Flashback

It is Christmas of 2004.

It has been several months since my husband of seventeen years and I decided to divorce. A few weeks prior, we sat in the living room of the house he still lived in with the box of Christmas decorations open, separating them into smaller “Mine” and “Yours” selections. Each ornament I lift to ask “Do you want this one?” is like a small poke with something sharp. I want all of them. I want all the ornaments Child A made in day-care. I want all the ornaments we picked out when we lived in England. They all have meaning to me and I want to keep every last one of them.

But I don’t. I dutifully say good-bye to the ones he wants and set them in his box. I take my own box of half a Christmas back to my apartment where I have a small, artificial tree that is manageable in the tiny space.

On Christmas Eve I take Child A to my mom’s for our traditional holiday party. In an effort to dispel some of the grief I am feeling this season, she has gone overboard in decorations, treats and gifts. I notice. And appreciate.

Child A awakens Christmas morning. I’ve already told him that we’re waiting until Daddy arrives to open the present from Santa, but I make him a special breakfast. Because that’s what you do, and I am holding onto “things I’m supposed to do” like they are life preservers in an angry ocean.

I feel each second that passes, bringing 8:30 resolutely closer.  At 8:30, my almost-ex-husband will arrive, we will let our son open his gift from Santa, and they will leave. I will be without my son on Christmas Day, and that night – for the first time in my entire life – I will be alone on Christmas night. I am more afraid of that than I have been of almost anything, ever.

The knock comes. I remind myself to breathe. Child A runs to the door, lets his father into the apartment, then lifts the gift over his head. We tell him he can open it.  I offer breakfast. It is politely declined.

In the time it takes me to blink, the gift is open and the child is dressed and leaving with his dad for the next celebration that awaits him. He is thinking of seeing his grandparents and the next batch of gifts. I don’t blame him. I was like that at 8, too.

I go back to my mother’s house for brunch and stockings. A normal year, we would be done in the early afternoon, tired from the previous night’s party and wanting some quiet time with our own families. My brother and his not-quite-wife leave. I stay. We play games. We eat leftovers. We watch bad Christmas movies.

The time comes when I truly must go home.

I step into my apartment and immediately plug in the lights because there is nothing more depressing that a darkened Christmas tree.  I sit down on my couch.

The compulsion to turn on the stereo or the TV is powerful. I don’t. Listen, I order myself. Listen to the quiet and stop being afraid of it.

I tuck my arms against my soft middle and lean forward until my forehead rests on my knees. Tears drop soundlessly onto my legs. There is no one here. Only me. It is Christmas night and I am not in bed with my family near, easing into exhausted, calorie-heavy sleep. My son is sleeping at what I’m sure he still considers his “real home.” Safe. Happy. I remind myself that that matters more than anything else.

There is a perpetual tightness around my chest, that while precluding me from taking a deep breath nevertheless keeps my spine straight, and my carriage erect and proud. But sometimes…sometimes like on this night…I wish the stays would snap, or the lacing would unravel, so that I could fill my lungs with air and howl. So that I could collapse in a puddle on the floor and sob, letting myself shatter and abandoning the quiet weeping I allow myself in private moments in favor of keening and dysfunction.

But the grip around me never lets go.  It is there, always, holding me upright and denying me an emotional cataclysm. You walked yourself to this place, it says. You will keep walking until you are out of it.

I blink into the darkened shadow of my lap and let the last few tears fall away. I breathe as deeply as my restricted chest will allow, unplug the lights, and make my way to bed.

A few weeks later, I go on my first date with a man who is articulate, intelligent, funny, and whose eyes look at me with such an intensity of interest that I feel I must be something rare. Special.

Once in a while the universe is kind enough to create light directly on the heels of a nightmare of dark.

It is so much easier to breathe in the light.

99 comments

  1. As I get my dear redheaded kitten ready for time spent with her father on x-mas, I’ll be thinking about you, lady. About the long, dark nights, and the “holidays” that are so festive, when surrounded by loved ones, and so stiflingly dark when spent alone.

    If you can make it through, head held high, pride and decorum intact, then I have a goal. One foot. Front of other. Repeat.

    1. Hmmm….I am feeling a bit out of the loop here.

      Send an email please and update me?

      I don’t like not knowing what is going on with you, dear one.

  2. I have been the child in this situation and can only now picture my momma sitting like you did. She never let on the kind of sadness she felt. Love to you and to your kiddo.

  3. So heartbreakingly real, those feelings that happen in the dark when we come to that alone place.

    You are very strong to have walked through that darkness, head held high…..it is a precious thing that the light came so soon.

