After ignoring two days of panicked, desperate text messages, I finally plucked up the courage to pick up the phone. He didn’t answer his cell phone or his work blackberry, so I tried the home phone.
“Hello?” I could hear her wailing in the background hysterically.
“Dad. What’s going on?”
What followed was an hour— at midnight, mind you— of navigating new territory, of witnessing (hearing) a scene every child is haunted by at one point or another. (Who hasn’t cried himself to sleep after hearing his parents get in a really, really bad fight— thrown books and swear words and slaps and sobbing.) Like a bit actor in a terrible rom-com, he had come home on Valentine’s Day and told my mother he wanted a divorce.
“I’m not happy and I haven’t been… What am I supposed to do?”
I still haven’t fully processed the painful conversation that followed. I think I’m subconsciously blocking it from my mind, out of stubbornness or fear or a combination of both.
“You owe it to your 27, 28 years of marriage, to your family, to yourself, to go to therapy. Individually and together. You need to think about this very carefully. It would be a dick move to just say you’re done, that’s it, without even trying. Do you want to be an asshole like that?”
The lucky thing— if this absurd, laughable situation has a silver lining at all— is that my own separation and divorce has schooled me in the language of heartbreak and pain; specifically, of breaking someone’s heart and transforming their life path in one fatal swoop. I knew the words to say, the advice to dole out. I knew the legalese to use, and I knew the emotional turmoil that was uprooting the facade that is marriage.
But I’ve accepted the wreck that is (was) my marriage (it was all my doing anyway)… This might hurt more.
The next afternoon, I prepared for a race— the last in a month-long stretch of travel and racing that’s left me exhausted, but exuberant, and more confidant than ever. And yet, as I went through the routine of a race day— a shakeout jog, coffee, a quick nap, shower, makeup, drive over to the track— I felt scattered and unsettled. I tried to push the otherworldly conversation from the night before out of my mind, banishing it like a disease (get too close, let my mind settle on it for one beat too long, and you’ll get infected), but it popped up unexpectedly. My paychecks go to my parent’s house and my mom duitifully deposits it— a silly interaction that’s become necessary, as I need to establish an address so that my divorce can be decided in Virginia… What if my mom is so upset she ignores the mail for a few months? The one stable part of my life— my parent’s home— was suddenly thrown into chaos and in a time when I selfishly needed something, anything to anchor me…
I had a panic attack right before stepping onto the line to race, my hands shaking and my feet, grown too large, refusing to slip into my spikes. I tied and retied and retied the shoes, smoothing my hair out of my face and wiping sweating palms on my bare legs.
I ran the race. I breathed. I stayed steady and, catching a glimpse of myself all alone in the jumbotron, a lap or two to go, I was shocked at how long my stride looked, how slow I seemed to be moving. I was running all out, and yet barely moving forward. I won the race, but missed the time I wanted to run, and after walking for a few minutes to catch my breath, I projectile vomited into a nearby trashcan.
After cooling down with my training partner, who was wan and tiny after her own excruciating race, I bundled up to go outside alone. I jogged gingerly and willed myself to cry. Pricks of emotion stung my nose and the backside of my eyeballs, but my tear ducts stayed dry. I wanted to cry for my race— such a victory, but far from perfect; where did I slow down, where did I go wrong, why couldn’t I hit the time? And I wanted to cry for my parents… For my failed marriage… For the futulity of love. The tears didn’t come. Something has fallen in front of the doorway, barring my entry, and when I allow myself to think about this new reality— continued frantic texts from my mother; the shock of hearing her spit out “There’s someone else. That woman at work. She rejected you, didn’t she?” while my dad fumbled over his words; the cold silence from him to my calls and messages— I instead feel clinical and calm.
I think my dad will be okay. He’ll get an apartment in the city, eat takeout every night, go to the gym more often, make some friends. Maybe one day he’ll invite me to lunch and bring along a new woman— Emily or Anna or Bethany or— and I’ll smile tightly and excuse myself, assuring them that I respect their decision but that I couldn’t handle such an abrupt meeting. It’s my mom I worry about. At 51, she doesn’t know herself. She struggles with her weight, her appearance. She has no taste in clothing. She doesn’t have any interests or hobbies— it’s just up in the morning, work, maybe a class at the gym twice a week, then sitting at home in front of the television. Her emotional instability was a hardship we all dealt with my entire life… And I don’t know how she will handle the second half of her life alone.
I tricked you with a cool picture of my race and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably confused about what this all means. I’m not quite sure— but I had to let it out in the most coherent way possible. What do we do when it’s all thrown into chaos? Harden our hearts and stumble on.