Saturday, November 1, 2014

a jaycie memoir: divorce is like death.

I currently have a creative writing class that has not only made me grow as a person, but as a writer as well. It's been one of several life-altering classes I'm taking this semester. With the exception of Geology of National Parks, which I loathe, I'd say all my classes have changed me for the better.

As part of my writing class, we did a memoir section. I wrote the following. It was only through the writing process that I realized all these things. I can now say that I'm completely over my marriage, divorce, and the train wreck that went along with having a relationship with someone I can only classify as a horrible human. (I'm sure he has some redeeming qualities somewhere deep, deep inside. Actually, I'm pretty sure he doesn't, but I don't want to sound bitter. Which I'm not.)


Divorce is like death, only worse. Instead of the condolences like, “This wasn't your fault,” or, “It was just her time to go,” you’re faced with a death no one likes to acknowledge, let alone sympathize with. You know it’s your fault–at least partially–and in addition to the death, you’ve been rejected, thrown out with last week’s too-ripe bananas and sour milk.
You don’t think about it like this, as if there’s been a horrible, significant death in your life, at least not at first. You simply go through it, eventually left with the shambles your life has become and you realize hindsight is 20/20 and you’ve got to stop kidding yourself. But before you get to that point, there’s a good year and a half of wandering through the five stages of grief.
First is denial. You’ve just been kicked out of your house, pregnant, with no job and nowhere to go. You head for the only safe place you know: the charcoal grey bedroom in your parent’s basement, cold and dark like a dungeon. It’s soothing, a nice place to try to forget. When people ask about your husband you reply offhandedly, “We’re just taking a little break.” Is it a little break though? After all, you’ve left twice now and he says he doesn’t want you back. Five months into a marriage, this just might be too rocky a place to restart.
In your mind, you aren’t getting a divorce. It’s the last thing in the world you want, and honestly, that dirty word hasn’t even crossed your mind. You don’t know anyone in the world who’s gotten a divorce. What even is divorce? That’s for the people of Hollywood, the spoiled brats who wouldn’t work to save their marriage after their their failed first fifty-three days in. You didn’t want a divorce, you simply needed some space to clear your mind, to sift through the issues and find a way to make it work. Too bad he didn’t get that and sent you packing.
But who the hell kicks out their pregnant wife? He doesn’t get to decide your future like that, the bastard. Indignantly you call him and tell him, “I hate you. You’re a piece of shit husband and father. Your baby and I deserve better than this. It’s a good thing I left before you could ruin our lives any more than you already have simply by being in it.”
Oh yes, anger. That spiteful little monster lurking in your chest, just waiting for it’s opportunity to pounce. Out of nowhere, you think, “Did I really just say that?” Completely ashamed, you apologize, promise that you didn’t mean it, that he’s a good man and you have no idea where those words came from. But a few days later when he tells you he doesn’t want you to come home, your monster rears it's ugly head again. This time, “You’re a failure. You have no friends, no money, and if you do this, if you really want a divorce, I’m going to take you for every last dime you have. You think you’re struggling to pay your bills now? Just wait until I demand child support, day care, life insurance, travel expenses, and extracurriculars. I’ll ruin your life and I’ll enjoy every second of it.” It’s an idle threat, for now, but much more of that and he’ll walk for good, certain that you’ve always been this horrible human and he just couldn’t see it. The cycle repeats over and over: lash out, apologize, make up, he says something stupid, so you lash out again. It’s a vicious little circle and it’s one you’ll repeat over and over.
But between the bouts of anger, there’s the bargaining. You have a tiny passenger, dependent on you, without any conscious thought that you know of, yet frantic little kicks convince you that your anger is probably going to cripple your baby before you even know which flavor it is. So regardless of your anger, you start trying fervently to work it out. “We have a baby on the way. This baby deserves to have a mommy and a daddy. Please, let me come home, we can work this out. I know you still love and care about me.”
He listens, but doesn’t reply, he doesn’t even seem to care. It makes you feel like a cheap, common whore knowing full well that he’s probably already had strange women in the bed you used to share. Why are you pleading to go back? You have a feeling you deserve better, but there's also that nagging feeling that this is it, you had a hard enough time snagging this husband, how the hell are you ever going to replace him with a baby on your hip and the package that comes along with that? Refusing to think like that, you beg, “Please, I can change. We can work this out. I’ll do anything. I love you and I need to be with you. Your baby needs to be with you. Please…”
There aren’t only five steps to this process, if you ask me. You’ll cycle through denial, anger, and bargaining so many times you lose count. It’s exhausting, but one day you wake up and realize this fight is not worth your time anymore. You get quiet for awhile, you leave him alone and simply retreat to your charcoal dungeon.
The baby comes on a Monday and the divorce is final three weeks later. But you take a trip to see him, to allow him to meet his daughter. Things are good and you forget that it’s over. You’re living only in the present now and though you sense the danger, you proceed past the caution signs anyway, hoping for a non-traditional happy ending. You fall back in love with him, with his quirks, his smell, his warm body, and you delude yourself into thinking he wants you back, though he often says, “I’m not looking for a relationship at all, not with you or anyone else.”
After the second trip, you leave certain that things will work out and it’s only a matter of time before you’re back in his bed, in his arms, with his ring on your finger, and another of his babies on the way.
Then the wrench. He’s met someone and he likes her, much more than he ever liked you. The anger cycle repeats, but this time, you’re livid. You’ve put your heart on the line again and now you’re out for blood. You know the buttons to push, the things that will set him off, and you abuse him relentlessly. You’re hurt, you want him back, and you lash out at him, refusing to let him go.
Instead of reacting though, he shuts down entirely and tells you that he’s filing a case to terminate his parental rights. When you ask why, he tells you, “I loathe you. I never want to see or hear from you again. I didn’t want another baby. Somehow you tricked me into that, but I’m not letting you ruin my life anymore."
