relationships

love letters

Dear Ex-Husband,  

When there’s a chill in the air, the way it felt in the end, in our perfect, corner-lot home, I wear your flannel shirt. You joked that I shrunk your laundry on purpose because I wanted to make what was yours my own. I was never good at housewife things.

When you asked me to marry you I thought, this is the beginning.

I wanted to dance to Van Morrison just because it was a Tuesday, because the snow floating onto the deck chairs looked so beautiful and the fire felt so nice. I’d hold my glass of wine in one hand, turn up the volume with the other and sway in front of the speakers. The dog’s eyebrows shifted back and forth as he watched from the couch; me watching you stand across the room, letting me dance alone, the artwork rattling against the walls. It annoyed you that I craved to simply be in the moment, untethered to expectations, peacefully content and enough for ourselves–enough for each other–safe from the pressure and the pain and the cruelty outside the cracked glass panel of our front door.

I wanted to sell all of our things and go somewhere new. I wanted to experience the world with you by my side. Let’s get in the car and see where we end up; throw our phones in the glove box and sleep under the stars.

 When you told me to divorce you I thought, this is the end.

The American Psychological Association says 50% of Western marriages end in divorce. It was September when our love story, like half of our lovelorn peers, turned into a antiseptic, bold-faced statistic on a crystal white page. We stood awkwardly–heartbroken and tear-stained–unsure if it was acceptable to still hold onto each other while the walls we built crumbled around us. I never truly felt the presence of your heart until the day I decided to eradicate mine.

I don’t know why I am writing to you now. Maybe because the leaves are changing again. Because I feel the tip of my nose go numb when I stand on my front porch and stare at the moon. You never wanted to stop and stare at anything. I know you fell in love again, but did you finally find a way to fall in love with the sky?  

Maybe if I put my heart on the page one more time, your flannel shirt wrapped around my waist, tears of rage creeping behind burning eyes, I won’t feel you creep into my mind; the way you’d sneak behind me at the cutting board making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. If I tell you how you broke me; how when I squint tight I can still faintly see your cold stare past my shoulders, while I begged you to look me in the eye. As if a year later, a wine-sodden Dear John letter could wash it all away.

 

Dear You,

 I regret to inform you that we are through.

I look fondly back on our nine years together, and with sorrow on our one year apart. I am writing to say, formally, we no longer have any business occupying the spaces of one another’s hearts.

Please remove my image from your memory promptly, and allow me to do the same.

I wish you the best.

 

Sincerely,  

Me

  

Remember how we sat around the table with my dad and sister, telling them we’d decided to go our separate ways. We smiled over stiff cocktails, cracking jokes like nothing would ever change. We said we’d remain friends; we’d divvy our things amicably, share the same lawyer, exist with separate lives peacefully, lovingly committed to our respect for the other and what we once had. Funny what difference a year can make.

I started smoking again. Last time I quit because of you, Ex-Husband; flicking my last butt onto the asphalt, watching it dance in the road like our small-town firework shows; your coat over my back with your body just behind.

Remember when we leaned against the falling-over deck rail and swapped stories, chuckling over our shared fondness for Marlboro Smooths. Encompassed by smoke and beer breath we tumbled ass over teakettle into each other’s broken hearts. We had a special way of helping each other toward the things that felt like magic while they filled our insides with tar.

I bleach my hair blonde now; like when I was tow-headed and bright eyed; before I knew the power of love outside the strong arms of my dad. We’d set our snacks aside to dance on the living room rug with the Disney princesses singing behind us. I’d twirl until my skirt floated around my waist and I felt my belly tickle my throat. You always said you didn’t like blondes.

I write all the time now; as if my heart rupturing obliterated the overgrown weeds I’d so long let flourish, leaving behind a marked trail to my true, clear voice. I’ve spent a year peeling  back my mask, finally feeling the full beauty and sting of the sun and the wind and the rain. What a year it’s been, huh.

