There are a few things I learned from being married, and many, many things I never learned, though I tried so hard to find out that I damn near drove myself insane. It's been well over a year since the separation and six months and change since the final dissolution hearing. I'm on my second post-husband boyfriend. And yet I keep having this feeling, getting startled by it, like suddenly wondering "did I leave the oven on?" except the question is "should I have tried harder?"
And of course it's not a question. Whether the oven is on or off, until I've checked on it, I am thoroughly convinced that not only did I leave it on, but it's smoking and setting off the detector and alarming the neighbors and I'll be lucky if I get home before it burns the whole fucking building down. Unfortunately, there's no way to go back to the home I shared with my husband and check on all of our emotional appliances to make sure that there wasn't one that would turn me into a person who made intuitive sense to him. So no matter how I reason with myself, my brain is already completely soaked in the sour adrenaline marinade of guilty panic. I have this mental process always running, some days louder than others, that's basically this amalgam standing over me, and this person is a combination of both my parents, and me, and my ex-husband, and his mother and sister, and some of his friends, and some of my friends, and our cats, and our realtor, and probably some other random people like maybe my high school English teacher or the clerk in the county probate court. And this huge terrifying beast made out of everyone whose opinion of me scares me looms over me and demands, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?! YOU DON'T KNOW! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'VE DONE! LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE!"
It's been almost a year since the period of time when I was regularly coming home at night to an empty apartment (the one where no pets are allowed, that I rent from someone I don't know, that isn't the home I had planned to share with someone forever) and falling to my knees and crying for a good ten or fifteen minutes before even bothering to turn on a light. But it a way I feel more anxious now, because that first year is that first year, you know? You get a year. Mourning takes a year. The first Thanksgiving in someone else's kitchen. The first Christmas spent visiting a friend's family's celebration before going home to watch the gray daylight fade into a Counting Crows album you're slightly embarrassed to still own. The first new year's kiss with someone new, the back of your mind wondering when this is going to turn to shit like everything else you thought was anchoring you to your life. Going through the boxes that keep arriving at the new apartment. Finding one full of clothes that you thought you'd given to Goodwill and the next one contains the emotionally radioactive wedding artifacts that you wonder if you will ever be able to bring yourself to throw away. You will contemplate building a little shrine and then burying it, but you can't dig in the yard because you rent your apartment from someone you don't know and you share that yard with people whose faces you couldn't pick out of a police lineup.
The first time you ride your bike through the park where your wedding happened.
The second time you ride your bike through the park where your wedding happened.
Running into the people you haven't seen since the wedding.
Crying on your new boyfriend until you get snot on his shirt when you watch the "family's family" scene in the season four finale of Six Feet Under (~25 minutes in), and pretending to be comforted when he pretends to understand.
But now, my year is up. I'm supposed to be All Better. But the year just starts over again, and now in addition to memories of being married I've got memories of the year after I was married and those have a flavor all their own, with sharp, bitter notes of homesickness. The dumb, naive astonishment of looking at one's first little sandcastle sinking shapelessly into the ground after a strong wave, it hasn't worn off. I still feel bereft.
Not because I miss him, or our house, or our cats, though I do miss those things terribly. That's homesickness. That's days go by, endlessly pulling you into the future. So ist das Leben. But I'm talking about a loss of innocence, a betrayal of trust in the universe. A painful and difficult humbling. To have staked a claim to permanence, to have said, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" and then to see the lone and level sands stretch far away.
And to, at that moment, want nothing more than to finally find the person you mistook him for. To "love again" or for the first time or whatever. But now your confidence is shattered. You tried so hard and look what good it did. You did this to yourself, and to him, who didn't do anything to deserve to suffer. In zero-sum terms, if he doesn't deserve to suffer then you must be the one who does. Not deserve to exactly, but maybe something in you is broken, maybe the part of your circulatory system that's supposed to put love into your body has some kind of molecular defect and maybe the structure of infinite self-pity is only a keto group and a couple of methylations away from that of egoless love, and until they come up with a way to change the DNA inside every one of your cells you are going to keep just turning love into a toxin, whether you like it or not, your body churning out poison while you sleep.
So you fall in love, or think you do, and then you do it again, maybe a few times, whatever. And you now, conveniently, have this phantom poison to blame it on when everything again turns to shit.
Except fuck that. Nobody is perfect. You know what that means? That means that thinking that everybody but me is perfect is stupid. I didn't get divorced because my body makes some kind of spiritual poison, I got divorced because my husband, nice guy though he is, ignored the shit out of me for long stretches of time and was totally unable to understand why on Earth this might bother me. And my boyfriend after the separation broke up with me because he's a tangled mass of insecurity and probably an alcoholic to boot, and he can't sustain a relationship longer than a year to save his life. Whose fault are those things? It doesn't fucking matter, but they're definitely not mine. I'm a fan of blaming the dudes' parents for fucking them up, but blaming it on God or society or antidepressants or vitamin deficiencies or evil spirits all work fine too.
The only poison is in your mind, and you only produce that while you're awake, and it's not a passive process. How do you stop it? You tell your stupid, hovering, meddling superego to STFU. I like to call mine "mom" because it sounds suspiciously like my mother a lot of the time. Say it with me: SHUT UP MOM.
The takeaway from this, the destination of this thought-track, is this: I have this totem, this entity called "divorce," in my backback of experiences, and it's heavy. It's dense. It's made of pain and expectations and plans and loose threads and guilt and fear and oh God oh God please. And that's fine. Carrying it doesn't mean that you have to let it talk all the time, or ever, and definitely not when someone else is telling you things that are much more important and useful and relevant to the current experience. Some days you might not even notice it. Maybe one day it will fall out on the bus and you won't be listening to it so you won't notice, and when you get home and realize you've lost it, it will be gone forever. And you'll shrug and you'll go make some toast and listen to a record that doesn't remind you of anything in particular and that will be that.