It comes to me in pieces – fragments of my life that are like a patchwork quilt, well-worn and soft with age. Remnants of memories lay up against one another; each evokes its own truth. It is the composite that makes it work – the individual memories are insufficient to make up the whole pattern.
“Mommy, what does divorce mean?” my almost six year old son asks one day. I am at the ironing board, ironing his father’s handkerchiefs, a job I only did to be a good wife, and hated for its tedium and futility. No one cared they were ironed. No one but him. For me it was a way to prove I was a caring wife who still tended to his needs, but I was building resentment, square by perfectly folded square.
My heart froze a little. Had he somehow telepathically picked up on my resentment? Was he asking because he could see into my heart and knew that I had been thinking about just that for some time now? Why would this word be on his mind? I asked my son where he’d heard it and he said on TV.
“Oh.” I said, and thought of all that word meant to me. His father, having lifted his head out of the newspaper, replied a little too smugly, “That’s when two people decide they no longer want to be married. It’s something you’ll never have to worry about, son.” The smugness in his voice was what did me in. He sat there, behind his newspaper, self-satisfied and confident.
Time froze in that moment. A realization captured in time and I knew then that he and I had never been further apart. After fifteen years of marriage, thoughts of freedom flitted in and out of my mind daily. I longed for real change, and the only way, other than divorce, was if he vaporized. Poof! No longer in our lives. Hearing him state with certainty that divorce was never going to happen made me realize how bad things were. I felt so disconnected. So alone. I wanted to scream, but no voice came. And so I ironed. Fiercely.
The next piece is in the counselor’s office, where I finally insisted he join me. I didn’t want to; what I wanted was to run away and escape with my kids. I did it because I am good at trying to do the right thing.
“On a scale of 1 –10, how do you rate your marriage’s potential to last?” asked the counselor. We had been meeting together for months. She knew how far gone I was already. He answered “Ten– it will last forever.” I looked at the floor and said “Two.” I wasn’t sure I could stay married another day. He asks her if there is medicine that she can give me to make me happier. He thinks the problem is mine. I know that isn’t true.
Another fragment, this time in our bedroom. He wants to make love. I don’t. I tell him it is the only way he’ll really get this – I am not able to convince him how bad our relationship is. He is unhappy. He thinks sex will fix it. At least it makes him feel better. He sits on the bed and I tell him I need for us to live apart. That living together with all its hostility is no good for anyone. He cries. Not tears of regret, but tears of absolute bewilderment. How did this thing happen to him? He was losing his caretaker. In many ways, he now had to consider entering the world on his own. He was frightened. He wanted assurances it would be temporary. I could not give them.
Another square. The most painful. It broke the kids’ hearts and spirits that day. Sitting in our family room together with our young children, saying that mom and dad need to live apart because they are having trouble loving each other. Suddenly, the talking Simba the Lion says, “We’ll always be together.” And I look at my husband then and cry, for our lost future. My son says it is his worst nightmare come true. My three year old daughter pats her daddy’s back and tells him it will be all right. If ever there was a moment when I might have changed my mind, that one was it. It will always hurt to recall the pain we shared.
Moments blur. Sped up by emotions, all cycling toward the end. Losing pieces as they flew away in an attempt to keep my sanity. With all the unraveling, it’s hard to imagine that something was being created. It was the quilt of the end of my marriage, the start of a new life. The pieces are not stitched together, but flutter next to each other, gently reminding me of all that was and all that would never be.
Submission for I am Subject
© Erin Leary