Last Saturday marks a year I have been single. I honored the day by buying new bedding. The most beautiful, girliest, flowery bedding Target offers. For decades I’ve met in the middle for all things home – dishes, bedding, towels, furniture. Always earth tones over pastels, paisley over flowers. This bedding is the exact opposite. A day or two later, I took the old bedding – one of the last things my husband and I bought together, maybe three months before the accident – and dropped it off at Good Will.
Another layer of my old life removed. Another step away from a life I once loved, a life that was. Another step into what is.
On Monday I cut the front yard. Nothing is as empowering to me as cutting my own grass (except maybe making my own paycheck). But it was the first time I’ve used the lawnmower this season, and it took four people to get it going. A neighbor, my best friend, and I spent several minutes pulling that stupid crank over and again, before I swallowed my pride and called my husband. “Want me to stop by?” he asked. Ten minutes later, I grinned my gratitude and pushed the mower ahead. He climbed back on his motorcycle and rode home.
My husband, I still say. Or, when a conversation involves my kids, I say “their dad.” But never ex. That’s weird, right?
The truth is, I love being single. So does he. But I hate words like “ex” and “divorce.” They don’t feel applicable to my life. Ex sounds like a source of contempt, a thorn in the flesh. I don’t hear “ex” and picture the guy who cranks the lawnmower for me, who brings cake to Mother’s Day Dinner. Who comes to Mother’s Day Dinner at all. But maybe they’re just more steps forward, like the bedding and the grass. Another step ahead, one I’m just not ready to make it yet.
I don’t know how to talk about being single. Most of my friends have either always been married or never have been. They can’t relate to my year of firsts – the first time I called the bank myself, instead of letting him take care of it. The first time I managed a stomach virus. The first time I bought girly bedding. They’ve never taken steps away from a life they vowed to make work, toward a life they could not imagine. They’ve never signed that dotted line.
So it’s hard to explain how I can both grieve the man I married and yet never question the decision to leave. I don’t have words for the boulder heaved from my chest the night I realized we don’t have to live this way. There are other options. The peace of living a life that is completely congruent, a life without justifying or tiptoeing or fear. Or the relief I feel when I see he is also doing well, that he too can breathe deep again.
I don’t say these things, because they feel taboo. In the world of faith, God hates divorce, and I should too. I should be single and miserable, or at the very least, keep my contentment to myself. That is what the voice in my head says as I write these words, as I even consider posting them somewhere. If people know I am both single and happy, they will lose respect for me. I won’t be pro-marriage enough, I will be selfish (the kids! What about the kids!) and self-absorbed. So I feel all of these things, and never share. When people ask how things are going, I offer something bland and pleasant. It’s enough for the moment.
But here is the truth: it’s been a year since I became single, and every one of us that once lived together is happier, healthier, and more at peace living apart.
Because it turns out there is a reality worse than divorce. There is something worse than leaving a bad place: staying in one. In my personal situation, the most faithful decision I could make was to no longer expect my (ex?) husband to be a person he physically, physiologically, could not be. The only way to honor him and the vows I made before God was to let him be the person he is now, not the person I thought he should be or even the person I married. To just let him be. Let him be a person who needed space and time to heal, so that he could move ahead as a dad to our kids and a friend to me.
It turns out I needed that space and time, too. It’s been a year, and we are all better than we could have been any other way. I can’t help but think God doesn’t hate that.