The day before I left with my children on a two-week vacation to the West Coast, my ex-wife brought by the paperwork. After our 90-day waiting period and each having attended the court-mandated parenting class, it was official: we were divorced.
I still struggle with the finality of much of it. There are days that it is so surreal that I’m certain I will wake up and have everything back to normal. Other days, I am completely aware of the reality of it and the grief is so great I don’t know how to go on. I spent 15 years of my life with this woman, and in a matter of months, it’s all been vaporized.
Like it never happened. Like she never really loved me. Because she didn’t.
Today, to be divorced means trying to accept my new identity, but really not wanting to.
I’ve heard and used the term “grief” my entire life. Until recently, I’ve always equated it with sadness with a dash of loss thrown in. Like, worse than being sad, but not a lot worse. However, a couple nights ago, I was properly introduced to grief. I am now acutely aware of its complete meaning – and it’s way worse than sadness.
My fingernails grow very thin and sharp. I have to cut them almost twice a week to keep them under control. I let them go too long between trims recently, and I paid the price.
Two nights ago, something came over me that was different than the usual sadness I have been experiencing the last five months. It was overwhelming, physically painful, and scary. I don’t remember what triggered it, but I started crying.
It was about loss. Loss of my marriage. Loss of my family. Loss of my ability to be with my children every day. Loss of future plans. Loss of hope.
The sobs were big and they hurt. I alternated clenching my jaw and cursing her existence. I was hunched over and couldn’t straighten up. I was heaving uncontrollably, with my face in my hands. For part of it, I screamed. For part of it, I couldn’t make a sound. Sweat, tears, and snot poured out of my face onto my hands and lap. I couldn’t stop. I just let it come. This was grief.
I fucking hate her. I fucking hate her! I FUCKING HATE HER!
Several times my hands jerked around my face as if I wasn’t in control of them. During one of these spasms, the nail on my right index finger sliced my forehead. I remember it stinging, but didn’t think much of it. The sobbing went on for probably five minutes, which doesn’t seem that long when I type it out, but it felt like forever. Then it was over.
Once I could get myself together, I went to the bathroom to wipe my face and blow my nose. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and was shocked. I looked at my face and the blood on my forehead for a long time. This was part of the process.
I don’t like what’s happening, but I am working through it as best I can. I’m not exaggerating anything, but I’m also not trying to suppress anything, deny anything, or be tough.
So today, to be divorced means grieving. Grieving properly in order to heal properly.
There haven’t been many high points the last five months. I’ve cried. I’ve been in shock. I’ve had bouts of paranoia. I haven’t slept well. I’ve slept too much. I’ve been angrier than I ever have, and sadder than I thought was possible. I’ve wanted to kill her. And I’ve wanted to kill me.
But there have been a few saving graces, and my children are one of them.
Much of December and January are a blur, but one date stands out: January 4th. That’s the night we told our three children we were getting divorced. The details of that night will be a separate post, but this is about a few days afterwards.
They knew I was moving out, and they (at least my eldest) knew that money was tight. One night I came home from work and found a ziploc bag of change on my nightstand labeled “$5.00 for your house”. I immediately teared up.
I don’t remember if I ever said anything about it. I don’t know if I needed to. But I do know that it’s in my nightstand and that it will never be spent.
My children have seen sides of me in the last few months that they never have before. They don’t know all the details of what’s going on, but they know that Daddy is frustrated and sad – so they do everything they can to help out and make me smile.
Today, to be divorced means to be grateful for my children – the only part of my old life that I want to remember. They’re the best.
When I knew there was no chance of saving my marriage and I had to move out, I started changing everything I could in order to sever ties and form a new identity. I didn’t want to do these things, but it was out of necessity that I changed as many things as possible. Memories of my old life were too painful. All I wanted to remember was my children.
I even changed my laundry detergent.
We started using All years ago when we did cloth diapering because it was one of the few brands that had a version with no scent or dyes (that’s important for cloth diapers). But I always liked the way Gain smelled, so when I did my first big grocery shopping trip in my new role as a single man, I decided to change. That set off a chain reaction of change that is still continuing.
I changed from coffee to tea. From pasta to rice. From Cascade to Finish. I changed how I leave our neighborhood (we live next door to each other), my alarm ring tone, and what route I drive our kids to school. I changed from the Velveeta Shells and Cheese to the original Kraft kind with the orange cheese powder. I even changed my cologne from Aqua Di Gio (which she loves) to Tommy Hilfiger (which she hates). I made that change before I moved out. I don’t know if she noticed. It’s not like she got close enough to me to notice. If she did, she didn’t say anything.
