Weeks after my husband moved out of the family house, I pumped gas at the gas station while talking to my mother on the phone.
“I can’t produce saliva, I’ve been crying so much,” I said.
“It may take two or three years before you’ll feel back to normal,” Mom said.
My knees buckled under me. “I don’t think I can take it for that long.”
Someone somewhere once said it takes approximately twenty-one days to change a habit but that’s not the same as getting used to a life change thrusted upon you like divorce.
Those early days of separation, when I didn’t know definitively if my marriage was ending, it felt like a bad cold sore inside my mouth—one so huge, it was difficult to speak; so irritated that my tongue couldn’t stay away from it; a constant ache aggravated by acidic food. But over time, it slowly shrunk without me even noticing, only to be chomped on unexpectedly, drawing a little bit of blood.
“Shit, that hurt.”
Mom was somewhat right. I now know it takes more than two or three years.
“I hate to tell you,” my friend Nancy said, several years of divorce ahead of me. “Those moments of grief will come up suddenly, continuing to knock you off your feet. When it does, call me.”
Four-and-a-half years later, my divorce stills unexpectedly draws a little bit of blood—seeing his Instagram post from some glamorous beach resort, (*unfollow*); hearing about an event he attended with my kids, (I hated that event anyway); learning he has a younger, thinner, taller girlfriend, (shit, that hurts.)
In those early months of separation, the moments of grief were somewhat self-inflicted. When my ex finally asked for the divorce, he reassured me that he would still be in my life. I was pleased he wanted me in his. It felt mature and loving. We could avoid the bitterness we heard about other couples who sent nasty texts and made their friends choose a team.
‘This is good,’ I thought. ‘The best of both worlds. We can enjoy each other’s company, but I don’t have to live with his annoying habits, sleep with his snoring, and now I get the whole closet to myself.’
We went to dinner and events together even though it hurt he no longer wanted me to be his wife. I put on a brave face and powered through. It took a while to discover that in order to avoid drawing a little bit of blood, I needed more distance and time. Nearly five years later, I spend less time with him.
When I do learn about the beach resorts or other women, the time I spend knocked off my feet is getting shorter. To keep myself standing, I do this little visualization exercise of holding the images of him in my hand and flinging them out far beyond my peripheral vision saying to him, ‘You go do that waaaaay over there.’ Then I return to the present, reminding myself that I don’t particularly enjoy those exclusive beach resorts. I think instead, ‘Today I’m going to *fill in blank here* and it’ll be awesome.’
Like those flung images, my past life with him seems further and further away, becoming smaller and smaller. The memories are like passages from a book I read a while ago, kinda remembering the gist of it, unable to quote from it. In the meantime, I ask for patience so that maybe, someday after more distance and time—when that cold sore shrinks some more—I will be able to move closer to those memories—and to him—without drawing blood.