It’s been over five years now since my husband and I split up.
Looking back, what fascinates me most is how I could have possibly sunk so low, how my identity and sanity could have been so rattled by the unilateral move of another human being. It’s not that I don’t understand intellectually—my family is everything to me. But, how could I have forgotten the inevitability of loss and suffering in some form? How could I have deemed myself immune from having my reality shattered in one way or another?
I don’t say that to be fatalistic. In fact, divorce is hardly the gravest trauma one can experience.
I lost my father to brain cancer when I was 12 and he was only 42. I witnessed ceaseless agonizing pain, the whittling away of a once vital man into a slight skeleton with loose scaling skin—by the end, only the deep expressive eyes revealing that life still breathed in him. The decline took 3 months; it took his life and it took its toll on me. Aside from the grief of losing a loved one, I wrestled with existential questions and migraines that perpetuated an acute sense of alienation from my peers. They seemed locked in a state of shallow obliviousness. Of course, they were coping with their own respective traumas and dramas of adolescence. But as I spent my afternoons in convalescent hospitals, I adopted a cynical sense of entitlement in the most unglamorous and soul-sucking way—“This is all a racket. Life is short. Fuck this shit.” If anyone else in 7th grade was hip to this, it was unbeknownst to me. I felt like a freak beyond measure.
I plunged myself into dance and writing. An insufferable romantic with an obsessive desire for escape, I pre-occupied myself with music, ballet, journal writing, daydreaming, and idealizing cute guys. The only tolerance I had for socializing was if it entailed getting stupid, out of my mind, wasted.
I survived and segued into adulthood with a stubborn (though decent) head on my shoulders. I arrived, somehow, at what felt like a winning place. I had moved to New York, met and fell in love with my future husband and had calmed and quieted the sense of cursed melodrama that had plagued me up until my twenties.
Being the woman behind the man came naturally to me. I had found someone fiercely dedicated to art and music and production. He was a workhorse and I took a reprieve from being the fiery subversive “artist” I had fashioned myself into and relished in the comfort of the shade his towering presence provided. I did not have to fight so hard. I could breathe, be taken care of, work (but not too much). I felt more like a real woman, a normal woman, a lovable woman.
By the time we were married, had a child and had settled into a home in LA (with its literal white picket fence), I was struck by the remarkable sensation that I had found my place in this world. Not only that, I pondered the possibility that perhaps I had paid my dues in losses at a young age and now had earned the right to a pleasant life.
Of course, the digression was slow but easily trackable, as if slipping into the thickest quicksand. What do you do? How do you save it?
By the time our marriage was past the point of salvation, I saw that too, so clearly, but the denial is incredible. I just could not accept this loss, this destabilization—not just for me, but for my children whom I had committed myself heart and soul to protecting from the upheaval and chaos I had experienced as a child of divorce. This was not intellectual. It was primal.
These past few years have been trying. Today, it is glorious to live in acceptance. That is the hallmark of all my hard work.
The nagging beast now, aside from how the fuck am I going to have money to provide everything I want to for my children and survive in my old age, is the glaring reality that I am back in my skin. My true skin. Not the grieving 12 year old. Not the grieving 38 year old. Not the woman behind the man. But, the creativity junkie that I was before the neurosis of trying to put all of my pieces back together had kicked in. More like when I was 7 and would just rip giant pieces of paper from a sketch pad and write outlines for novels and poetry and put on dramatic performances for my family.
The reality has been, that with my ex traveling for most of the past few years, I have sought to, and taken pride and pleasure in, caring for my children. I can’t be a crazy artist consumed with my work and parent efficiently. But, my kids are now 11 and 14 and I feel a quiet clear calling to dedicate myself to my own emergence as a writer and sovereign human. Amazingly, as I am apt to accuse men of misogyny, I have come to recognize that I harbor my own. Is my own self-actualization really important? Is it really my birthright as a woman? Do I even want to care that much?
I recently finished The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. How do I know my time has come? Because I cried whenever he spoke of answering one’s calling, of fulfilling one’s personal destiny and most of all, I spotted all the ways with which I rationalize why I may not need to forge ahead and why what I have to say may not matter. He referred to the blade of grass that grows by some force of will to do so. I think of that blade of grass and my next moves become so much clearer. Stop questioning the impulses. Trust that I’ve done my time and toiled and analyzed enough and get to work. This is my start.