Why Divorce Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me
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The leaves fell around me, shades of auburn confetti as I breathed in the crisp, hopeful scent of Autumn. I shoved my chilly hands deeper into my pockets as I strolled by the stream of my favorite park. Despite the sharp coolness of the evening’s air, I was warm — too warm. Dressed in layers, I was prepared for cooler weather than what I’d encountered. I stopped to remove and drape my jacket over my arm and sat on the bench nearest the small waterfall trickling its white noise to quiet my thoughts.
As I’d come to realize, being alone and being lonely were two very different feelings. Being in the same room as someone I loved so very deeply and realizing they were disinterested in me as a person, a wife, a partner, and even a friend made unimaginable feelings of loneliness root deeply.
This was my first excursion alone since my husband and I separated. My infant daughter was with her paternal grandmother, and so I felt utterly, completely, alone. After spending the past six years mothering my husband and then the last year mothering my daughter, I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life. My intrinsic value was deeply rooted in what I did for my family. But now, I had no family to speak of. Sure, I had parents and siblings, but my family, my nuclear family, was destroyed. I’d learned standing up for myself against an oppressive relationship was something not appreciated, thus ending my short marriage.
A dog’s deep distant bark jolted me back to the present. It was getting darker as the sun set and I remembered my own dog, Bear, was waiting for dinner. I’d gone straight from work to the park just to get away from my home, the physical reminders of a marriage failed. I knew Bear was waiting eagerly for me, and as usual, I needed him close. Over the years, my dog became my best friend when distance grew between my husband and I. I can’t even begin to fathom each time I held Bear as I cried about yet another marital spat.
I kept the radio off and the windows down as I drove through my small Kentucky town back to our house — rather, my house. It had only been a few weeks since my life changed so dramatically and I was still adjusting to the idea of being single. But mostly, I was adapting to being alone. I’d been lonely my entire marriage; this was what spurred so many of the aforementioned marital spats. As I’d come to realize, being alone and being lonely were two very different feelings. Being in the same room as someone I loved so very deeply and realizing they were disinterested in me as a person, a wife, a partner, and even a friend made unimaginable feelings of loneliness root deeply.
I knew the route home by memory, without thinking. I pulled into the drive and sighed deeply. While I was grateful to have a home, I wished the home hadn’t been one I’d shared with my husband and daughter as a family. I wanted a fresh start, somewhere new, but that wasn’t in the cards for me right away. Like many divorcées, separation meant tight finances. What already felt stretched thin now needed to perform magic tricks to make ends meet. Eventually, I’d move, I told myself. Eventually.
But, what changed everything for me wasn’t separation or being single — it was choosing me.
Bear was waiting, wagging his entire body in anticipation of me being with him again and me bringing his dinner. I think he was most excited about dinner. I dished out his food and sat on the floor beside him as he emphatically wolfed down his meal. “Boy, what are we going to do? How do we do this?” I asked him. Bear continued to eat, lapped up some water as he finished his kibble, and lay down beside me with his head in my lap. It was as if he tried to tell me he’d be there, no matter what, so we’d figure it out together. I leaned back with my head against the kitchen wall, my dog’s rhythmic breathing lulling me to sleep.
I awoke the next morning with a stiff neck and a growling stomach. Tired from work, grooming dogs, I’d drifted off without my own dinner, and hadn’t even made it upstairs to bed. Still in my work boots, I yawned and stretched while bringing my body into an upright position. I grabbed a granola bar and ate it as I lazily sauntered upstairs.
After a quick shower, I found my favorite sweats and a t-shirt, undoubtedly a shirt that belonged to my husband, and sat down to think about my life. I had always known that marriage had to mean more than what I’d been experiencing, but I never contemplated leaving because, as a creature of habit, a new experience was not at all appealing. Staying in a loveless relationship wasn’t exactly desirable, either. When my husband and I separated, I realized how much of a shell I’d become.
Quiet, meek, subservient — these are adjectives no one who knows me today would use as accurate descriptors of my personality. However, that’s exactly who I was back then. Back when I was married. Back when asking for quality time caused a fight. I learned to choke down my needs because they wouldn’t get met, anyway. Talking about them would only anger my husband. It was pointless, and I accepted the reality that my happiness wasn’t important…to either of us.
I don’t remember the exact moment it happened, but as I lay in bed, wearing my husband’s t-shirt while my arms were being gently nuzzled by the dog we had chosen together, something felt different. I felt different. All at once, the potential of choice hit me and further altered my uncharted course.
I think there comes a point in every person’s life when something profound happens and changes their life. Some would say my divorce was that event. But, what changed everything for me wasn’t separation or being single — it was choosing me. I had spent my life choosing others and ignoring myself. Those I chose also ignored me. My basic needs were unmet on a regular basis. For the first time in my adult life, without a ring on my finger, no man in my bed, and a closet that belonged to me aside from this one, lone t-shirt, I could do whatever I wanted. I could be whoever I wanted. Reinventing myself as the person I always wanted to be was a possibility. I was no longer weighed down by the demands of mothering a husband and a daughter; the daughter was all. I was her mother and that role was one I took very seriously. But, that was all. I didn’t have to be what anyone else told me.
Alone took on a different meaning. It was no longer this state of emptiness. It was abundant peace of quiet existence. I was alone with my daughter and my dog, never lonely. I began to crave the silent stillness of lying in bed with Bear by my side as I finished reading yet another book. We settled into a routine: I’d pick up my daughter after work, make dinner for her and I, and serve Bear’s dinner. While my baby had a bath, my dog would find the most comfortable spot on my bed. He’d wander into the nursery as I dressed my daughter and lay beside me while I read her bedtime stories. As her eyes grew heavy and she began to drift off to sleep, he’d make his way back to his previously chosen spot and wait for me to join him. His head on my thigh, I’d settle under the blanket and read. An hour would go by and I’d feel He’d softly snore beside me, sending me into sweet slumber.
A few weeks later, I decided it was time. We moved into a new place. A fresh start in a different city sounded perfect. Moving with a toddler and a dog who hates the car is not for the faint of heart, but we made it. After I settled my daughter into bed on the first night in her new room at our new apartment, Bear went to bed and waited for me. I walked through our dimly lit home — my home, my daughter’s home, Bear’s home. I felt my breath catch in my chest when it hit me: Everything was different. I was different. We were starting over, together, and we were still a family. A husband does not a family make. I chuckled and switched off the lights. I fell into bed and instead of laying his head on my thigh, Bear rolled onto his back, thumping his tail against the bed. He seemed to smile as he looked at me with his goofy, upside-down face. I was definitely different, and he knew it.
I’d found myself.
A version of this story originally appeared on medium.com.
Photo submitted by contributor.