let alone divorced three times.”
Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of my wedding. October 13, 2001. Not my wedding day with Mike. The first one. The starter marriage that lasted less than a year. It’s crazy to think that if Ian and I had stayed married, we’d be celebrating 22 years together. I would be someone who had stayed married for 22 years. Instead of who I am.
I follow the moving truck over to the new house, and the movers begin to fill the empty space with my stuff. They gently place my furniture where I ask them to on the bare tiled floors of the main living room. Then they patiently move the heavy pieces around as I change my mind. I stand back, angle my head and squint my eyes, trying to envision the finished room. The deafening quiet of no husband reverberating his opinion screams in my ears.
“Do you think that works there?” I ask the two younger boys as they move the piano for the third time. How do I know what I want now that no one else is here to tell me?
How do I even know who I am when I’m not someone’s wife, walking on eggshells, trying to please him?
I was right at the end of my 20s when I got divorced the first time. I dealt with it by dating in a somewhat frantic way, filling myself up with excitement and busy-ness, so I wouldn’t feel lonely. I gave my body and my heart away so easily.
Until I met my second husband, a refreshing departure from all the guys who only wanted one thing. He was a virgin when we met, and stayed that way until our wedding night. He had saved himself for his future wife. I don’t think I was exactly what he had in mind when he set out to keep himself pure, but hormones and pheromones are powerful things. We started dating and I became a Christian, too. My sins forgiven, as far as the East is from the West. But I tried to mold myself into something I wasn’t in order to please him, and that can only last so long.
I was at the end of my 30s the second time I got divorced. And again, I jumped right into dating, maybe a little less frenetically. I had worked hard to move past my previous addiction to love and attention from guys. This time though, I latched onto a series of old flames, looking to reignite something that really wasn’t even there to begin with.
Mike was one of the resurrected relationships, our second first date more than 20 years after our first date in high school. I rushed into our marriage for a combination of reasons having to do with Christian legalism, people pleasing, codependency, and a savior complex. We were doomed from the start. But I was determined to be resilient and steadfast. I’ve borne this third marriage like a cross carried up the hill to Calvary. Until I couldn’t anymore.
But divorce was not an easy decision either. I almost went down this road several times, but I always decided to give him one more chance. I spent years wondering if I should push through and stay, or start fresh and go. What was the right thing to do, both for me and my kids? Was it emotional abuse, or just a hurt little boy hiding in a full grown man? And even if it was the latter, at what point do I say enough is enough…of him shoving his shame on me, of him blaming his anger on me…of his failing to see my love…of his seeing the worst in the people I love…of the stress and the negative energy that never went away?
I would decide one day that enough was enough, that even if he didn’t hit and he didn’t smash and he didn’t physically hurt us, words matter, too. Emotions matter. Feelings matter. I would decide that persisting in this was not really best for me or the girls, despite my promises. But then he’d promise to work on it, promise to change, and I’d give him another chance. I did this over and over again… for years.
Finally in August, as we approached the 10-year anniversary of our reconnecting on Facebook and starting up a long-distance romance before he moved back home from Nashville and married me, I made a decision. I’m almost 50 years old. I only have one life to live and it’s mine. And I just don’t want my next 10 years to look like these last 10.
Still, my feelings vacillated over these past few months as we were forced to stay living together while we figured out the house and finances. Even last night, alone in the house, Mike and the kids sleeping elsewhere, I couldn’t stop crying, wondering if I was making a horrible mistake leaving, feeling so alone.
Maybe it’s not too late to cancel the movers, cancel the lease on the new house, and just stay here, I thought. He’s my best friend. He drives me crazy, we fight all the time, he yells at my girls and we have tried for years to make it better, without success. But I know he loves me in his own way. And so much of our life is comfortable and cozy, despite the stress and anxiety and fighting. He’s familiar, and he’s mine, in a way neither of my two previous husbands were. He thinks I’m beautiful, and he understands me like no one else ever has.
But he hurts me all the time. Not physically. He’s never hit me. And I don’t know if I can even call it emotional abuse because that would imply it’s intentional, and I don’t think it is. But it hurts nonetheless.
My mind keeps playing back the scenes of our life – plenty of good times, but so many fights. The first one I remember is the night we got engaged…
I have no idea how Cadence and Alex stayed fast asleep through his thunderous yelling that night. Tucked into their bunks in our cozy interior cabin aboard the Disney Magic, they didn’t even stir as I gently tried to shush him, de-escalate his anger, help him remember his joy.
He had proposed just a few hours earlier, a dramatically romantic production like you see in the movies. I don’t remember how either of my two ex-husbands proposed, but Mike’s proposal was unforgettable.