  4. Oh this was a very touching post for me. I must admit that I am so fortunate to have had my kiddos every Christmas with my family in California because my ex knew that they would have more fun there than staying here and celebrating just one day. I am grateful for his generosity.

    Finding new love is the balm that heals so many pains. Your description of that left me breathless.

    Love you!

    1. That is very, very kind and very generous.

      And probably wouldn’t have happened if your relationship together wasn’t so positive.

      Anger breeds the need for control, and that destroys the ability to be generous.

      So happy that that goes smoothly for you.

  5. oh Lori. this was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. My chest tightened when yours did. my eyes welled when yours did. this was artistic and so painful. eloquent and sad. I am so glad you now have Himself. So very glad that you have so much family around that you are falling over yourself with commitments. No more lonely.

  6. Hi Lori,

    This made me cry. Not cool when I’m at work which is why I shouldn’t be reading blogs at work (mentally slapping hand). I remember that time in my life all too well. I’m glad you came out on the other side. Extra Martha points for that.

    1. Oh..no crying at work! That leads to raccoon-face!

      And I hope that you came out of that time quickly too.

      It is such a hard, hard geography to be lost in.

  7. It is hard for me to look and actually see that others are in complete heartbreak this time of year. It makes me so much more thankful for my blessings and sensitive to what others might be going through with this post. Thanks for opening my eyes. I am so glad you found light!

    1. I am glad, too, lovely lady.

      And yes, in a time when there’s so much laughter and fun (squashed in between the shopping and the decorating) there is sometimes grief, or sadness, and it is helpful, I think, to remember that. It was a friend’s post about a loss at Christmas that made me think of this.

      And sending love the direction of people who are having a hard time finding celebration is such a kind thing to do.

      Thank you for you wonderful words.

  8. Wow! First, I’m so sorry you had that experience at all, I think I was holding breath throughout the whole post. Second, I’m so glad you got through it, what a strong, brave woman you are! An inspiration really for anyone going through something similar especially around the holidays, reminding them to keep going. You never know what life will bring you – a reminder to count your blessings each day and keep the faith that life will work out. Thank you for sharing and inspiring. And, I agree, bonus Martha Points here.

    1. Thank you, sweet lady.

      It is, I hope, a reminder that light happens eventually, and that we are strong, powerful things that can keep marching until the light shows up.

      I was lucky this time, and light came much sooner than I thought it would.

      And I was – am – so grateful.

  9. You made me cry darn it. I’m struggling with this Christmas too, and hug myself and cry when I’m alone, because I was brought up not to cry in front of people. Especially not my family. But, of course, my Christmas is going to be okay, because I am going to keep putting one foot in front of the other, thanks in part to your willingness to share such a sad and private time. Hug your Mom especially hard and tell her some of it is from me next time you see her. You are phenominal.

    1. I am sorry Christmas is a struggle for you this year, dear one. And please keep footing your feet down – strong and powerful – one at a time until the struggling is only a memory.

      I will hug my mom extra hard this year. She deserves many hugs for how much of a support she was at that time.

      Keep walking, lovely lady.

  10. Argh. This made me sad! …well, until the end. Yay for Himself! :)

    How hard it must have been to go through that and still keep the appearance of good spirits for your son. Sometimes being a parent is really difficult.

    …Ok…most of the time being a parent is really difficult.

  11. My lovely friend…
    You touched a place deep inside of me, a place that remembers sadness and loneliness, a place that couldn’t fathom a love that felt like a warm blanket.
    That time in my life makes this part so much sweeter.

    This post is just lovely, Lori. I love you when you’re funny, but I do so love when you are vulnerable and open like this. Thank you for sharing that moment, for showing us the contrast between then and now.

    Your words here show that you don’t mind that real tree so much. :)

    Much love to you…

    1. I’m glad that it worked well. You know how I get with posts like this.

      I’m so afraid people will be disappointed to be denied their laughter.

      And no, I don’t mind that real tree so much at all.

      Love to you too, wonderful lady.

  12. For me?

    As a child with parents who were rarely grown-up in their dealings with one another. As a child of divorce who watched both of her parents behave like small raging toddlers. As a child who saw too much and was protected from nothing . . .

    The image of you politely splitting the Christmas ornaments as your heart breaks is almost more than I can bear.

    You with your box of half a Christmas.

    You have made me cry.

  13. I felt like I was sitting right in the room watching you. Beautiful…painful, but beautiful. I’m so glad you walked out of it.

    “You walked yourself to this place, it says. You will keep walking until you are out of it.” That hit me hard. I love this and will use it in the future when times get hard.

