It's always the same. Just when I think "it" is finally over, something leaps out in front of me as if to say, "Not so fast, sister."
I caught them out of the corner of my eye. Shoes. Not mine. His. I don't know how I missed them. Yet there they sat on the floor of my closet, as if in their place, unmoving. Like they still belonged there but now strangely out of place.
In the end it was me who was to blame for the oversight. Oh well (sigh). I'd done my best under the circumstances.
"Throw it all away," my husband had ordered shortly after announcing he was divorcing me. "I already have everything I want."
Dutifully, I did as he asked, perhaps in a last-ditch and surely misguided effort to appease him. Make him want me back, "good wife" that I was.
I took it all -- suits, shirts, ties, tees, jeans, and shoes -- filling bag after bag with his personal effects, donating them to charity days later. I imagined some less fortunate soul wearing that Hermès tie I bought my husband for his birthday a few years earlier, naively believing that its previous owner had died. What other explanation could there be for discarding something so valuable?
When I was done, I surveyed my work. I don't know why, but I thought I'd feel a sense of relief when I was finished. I didn't. I only felt worse, as I stared disbelievingly at the physical manifestation of that now inescapable void in my gut.
As I looked around my house -- at the carefully framed photographs gracing nearly every tabletop and bookshelf (of our engagement party, our wedding day, that day we spent strolling along the cobblestone streets of Portofino), at the artwork on the walls (the lithograph we overpaid for at an art auction because its subject looked strikingly like our young nephew, and the painting from a celebrated Aboriginal artist that my husband gave me one Valentine's Day), at the trinkets we collected during our many travels and time spent living abroad (Buddha statues, jade carvings, Murano glass), even at the martini glasses that now sat collecting dust in a cabinet -- I realized my work had only just begun.
In anticipation of a dinner guest -- a man I was seeing during those first months following my separation -- I felt an urgency to take those memories to task. In the name of not making my date uncomfortable (though it was really me who would potentially be), I went from room to room in the days before his arrival, painstakingly scouring every surface for evidence of my former married life, hiding all that I could in that newly empty closet, out of sight.
What I failed to anticipate was that walls talk. They remember. They recall the way life used to be, filled with vibrant family dinners, harried breakfasts, lazy mornings, and family movie nights.
Theirs wasn't a conversation I was ready to hear, and I muffled those whispers the only way I knew -- by tuning them out. How? I began eating alone at mealtime, either standing next to the kitchen sink or sitting at the kitchen island. I no longer slept in my bed, and began sleeping everywhere except my bed -- with my children, on the couch, or in the guest room. I stopped watching TV.
Somehow though, without my even realizing, my clothes gradually began to overtake the empty rungs in what was once our closet. My plate made its way to the dinner table. And I returned to my bedroom, first spending countless months sleeping on top of the bed instead of in it.
I would like to say the night that I pulled back the covers and climbed in was a monumental one. It wasn't. It was, to put it simply, time.
During my divorce, I had negotiated that our three children and myself would remain in our marital home until they each graduated from high school. But before the ink was even dry on my decree, I began feeling as if I might've made a grievous mistake. That I'd inadvertently placed myself under a veritable house arrest, depriving myself of the fresh start I suddenly craved in a different house, one devoid of memories of life before divorce.
Alyosha the Baptist said it best in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: "You should rejoice that you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul."
And, that I have.
I never did finish packing away the rest of those knick-knacks I had at first sought to hide. Instead, I picked and I chose. Out with some of the old, in with some of the new.
As it turned out, everything did have its place, myself included. It was only a matter of finding it.
With that, I picked up those old abandoned shoes, dropped them in a bag for donation, and came out of that closet for good.