The part I have trouble remembering is what we were even fighting about, what exactly triggered him during our late night promenade along the ship’s exterior deck that windy March night, and how it escalated to the point of screaming at the woman he supposedly wanted to spend the rest of his life with, while her two small children snored peacefully mere inches away.
I can’t tell you why this smart, independent woman so resolutely remained with him. I had never been yelled at like that before and I certainly didn’t think it was ok. I don’t remember how we made up, or what – if anything – he said to smooth things over. I think I simply forgave him, obsessed as I was with immediately forgiving any and all offenses against me back then.
I married him four months later. A beautiful ceremony. A gorgeous dress. Surrounded by friends and family. Overlooking a spectacular desert view. He teared up as I sang, “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.”
Maybe that’s why I stayed initially, even when I noticed red flags, feverishly researching narcissism and emotional abuse, and wondering if that’s what I was experiencing. I really believed that God had uniquely prepared me to endure Mike’s harshness. I thought perhaps it was my job to smooth his rough edges. Deep down, maybe I felt he was the atonement for my sins. A final chance to succeed in the complicated game of marriage.
“Either third time’s a charm or three strikes you’re out,” I’d joke. “The verdict is still out on which it will be. But regardless, there won’t be a fourth marriage.”
So now here I am at the end of my 40s. Single again. Not quite as cute or fun as I was the previous times. No burning need to frantically fill a void in my heart. I have three beautiful girls, and I can take care of myself. The last thing I need is another man.
After all the furniture is placed, the boys sit at my glass dining table. I open the empty fridge and pull out a lone bottle of Gatorade and hold it up.
“I’d offer you guys a drink, but this is seriously all I have,” I laugh. “You could share it?”
They must be pretty thirsty because they accept my measly offering. Last time I fed the movers pizza and beer at the end of the day. Today was much quicker since they only moved half the furniture and we brought over all the boxes ourselves. I didn’t plan anything and it’s too early to order lunch. We chat amiably as I settle the bill with the main mover guy with the soft voice and hazel eyes. His name is Noah and he owns the company, it turns out. One of the younger boys is his son, who plays in a band and has a gig across town tonight.
“What kind of music?” I ask.
“Country,” Noah responds. “They’re really good.”
“Nice. I love country. I’d love to hear you play,” I say to the son.
“Well if you come tonight, I’ll buy you a drink,” Noah says.
I glance at him, and something perks up inside me as I realize that this very good looking man seems to be interested in me…as a woman. Or maybe he’s just friendly. I mean, I must look like hell after the night I had. No makeup, glasses, tear-stained cheeks. I did get my hair done yesterday, though. So it still looks good from the professional blowout. I have that going for me at least.
His noticing me feels really strange and good, surprising and exciting. I wasn’t thinking of dating so soon. I have several friends going through divorce right now and they’re all dating like crazy, but I’ve been there, done that. Being with someone else is the furthest thing from my mind. Well, I mean, maybe not the furthest thing. Who am I kidding? I’ve always been boy crazy. Some things never change. But that’s not why I’m getting divorced. I’m getting divorced because I want peace and quiet. I want a fresh start with my girls, a home with a positive and joyful vibe. The freedom to soar.
And anyway, who would want to date a 49-year-old too-curvy breast cancer survivor with smile lines, gray hair, and Barbie Boobs? That’s what I call my reconstructed-after-double-mastectomy breasts. They look perky and cute in clothing, but I don’t have nipples. So they’re like blank little mounds, just like the boobs on a Barbie Doll. My husband likes them just as much as he liked my God-given ones, but what would a new guy think? Can you date without nipples? I wonder.
There are several options for nipples, and I always planned to do something, but four years have flown by since my surgery and I haven’t gotten around to it yet. So here I am, newly single with no nipples. When do you disclose this information to a potential boyfriend?
Noah texts me the details for the gig.
“It would be great to see you there,” he says. “I get the feeling you deserve some fun.”
“My thoughts exactly,” I say.
“Perfect!” he says.
I invite a friend to go with me and she’s excited at first, but as the day goes on, she decides to stay home. She offers to have Grace over for a sleepover with her daughter, and my older girls have plans with friends. So I’m on my own tonight. They’re playing more than an hour from my house and it feels like a long way to go, but I really want to. It’s been ages since I’ve even gone out at night. I work nights as a Labor and Delivery nurse, and when I’m not at the hospital, I’m relaxing at home.
“OK, so it took me a lot longer than I thought it would to get everything done and the kids dropped off. I wouldn’t get there until like 9:30, “ I text. “I definitely want to come but that may be a little silly?”
He responds, “I feel bad wanting you to come, but I want you to come.” And the words do something to my insides. So I go.
When I arrive, he comes out to the parking lot and greets me with a hug. He looks down and smiles at me.
