I met Jeff just one day out of college and proceeded to circle my entire adult life around him. Our relationship was unsalvageable and I knew I needed to get out of the marriage to save my own life. However, in order to save my own life, metaphorically speaking, I would have to sacrifice a limb. I would need to give up my right arm. I could not imagine a life without that arm. I would be so different, so impaired, so needy. Nothing would ever be the same again. I would have to compensate with just the one arm. I would have to learn to do things differently. I wouldn’t be the same mother. I would look different. People would treat me different. I might feel ashamed, less than whole. I might struggle for awhile unable to keep up with the busy life we created. These two arms helped me balance the load. They carried the babies, the groceries, the towels, the bags, the diapers, the presents, the toys, the laundry. Could I manage my three children and all of our stuff with only one arm?
But my only other choice was to die.
I was not physically dying. But my spirit was dying. I could feel it fading fast. I was past the stage of unhappy and I was becoming apathetic. For a long time I was angry at the injustices in my marriage. Raging energy was burned through my veins. Then one day I realized, I no longer felt anything.
No sense of hope for the future. No glory in achievements. No joy in raising my three sons. I was not the person I wanted to be. I was not the mother I needed to be. The woman I wanted to be, for my children, was brave and honest, warm and funny. I didn’t feel warm and funny living with Jeff. I felt tight, guarded and defensive all the time.
I was scared of my own apathy, until a small voice in my head whispered, “This is your one life.” “My one life,” I echoed back and repeated as my head hit the pillow that night and again in the shower the next morning, and later while driving home from work. This mantra began to settle into my bones. I thought about this truth, “this really is my only life and I won’t get a do-over.” The words settled into my bones and I knew I was not being my best self anymore; I was incapable of being that self in this marriage and I alone, had to act.
I made the steadfast decision that the only way for me to continue living, was to cut off my right arm and get a divorce. There was much uncertainty in what my future would look like, but ultimately, I would live, would gain my strength back, I would find my way and regain my balance. I embraced my resolve and did not waiver from that day forward. I knew I could manage with one arm, however challenging it would be. I could survive and thrive without my husband. I wanted to live!
My spouse knew that our relationship was in serious disrepair and had been for awhile, but when I said with all finality that I wanted to divorce him, he went into a fury that lasted several weeks. He hated me and fought with me. His concern was over our three young boys. We both loved them very much and we rightly predicted this would be heart-breaking for them. I had thought through different scenarios but still had so many unanswered questions. There would be no guaranteed outcomes. I could not say, one hundred percent, that we would stay in our house or that the boys would stay in the same schools. I had a long list of things I did not know.
What I did know was that I needed to take control of this life that was slipping away from me and divorce was now the only option. Once I made the actual decision, I began to feel empowered. I summoned strength from my bones. I willed my body to support me. I pushed through some hard discussions with Jeff and when he said, “I can’t believe you would do this to the kids,” I without hesitation said, “I am not doing this to the kids, I am doing this for the kids.” And I believed my words, heart and soul as I said them. Despite the challenges that would inevitably come, I was ready to be a strong, graceful and protective mother for my children.
My children needed a mother who would love herself enough to leave a bad situation. I could see that my young boys had strength to carry out their own convictions. Hadn’t they gotten that from me? I needed to be true to myself in order to be true to them. I did not want them to move through adolescence in a home watching their parents belittle each other with biting words over dinner, alternating with evenings of silence. I did not want them to witness me dragging my heavy heart behind me as I begrudgingly engaged in chores or activities. During this time I loved these boys more than I loved myself. I knew I needed to lift myself up for them.
Separating proved to be as difficult as I expected. It was a good thing that I had really prepared my heart and my thoughts for this challenge. A symbolic last ditch effort at counseling further clarified that divorce was the right decision. During the session, my husband flat out stated that he would not change and was unwilling to try. In hindsight I am grateful for his honesty.
During the summer months, I slept on the couch, but at the end of August, I ordered a bed and had it set up in the playroom. I pleaded with my husband to move out. We battled back and forth and he sent me horrible, hateful emails. My gut hurt on the inside. I begged Jeff to be reasonable when we spoke to the kids about our decision to split up. I wanted to deliver the news in a respectful, careful, loving way. He wanted me to do it without him or he threatened to tell the kids it was all my fault- that, “Mommy wants the divorce.” I was worrying quite a bit about this moment.
Jeff came around to my side and eventually, we sat the three guys down and said, “We have something we need to talk to you about. Well, Daddy and I love you all very much. But Daddy and I are not able to live together anymore. We need to separate from each other. It is not anything you did. It is just about us.”
“It’s a divorce?” asked my oldest son who was about to begin eighth grade.
“Well. It’s a separation.”
“I always knew you would get a divorce,” he yelled through tears. One of the twins came over to me and I hugged him. His twin brother, headed right to his father and Jeff embraced him. Devon turned his face into the pillow and cried.
I found my voice and said the words I had rehearsed, “We are always going to be here for you guys. We are always going to love you.”
School started up and the autumn months dragged; Jeff had no plan to leave the house. It was unbearable. I was seeing a gifted core-energy therapist and at her office I would allow myself to feel the overwhelming sense of loss and would unleash a river of tears. After the session, I would get into the car, wipe off my smudged mascara, inhale big breaths and tell myself to be strong, then drive away with thoughts immediately shifting to what I had in the kitchen that could be scrounged up for dinner for the kids. We kept the routines running, except that often Jeff would come home very late, or not come home at all. It was a strain on both of us. His sustained anger was wearing me out. My sleep was suffering; it was hard to go to work.
Abruptly, a couple days before Christmas, Jeff announced he had secured a studio apartment in the city. On New Year’s Eve, three suitcases, a guitar and an amplifier appeared in the foyer. And then they were gone and so was Jeff. That marked the official end of the end.
A few weeks later on a bitter cold Friday night, my three guys and I stepped out the doors of Grand Central Station and headed south down Lex, toward their father’s new apartment. Devon sailed a few feet ahead of us on his skateboard with his backpack slung over his shoulders, and the twins skipped along, excited to spend the weekend with Jeff. I held Scott’s pillow under my arm and as we approached the curb, Nolan grabbed my hand. As Scott started to step off the edge; I lunged forward to reach around his shoulders with my free arm. Catching him, I traipsed with one twin on each arm and my skater boy leading the way across the bustling street. My children were resilient and I realized that I was still intact, after all. The metaphor of losing a limb may just be too strong, perhaps a more appropriate comparison would be a “bad break” that if properly set can heal.