Tag Archives: Moving On

The Separation Anniversary

separation agreement

She took off her wedding ring one year ago today.

That’s when I learned she did, anyway.

It was Easter Sunday, but nothing was coming back from the dead in our house.

I will probably be doing a lot of reflecting this week.

Lisa at Lessons From the End of a Marriage published an important post titled When Will I Feel Better?” which tackles the question every person dealing with a life trauma wants the answer to.

A person doesn’t really understand the full spectrum of human feeling until they experience a great loss. Some people lose parents or siblings or friends or someone else close to them at a young age.

But their experiences, while unfair, raise an interesting question: Are they better equipped to deal with life trauma as an adult due to being tempered in fire at a young age?

Maybe.

But it doesn’t matter. Because everybody is going to go through their own personal hell sooner or later. I don’t think there’s any defense except to make your life the most-balanced and content it can possibly be.

It’s officially been a year.

Do I feel better?

So Many Stages

There’s nothing one-size-fits all about any of this.

Everyone’s situations are different. And everyone’s ability to cope mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually varies for a million different reasons.

Here’s what happened at our house.

A Great Loss

Without warning, we lost my wife’s father. My son’s grandfather. The closest thing I had to a dad locally.

He was a fantastic human being.

There was nothing fair about what happened next for anyone. My sweet mother-in-law lost her husband and a home she helped build with her bare hands. My wife and her brother lost their father. A really good one. They lost the only “home” they’d ever known. Their place to go on beautiful summer days. Perhaps the perfect place to wake up Christmas morning. My son lost his grandfather. Both deserved more time with one another. I had a million things I wanted to do with those two and my brother-in-law.

Nope.

And I lost my wife. Right then. It just took me several weeks to figure it out.

I’d heard of grief changing people. But I’d never seen it up close and personal.

She shut down hard.

And instead of leaning on me, she told me losing her father meant she lost the only man in her life that really mattered and made her feel safe.

She pushed me away. She said I could not help her.

That everything she thought she felt about me and our marriage was now uncertain.

That’s when I moved into the guest room.

The Guest Room

I slept in the guest room for about 18 months.

It was an extraordinarily challenging time.

Every day consisted of me waking up sad and going to bed sad and waiting for her to make a decision about whether she was going to choose to stay married.

At some point during that period, a light bulb went off. And I knew who I wanted to be.

I did the best I could to piece it all back together. Whatever I did was wrong. Nothing worked.

Sleeping in the guest room was the second most-horrible experience of my life. But that’s where I became a better man.

Whatever I am today that is good—that can maybe help people—came together in that guest room.

The Exit

It felt long and drawn out. After breaking the news she was leaving on a Sunday night, I had to work the next day and came home to watch my wife pack a suitcase for her and our son and take him to her mom’s house.

If you’ve been there, you know how surreal it feels. We’d been married nearly nine years. Your brain is in complete denial.

Maybe she’ll come back!

Maybe she just needs some time away!

And at that point, I did think she would come back. Maybe an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder situation. Or maybe she would decide to not break up our son’s home. Or maybe she would simply decide the horror of losing half of her son’s childhood seemed worse than the horror of being married to me.

This lasted exactly 11 days.

The Boyfriend

My wife was in love with someone else.

I found out 11 days after she moved out. My then-four-year-old son let it slip in a conversation when asking me if I knew the guy. It took me about 30 seconds to piece it all together. Who knows how it would have played out had he not asked me that.

That information changed everything.

I went nuclear. Not the stable kind.

Because regardless of the details, timeline, circumstances, etc.—that’s when I realized the person I thought I knew best was someone I didn’t know.

That is some earth-shattering shit. When you find out someone isn’t who you thought they were. It’s easier to deal with when it’s just some person at work, or a friend of a friend. It’s more complicated when it’s the person you married and had a child with.

This is the thing that left the biggest scar of any life event I have ever experienced.

It has poisoned me in ways that are hard to explain. The wounds have closed. The pains I feel now are merely ghost pains. But I still feel them.

I still dream about it.

I still get goosebumps when I drive by the hospital where they met.

I still cringe when I hear his name.

I have an unfair hatred for cyclists now. Simply because he was a cyclist.

I never want to go see our local minor-league baseball team for the rest of my life because that man was part of my son’s first-ever baseball game. I put a tee-shirt on my son the other day with the team name on the front. It gave me a stomach ache.

I took a girl out to dinner a few weeks ago. We went to a restaurant where I feel certain my wife ate with that guy. Ugh.

I care about being strong. I care about pride. I care about holding my head up.

But the complicated feelings associated with that entire period still course through my veins almost every day.

Almost every day, I think about that man.

And I think about her liking him. Loving him.

Our marriage legally ended exactly one week after our nine-year wedding anniversary. And that was the day I found out her relationship with that piece of shit ended.

