Divorce: A Loss and Profit Balance Sheet

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There was this pot, that belonged to my ex husband when we moved in together, it was heavy, solid. It made a clean pot of popcorn, no kernels burned to the bottom, it didn't leave too many old maids. I remember the day he moved out I had put the pot in a box with some other kitchen utensils. I wanted to make this moment calm, my younger son was helping his dad move out. There had been so much turmoil already. I thought he would be back. Separation does not mean divorce. But my husband and that pot did not come back. I still miss that pot.

There was an ugly recliner. It was a legacy recliner handed down from a close relation. The fabric was this green, brown, gold weave similar to the color of baby poop. It was frayed at the arms and along the skirting and vomited aged yellowed stuffing when you sat in it. When its footrest was opened wide, most likely for a football game, it would eat up a good part of the living room. Whenever the Patriots offense fumbled a ball the chair would creak in pain as its occupant let loose a few beer soaked curses. I don't miss that chair.

There were these tools; a chainsaw, a monkey wrench, other tools I only discover are missing when I find I need them. There was this knowledge that was attached to those tools; like how to maintain a small engine, what size wrench goes with what size nut and bolt, what a blade sounds like when a honing stone is rubbed against its edge. There was a confidence associated with starting up a whirring blade or lighting a butane torch. Somedays this feels like a real loss. But I don't miss the person I was who felt like a nag for asking for that knowledge and skill to be employed for the umpteenth time. Handymen can be hired. Tools can be replaced. Duct tape works wonders. A strategically placed f-bomb provides the extra oomph for an intransigent nut. Worse case scenario, I learn a new skill. Perhaps this is the intersection when something is gained after something is lost.

Life is generous that way. Although what we gain may not be as concrete as a pot, a chair or a monkey wrench. During the worst days when I was rolling pennies for car repairs, rationing eggs for frittatas, researching where food pantries were in my community, just in case, I would play that gratitude game. Like a facebook meme I would list all my blessings, sometimes through tears, often in the dark at 2 am. Sometimes the list would include my ability to walk, the good neighbors I had, the fact that the car started that day. Other days I could only list my sons. Somedays this was enough, especially if I did not feel like I was enough. A boy would say something silly and take me out of my head for a little while. A young man would offer an extra hand with some chores or childcare, giving me one less thing to worry about. Like compounded interest this exercise in gratitude would ground my thinking in the present. It diminished worry. It allowed me to acknowledge my growing list of strengths.

This process of loss also taught me compassion and empathy. Not just that compassion we have for someone one we care about who may be struggling but compassion for the man whose actions caused my life to turn upside down. I had choice. I could stay in the anger and pain. I could wrap myself in the flag of the spurned wife. Or I could acknowledge that he has his own struggles. His actions are those of a person who has more work to do. For his own happiness I hope he does it. This does not mean that I have to engage with him when he resorts to familiar destructive, dialogue. He does not get to speak to me with disrespect and expect that I should accept it. It does mean that because we have a son together, how I respond to the disrespect is within my power. If I respond negatively, it will not hurt just myself. I can not control others, I can only control myself.

Finally the most important lesson I learned is I am the only person responsible for my happiness. It is no one's fault if I don't pursue my dreams. There is no screw driver, monkey wrench or damn good pop corn pot that is going replace those things I lost when I divorced. I rather think I was meant to lose them so I could fully appreciate what I have gained.