Maybe I’m writing to you to say thank you.

Thank you for not being like the one before you.

Thank you for keeping me safe.

For loving me the best way you knew how.  

Thank you for holding me upright on my twenty-first birthday.

For taking the trash out when it heaped over the can.

For building the fire as I sat cocooned on the couch, the dog nestled between my thighs.

Thank you for not letting my wine glass get empty.

For heaping seconds on my plate and telling me I was beautiful as I felt my pants squeeze tight.

Thank you for giving up on me.

For deeming me too much, too little, too everything.

For finding the love I couldn’t give in your simple, perfect-on-paper, so beautiful belle.

 Love will never be enough, you told me; your brow furrowed and your heart tucked deep in your saferoom, protected from the world’s hazards, too obstructed to love.

But you were wrong.

I laugh from my belly now, Ex-Husband. And I cry from my soul.

I dance to Van Morrison in my underwear and stand, mouth agape, awestruck, in love with the night sky. Sometimes my wine glass gets empty, and I feel my heart twinge when I swaddle myself in your flannel; because some things are just too good to say goodbye.

 But I kiss like I mean it and write until my eyes cross. I tuck my phone in the glovebox and book last-minute flights just because. When you decided it was the end, it was actually the beginning–the place where I rose from our ashes, Ex Husband; where love, for myself, was enough.

 Thanks for the lessons. Thanks for the love.

 

Fondly & No Longer,

Yours

 

rites of passage: the dresser

Once a week I haul my dirty clothes to the laundromat a few blocks down the road in a routine I’ve unexpectedly grown to appreciate. I wheel my things from one machine to the next, carefully packing them back into their basket, only to be stuffed away carelessly when I return home.

When I fold my laundry my mind races–head down, foot-tapping, headphones drowning out the buzz of a dozen dryers. My hands stay busy and my brain has all the room to roam. I often wonder if the other patrons around me are navigating the intimate corners of their minds as well. It looks like we’re awkwardly folding our underwear in a shared space, but we’re in the thick of it together–working to solve life’s mysteries one roll of quarters at a time.

We dig deep into our stories, minds and hearts ripping wide open, with each turn and fold.  

Months before I slid up and down the hallway–my mismatched socks, his flannel shirt, plastic basket on my side. I tucked our belongings away; his nestled next to mine­. Our wedding photos shook and the silk poppies of my bouquet quivered as the oak drawers of our old chest of clothes slammed shut. Dresser drawers burst with stacks of weathered band t-shirts, while my heart burst for him.

We decided to get divorced on a work-night. I collapsed on the kitchen table and he turned away, wrangling his weeps behind tired eyes. I woke up to the sound of the dresser’s handles thumping as his calloused, oil-stained hands let it go. For seven years I’d heard the squeak and thud of those drawers before his pick-up rumbled down the driveway. I’d pretend to sleep while he kissed my forehead and tucked in my feet.

 I love you, Bear, he’d say.

I love you, I’d whisper as I rolled to steal his pillow and smiled.

We slept as a pair–two bodies together, two hearts ripped apart–for the last time that night. Before the sun came up, the metal handles chirped their familiar tune; he left for work and I emptied my drawers.

My new apartment felt hollow–a two-bedroom, one-bath I begrudgingly worked to furnish day-by-day. The movers threw my new mattress and box springs across the bedframe, propped lonely between four stark-white walls. I stretched my sheets over the corners, unwrapped my new blankets and leaned my pillows at the headboard one-by-one.

Two for me.

Two more for no one.

I consciously built a disposable world around me. I lived quietly, surrounded by simple things I could peacefully turn the lights down on and never look back. I kept my clothes stacked in bins in the closet and a mirror leaned against the wall. I’d sweep the dust-bunnies away and sit cross-legged on the hardwood, hair-brushes and makeup cluttered at my sides.