Not even five months after she left.

Not even five fucking months.

It was good that it ended.

But it was bad, too.

So cheap, my entire adulthood.

What a waste.

Acceptance and Healing

There was no healing during those five months. None. I foolishly tried online dating because I insanely thought that if I could be with someone else that I would balance the equation and not feel as bad.

As if that would put us back on equal footing.

But I wasn’t ready to date, and I sucked at it, too.

I was so tired of feeling like I didn’t have any control. Like she had the upper hand.

But she always did.

Once that relationship was over—and I knew she and my son were in a healthier, safer place—real, actual healing finally did begin.

That was August.

And here we are. Seven months later.

And, yeah.

I feel better.

I don’t know if I’m better. Sometimes when I talk to my father about divorce and he tells me stories about my mom driving me 500 miles away from him when I was four years old, I can hear the anger and resentment in his voice. More than three decades later, you can still hear the bitterness.

Maybe I will always feel this.

Maybe that’s my penance for all the things I got wrong in my marriage leading up to it breaking.

Maybe that’s going to be part of the fuel that helps me continue to grow as my years advance.

One year later?

I can breathe.

I can laugh.

I can relax.

I can enjoy being in my home.

I can look forward to seeing a girl who isn’t my wife.

I can say bye to my son without breaking down crying after he leaves.

But, one year later?

I can’t let go of the anger.

I can’t stop wanting her to care.

I can’t shut off my desire to try to protect her.

I can’t escape the memories that haunt me.

I can’t make her stop mattering.

She dropped off our son at my house over the weekend. I asked her if I could hug her. I do miss her. I do want her to know that I’m trying hard to be a big person. That I care.

She said I could.

So I did. And kissed her cheek.

She didn’t reciprocate.

Which is okay.

Because, one year later?

A lot of things are different. A lot of things are better.

But a few things?

They’re exactly the same.

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The Fantasy Life, Vol. 3

happy-worker Not unlike some overdue library books I kept far too long, my fantasy football teams in 2013 were a reflection of the state of my life.

Unmanaged. Disorganized. Neglected.

The day I wrote about those library books, I was feeling particularly wretched. I’m not sure I can pinpoint why. I just know it was one of my lowest days in what has been a three-year run of major suckage.

Fantasy football is no longer the obsession it once was for me.

There’s nothing like a little personal turmoil to help a person straighten out their priorities.

What I’ve found throughout this divorce-recovery process has been that all of the fun things I used to enjoy when I was married—my individual hobbies and pursuits, I mean—I now have trouble enjoying.

I don’t blame my interest in fantasy football, or my interest in playing poker, or my interest in music as reasons for my marriage ending. But it’s almost as if subconsciously—because they were mine and not ours—I’m having trouble finding joy in these things.

I’m sure many of you know exactly what I mean.

Sometimes, It’s Not as Bad as You Think

Because of—I don’t know what to call it. Depression, maybe. Because of that, I totally neglected my fantasy football rosters this year.

For the uninitiated, fantasy football requires those of us who play to manage our rosters of real-life football players that make up our teams. If they play well in real life, your fantasy team scores points and does well, also.

Sometimes players get hurt. Sometimes they have bye weeks where they don’t play at all.

And because of those scheduling inconveniences, and my inability to find five minutes to adjust my rosters each week, there were at least eight weeks this season where I played someone who received zero points because they didn’t play in real life.

Of the three leagues in which I participate, I started players who were on injured reserve and out for the entire season in two of the leagues for several weeks, and I started a nearly uncountable number of players during their bye weeks.

Despite this gross negligence, I have managed to remain in third place in the league that matters most to me—the one I won for the first time last year. We formed this league 20 years ago when I was 14 years old. I haven’t done anything for 20 years other than be alive, and eat, sleep, etc.

With two weeks remaining in the season, I am 89.16 points behind the guy in first place—an insurmountable lead, unless every player on his team dies.

Because I’m a masochist, I decided to go week by week through each week’s scoring summaries to see how many points I would have if I’d simply not started injured players and guys on bye weeks.

Had I managed my team as I normally would have, I would have scored 151.52 more points this season. I would have a 62.36-point lead—a lead I don’t think I could lose.

I would be preparing to win back-to-back championships.

I encourage everyone reading to ignore this image except for the guys in my fantasy football league.

I encourage everyone reading to ignore this image except for the guys in my fantasy football league.

I was watching The Legend of Bagger Vance a few weeks ago. I’ve seen it a handful of times.

The film ends with an epic golf match between three players. The film’s protagonist—played by Matt Damon—calls a penalty on himself because his ball moved a half-inch when he was trying to clear the ground around his ball.

The ball moving was an accident. It did not give him a competitive advantage. He didn’t have to call the penalty on himself.

But he did anyway. To be honest.

