It is odd how we mark time. There are milestones to be met. Dates to remember. When someone hears that I have a son, their first question is “how old is he?” When I was married, within the initial set of questions was, “how long have you two been together?” The marks of time passing- birthdays, anniversaries, graduations- they help keep us grounded. Time passes so quickly, you are likely to lose your bearings after a while. For instance, we celebrated my nieces thirteenth birthday last month. I remember positioning myself on the floor with her when she was two. She perched between my feet, steadying herself on my leg. Where did the last 11 years go? When did I become an adult, trying to steady myself on the uneven terrain of life? The years have ticked away- punctuated by milestones that chronicle growth and change.
Yesterday was one of those milestones. It was my ninth wedding anniversary. I don’t say that because I remember the date, but because I am still married-over nine months after a collection of phrases shifted my reality. The wheels of the judicial system are spinning- albeit slowly. I didn’t anticipate the conclusion to my marriage to be so elusive. The dissolution of a union is an odd thing. The legal process, but also the emotions. The stages of grief are akin to a death. It is a death- just not of a person.
It’s the death of a dream. An illusion. A promise.
I experienced all of the stages of grief, although a little out of order from what therapists have detailed for years. The first stage was brief. Denial attempted to assuage my anxiety as my mind absorbed the characters scrawled on the paper I was given. It told me that what I read wasn’t real. That we could talk it through. That we just needed a hail mary. It was clear, after two days and as many conversations, that my denial couldn’t withstand scrutiny. I leap frogged over anger and bargaining, straight into depression. The tears were unrelenting. The weight that gathered in the hollow of my chest, never abating. It slid into my world as a new companion. It went to work with me. Slept near my heart. Embraced me as I cooked dinner and cleaned my house. Lurked in the shadows as I relished my son. I couldn’t escape it’s grip, no matter how hard I fought. Then, I got tired of fighting. Every morning I would affix the mask of a smile to my face- my uniform until I returned to the solitude of my bed. Until the day that I woke up and didn’t search for the mask. The smiles that touched my eyes were not just shaped by my son, but myself. My world. My spirit. That was the day acceptance had been ushered in. Anger reared it’s head within all of the stages. I don’t think it had it’s own time period. It was the pervasive bedfellow of grief. The only visitor that could stop the tears-could undermine the paralysis of depression. Some days, it was a relief when anger took root. Those were the days that I could breathe. The days my resolve made me feel invincible.
As time has passed, I no longer look for the anger. I work to let it go. To focus on my son. My future. My joy.
I strive to exhale.
My anniversary used to be a day that I looked forward to every year. I enjoyed the passage of time it marked. It made me feel accomplished to see the number tick upward each year. It became part of my identity- part of my pride. Then the facade of my life crumbled.
I expected this day to be difficult. A day filled with ghosts intent on haunting me. A day that guilt and doubt would creep into the recesses of my mind and overthrow my soul. Instead, yesterday was just another day. A morning filled with giggles and singing in the car. Kisses on my son’s face. A day with my father, laughing so hard that I can’t breathe. Trekking through a damaged house, detecting the origin and path of the fire, to determine the scope of work necessary. Satisfaction washing over me as my expertise made me feel capable. It was an ordinary day.
But don’t misunderstand, ordinary days are what I live for.
They are the days filled with quiet contentment. Smiles from friends- new and old. Laughter that permeates my core. The days I feel comfortable in my skin. In the woman I have become. Though I am covered in the battle scars of life, they are mine. I can’t say I love them. I can’t say I like them. But I respect them. I accept the person that they have assembled. The woman that I turned my back on years ago, believing she was unlovable. Some days I still worry about that- that my injuries will be perceived as disfigurement rather than elegance. But I no longer try to hide them. I don’t stuff parts of me into the shadows. There is the hope that one day someone will see my scars and not just love me despite them, but because of them.
Yesterday will be my last wedding anniversary. When I walked down the isle nine years ago, I truly believed that I would be a woman reflecting on a full life, with grey hair and age spots, when my last anniversary occurred. Love is not something I take lightly. Romantic or otherwise. So this turn of events in my life is one that blindsided me. The concept still feeling foreign some days. But on a day like yesterday- a day that I thought reflection would consume me- I realized that I am no longer looking backwards. My toes are pointed forward, into the abyss. I don’t know what lies ahead. I don’t know where my steps will take me. All I know is that I have one goal- to make new mistakes. Because I will never be perfect- I am not exempt from stumbling. But if I make new mistakes, I’m not repeating old ones.