The night before my birthday, one month after my husband moved out, I had been distraught with grief. While sobbing, I asked out loud, “What is he thinking?”
Five minutes later, I opened my laptop to a new message from him:
Do you have any interest in getting together for a drink or dinner for your birthday?
I looked up at the ceiling and said to whoever was listening, “That was quick.”
I was pleased my husband had reached out to me, but was also irritated that he waited until the night before. I took a few minutes to reply, running a million questions through my head. Was this a step toward reconciliation? Do I cancel my birthday plans for him? Do I WANT to see him?
I’m interested, I texted back. But I’m having dinner with Sonia. I didn’t want to cancel on my best friend who shared my birthday.
What about a drink before? He replied.
I gave him the details. He replied, Great! I’ll see you there.
I had mixed emotions: surprised he could meet me that early after work; pleased he was making the effort; annoyed that he was making the effort now when I hadn’t felt like a priority for many years; and curious about how he was doing. While getting ready for the date, I repeated my new mantra: ‘Stay present.’
I chose my outfit: a pair of slim black jeans, classic white blouse, and black tuxedo jacket. I unboxed my new pair of designer shoes I bought myself for my birthday—silk and velvet, magenta stilettos. I packed them in my brand new designer bag—another birthday gift to myself. I made sure my blown hair was silky and shiny, and my lipstick matched my magenta shoes. Outwardly, I looked ready, confident and beautiful. Inwardly, not so much.
I looked down at my ringless finger where my wedding ring had lived for 30+ years. Should I put it back on? I decided not to. Maybe I wanted to send a message to him. Mostly, it was a reminder to myself—‘no matter what, I am and will be okay.’
Sonia had agreed to arrive a bit later to the rooftop restaurant in the midtown hotel. ‘Good luck,’ she texted me with a kissy emoji.
On the elevator in the hotel, I changed my shoes, then strutted in those new stilettos to the restaurant the table. I waited for him, settled into the banquette, and watched him approach me—his face and stride so familiar to me. My heart raced, not with excitement this time, but with anxiety. Do I kiss him on the mouth, or the cheek? Or just a hug?
“Happy birthday,” he said, leaning over for a hug, our bodies feeling like the same sides of two magnets, a force incapable of uniting. I wondered if we looked like a couple or old acquaintances once familiar with each other.
“Cheers,” we said as we clinked our favorite cocktails like we had done for hundreds of times, but this felt a bit like playacting.
We kept the conversation light, avoiding the present situation and the future. I told him how an online mindfulness program was helping me, and about a planned spa trip with some girlfriends to Sedona. He filled me on life at work.
He still wore his wedding band. He glanced at my ringless finger.
“You seem like you’re doing great,” he said, his eyes welling up. I tried not to notice, respecting his privacy but curious as hell.
I realized then that we were both doing our best to navigate this new phase of our lives without each other. I rubbed the inside of my ring finger with my thumb to remind myself, ‘I am and will be okay. And so will he.’