Be good even when no one’s watching.

And on the 18th green, the match ended in a three-way tie.

But you always know the protagonist would have won if not for that silly, little technicality.

So, you smile.

Kind of like me.

Sure, my fantasy team didn’t suffer from some great act of nobility. It was nothing but laziness and apathy. I don’t deserve to win.

But I still like knowing I did it again—that I put together the best team—even in the midst of chaos.

Sometimes, it’s not as bad as you think.

I was frowning early today about the gray, cloudy skies. But now they’ve parted. And the sun is shining.

I was frowning yesterday, unsure whether I wanted to leave the house, feeling content to stay home alone. Reclusive in recovery. But I attended a Christmas party with friends. We laughed. We drank. We laughed some more. It was perfect.

I frown often, because my life is unmanaged. Disorganized. Neglected. But my mom visited for a few days this week and helped me pick up a lot of the literal pieces.

And now many things are in place.

Things are coming together.

Literally.

And metaphorically.

Hope.

Always, I choose hope.

And I feel as ready as I have in a long time to continue my pursuit of happiness.

The place where joy lives. Where peace lives.

The fantasy life.

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The In-Laws

The holidays are coming. As does the all-too-literal winter of my discontent.

The holidays are looming. As is the all-too-literal winter of my discontent.

The losses in divorce are great.

There’s a huge pile of them. And a lot of collateral damage.

With the holidays approaching, the one I’ve thought about most is the loss of my ex-wife’s family.

You see, I live here—in northeast Ohio—in large part because of her.

I willingly came here and was happy to be here.

But taking my wife out of the equation? I don’t really want to live here anymore.

Today, I live here because of my son. Because I would never, under any circumstances, choose to relocate somewhere where I saw him less, or made him feel like his father was abandoning him.

There’s just no way. There is no person. No amount of money. No anything that could pull off that magic trick.

I’m here.

My choice.

Own your shit.

My ex-wife’s family is amazing.

Her mother is precious and kind. Always so steady. Even in the worst of times. A steady presence for her children and grandchildren. A steady presence for her now-estranged son-in-law.

My ex-wife’s only sibling is the best brother-in-law imaginable. Kind. Generous. Hard-working. An incredible uncle. He’s the perfect blend of his steady mother and his kind, generous, hard-working father who he lost two years ago. He and his wife have a beautiful little girl who’s life is rapidly passing me by, and will continue to.

Her immediate family took me in right away despite recognizing I wasn’t like them. I can’t pinpoint exactly all the differences. I’m maybe less country. A little softer. A little more selfish and self-centered.

They all have siblings. While I do have two stepsisters—good ones—and a half-sister 14 years younger than me, my upbringing was predominantly that of an only child. And I have those traits. The good and bad ones.

But they took me in just the same.

I think the one thing they always recognized despite my many flaws is that I always had my ex-wife’s best interests at heart.

From Big Families to Small Ones

My mom is the oldest of eight children.

Family gatherings—even the impromptu ones on random Saturdays and Sundays growing up—were pretty big events. The holidays, weddings and other family reunion-ish events were almost epic in scope.

I have a million and a half cousins. The youngest ones are still in high school.

So, even though I grew up an only child, I was always immersed in a big-family environment.

It was wonderful. I am so fortunate I was able to grow up as I did, where I did, and with the people I did, family and otherwise.

It was a rude awakening when my ex-wife and I moved to Florida—1,200 miles away from everything and everybody we knew and loved—upon graduating college.

Down there, everything was different.

No big family.

No huge social network.

No nothing.

Just my ex-wife’s aunt, uncle and adult cousin who lived more than an hour’s drive away. And the few friends we were lucky to make in a community dominated by retirement-aged people.

One Thanksgiving, it was just a half dozen of us eating turkey and ham in our apartment. A bunch of kids far away from their families and unable to afford the airfare home, or unable to get away because most of us were on-call newspaper reporters.

One Christmas I made lasagna for a few of us. We drank a little beer. We watched a basketball game no one cared about. We played a little basketball ourselves because it was 80 degrees outside.

Everything was strange.

We made the best of it.

But it was strange.

Home beckoned. And Ohio—all the good, bad and in-between—is home.

New Family Traditions

And so they began, almost immediately, as my wife and I relocated from Florida to Ohio in the fall of 2005, just before Halloween.

It took me a little while to get to know her large family. While I’m an Ohio native, this new, faraway region of the state was foreign to me. New faces, new places.

But here we were.

You could see on her face how happy she was. Celebrating Christmas with her parents. With her brother, who had also returned to Ohio after several years living in southern California.

Living a three-hour drive from my family and hometown was like living next door after those years in Florida.

It was wonderful.

Very kind, decent people on both sides of her family.

Her mother’s family. And her father’s family.

I was, and remain, particularly fond of her father’s side of the family.