“You look great,” he says. “I have to tell you. I just love how short you are.”
I laugh. “That’s hilarious. Of all the things, you love how short I am?”
“Well, I also love your bootie.”
Now I’m really laughing. My butt is at least two sizes bigger than I’d like it to be right now, even though I’ve been working out a lot and starting to get back in shape. Mike always liked it, but I figured he had to since he was my husband.
This idea – that I’m still attractive to a random guy – is surprising and seductive. The whole time I’m there at the gig, he’s touching my arm or my knee, casually wrapping his arm around me like we’re already together. I feel tingly and warm, excited and totally comfortable at the same time.
We talk about everything and nothing as we walk around the outside venue and enjoy the cool night air. At some point, I find a way to mention the nipples. I guess I feel like it’s false advertising if I don’t disclose the fine print. He doesn’t seem the least bit concerned with my disclosure.
When it’s time to go, he walks me to my car and pulls me in for a kiss, as natural as can be. My hands run themselves up and around his scruffy jaw and ears, through his wavy hair, down his shoulders and back, gently pressing his hips into mine. We say goodnight and I set off on the long drive home. He texts me later to tell me he’s home.
“Wow, you’re a really good kisser. I can’t wait to do that again,” he says.
I try to remember if anyone has ever told me I’m a good kisser before. Mike loves kissing me, but I never thought of it as something you could be good or bad at. What makes me a good kisser, I wonder? Is there even such a thing, or is it just the chemistry between two people that makes a good kiss?
“Really? It’s been a long time since I’ve kissed someone new. It was nice…”
“No matter what happens with us, or even if nothing does, you showing an interest today was exactly what I needed. Thank you for showing an interest. And making me feel like I’ve still got it…” I text before turning out the lights in my brand new bedroom, all mine, just a mattress on the floor.
I wake up to his text in the morning.
“Yes, you’ve still got it…”
The sun peeks through the blinds of my bedroom windows. My bedroom. My own bedroom. I take a breath. I feel calm and peaceful and hopeful and alive. Ready to soar.
We text back and forth throughout the day, getting to know each other.
“You seem to be grounded to me and I like that. You seem to care about things and people and I like that. You seem to be a good mother and that is super important to me. You sound smart and educated, and I like both of those things very much. And you seem genuine with your actions and words, and it’s endearing,” he says. “And your butt…”
“I really love that those are the things you noticed about me. And it’s so ironic because since those things are true, I wasn’t looking to meet anyone or even date anyone for a while. I’m totally content to be alone. So the fact that you noticed me and I noticed you noticing me on the very day that I physically left my marriage is really crazy…”
Over the next few weeks as I settle into my new home, I remember that I love to listen to music. Why had I stopped listening to music? I remember that I love the scent and the ambiance created by candles everywhere. I love leaving the doors open so the cool fall air and neighborhood sounds breeze in while I work. I love picking fresh lemons from my tree and using special family keepsakes in my decor. We eat off the good china, and I sometimes leave messes for the morning. I load the dishwasher and put away the groceries however I want, without worrying about being chastised for doing it wrong.
Sometimes you don’t realize how oppressed you were until you are free.
Mike comes over often and he’s helpful and sweet. He orders me a toolkit on Amazon and hangs up my artwork. He sets up the WIFI and looks at the pool pump. I hope we can stay like this. I love him being my friend instead of my husband. I love being able to hear his opinions as suggestions instead of commands.
One day I decide to move the blue velvet couch that’s too small for the living room into the kitchen eating area that has become my office. It feels cozy and chic.
“A couch in the kitchen?” the girls whine when they get home.
“Yes, this is my house and I can have a couch in the kitchen if I want!”
The girls are here with me every other week, but even though it’s only a rental, this house is all mine and I love it. I’ve spent the first 49 years of my life trying to please all kinds of people. I think I’m going to live these next years for myself. Not in a selfish way. Because I love people. But I’m going to live life on my terms.
The next morning my oldest daughter, Cadence, comes down into the kitchen, still wanting to register her complaint about the couch.
“I’m sorry, but I love it,” I say.
She sighs, plopping down on my blue velvet kitchen couch with a book as I make her breakfast.
“It’s kinda nice, isn’t it?” I tease.
“If my mama is happy, I’m happy,” she says with a smile.
“I’m happy,” I say. And I am.
Author’s Note: All names have been changed, except mine and Mike’s, to protect the identity of people who didn’t necessarily sign up to be in my stories. Mike agreed a long time ago to let me use his real name. He insisted on it, in fact. Of course, he thought we’d always be married when he agreed to that, but in case you were wondering, I did get his blessing before posting this. He doesn’t love everything about the story, but he supported my desire to share it, because I think he does love me, even now. I love him, too. But sometimes love is not enough.