Lately, I have been thinking about where I was this time last year. I had briefly let Chef move into the spare room of my house, and it was going about how you would expect…beyond horribly. Within a few weeks, I would get in my car and drive away for good. I left everything I owned except a few clothes and some trinkets of a rickety new life I’d tried to start that same year. I remember feeling different this time, though. I knew I wasn’t ever going to be coming back. Nothing on the surface had really changed for me, but somehow, my soul understood. This time was different. I had a tiny sliver of strength growing deep inside, because I had begun to find some relief from the most devastating part of this whole mess…my own mind.
Long-term marriages have infinitely more potential to completely destroy the people in them when they fall apart than any other kind of break up, no matter how Shakespearean. Decades of identities interwoven, children raised and gone, hardships overcome together, finances indistinct and no longer clearly claimed by either spouse, and the sheer numbers of memories, all weave together in a way guaranteed to let no one walk away unwounded or unchanged. The ripping of two souls once bonded together will always leave scars on both sides.
For me, the true hell was the memories.It was like being bombed repeatedly by your own country. I was being wounded by friendly fire.
What does one do with the billions of memories you’ve collected all those years together? In my case, each sparkly memory of happy times with the man I loved tormented me incessantly for a whole year after I left him. Day or night, awake or asleep, they would be right there to haunt me.
Memories that had once faded into rather shadowy collections of a life of happiness and contentment had suddenly become sharply in focus, so unexpectedly dangerous, and razor sharp in the realization that they would never mean what they once did to me ever again. Even the simplest of those sweet memories had instantly become a shard of broken glass, and my own mind cut my heart into ribbons for what had seemed an eternity.
Memories that had been stored and quite literally forgotten about for years would leap out at the most unexpected of moments, disfigured by his
betrayal, mocking in their insincerity, and more powerful than any knife or gun in their ability to wound me. It was a horrible place to be in my life. Memories of moments we had shared, deeply intimate and once supremely treasured, would instantly cruelly shift, and my mind would see Chef sharing that same moment with this new woman he was in love with now. I often feared I’d eventually lose my mind.
I had no refuge from all those supposedly benign, happy memories. There simply were too many, and I was tormented by their existence and their ability to cast any other woman in my place without any interruption at all in Chef’s life. I hated each one of those cursed memories of loving my husband, but they were a part of me, connected to my children, part of my understandings about this life, and I often cried myself to sleep, begging God to make them stop. And even as I wept those prayers, the understanding of why He would never take them away from me despite the pain, would often bring me to the brink of pure despair.
I have often pondered about the role that time plays in the healing of wounds that cut so deep in the souls of people. What was it that time was able to work in my broken, sad heart that made those memories stop slicing me open? Why was time able to help me to stop crying for the beloved past? How did time change those angry, accusing memories back into soft clouds of a past now gone? And was it time that stopped allowing me cast Chef’s latest conquest into the scenes from my life?
Is time magical? I don’t think so. I think it is more of an ingredient. Time is necessary to create new memories. Time is needed to adjust to a new perspective. You simply must have time in order to have new conversations with new people. After the forest of memories burned down, time allowed new hopes to spring up, and time rained on some of my hopes, and they grew healthy and strong into trees of goals and accomplishments. Time allowed me to find faith in myself again, and to get to know who I was after all of this had changed me.
I realize now, over the last few years, I’ve made new memories. The kids and I can fondly recall our ghetto apartment, our crazy experience
renting a room in someone’s house, and other memories unique to our lives as they are now, separated from Chef’s life.
My life quietly gathered into it, new people, new conversations, new boundaries, new memories. I have new hopes growing where others died the day my marriage died. I have different expectations from my life, and I understand myself and others a little better having experienced this. There is a sense of durability that only time could have tested to me now, and the resilience can no longer be questioned. Time has proven I can survive, even when I don’t really want to.
My memories have stopped haunting me, mainly because my mind has so many new ones to focus on now. The trauma isn’t fresh anymore, and increasingly, I find there is nothing more to be gleaned from revisiting that sad wreckage of a marriage that was no greater or lesser than any others, and died in a sadly common way as well. Time has doggedly marched on, and with it, so have I.
Lately, I’ve been able to gently allow those once dangerous memories of love lost to gently take focus in my mind, not instantly slamming doors on them like I’ve been doing these last two years. Like the gentle exploration of a healing cut, I am quick to pull away from anything too painful. Yet, I find lately that some of the most devastating of memories now hold none of the destructive power they did a mere year ago. They’ve all begun to recede from the reality of my life now, no longer magically able to convince me of a life of perfection, but also no longer able to cut me to the quick with their existence.
Time has allowed my life to return to a balanced state. Hope is powerful to those who have known disappointment as well. Love is better for those who have experienced hate. Kindness means more to those who have experienced disregard. Trust has a new value to me, having seen it balanced against betrayal of the most intimate kind. Life is about striking a balance, and time is an ingredient necessary.
I have had a few things happen lately that I eventually plan to write about, but I’m still trying to sort through what I really feel about them. I believe I am about to lay the last of my history with Chef aside, severing the last real ties I have with that relationship and the life I had with him forever. I have found it surprisingly hard to let this last vestige go, but I feel the time has finally come. No one can live peacefully with one foot planted firmly in the past. It is time to let it all go.