It becomes very civil, a simple matter of signing on the lines. But of course it’s not that easy. The courts deny his petition. They won’t bastardize your child simply because he doesn’t like you and doesn’t want to pay you. He doesn’t have to see or be involved with the baby, but he does have to support her financially. Case closed.
A new case gets filed. Arguing, polite discussion, friends again, for a few days, but then the realization that he’s using you to get what he wants, not because he actually cares. After another battle, the worst yet, he blocks your number and tells you he won’t contact you until he’s ordered to by the courts. Good riddance, you think.
Life falls into an easy, carefree pattern without him and you’re certain that you’ve moved on. But eventually depression creeps in, and it it’s tricky, sneaking in like a thief in the night.
You’ve gone on a few dates, you admire the broad shoulders and nice, tight butts of the men you come across in grocery stores and at the bank. You notice men everywhere, hoping to catch someone’s eye, certain that you’re ready to find a new love.
After a particularly rough week, you go on a date with a man who promptly loses interest when he finds that you’re a tattooed mormon single mom. You go home, give your tiny girl a bath, lotion her, get her ready for bed, cuddle her and read a story together, finally tucking her in and you wonder, “Why the hell would I ever want to do that again anyways?” You’re secure in your bitterness. It’s easy and comfortable and blissfully empty of thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
But then you start to notice couples holding hands, sneaking kisses on you walk by. There’s that cute little family, the mom and dad playing with their little boys at the park. You look down at your little girl, too small to walk yet, so instead she’s watching them, eager to go play too, and your walls crumble.
Who have you been trying to kid? You take a hard look in the mirror and see the pained expression, a mask you’ve been wearing and you’ve done a good job, fooling even yourself. You see the fifteen pounds you’ve gained, turning to food to fill the void that you’ve deluded yourself into thinking didn’t exist. It does though, doesn’t it? Did you really think you could hide forever behind your flawless make-up and expensive clothes?
As the walls continue to crumble, you take stock of your life, the mess it’s become. You’ve been negligent of nearly every aspect of your life. Your health has deteriorated, you have few close friends anymore, and you no longer recognize the face staring back when you look in the mirror. Your bitterness has reached an all-time high and people instinctively avoid your path, sensing that you’re not a person they want to cross. You roll your eyes and swear at bad drivers, lines in stores, nearly any human who is unfortunate enough to cross your path. It’s not that you’re being difficult intentionally, it’s just how all that buried emotion is manifesting itself, simply refusing to be contained any longer.
The downward spiral, though you can see it and are completely aware of it, doesn’t end there. You let it continue for a few days, which quickly turns into a few weeks. To fix it would required strength that you aren't sure you possess. It’s exhausting to acknowledge the problems and anything more than that would surely leave you depleted of the little energy you have left.
The only happy thing in your life is that baby, the blessing and curse you’ve been left with. You mostly love and adore her, but sometimes, when the skeletons start whispering from the closet, you resent the load you bear, much of it due to the fact that you’re a mother charged with supporting, loving, and caring for this little life.
You watch her as she grows, sometimes feeling as though she’ll be little forever, but eventually you open your eyes and see that the time is flying by. Where there once was a tiny, screeching bundle, incapable of anything at all, you suddenly have a little crawler on your hands who can feed herself and laughs when you’re funny enough.
But you notice something else, underneath that gorgeous little smile. Your happy baby can tell that you’re not okay. She treads carefully around you, doing her best to make you smile and laugh, constantly watching everyone who comes around you warily, unwilling to see anyone cause any unrest with her first and only love. She watches you like a hawk and when you leave the room she either follows or sits at attention until you come back.
She deserves better than that, better than what you are giving her. Something's gotta give. The realization makes you weep. The damn of emotions you’ve been neglecting bursts and you simultaneously feel crushed and liberated, unable to breathe and for the first time in months able to exhale the breath you didn't even know you were holding. You feel it all, the hurt, the anger, the rejection, the loss; and to your surprise, you survive.
Acceptance. The word alone makes you smile in mockery. There is no such thing, at least not in the way everyone thinks of it. You aren’t over it, not any of it. But you realize you can live with it and that’s good enough. You start to smile and laugh in spite of the past, only a little worse for wear. It’s a part of you now and you can accept that. There will be a few more bouts of anger. It’s unavoidable when you share a baby and consequently have to communicate occasionally with the ex husband, but it no longer cripples you.
You take the ring to a pawn shop. You need diapers anyway and the reminder has been haunting you. You wear the hoodie you wore the day you got married and it finally stops reminding you of him, it’s now just one of your old favorites, almost like a hug from an old friend, cozy and understanding.
You grow out your hair and buy new clothes, ones he won’t recognize. You throw out the old, not out of spite, but because you’re growing. You sign up for classes at the gym and make an effort to eat healthier foods. Again, not to spite him. Your mantra used to be, “He’ll be sorry he let me go.” Now you simply recognize that you deserve better. It’s not about spite, it’s about healing, so you chop off your hair again. It’s not something that will ever disappear, but it heals and eventually you’re left with a tiny scar, so light over time that people don’t really notice it unless you point it out, and now, when you smile and say hello to the broad shoulders and nice butt, it’s just because you want to and you can.
“My name is Jaycie. I’m a tattooed, divorced, single mama. And I’m mormon.” As you make that introduction, it’s with a twinkle in your eye. There are no expectations here, only hopes and dreams and you’re free, in that tied down way. It’s a state of mind and finally, a year and a half after the fact you feel it deep in your soul. “I’m free,” you whisper with a smile, letting the words get lost in the wind as you cuddle your face into your girl’s neck, grinning at her giggle, her unrestrained glee that she has her mommy back.