There are aunts. Aunts who hugged me like their own every time I saw them.

There are uncles. Uncles who helped repair our cars and complete home-improvement projects.

There are cousins. Reflections of their parents, and in a lot of ways, reflections of my own family and my own memories, as I observed everyone come together during life’s best and worst moments.

They are beautiful.

And I love them.

And every time I flip the calendar, I get a little sicker as it represents more time disconnected from them, and the realization that the holidays are five minutes from now, and they can never, and will never, be the same without them.

My new family.

My new family that isn’t.

Living in the Now

I don’t have a choice.

None of us do.

We live in the present. We play the cards we’re dealt.

We can piss and moan and whine, and God knows I do that all the time. But the cards don’t change.

We play with them. Maybe win a hand. Maybe lose a hand. Maybe fold them altogether.

But there’s always a new hand coming. Always an opportunity for that next win.

And that’s what keeps me going now.

It’s been a decade now since a bunch of random young adults gathered in our apartment to celebrate the holidays the best we could even though everything was weird and wrong.

And that’s what I must do now. Be resourceful. Be grateful. Identify the good and celebrate it. Because there is always good to focus on.

But that doesn’t mean I can just forget everything that’s now missing.

When you lose a spouse, sometimes you lose more than a spouse.

Sometimes you lose a family. A big one. A wonderful one.

I haven’t spoken to any of them since the separation. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be my job to reach out. I never really know what to do in these awkward human situations. So I tend to err on the side of withdrawing.

I’m sure some of them think I just moved on and don’t care. I wish there was some simple way to let them know that’s not the case. To let them know how much they matter. To let them know how grateful I am for all they’ve done for me.

They turned a strange land into home. They turned strangers into family.

Like miracle workers.

And someday, I think, they’ll probably have to do that again. There will be some new guy. Some stranger they’ll need to turn into family.

My son’s stepfather, whoever that may be.

Once in a while, I pray for that guy. Whoever and wherever he is. That he be blessed with the strength and wisdom and kindness and ability to love required to care for my son’s mother, as she will deserve once she learns to love and forgive again.

That he be able to love my son as my stepfather loved me.

That he be everything I’m not.

That he be a much better man than I ever have been or will be.

I want that so much for my son.

I want that for my ex-wife.

I want that for that beautiful extended family who has treated me like gold all these years.

And I pray they will treat him the same and that he’ll deserve it.

But deep down?

I hope they always miss me and like me better.

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The Fantasy Life, Vol. 2

My championship trophy from last season is so much smaller than the Shiva trophy, pictured here.

My championship trophy from last season is so much smaller than the Shiva trophy, pictured here.

Many of us have been there.

Drinking all night. I feel fine! Totally cool to drive.

Maybe your friends take your keys.

Maybe you drive and make it home safely.

Maybe you try to drive, realize you can’t, and pull over.

Maybe the fuzz busts you because you’re stupid.

Minus the increased likelihood of hurting someone or getting arrested, I’m kind of like the I-feel-fine! asshole right now.

Because most of the time, I have myself convinced that I’m fine.

But then I need only take a step back and look at the evidence objectively.

Non-manicured landscaping.

Dishes piled up in the kitchen.

Not calling my grandfather on his 80th birthday.

Letting my bills pile up, half-heartedly paying them, sometimes late.

Neglecting projects I’ve promised to complete for people I really care about.

Not exercising regularly.

But one thing stands out above them all: Abandoning my fantasy football teams.

The Comeback Tour

That’s what I thought the return of fantasy football and the NFL season represented for me. I wrote about it in The Fantasy Life.

The comeback tour. The bounce back. The ability to let loose and really enjoy something again that doesn’t matter. To derive pleasure from the inconsequential.

That, I’ve come to learn, is evidence of a charmed life.

Things started off okay, too. I didn’t draft particularly well this year. My teams aren’t as strong as I’d like due to a little bit of bad luck and a little bit of poor decision-making.

But I was active. Participating. Competing. Attentive. And doing relatively well.

And then, during the fourth week of the NFL season, the wheels came off.

I just checked out.

I didn’t make a conscious decision to check out.

I just kept remembering on late Sunday afternoons: Oh shit! I didn’t update my fantasy football lineups again!

Then I’d shrug.

Screw it. I don’t care.

For four consecutive weeks, I didn’t update my teams or participate or give any kind of shit at all.

I just don’t care.

Right now, 50 percent of you are like: Yeah, no shit. Fantasy football is stupid. I don’t get it.

Another 49 percent is like: Yeah, every league has guys like that!

And then there’s the remaining one percent of you who know me. Who know that, while I’m not the epitome of fantasy football nerddom, I do take it pretty seriously. All those people just had stroke-like symptoms.