  14. Oh this brings back so many memories that I try to block out. It’s so much easier to joke about my ex that actually remember what a painful time that was in my life. I’m so glad that now the only part of Christmas that causes you a little grief is your ambitious neighbor’s outdoor decor.

    1. I’m like that too, and of course my ex-husband and I have a wonderful relationship (now, there were a few tough times right around then). So mostly I joke.

      But there are those dark places too, and sometimes it helps to remind myself that I was strong enough to live through them.

      And yes, damnit, the biggest thorn in my side this year is those damned light-up snowmen.

  15. Rare and special indeed, my beloved. You were my lifeboat when I was adrift, then became the sea itself. I will never sail more lovely waters.

  16. I loved the whole thing.. your beautiful words brought tears to my eyes. I can almost see you sitting in the room, alone with the lit tree and in tears.
    And like Natalie, I also love the line, ” You walked yourself to this place, it says. You will keep walking until you are out of it.”
    It’s hard to allow ourselves the time to grieve, but it’s an important part of healing. That’s when we see the light of the beautiful silver lining.

    1. It is hard to allow ourselves that time. But I think letting myself have it made me ready to see the light when it came.

      What if I hadn’t wanted to go on that date?

      What a horrible reality to contemplate.

  17. Oh wow. I cannot even imagine. You managed to describe what was sure to have been a painful and heartbreaking time in your life with such beauty and eloquence. I’m glad you are past that time and found someone to share the happiness with!

  18. My parents divorced when I was ten. The night they told me and my sister is etched in my memory as if nothing came before it. I don’t know if you wrote this then or you wrote it now, but you have conveyed yourself beautifully. A box of half a Christmas is not something I will soon forget either. But the thing that brought me here was your tweet about “Himself”. Now, HE seems truly unforgettable.

    1. I wrote this just the other day, after reading Nichole’s post about her loss at Christmas time, and it made me remember the intensity of the contrast between the joy of the season and personal grief. And while 99% of what I write here is funny, every once in a while something feels so powerful to me that I can’t NOT share it. And I hope it speaks powerfully so that people don’t mind not getting their laugh for the day.

      And yes, Himself is beautifully unforgettable. And I am lucky to have him.

  19. You made me cry at the thought of that darkened apartment and those little twinkling lights catching their reflections in your tears … and then I read further down and Himself … his comment made me smile again knowing that you have received a special gift of your very own!
    Wishing you peace and love this Christmas!

  20. This post got me a little worked up! My parents divorced at a very early age so I never understood what it must have been like for my mom when I spent time with the father. I’m really sorry you had to go through that, but it sounds like an amazing man came out of it so yay for that! :)

    1. I said this to an earlier commenter who said something similar – it is a wonderful testament to your mom that you did not see what it was like for her. There are emotions it is unfair to ask children to share in (even if just by watching). She sounds like a lovely lady.

      And yes, an amazing man was there for me at the end of the tunnel. I am very grateful to have found him.

  21. Oh, Lori.
    Just the simple visual of your box of half a Christmas brings the heartbreak in that moment into sharp relief. It’s the little details that prick the spirit. The custody of ornaments as mementos of a shared history. The silence of a night you normally experienced with a houseful of loved ones. Your strength, and the ability to be resilient is beautiful. Thank you.

    1. I am glad you could see it so clearly.

      We put words down and we can see the pictures in our minds so clearly that is hard to know sometimes if the words we pick to illuminate the images to others communicate well.

      Although many people cried…perhaps I communicated too hard?

      And thank you for your sweet words, beautiful one. I appreciate them.

  22. I don’t know if any comment I can write could do this post justice. You articulated the rawness in your pain in such a way that made me cry for you. I wanted to reach into the computer and back to 2004 and give you a hug….and then I realized that maybe some of my tears are a bit more personal than just the empathy I feel for you. I am a product of divorce x2. The first I was too young to understand. The second was a prayer that was answered. I hated my stepmother more than I can ever describe and when she left? She took all of the Christmas ornaments. ALL.of.them. The one my sister made in kindergarten that kind of looked like a rock on a hook and maybe one or two others were the only ones we were able to get back. All of the others were gone. We, of course, didn’t realize this till we went to decorate our tree the next year. My father was devastated, my sister was livid, and I was just sad. My sister, ever the crafty one, came up with the idea to make new ones. So we bought clear balls and painted them and made baked the dough for others. It was a good Christmas that year, but there was a little sadness. For my dad it was the sadness of another failed marriage, for my sister and I is was the sadness of all the years lost with that horrid woman in our life. I hadn’t thought about this in a long time. We have come a long way since then…

    1. Oh…

      I hurt for you. What a wretched thing to do! How hateful!

