It’s early on a rainy Sunday morning in Sonoma County. I’m sitting at my kitchen table, slightly hungover, and well into my second cup of coffee. I’m also well into my second year of being divorced from Shane and Max’s dad. Which explains the hangover. The kids travel between our respective homes on alternate weeks; the switch happens on Sunday nights. They come to my house tonight. Initially, we tried a 2-2-5-5 schedule, where they were at one house two nights, went to the other house two nights, then switched weekends.
Then Max said, “I don’t want to keep carrying my Algebra book back and forth during the week. This has to stop.” I asked Shane, “What do you want to do?” Shane said, “It doesn’t matter to me.” As it usually happens with things involving the kids, we did what Max wanted. We changed it to alternate weeks. Sunday nights after they leave are still so hard. The house is like a gaping hole where a tooth used to be. Yes, I know, a horrible metaphor. But you know how you meet someone who is missing a tooth and you can’t stop staring at the empty space? That’s how it is. All you can see is empty space when your babies leave.
I probably should have known my marriage was weakening and falling in on itself years before we divorced. There’s an entire industry built around falling-in-on-itself marriages that is designed to make you feel like your impossibility of a marriage is possible. Marriage counselors. I am sure that out there somewhere there are marriages that are saved by marriage counselors. I read dozens of books by marriage counselors. We attended, over the course of our marriage, hundreds of therapy sessions with different marriage counselors. But the fact is, I held on because I just didn’t want to be a divorced mom. Even after it was blatantly obvious that the marriage was not happening any more, I kept trying. Okay, well no, not really. Here’s the thing. If you are going to marriage counseling and you use the shit you learn in marriage counseling to torture each other – then you shouldn’t be married any more.
I was out in my backyard once and I found a dead rat lying under the apple tree. I didn’t want to dispose of it and I didn’t want to leave it lying there for the dogs to get at it. I picked up a stick and I kept poking it, in case it wasn’t really dead, and it might get up and run away. But it was, really, dead. And I had to get rid of it. That was my marriage. I kept poking the dead rat with a stick.
After the divorce was final, I took the kids, during their first spring break, to Santa Cruz for a short vacation. They were walking ahead of me down a path towards the beach, earbuds in, listening to music stored on their cellphones. I had a horrible mom moment, I thought that I had forced my kids into a situation where they were never able to just be at home, in one place, ever again. They would always have to travel back and forth between two homes. I sucked.
When we got to the beach, I turned to them and I said, “Boys, I just want to tell you that I’m really sorry about the divorce.” Max said to me, “We’re not sorry, Mom.” Shane said, “No, we’re not, Mom. This is better for you. And us.” And that was that. I had done the right thing. I didn’t need to keep poking it with a stick.
In a few hours, I’ll send out my usual Sunday afternoon text to my kids. They each get the same one. “What do you want from the grocery store?” The responses vary. Shane a few weeks back: “granola cereal granola pineapple almond milk.” I texted back: “Aren’t granola cereal and granola the same thing?” Shane: “No.” Me: “It’s just granola semantics.” Shane: “No not really.” Me: “It is. But I’ll get your granola and your granola.” Shane: “Thank you.” Max’s list is usually the same: “bananas Twix bars Kit Kat bars chicken strips.”
It’s a few days after Thanksgiving; I didn’t have my sons this year as we alternate holidays. I was not thinking about the holiday, I was working and not focused and then I had no plans. So I spent the day alone. I didn’t know what else to do, so I made an entire Thanksgiving dinner. A turkey breast instead of an entire turkey, but still – two pounds of turkey. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, gravy. Shit. I have a ton of leftovers. Tonight’s dinner will be leftover turkey jambalaya. The Wasband texted me: “I’m sending over turkey soup for you and the boys this week.” I text back: “Thank you.” He responds: “Don’t thank me yet. You haven’t tasted it.” Me: “Why? Did you poison it?” Wasband: “Maybe. Have one of the kids taste it first.” Me: “I’ll have the little dog taste it first. The one that shits in the house.”
The little dog is the one that the Wasband got for Max, one day a couple of years ago, back in the days when we were still giving our marriage CPR. We already had two dogs. I now have all three fucking dogs and they are written into the Marital Settlement Agreement. One of my family law attorney friends told me, “Usually dogs aren’t put in an MSA. One party or the other gets the dogs and takes care of them.” I said, “Fuck that. I have to take all three dogs and the house. He has to pay for half of their vet bills.” Of course, I don’t ask for half of the money anymore. Here’s why. Those fucking dogs have ended up being my constant companions. They lay on the bathroom floor with me while I cried every night for the first horrible six months. They allowed me to bury my face in their fur or to hug them too tightly when I was certain I would never have anyone else to hold, ever again. I owe those damn dogs my life. Even the little one who shits in the house. I’d drink poison soup for him. Fucker.
So in the post-Thanksgiving apocalypse of 2016, I realize that I have a lot of baggage but I’m pretty sure so does everyone else. I thought for a while I was getting tougher but I’ve just gotten better at saying what I fucking think and what I fucking want. And I swear a lot more these days but really, sometimes just saying “darn it” doesn’t get the point across. I don’t have as much time to love and work as I did when I said “I do” in 1997 but I am sure as hell going to make the most of the time I have left. I’m going to say “I do” to being alive, not to being part of someone else’s destiny or career and not to being the other half to someone else’s whole. Because I’m not a fucking half.
Love is not a noun. Love is not the person you are looking for to make you happy or a house that you can buy or a favorite food or a nice car. Love is work. Love is expressing and being passionate and making mistakes and saying sorry and being courageous and stepping into the flow and owning every fucking minute of your life. In my small, damaged-but-healing world, love is a verb.