Because I read fantasy football magazines. Study. Watch shows. Have several conversations leading up to the preseason. Analyze coaching and personnel changes, and evaluate how they might affect a particular player’s performance.

Formulate strategies for draft day. Target sleepers in later rounds, and debate how I want to tackle the meat of my roster early.

But here I am, right now, halfway through the football season.

And, I. DON’T. CARE.

“I love the Cleveland Browns as much as my family,” I’ve said more times than I can count.

I’ve always been joking, but that line was designed to illustrate the depths of my fandom for that football team and for the NFL, in general.

It’s 6 p.m. on Sunday. An NFL Sunday. I haven’t watched one minute of football today. Not one.

I played with my son. I made lunch and breakfast. I took him to a park. We played with toys outside and on the living-room floor. We played video games. We played basketball on his Little Tikes hoop in the basement. We watched a show about African pythons.

After dropping him off at his mother’s, I mowed my lawn.

And now I’m here.

Here at the keyboard. Feeding this place. Because it’s what I care about.

Because this is what matters to me now, after my family.

This Road is Long

This post-divorce road.

This journey to rediscover myself. To create a new life. A new normal.

It’s so long.

It’s so laughable to me that I was trying to date right from the get-go. And justifying it because I hadn’t gotten laid in 48,000 years, as if that somehow made me ready.

A lot of people say it takes a year.

Others have said more like two. That sounds about right to me.

And yet another said it takes about a year for every three in which you were married.

Which means I’ll feel normal again in another two and a half years. Ugh.

I want to be back. I want to feel like me again. So badly.

But I’m not ready.

I’m not ready to date. I’m not ready to hurt someone or be hurt by someone.

I’m not ready to be back to 100 percent at work.

I’m not ready to prepare good, balanced, time-consuming meals.

I’m not ready to get all my work done at home.

I’m not ready to be back volunteering at the shelter.

I’m not ready to wake up early every single day and make this body what it wants to be.

I’m not ready to get lost in the inconsequential. Football. Television. Books. Poker. Golf. Parties. Music.

I’m not ready.

You see, The Fantasy Life used to be regular life. And I didn’t know how good it was.

And now regular life is the elusive fantasy life.

And I can’t wait to taste it again.

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My Son’s Other House

Sometimes, the unexpected makes me happy.

Sometimes, the unexpected makes me happy.

The drive took one and a half songs.

My five-year-old sang along with both because he has good taste like me.

From my door to hers.

I didn’t check the mileage.

I didn’t check the time.

Which are two things I would have done four or five months ago. I would have paid attention to those little details.

My ex-wife texted me the address about 20 minutes before I left the house. She had asked me if I could bring over the lawnmower and a rake.

This is who we are now.

People who swap lawn tools.

I didn’t have any trouble finding the place. It’s a cute little house in a quaint little neighborhood not much different than mine. I suppose some people might say we live in the same neighborhood.

I pulled in the driveway. I was more curious than I was nervous about walking in there.

But I didn’t hurry. I sent our son Owen to the door without me as I pulled the lawnmower out of my Jeep and reattached the upper part of the handle for her, tightening it into place and giving the pull starter a yank to make sure it would turn over easy enough for her.

Old habits, you know.

I rolled it to the corner of her new house, propping one of our old rakes next to it.

Had I given my son a proper goodbye, I might have just left at that point. But I didn’t. So, I knocked on the door. She waved me in.

The place looked nice. Smaller than my house. And far from put together. The telltale signs of moving in were everywhere. Stacks of boxes. Bare walls.

But nice. I was happy for my son.

You enter into the living room. There were my couches.

This might have upset me had I not ordered my new ones yesterday.

One of my flat-screen televisions was sitting atop a cedar chest my grandfather had handcrafted for her as a wedding present a little more than nine years ago.

My ex-wife had painted our son’s new bedroom the day before.

Blue. It’s his favorite.

It was the only room in the house she had painted so far, putting him first. I was happy to see her doing that again.

His bed was made with a cool dinosaur comforter she must have just bought him. He loves dinosaurs.

I wanted to avoid seeing her bedroom, wondering how many men might be in there with her in the coming months. I still don’t like thinking about that.

Old habits, you know.

A mattress had been hastily tossed on the floor with some familiar sheets.

She didn’t have a bedroom set.

Shoe, meet other foot.

I told her the place looked nice and that I was happy for them.

It was sincere.

I was making my way toward the door when she mentioned she was having cable and Internet connectivity issues. The service had just been installed the day before.

Electronic gadgetry and technical troubleshooting was always my job.

“Do you want me to have a look at it?” I asked.

“Yes, please.”

“Do you have the password?”

She handed me a sheet of paper.

I looked down at a long handwritten alphanumeric sequence.

“You have any idea what these little giblet characters are supposed to be?”

There were two strange ones.

“I think the first one’s a lowercase ‘g’ and the second one is a lowercase ‘q.’”

