There’s an unassuming tree stump in a park I like to visit on my lunch hour. It’s situated by a picturesque lake, surrounded by red cedars and Douglas firs. There is nothing special about this tree stump…except for the fact that it once served as the backdrop to a family Christmas card photo, many years ago.
Because of this, the tree stump and I are inexorably linked forever. It’s a physical reminder of a past life, one that I would like to forget. But try as I might, I can’t forget. Every time I see it, I remember.
It’s amazing how objects – and places – can do that.
I recently blogged about my history with women, most of it bad. I should point out that it wasn’t all bad. I met a couple of really cool women and actually had a few good dates, too. Enough to whet my appetite and keep me optimistic, I suppose. For one reason or another, those dates never led to anything serious. Actually, there’s a very good reason, but it’s impolite to speak ill of the dead – even if that person took glee in sabotaging every chance of happiness that came my way. Bygones, though. If it had gone any other way, Tara and I might not be together.
And there is one glaring omission from my history, without whom there would be no Audrey or Rusty. I am speaking about my ex-wife, of course. Or not speaking about her, as the case may be. It’s a tricky subject, with family reading…and possibly the ex herself. But the completist in me says go for it anyway. So I will attempt to do so, with subtlety.
When you have kids together, it’s impossible to completely distance yourself from your former spouse. And when you work right down the street from where she lives, there is always the possibility of a chance encounter. In fact, just last week I walked right past her and she had no clue. I was walking by her townhouse and she picked that exact moment to check the mail. Fortunately, she was really engrossed in the contents of her mailbox and never glanced up, or she would have spotted me immediately. It’s strange because we do not have the type of relationship where we see each other or are even very cordial to one another. I’ve only actually seen her, from a distance, one other time in the past couple of years. All thanks to her second husband, who was the catalyst for our divorce and my daughter living with us full-time, but I don’t dare touch that topic. Read between the lines all you want.
We met in the 12th grade and were “high school sweethearts,” as much as I have grown to despise the term. Hearing that always made people gush, but while the notion is romantic, the reality of the situation is far different. There is no way you will be the same person at 37 as you were at 17, and therein lies the problem. I’m sure there are many success stories involving people who met as teenagers and stayed together ’til death did they part, but the ex and I simply drifted apart over the years, our interests diverging wildly. During our marriage, I was not true to myself, suppressing many of my interests – indeed, my very identity – to maintain a harmonious union. This weighed heavily on me, and ended up breeding a combination of resentment and discontent years before we ever considered parting ways. When I first started blogging in 2001, I wrote about my growing unhappiness. Despite that, I was “all in” once our kids were born, and probably would have been forever had events not forced my hand. And why not? We were living the American dream in 2006. House in the suburbs, cushy jobs, two cars parked in the garage, weekend barbecues on the deck. There was a certain comfort in the norm, as staid and humdrum as I often found it.
I am not bitter over this “forcing of the hand,” though. Turns out it was the best thing that ever happened to me. As hard as it was standing before a judge on a bitterly cold and rainy December afternoon and admitting our marriage was irretrievably broken, doing so gave me the freedom my heart had long yearned for and allowed me to live the life I was meant to. I am by no means an advocate for divorce – dammit, marry the right person the first time, people! – but for me, it was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. My ex would probably say the same thing. I know Tara would, pertaining to her own situation. Sometimes, it really is for the best.
Were there good times? Of course there were. You don’t stay married 14 years if it’s all a big, miserable blur. At one time, we were the best of friends. But time has a funny way of chipping apart at that, as ceaselessly as the tides eventually erode granite. Yes, we met at a young age, and maybe that doomed us. But had we met later, we’d have been incompatible. And there would be no Audrey or Rusty. Meaning, it’s hard to regret a single thing. I was happy once. Then I wasn’t for a while, but now I am again. Bottom line, that’s all that really matters.
I’ll remember all that the next time I walk past the tree stump by the lake…