      I am angry at this woman I didn’t know existed until today.

      But…how impressed am I with your sister! What a resourceful wee thing, to take to the crafts and make Christmas come anyway.

      Like the Who’s down in Whoville!

      Your sister’s name isn’t Cindy Lou, is it?

  23. What a heart-wrenching post. I could see and feel every breath of it. I can’t imagine the ache, wouldn’t wish it on anyone and hope I never have to experience it.

    Sitting by the light of a christmas tree, folded into yourself with tears on your lap is an image I almost can’t take. Heartbreaking.

    1. I hope you never experience it.

      I hope that no one I care about ever experiences it.

      And for those that already have, I hope healing came as fast as it could.

      Because it is very hard.

      And no broken hearts!…because mine is very full now.

      Full enough to share.

  24. I saw the tweet warnings yet here I sit, empty handed, tears in my eyes. And then Himself chimed in and I came undone. The joy you have now makes up for the pain you first endured, no?
    Lori, you a stronger and wiser woman than I’ll ever be. Thank you for sharing this side of you. And please don’t stop (selfish, I know but you are a mentor!)

    BTW, does Himself have a brother? You know, just in case things don’t work out with Adonis.

    1. The joy I have now is boundless, so it makes up for very very much.

      And you said very kind words here, sweet lady thank you so very much.

      And no, Himself has no brothers, only two sisters who don’t swing that way.

      So hang onto Adonis.

  25. I don’t wish to echo what everyone else has said (but yes, this is some powerful, lovely writing).

    I would like to know where you found a man with such poetry in his heart that he can articulate feeling about being adrift, lifeboats, seas, and lovely waters.

    Wow. What a team you two must be In Real Life. A Force.
    AML

    1. He found me, technically.

      And was then very very persistent in making me so happy that I couldn’t get rid of him.

      And he is a poet.

      I am very proud of him.

  26. And I repeat those before me, what a powerful and heart breaking post. Your words make me feel the loneliness and empty room.
    I’m so glad you were sent Himself. He knows what he has, and just as powerfully spoke it.

    1. Sometimes the simple commands are the only ones we can follow. Step. Step. Step.

      Thank you for the kind words, wonderful lady.

      Have taken many many a deep breath since that time.

      And the air is lovely.

    1. I accepted many hugs from loving people at that time. Every single one helped.

      I would have greedily taken any hug you offered.

      And I was very lucky indeed that he was so close to me in time.

      It does not happen that way for everyone.

  27. This will be my first Christmas without the kids (the divorce was in April). I had them for Thanksgiving, so he gets them for Christmas. I don’t know how the day will go. But this story gives me hope that I will make it through the day.
    Thanks!

    1. Oh Amy..

      I’m so sorry, beautiful woman.

      No matter what – no matter how desperately you need to get to a better place (if that’s what happened) no matter how amicable a divorce (which I hope you had), it is still devastation and loss, and the feeling of your own life’s history not belonging to you any more.

      It will be hard – please surround yourself with people who love you and can give you the care you need.

      You will make it through. I promise you will. I don’t promise it won’t hurt – I’d be a filthy liar. Only that after the hurt there will be minutes that link together in longer and longer strings until hours, then days, then months go by where the hurt is barely there at all.

      And I wish for that to happen very very very quickly for you.

      Because you do not deserve to hurt.

  28. My parents divorced when I was 5. My mom doesn’t have a lot of family, so she has had Christmases alone. Because of stories like this our holidays are often a mix of family and folks without family nearby. There has always been room for one more at our Christmas table. The story was painful, the writing was beautiful and the message inspiring. Thank you Lori.

    1. I love one more at a table for the holiday.

      Cause you can always add another mouse to the soup.

      Ok, I may lose Martha Points for admitting that.

      And thank you for your kind words, lovely friend. I appreciate them mightily.

  29. So I here’s what I honestly thought when I read this:
    1) I hope I never go through that
    2) boy am I selfish, what I meant to think was “I’m sorry Lori had to go through that.”
    3) also, “Lori is an amazing woman and a gifted writer”
    4) at least Lori’s not Jewish…eight nights of sadness instead of one!

    Your words move me.

  30. This broke my heart. It took me back to when my parents divorced, and imagining the whole thing through my mom’s eyes. And at Christmas time? When all of those little ornaments and knick-knacks take on such a huge meaning? Broke my heart, my dear.

    And yet, I knew you won in the end…..and I was glad to not be reading this back when it happened, but now when I know that your life has gone on and gotten bigger.

    Hugs to you….loved this. And I love happy endings that are still going on…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s