“No way. This first one’s an ‘a.’ The guy just sucks at writing. Do you mind if I plug this into my phone and see if it connects so I can come steal free Wi-Fi?”

“Please. Go ahead.”

She said something lighthearted about the thought of me camped out on the street hacking her wireless signal.

We haven’t shared many laughs since late March. I’m still not sure how to feel about it.

I got the password plugged into my phone, replacing her ‘g’ with the correct, albeit poorly scribbled ‘a.’

It connected instantly.

“Yes. It’s an ‘a.’ If you plug it in using that ‘a,’ you’ll be happy with the results,” I said.

She thanked me.

“My pleasure. You still have my Netflix password so you guys can watch that, too, right?”

“I do.”

“Good.”

I kissed my son. Gave him a fist bump. Told him to be extra good for mom and to do a great job in school tomorrow.

“Have a good night, please. Talk to you soon.”

And out the door I went.

No lump in the throat.

No wishing I could stay.

No dreading coming home to my empty house.

Huh. That’s not what I expected. At all.

Delivered our son.

Brought rake and lawnmower.

Solved her wireless Internet problem.

And did so with kindness, to boot.

Old habits, you know.

But maybe some new ones, too.

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The Reclamation Project

Photo by Me. I've been getting out hiking more lately. All part of the reclamation process.

Photo by Me. I’ve been getting out hiking more lately. All part of the reclamation process.

My wife moved out six months and four days ago.

On April 1.

I felt like a fool. But it wasn’t a joke.

It seems like nothing has happened since then. But that’s not true.

A lot has.

Some of it has even been good.

A Six-Month Review 

1. I learned that my wife left me to pursue a relationship with a rich guy. 

The first thing I learned about him is that he took my son to his first baseball game. My, at the time, four-year-old son. The second thing I learned about him is that he hosted a sleepover for my wife and son. That news fundamentally changed me and everything I believed about my world, forever.

2. I created a Match.com account. 

In one of my all-time worst moves as an adult, I tried online dating less than two months after my wife left. One of my friends convinced me I needed to as part of his Three Poles in the Pond theory. My online-dating experience was mostly sad and horrible and only made me feel worse about my life. I strongly considered renewing my membership. In the end, I told Match and the scores of women who hate me there to piss off.

3. I created MBTTTR and started writing almost daily. 

This is one of the most-important things I’ve ever done for myself. I don’t suppose that makes sense to very many of you who don’t spend a lot of time writing. But, this is important to me. I don’t quite have the words. I don’t know what this is. I call it my journal. It sort of is. But it’s something else, too, thanks to all of the beautiful people reading and participating and rooting for me to succeed. This is the opposite of online dating. It’s been remarkably therapeutic. I get overwhelmingly positive feedback, which is beyond appreciated. And I’ve made some really nice human connections. It has accelerated my healing more than anything. I’m so grateful for this. And you.

4. The Pillage

My wife came and took a bunch of things out of the house—namely the living room furniture, my son’s bed and some barstools from my basement. It dramatically changed my mood. Because she was cohabitating with a man with loads of money, and still she was taking major pieces of what little I had in comparison. It was as much symbolic as it was a logistical challenge. Every day since, I’ve walked downstairs in the morning and come home in the evening to an uninviting living room. A place that echoes. A place that looks and feels empty. A place that made my home feel like a foreign place.

5. The Hearing 

My life took a turn for the better on the day of my divorce hearing. And not because I was happy to be rid of her. But that was the day that I learned that my wife’s relationship with her new boyfriend had failed. I was not celebrating her sadness. In fact, I felt something akin to sympathy for her. But her boyfriend was a bad person. It was something I knew for most of their relationship, and she did not. I lost a lot of sleep thinking about that man helping to raise my son. My divorce hearing was when I learned I no longer had to worry about that. Something that should have been horrible ended up being positive. It felt like divine intervention. Seriously.

My son's new bed makes me feel like a better father.

My son’s new bed makes me feel like a better father.

6. Every Day Since 

It’s been a slow climb.

Slow and steady.

But I continue to inch closer. Closer to reclaiming my life.

And each day I feel a little less broken.

Friends in my life—both new and old—give me confidence.

My son has a bed. He slept in it for the first time last night. And a little bit of terrible went away.

I bought a new couch and love seat today. My son was with me and I let him choose between the three sets I liked the most.

My living room will be fully furnished on Wednesday. And then even more terrible will go away.

You can’t know what that means to me.

I bought this couch and matching loveseat today. It will make my home feel complete and comfortable. I'm very happy about this.

I bought this couch and matching love seat today. It will make my home feel complete and comfortable. I’m very happy about this.

Because my five-year-old was so well behaved at the furniture store, I took him to Chuck E. Cheese for the afternoon.