For an entire year I needed a dresser, and for an entire year, something inside me resisted. Somewhere beneath my grief, I held a simple bank of drawers in a wildly symbolic, unfavorable light. I’d walk through furniture stores and flea markets–inspecting, testing, measuring–only to find myself once again perched at the end of the bed, wide-eyes glued to the blank wall where the damned dresser belonged.

I’d dig through my mind for reasoning. It’s too big, too dark, too lavish, too broken, I’d tell myself, knowing my resistance sat much deeper than the polished wood surface I leaned my weight on.

I’d learned divorce feels like a war. Memories from the beautiful and images of ugly swirl around you as you hold your head between your knees and beg the Universe to make it end.  

I love you. I hate you.

I loved you. I’ll never stop hating you. 

You cling desperately to whatever feels steady, filled by an unshakeable fear that if you dare to let go, you'll surely float into space. You see a never-ending stream of destruction and brawl with the certainty that it’ll never change. You trudge through the wind and the rain, day after day, fighting for your new life one battle at a time.

Get out of bed.

Wash your hair.

Change your name.

Sell the rings.

Forget how he smiled at you.

Remember your pain.

You sit silently among the carnage, fighting to convince yourself you’re not going to die–not tonight. You make enemies with the furniture, desperate to release your tormented rage.

I sat with my pain and road the waves of heartache–for him, for me, for the tiny, flickering flame in the distance I prayed meant I’d feel love again. I had good days and dark days, manic days and sad days, and it was still the dresser that brought me to my knees. I was suffocated by an inexplicable weakness to tuck my new life into drawers.

Months passed, and I loaded my new-to-me dresser in the back of the truck with a friend, still unconvinced it had a place in my piecemeal home. We lugged it up the stairs and pushed it into the empty wall. I loaded my things into the drawers watching my reflection move methodically in the matching mirror. My wool socks and sweatpants mocked me, cradled in their new home.  

This is where we belong now.

It was weighty– a substantial mass of energy standing sturdy like a boldface period at the end of my tragic, romantic tale. I looked at it across from my bed, the space beside me empty, with jaded eyes. My things sat comfortably unobstructed by another. T-shirts and sweaters once harassed by diesel-soaked Levi’s lay blissfully in their lavender-scented abode.

I twisted my lip under my teeth and imagined smashing the drawers, setting the dresser ablaze in a fit of heart-broken madness. I’d watch my things light like kindling and blow all the feelings away. The neighbors would hold back their children, fearfully observing my silhouette fan the raging flames. I held my fingers in my ears as my ivory-painted drawers looked straight through me–past my pain and my pretending–and breathed softly.

It’s time to stop running now, they said.

Their brass handles clinked quietly against the drawer face as I opened them to tuck my clean clothes inside. My sweatshirt pocket sagged with quarters for next week’s laundry, and my heart did the same. For a year I’d been at odds with my world, wearing the bloodshed from my battles, hoping quietly, with hidden desperation, that I’d at last found the end.

I watched the petite, carved legs rest delicately on my bedroom floor, confidently supporting the weight of my baggage. Before, in cluttered suitcases and boxes, I’d declared myself a gypsy–unrestrained and unscathed. My clothes and I could be lost–together–without a home. Displaced and braced for our next stirring–a vagabond soul and her disheveled basket of things.

Now, everything had changed. Roots crept beneath my dresser, deep through the hardwood into the foundation, past my resistances–through my armor for fighting the darkness felt in an empty home.

I lay still in my bed, feeling the sun from the window and hearing the distant trucks humming by. My tired eyes fluttered open as I peeked over my blankets toward my bank of drawers. I reached for the other pillow–cool from a night in the moonlight–and tried to eke out a smile.

This is where we belong now.

The handles sat silently; drawers undisturbed. They burst with tired garments, worn and ill-fitting on my post-divorce frame. Teeming with fear, and also with freedom, I reached toward the ­­­­­­­­drawer pulls and started my new day.