Tomorrow is a big day for me. Two years ago tomorrow, I woke up. My 41st birthday was two days away, and I woke up knowing that the only gift I wanted, the only dream I had left to allow myself, was divorce.
So two years ago tomorrow, never once having considered or mentioned it to anyone, I asked for a divorce. There was shock. Incredulity. “I think you’re great!” I said. “I think the world of you. But I think if we’re really honest with each other, the truth is that you prefer sleeping with the kids. And I prefer you sleeping with the kids, too. Can we promise ourselves this? Can we just accept this and not even try? Can we please just not even try? Because if we’re honest with ourselves, we shouldn’t even try.” There were tears. And then there was resolution. And we hugged, and he went upstairs to crawl into bed with our boy, and sleep.
Fifty-six minutes. Our whole Oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-we’re-talking-about-divorce-oh-my-god-are-we-really-doing-this-thing?-let’s-be-kind-to-each-other-you-can-have-the-house-you-can-take-the-rugs – that whole, single conversation in which we at once introduced and then planned the division of our lives took all of 56 minutes. Nearly 9 years of marriage, two children, a home, two businesses – all parsed out in 56 minutes. If nothing else, marriage and two children had taught us to be efficient.
For nearly 9 years I had lived, barely breathing. I kept throwing wild, exciting things at my life to distract myself from the fact that I had married a man with whom I had nothing in common, to whom I had very little to say. On our honeymoon, I was bored. So we started trying to have a baby. Oddly enough, the baby didn’t make the marriage any better. Clearly we needed another. And a house – a massive fixer-upper of a house. And then starting a business for him. And then one for me.
I completely checked out at home. I started my own business when my daughter was 3 and my son 5 months old. The insanity of that decision now blows me away. Looking back, every single thing I did was an effort to get as much distance as possible between me and the life I had made at home. I dreaded weekends. My god. Doesn’t that say it all. I dreaded weekends. I consoled myself that I was just “edgy” – I wasn’t like other mothers, nor did I want to be. But the truth is that I felt like a failure as a mother, and, always the sore loser, I just didn’t want to “play.” I talked to friends who seemed to actually enjoy their children and I wondered if there was something wrong with them, but knew deep down there was really just something wrong with me. I thought it was funny when I described myself as the short-tempered, easily-irritated parent, or when I relayed the story of me screaming at my children when they were crying, scared at bedtime, “THE ONLY THING IN THIS HOUSE YOU HAVE TO BE AFRAID OF IS…ME!!!” My god. That was me.
And then two years ago tomorrow, I cracked open and let the light in. My 40th birthday had come the year before. By that time my husband and I did little more together than exchange information. On my big day, I had to run out after dinner and buy myself cupcakes so the kids could sing to me. As my birthday approached the following year – two years ago – a friend my age was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and up and died three weeks later. Fuck! I thought. This shit doesn’t just keep on going? At some point all this is – I am – going to end? As I sat now contemplating my loss of another year – 10 days from my birthday – my husband said something about his toothless brother coming to visit on the 12th. That’s my birthday, I said. Oh, he said, a bit sheepishly, It is?
And suddenly all was clear. I would be buying myself cupcakes for the rest of my life. And then I asked for the divorce. And I started to dream – to dream of the life I had wanted, that I had set out to create, and then had given up on.
My birthday that year – two years ago – was dismal. Desperate to farm out the kids so they didn’t figure out what was up, I dropped my daughter off at a friend’s house (who I barely knew then) for an impromptu sleep over. My husband then called to say that our son was hungry, so he was taking him out for dinner (it was 5 p.m.). Alone on my birthday, I ran into the mother of my daughter’s friend from pre-school. We never really spent much time together, but I told her my story (in those days, if you bent over to pick up your car keys I told you my story) and she took pity on me spending my birthday alone, and invited me to join her family for dinner. In my heart of hearts, I longed for Ethiopian food – I missed it after a long marriage to a man for whom pepperoni pizza and Coke was an acceptable meal. But, you know, the kids – my kids – would never eat such a thing. But as it turned out, my daughter’s friend and her sister did! In fact THEY came up with the idea of Ethiopian food for dinner. And so I spent my birthday two years ago with my daughter’s 6 year old friend and her family, talking and laughing over Ethiopian food. And I saw again the life I had envisioned for myself, and that I had once envisioned building for – with – my children.
When I first split with my ex, I took my son to Berkeley Bowl. He was almost 4 years old and for his entire life his father and I had – out of efficiency – always done the divide and conquer thing with the kids, my relatively non-verbal ex with my barely-verbal son, and me assigned to my precocious girl. This was the first time I had ever taken my boy to a market. And I bent down and asked him, “Honey, what do you like to eat?” I am his mother, and still, after 4 years, I did not know what my child liked to eat. It turned out to be pepperoni pizza. And hot dogs, and Coke. My god, how had I let this happen? Where had I been?
Tomorrow is an important day for me. Two years ago tomorrow is the day I chose to participate in my life and in those of my children in a meaningful way.
Recently, I went to pick up that now almost-six year old boy from school. Scanning the crowd, we saw each other at the same time. He broke into a smile and a run, making a mad dash for my outstretched arms. My god, I thought, my god, how lucky I am that this little boy loves me – that I’m the one who gets to be his mother. And now, this morning, when that little boy crawled into my bed, he looked up at me and said, “I love seeing your face.” Two years ago, this is what I dared to hope for.
Tomorrow is an important day for me. To remember and honor the courage and the shame that brought me here. It also begins a weekend-long birthday celebration with the kids. No, we are not buying cupcakes. We will go the farmers’ market and buy big beautiful peaches. And together we will bake a birthday peach pie. And Monday, when the Big Day arrives, we will all go together to Cafe Colucci and order an obscenely large platter of Ethiopian food. It turns out – after two years – they love Ethiopian food as much as I do. After two years, I love my children so much it breaks my heart nearly every day, and I’m ever-so grateful they’re mine.