Aside from the obvious problem of potentially contracting Kids AIDS, we had a great afternoon.

I bumped into a guy I know and his two daughters. He’s a new friend who is in a serious relationship with a girl I’m friends with from college. They live less than a block away from me.

In the Holy Shit, That’s Ironic Department, she’s the person who introduced me to my ex-wife in a city 230 miles away from here 16 years ago.

Her boyfriend Justin has two little girls that play well with my five-year-old son.

He had brought the girls to Chuck E. Cheese so they could attend a birthday party.

He was with a pretty blonde woman. She turned out to be his ex-wife. The mother of his children.

Justin sat across a table from me. We were handing out tokens to the kids each time they’d run out.

I asked him about being in the same place with his ex-wife. She left him four years ago after having an affair. She’s still with that other guy today.

But they’re friends now.

They appeared to get along effortlessly. Justin’s girlfriend—my old college friend—has become good friends with his ex-wife.

Just a few nights ago, Justin was using her phone for something. A text came through from his ex-wife to his current girlfriend: “I miss you and need to see you!!!”

Remarkable, I thought.

I don’t really want to be friends with my ex. But I like the idea that four years from now, so much could change for the better.

In only six months, so much has changed already.

I don’t miss her anymore. I miss companionship. But I don’t miss her.

I was rifling through my iPhoto library a short while ago to track down an image. I stumbled upon all my wedding photos.

I barely gave it a second thought.

My life got taken from me.

But now I’ve reclaimed it.

My son has a bed.

I have couches.

I have friends.

I have you.

I have peace.

sunsetphoto

Photo by Me. The Overlook at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a great place to take in a sunset. The sun will rise tomorrow. And it has a great chance to be even better than today.

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The Phantom Pain

Are these fears healthy and prudent? Or are they irrational and holding us back?

Are these fears healthy and prudent? Or are they irrational and holding us back?

It was a typical winter day in Ohio.

Around 9 a.m.

Co-workers were milling around, getting coffee and chatting.

I work in a large, shiny office building with hundreds of people. Our building sits along an Interstate a few miles outside the city.

Me and five others have desks nestled in a corner of the second-floor corporate offices. Huge windows line the walls, giving us a view of a busy two-lane road outside.

A typical winter day in Ohio generally consists of snow-covered grass and below-freezing temperatures. Moisture on the roads can freeze into an invisible layer of ice. Black ice, it’s called.

Driving the speed limit is encouraged in such conditions.

On this particular morning earlier this year, one driver didn’t get the memo.

He was driving a plain white contractor’s minivan. Recklessly. More than 80 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, the police said.

He lost control.

Through the large bullet-proof glass windows of our office, we all heard the sound of screeching tires, then a series of loud bangs as the van barrel-rolled across the road, taking out one of our company’s medium-sized trees, and slamming into six cars in our parking spaces nearest the road.

The driver was ejected and thrown headfirst through the windshield of a green BMW that had just gotten out of the body repair shop the day before. It was the last thing he ever did.

Now, those parking spaces are called “Death Row,” here. There is a mulch circle where the tree used to be.

Those spaces used to fill up pretty early in the morning. Now, many people are hesitant to park there.

As if the van crashing into them, and that man dying, makes it more likely that something bad will happen again, when—weather aside—the statistical probability of car accidents happening right there are the same every day.

It’s a Human Thing

We knee jerk. It’s what we do.

Terrorists fly planes into buildings. Then we’re terrified to fly.

I lived in Toledo, Ohio in September 2001. They evacuated the tallest building downtown that day. It’s only 33 stories. New York City alone has well over 100 buildings taller than that.

Remember your first trip to a movie theater after all of those people were shot and killed watching The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo.? Mine was a few days later. To see that very movie. There were extra policemen in theaters everywhere. I did think more about rogue gunmen that night than I normally would.

Similarly, not long after the D.C. sniper situation, some asshole with a rifle in Ohio was shooting drivers on their morning commutes just outside of Columbus. People everywhere were thinking about getting shot just driving their cars after that.

Whenever I walk into rooms in my house where I’ve seen the biggest spiders, I always catch myself looking in those same spots for them as if they’re most likely to show up there.

There are countless examples of this completely illogical, yet ever-present mental and emotional reflex many of us have to traumatic news or unpleasant situations.

Which brings me to…

My Next Relationship

I talk a pretty big game about wanting to meet someone. To eliminate the loneliness. To share moments. To connect on the kind of level that brings people together in meaningful ways.

But, like those people shaken when stepping on airplanes those first days, weeks and months following the Sept. 11 attacks; like those people nervous about walking into movie theaters after the Aurora shooting; and like everyone at my office hesitant to park in “Death Row,” I have an almost-involuntary aversion to letting myself get too close to another human being again.

I want to. In my head.

I believe inner peace and happiness lie there.