I don’t know how many of these changes will stick. I’m happy with most of them, but I kinda miss coffee.
I don’t want to remember her, so today to be divorced means change – because the familiar hurts too much.
I don’t remember much about the first few weeks after my wife devastated me with the revelation that she had never really been in love with me. I do remember being in daze for much it, moving mechanically to navigate the daily duties of job and parenting, with flashes of anger, paranoia, and profound sadness. It was surreal. Most of the time I felt like I was watching myself go through the banality of life while still trying to process what had happened. Fortunately, I kept a journal that I wrote in about three times a week.
And quite often I wrote about death.
There were several ways I had planned to do it. I’m fascinated with suicide, and unlike most people, I sometimes do think it is the best solution. My first plan was to jump into the Grand Canyon. I spent much of my youth in Arizona, and there’s a great song by Puscifer named after the big hole in the desert. Being a big fan of the band and lured by the idea of ending it all “back home” seemed romantic and dramatic. However, I ran through the logistics of it for a couple weeks and decided on something simpler.
The house I moved into has a single car garage just big enough for my Volkswagen. I know people used to be able to kill themselves by starting their car in their garage, rolling down the windows, and allowing the carbon monoxide to put them into the Dark Sleep. I would also combine this with a handful of anti-depressants and plenty of alcohol, just to make sure. But then I read that with all the safety and emissions features on newer cars, that it is now actually quite difficult to kill yourself that way, but that it can cause brain damage. I certainly didn’t want to end up a partially brain-dead vegetable who couldn’t even kill himself properly!
Fuck. So what to do?
I decided to go with the tried-and-true, “slitting the wrists in the hot bath” (again, combined with pills and vodka). I had recently taken up shaving with an old-fashioned double edged razor and had plenty of blades to work with. My fear with this method was would I have the nerve to pierce my skin with that deadly metal when the time came. I wanted alcohol in my bloodstream, both to act as a pain-killer and to thin my blood so as to bleed out faster. But too much alcohol could make me sloppy. And how many pills? Ten? Thirty? I had no clue.
Fortunately, no matter what excuses I made to not kill myself, what really kept me from doing it was my children. I wanted to punish my wife for destroying my life. I wanted to hurt her as badly as she hurt me. But the only thing I could think to do to hurt her deepest, would hurt my children even more.
So today, I am alive. But for about two months, to be divorced meant I wanted to die.
This week I was in Tucson, Arizona for a funeral. Tucson is where I grew up from fifth grade through college. I have friends there that I’ve known for 35 years. It’s where I had my first kiss, my first job, and my first car. It’s where I left the innocence of grade school behind and started becoming a young man.
It’s also where I proposed to my wife.
We met under a strange set of circumstances. She was going to marry a friend of mine and I was going to be in the wedding as one of his groomsmen. Their relationship, along with the wedding plans eventually fizzled out, but she and I kept in touch. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, doing stand-up and working two jobs. We both ended up in Tucson at another mutual friend’s wedding a few months later. I liked her instantly.
She did not reciprocate.
After the weekend of the wedding, I went back to L.A. and she returned to Oklahoma. Despite her initial lack of interest, we kept up regular contact on the phone and AOL messenger (yeah, it was that long ago). Eventually, she began showing interest in me and our phone conversations had gotten pretty serious. We made plans to meet in Arizona again – and this time I was bringing a ring.
We attended a Pearl Jam concert in Phoenix, then headed to Tucson to see some friends. I proposed at an Italian restaurant called Gavi. It’s called Piazza Gavi now and it’s in a different part of town, but it’s the same restaurant. Once we were done with dinner, I got down on one knee, and with everyone in the place watching, I proposed.
She said yes!
And now, fifteen years later, she’s divorcing me because she says she was never really in love with me. She said she married me because she thought I would make a good husband. She hoped the romantic feelings would grow and we’d be fine. But a decade and a half later, they still haven’t and obviously we’re not.
Why didn’t she just say no? Why take such a major risk? Why build a life together and bring three children into her roulette game of emotions? Why?
I wish she had just said no. Yes, it would have stung. It would have been humiliating. But it wouldn’t have been nearly the soul-crushing blow that this divorce has been. I hate her for taking that chance. I hate her for breaking up my family. I hate her selfishness and cowardice. I hate her for making me second guess everything I thought I knew about my life.