Like many of us, I had a truly hideous divorce. Adultery, physical violence, arrests, screaming fights, swimming pools of tears, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and therapy bills, you name it. The worst of it took two years, from the first serious talks of separation in 2005 to 2007 when the divorce was finalized. Then maybe another eighteen months of icy distance, of barely acknowledging each other, of depression, as we both struggled to find our new paths.
Occasionally he would send a beseeching email: "Shouldn't we try to be friends?" I would practically spit, and respond with something like "God no, I'll hate you til the end of time. I'll never in a million years be your friend." When he came to pick up the kids I would glare at him and he would act indifferent, his weapon of choice. He refused to speak to me on the phone, we only communicated via email, and huge amounts of energy were devoted to vitriolic (and needless) conflict around issues of control via the kids, money, whatever we could use against the other.
The very first sign of thaw was the day I admitted to myself, and then even to him, that the idea of us being friends made me so sad. So sad that I thought I would just curl up and die. If we could be friends, why couldn't we have stayed married? If we liked each other, why couldn't we be happy together and still be a family? Being friendly with M felt like the ultimate sword in my chest, one that would only accentuate our enormous loss. And anger was what I used to cover the sadness.
So we went on hating each other.
Until the middle of 2008, when the economy collapsed. My ex worked in finance, and it would be an understatement to say that his work was affected. And because we had a settlement, and were still financially entangled, he had to call me one day and tell me what was going on. He was devastated, and scared, and I suddenly realized, in a gut, instinctual way, that we were still a family, that we always would be, and that we needed each other. Or more specifically in that moment, that he needed me, and that despite, or even because of, all we'd been through and done to each other, I needed to rise to the occasion.
And now, four years from the decree, I marvel at how well we get along. Hardly a day goes by that we aren't in touch. He's the first person I call or text when one of the kids does something wonderful or annoying or worrisome. We spent Christmas Day together this year -- me, M, my boyfriend, and the four kids. I'm not sure I'd go as far as Arianna Huffington and take a vacation with my ex, but we did spend a weekend in the same hotel suite at our daughter's horse show last summer, so I guess that's basically the same thing. I still frequently write him down as my emergency contact. If I were to go down in a tragic plane crash, who better to contact than the father of my children?
Every so often, when we're sitting next to each other in a dark theater, watching one of the kids in a dance performance, or in the bleachers at a gymnastics tournament, we'll sort of lean into each other. We've even held hands once or twice. Because there's still love there.
And what I've come to realize, with much amazement, is that in some ways he's still my husband. Not legally of course, but in some sort of essential, ether-kind of way. I still get the best parts of what we had together. The part where we understand each other, where we still know each other's Social Security numbers by heart. The part where he saw me give birth at age 24, and we simply have a bond that can't be broken.
And sure, sometimes all this connection can still make me a little sad. For what we did to each other, that we weren't able to do a better job with what we had. But mostly I feel grateful. We're no longer unhappily married; no more endless fights and struggle and feeling unloved (me) and unappreciated (him). And what we have now is a gift.
I tell you all this not to make you jealous, but to tell you that it's possible. Possible to go from absolute hell to something really good. And possible to one day see your marriage and divorce not as a failure, but as a place that you've gotten to on a long continuum, that life is rich and complex, and things change every day, but not everything has to be lost.