I found an old diary I kept right as my marriage broke up. It was tucked in a box of stuff I’d forgotten about until recently. A wall of boxes blocked the windows in my guest room. Thick and heavy, they contained a jumble of junk and useful items from my past lives. CDs, DVDs, sheet music, books, the odd stuffed animal, old writing samples, assorted kitchenware and a few items from my parents’ estate all mixed together. But friends from California were due to arrive, so I needed to free up space so they’d have some when they occupied the room.
Lots of things were tossable. Threw out an ancient rolodex, shoes that’d deteriorated, bobbles and bits that no longer held any meaning. Discovered a few lost treasures, like an adorable wooden bull my parents gave me when I was little, along with a perpetual flip-date desk calendar that was made in Japan.
And then I came across the diary.
I bought it at Phipps long before I worked there, on clearance. Always planned to write a journal, but never got around to it. When the guillotine came down on my marriage, that seemed like a good of a time as any to start. So I did.
I sat down on the guest bed and flipped through the pages. Some were thoughts I didn’t want to forget regarding the book I was writing (and now am editing). Then there’s a list of songs/artists I wanted to download. Here and there are a few sketches. Most compelling, though, stared me in the face as I opened the cover.
My first entry says,
Menopause and divorce don’t mix.
That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, but that’s also the position I find myself in. At this point in my life, I thought my husband and I’d be planning a cushy retirement somewhere cheap and warm other than Florida. Instead, I’m looking to move out to a cheap house and full time McDonald’s. After a series of nonprofit part-time jobs, I’m heading to the career basement. Even more depressing is the [social security] statement I received the other day. My salary went south the day I married, and hasn’t recovered since.
My fault? Of course it is.
Am I bitter? No, just stupid.
Love does that. Threw all my hopes and dreams into a future with one person. Well guess what?
I’m the asshole.
Sure, I can comfort myself with other stories of divorced people who’ve been wronged. But hell, I put myself in this position.
Now I have to dig out.
Trick is, just exactly how do I do it?
I beat myself up because up to marrying, I prided myself on how well I managed my life and career. Didn’t make it to the top 1%, but I owned a 500 square-foot apartment in midtown Manhattan, in a doorman building, no less. Worked at a prestigious arts organization. Traveled. Attended numerous plays, operas, ballets and performances. Led a cultured, if somewhat occasionally lonely life, but few regrets.
Then 9/11 happened. And yes, I knew some who’d perished horribly. Don’t really care to rehash that whole day. Three weeks later, I met the man I’d marry less than a year later. With so much death surrounding me, I wanted to live. And so did he.
Marriage can chip away at who you really are, if you let it. And I did. More and more I allowed myself to cede who I truly was to the man who needed me to be someone else. I put my own needs, wants and desires further back in the closet, until I reached a point where I created nothing at all. After our son arrived, even more of me disappeared. Pretty soon, I had nothing left of me…or to give. And yet, I had to be there for my dying parents, a growing child and a husband who worked crazy hours with a long commute.
Occasionally we talked about the state of our marriage. But nothing really came of it. To be fair, it was both our fault. We should’ve talked more; I should’ve said what I needed from our marriage, but never found the time or the courage. My husband could be very moody, especially when working on tight deadlines, so I buried what bothered me.
My husband fell asleep on the couch instead of our bed. He gained over one hundred pounds. Our sex life vanished. Then he lost all the weight. We tried to restart what faded between us, and, after a trip to San Francisco, he discovered he wasn’t interested in me at all. Not long after, someone much younger “got him” in ways I apparently couldn’t.
Hence the journal entry.
Sure, I’m cutting to the chase here. Much more happened than what I’m letting on.
I do kick myself still about letting my career slide away. But I’m on the upswing now and my days at Phipps will soon fade into the background.
Slowly I’ve begun to rediscover the old me. I’m so close to finishing my book. Oh, it’s done, but my agent handed me LOTS of changes. But my husband isn’t here to inform me that I “chose writing over him.” My son joined the Navy and loves it. I’m immersing myself in the local arts scene. I’ve made wonderful friends. I have time for me, once again.
Most importantly, my friend from California reminded me of what I need to remember:
I have value.
And I’m succeeding in finding my way back to the real me.