In a country where divorce has become an inevitability, it’s no surprise that, as a society, we’re pretty damned reluctant to admit how much it screws us all up. As a divorcee, with divorced parents, I’m not throwing stones, here. My childhood, though, like that of half of North America, is split into two points: before the divorce and after the divorce.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I have no illusions that my life would have been improved by my parents staying together. Those two… it was like if Archie Bunker of All in the Family had married Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. Sure, there were times when they were good together… or more accurately good separately, but zetus lapetus, all I remember after age seven was hate and insanity. The most obnoxious thread in any divorce discussion is the erroneous claim that these marriages shouldn’t have ended. Had my parents not been allowed to part, I’d have been orphaned in a murder/suicide by age twelve. I’m not really exaggerating. Despite divorce sometimes being the best option, however, that doesn’t mean those involved aren’t damaged from it.
I literally cannot watch this movie, because she reminds me of my mother.
Before my parents divorced, I was… normal, for lack of a better word. I was ornery and a bit bossier than the other kids in my class, but I didn’t get in a lot of trouble at school or home. I never wore the cutest clothes or the most complicated hairstyles, but I was dressed in clean and matching outfits and I fit in with the other kids, well enough. Then, everything changed and I was too young to understand why. The other kids didn’t like me, because no one was making sure I was bathing or brushing my teeth. I was putting on weight, so I grew defensive and mean. I got in trouble constantly, because I acted out in class, wishing more than anything that I could be the petite teacher’s pet or the cute blonde girl who was good at sports. I was the smelly, chubby kid, who was always sitting out at recess for one reason or another. Of course, at age eight, I didn’t understand that this was the direct result of my parents’ distraction during their divorce. I thought something was wrong with me.
I get it, y’all. I don’t hold a grudge for any of this. If anyone understands the consequences of choosing the wrong person, it’s me. My parents tried… mostly… sometimes? Regardless, I still had my Gramma, food in the fridge, and plenty of material wants provided by said Gramma. I’m not typing this while weeping over Sarah McLachlan’s Angel (or I wasn’t until I got the craving to listen to that song… fucking emotions). What I didn’t have, however, what affected me most deeply, was the sense of normalcy I enjoyed for the first seven years of my life. I’m not being dramatic when I tell you that I never got that sense of belonging back, even after the dust settled.
I started showering, wearing deodorant, brushing my hair… but those formative years of being outcast and bullied, set a precedent. If I wasn’t going to fit in, it would be because I chose exclusion. I eventually made friends, many of whom were equally defensive, and gained a sense of inclusion from the refusal to conform, but it wasn’t the same as feeling truly accepted, even if my friends or those looking in saw no difference. With a still unstable home life, it’s no surprise that I clung to a true outcast, mistaking him for a kindred spirit, instead of a man who was being rejected for having no good in him. I married him at 19 and I have never felt more alone. If being chubby and unwashed and bad at sports made me feel excluded at age 10, being morbidly obese and plain and married to a sociopath at age 20 made me feel like Will Smith in I am Legend. Like, literally, I had the dog. That’s it.
Y’all, I never thought I would be here. After Gail’s and my shockingly similar divorces, I was pretty convinced that all of the “happy” people were… lying. I don’t mean that in some catty way, mocking the Facebook statuses and family newsletters, so much as I mean that I never witnessed true happiness. I assumed the people complaining about their relationships on Facebook were being tacky and the ones who weren’t just knew better than to air their dirty laundry in public. I didn’t want everyone to be miserable, but of course they were.
Then… I lost 90 pounds, graduated with my master’s degree, started my career, and life was good. Things were really working out. I was headed in the right direction. I had great friends and coworkers. I felt like I actually fit into society, for the first time in nearly 20 years. Sure, I hadn’t met a good man, but… how many of those were really out there? Why would they want me with all my mouthiness and baggage? Still, I prayed. I asked God to help me to get over myself so I’d see a good man when I found one. I asked for a man of strong character to love me and take care of me and let me love and take care of him. I prayed for someone who would bring out the best in me and for whom I could do the same. I wanted a good father for my children and even bargained, promising it would be okay if I couldn’t get a full time job, if I could just get him; because more than anything, I still yearned for the traditional family unit comprised of a husband, wife, and kids… “normal.” I knew many women who were fulfilled and happy without these, but I would never be one of them. I followed up said prayers with bad date after bad date, often crying to Gail about how it was “never going to happen,” while making self-actualized blog posts about why people wouldn’t want to date me… and along came Jake.
Just shy of one year ago, I headed out on what would undoubtedly be just another funny blog post. Instead, I met a guy who more or less looked like his picture, opened the door for me, paid for an actual date, laughed at my jokes (even the unintentionally offensive ones), and was charismatic and fun. I left to take my Gramma a birthday present and told her it wasn’t love at first sight, but I liked him, he seemed to like me, and I’d go on a second date if I ever heard from him again.
One year later, I make no exaggeration when I say that Jake is everything I never knew I needed and wanted. He’s responsible, independent, adventurous, funny, intelligent, unbearably obstinate, considerate, attentive, generous, affectionate, impossible to offend, driven, hardworking, charismatic, rational, even-tempered, and good to his core. He both tells me and shows me that he loves me. He makes me strive to be a better person, while encouraging my passions and relationships. He gives me a sense of stability I never knew I was missing. He has strong, healthy friendships with good people and so much love for his own family, that I know that being with him will never make me feel excluded, isolated, or worst of all damned. I still don’t believe in soulmates, but I do believe in answered prayers. Is it sappy to say all this? Does this completely defy all of my claims that emotions belong with the last Horcrux and feelings are for the inside? Sure. But sometimes that’s what gratitude looks like.