I believe satisfying physically intimate relationships lie there.

I believe a balanced life lies there.

But it does something funny to my chest. To my insides.

This idea of letting someone in again.

I’ve written about the feelings of rejection from my short-lived online dating experiment.

And other incidents have popped up where I realize just how fragile I am now.

I feel angry when people I care about are mistreated by their partners.

I feel concerned when people I care about have doubts about their relationships.

I feel sad when people don’t like me as much as I like them.

And it hurts when someone pushes me away. Whatever their reason may be.

More specifically, I feel all of these things more acutely than I ever have before.

The anger burns hotter. The concern, more pronounced. The sadness, heavier.

The pain? It scares me now in ways I’ve never experienced.

People who shouldn’t be able to hurt me can hurt me now. Little things that might seem silly and meaningless evoke feelings similar to when my wife expunged me from her life.

It’s like a layer of mental and emotional toughness has been stripped away, leaving me frail and weak. Vulnerable. Easy to damage.

Does this type of wound heal? Will scar tissue form? Is it possible to reacquire the armor I once possessed?

I don’t know.

Maybe time will heal this wound. Making me healthier.

But in the meantime, I have to ask myself some hard questions about what I’m willing to endure. What I’m capable of enduring.

Am I going to let a relative stranger in enough to hurt me the way my ex-wife did?

Am I going to ruin potentially good things by keeping people at a distance?

Am I being illogically reflexive? Irrational? Am I avoiding perfectly adequate parking spaces due to fears that don’t make sense?

At some point, I’m going to have to be honest with myself and others about these questions and answers.

Because I don’t want to live recklessly.

I don’t want to lose control.

I don’t want to end up a victim of self-destructive behavior.

Dead, but on display. Like that man on the BMW.

Unable to remind those looking on in horror to keep on living.

And to do so unafraid.

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Too Many Spiders

You looking at me, eight eyes? Have fun eating the bottom of my shoe.

You looking at me, eight eyes? Have fun eating the bottom of my shoe.

My five-year-old son has developed what I’d describe as an irrational fear of spiders.

He saw one in a bathroom at his grandmother’s a few weeks ago. And now, when he visits Grandma, he won’t use that bathroom without someone going in there with him.

Throughout the past four months of dealing with my wife leaving, I’ve developed what I’d describe as an irrational fear of many things:

  1. Dating – I’m afraid of doing the wrong thing. I’m afraid of hurting someone. I’m afraid of getting hurt. I’m afraid of rejection. I’m afraid of prolonged loneliness—and prolonged celibacy—which, let’s be honest, sucks ass.
  2. Single parenting – I’m afraid of making choices that don’t represent the man I want my son to become. I’m afraid of not doing enough to give him the best chance academically, spiritually, in his athletic endeavors, in his social life.
  3. Financial health – I have less money than I did when I had a partner. Because life is more expensive now. I don’t like worrying about money. Good thing I didn’t just buy a new car. Oh, wait.
  4. Writing – What if this is wasted energy? What if no one reads it? What if they do and they hate it? What if I run out of things to say? What if people think I’m a fraud?

These are irrational fears.

These are my spiders.

I asked my son: “How big was that spider you saw in the bathroom?”

He showed me with his fingers. Maybe a centimeter. Like that lamesauce face cut I had a couple weeks ago.

“And how big are you?” I asked him.

He puffed his little chest out. “This big!” he said.

“So why are you scared of that little spider?”

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Practicing What You Preach

And that’s when it hit me.

Because I’m not going to be the kind of asshole dad that says: Do what I say, not what I do.

My spiders are no different than his. I’m big enough to handle them. Smart enough to handle them.

And I’ll respect myself a little more in the morning if I whine less.

Much of this blog is a massive manifesto of whining. That’s not something I’m proud of.

But my writing is honest. A reflection of how I’m feeling in a given moment.

This divorce thing is a roller coaster. Ups and downs.

And I’m kind of on an upswing. So I’m just going to go with it.

Because spiders are bullshit. At least the ones chilling on your wall. Or crawling on your floor. Or dropping down from your ceiling.

I’m an arachnid assassin. I haven’t met one yet whose shit I couldn’t ruin with a swift newspaper swat or shoe beating.

And my metaphorical spiders? They’re bullshit, too.

I can accept feeling sad. I can accept feeling angry. I can accept feeling lonely.

But I’m not going to accept feeling fear. It’s debilitating. And the greatest obstacle to our pursuit of happiness.

I’m not suggesting I won’t fear things. It’s always going to rear its ugly head.

But those are merely opportunities to display courage.

I’m not going to fear spiders. The real kind. Or the metaphorical kind.

Because my spider Kung Fu is strong.

I’m not afraid.

A special thanks to the author of the blog Too Many Spiders for the post-title inspiration and for being steady and brave as a writer, wife and mother.

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