By Faith Gradiva
I stood there, rooted in sadness, losing my faith, losing faith in myself. I couldn't do it; I simply could not do it. The time had come to start divvying up the possessions, and at that moment you are thrust into the past, which stands as a screeching beacon that scares you about your future.
James and I decided that we should have a nice simple divorce. We both really came to this agreement when we began to research the retainer fees for divorce lawyers-somehow it just didn't make sense to spend money fighting about what we worked to gain, only to line the pockets of two people that didn't care for anything except the battle-not that there is anything wrong with being a lawyer, as some of our best friends are lawyers. The emails flew back and forth as we discussed every point that we disagreed on-at times I was upset that I couldn't obtain a larger font than a 72 point and something deeper and darker than bolded red for my responses back to him, which often started with the words, "Listen you asshole, you are the one that screwed upů" That always brought him to his senses, and I had to mentally thank my mother for instilling me with the art of guilt-making.
So came time to start dividing up the possessions. The material stuff is easy-a TV in trade for the good pots and pans, the ugly big chair for the stereo. God, I remember when we purchased the ugly chair. It was the first time we could actually afford to purchase furniture and we wandered the showroom at Room and Board for a day, picking and choosing and planning. I loved that chair, it was soft and comfortable, it even had cat paw prints on it from the time one of cats stepped in white paint and ran all over the chair. I remember the day the furniture was delivered-I had such a rotten day at work and I came home to find James sitting in our living room, our newly furnished living room. My eyes welled up with tears because we had beautiful things in our living room, and it began to look like a home. We spent hours moving and removing the furniture to try every possible combination of design. It seems silly to be attached to the furniture, but I think the reason I became attached to it was because it was a symbol of the time that we started to make a home, together-why did I now think of this chair as ugly?
I stood in the oversized front hall closet that contained boxes we still hadn't unpacked from moving in a year prior to our separation. I looked at the bright red box, and opened it up knowing what I would find. Christmas ornaments. I burst into tears as my mind flashed back 10 Christmases ago when we were married and our family and friends gave us ornaments to add to the collection which we started as we traveled around the world. With every single ornament I could remember the story behind it, or who had given it to us. How, simply how, do you divide them up? What is equitable? What is fair? What would all the next Christmases be like?
Hours later, I finally started on the next box; I had been sitting on the closet floor for hours holding each ornament, crying and thinking. Of course it could only get worse-next up, the black box. I opened it, and inside were all of the letters and cards that we sent to each other when we were apart. See, we met when I was a flight attendant, and he was in the British Army, back in the day before email and phone calls were a luxury. Every day for a year we wrote to one another. I pulled out the letters, beautiful letters, and read them, weeping. Where did this man go? Why did this man change? Could this man come back into my life? Why was I so trusting and faithful? What happened to me? What would happen to me? What would happen to the letters? I must have stayed up most of the night rereading the well-documented beginnings of our relationship. It was like the times when you hear a song and you are transported back to a time and place that you can remember every detail, every single detail, from what you were wearing to where you were sitting, to feeling the heat and humidity of the hot afternoon as you read the letter that first declared his love for you, and now those details played tricks on me. When he wrote to me this impassioned letter asking me to marry him and to one day give him beautiful children, when he wrote of his fears of moving to the States, when I wrote to him of my pains and joys, did I really believe that we would be together forever?
I should have walked away from the closet, closed it, or let someone else come to clean it out. The Christmas ornaments, the letters, and now the photographs. Why did I have to do this? It is like cleaning out the possessions of someone who died, but they are still alive, only dead to you in almost every way. I was not going to be okay, I simply was not. I started to debate with myself, thinking that maybe, just maybe I could stay in the marriage, since I now knew what the new rules were. I could play the game, be the wife, and stay. I could just learn to turn a blind eye to the person he became, and stay forever in the closet of memories, just to be safe. Hadn't I watched my friends do this? Of course, most of them are in their 30s and have children. It was easier for them to stay rather than to leave and start anew. They played the game, and they played it better than I could. How sad is our world when a woman feels she is left with no choices except to face the pain of a broken marriage every single day? What was I scared of? What would cause an otherwise rational person to even debate being happy or being safe? I had the advantages which my friends did not-I was lucky, I was young, I would be okay. I weighed every single point, sitting on the floor of the closet surrounded by our memories. "Dear God," I prayed, "please give me a sign that everything will be okay, that I will be okay, that I am doing the right thing."
HA, well, this former Sunday school teacher, who fell away from the church years and years ago after debating the existence of a higher power, received the message from her about a week later. After working all day with a particularly difficult client, I came home-shattered and battered my new modus operands. I was lying on the sofa, and the fire alarm went off. I was too tired to move. No, I didn't pretend not hear the alarm; rather, the building that our home was in had so many false alarms that I just didn't bother to move from the sofa, which became my new bed. Within moments, a flood of water cascaded through my loft, at the same time I inhaled gulps of smoke-"Oh my god, it really is a fire!!" I ran through my loft, looking for my cats-I wasn't leaving without the cats. I also knew that I needed to have something to put them in, so without thinking, I ran to the front hall closet and dumped the big red box unto the floor, and searched for the cats as the lights went out. I was scared but I wasn't leaving without the cats. Finally, I found the cats, scooped them up and placed them into the box. I left my home as the sprinkler system rained down brownish water.
Two hours later, I stood, with several feet of water in my home-everything, simply everything, was destroyed. I picked up a few pieces of clothing, put them in a wet bag, took the cats and checked into a hotel. The next day, battered, shattered, and still damp, I returned to our home, the water still standing, and surveyed the damage. I had never seen so much water in my life, it was actually funny to see various items bobbing around in the water-I half expected to see a dolphin perform a leap over the dining room table. I started to assess the damage; it was easy to see-everything was destroyed. I opened closets and cabinets and finally that front hall closet which had brought me to my knees only days before to discover that the powerful surge of water had destroyed every letter, every photo, and most of the Christmas ornaments.
I doubted my faith in her, and she showed me that I would be okay-this was her sign to me that I was doing the right thing. She just made it a little easier for me-instead of having to struggle with massive doubts, I only had to now deal with an insurance adjuster and lots of contractors. Looking back, maybe staying married would have been easier!
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