Windshield, I mean
Something kept sounding wrong about that last title. I muttered it over and over again, windowshield? Windowshield? We were in the car driving to my house from his apartment late last Friday night when my boyfriend remarked on the lovely windshield of my new Honda Fit. “Yes, it does have a great windowshield,” I said without thinking. “Wait,” he said. “Is that what it’s called?” Windowshield, windowshield, windowshield, we muttered together, and then we burst out laughing. Well, I have a lot of non-American readers, I told myself, cringing a little. Maybe it just seemed like one of those charming cultural things, like saying lorry instead of truck.
I kept expecting a comment teasing me for making such a dopey mistake, or at least asking (politely) what on earth I was talking about. But instead I got a bunch of the kindest comments I could imagine.
Listen, I started this website for totally selfish reasons. It was a great place to snivel about my divorce, both because it felt good to snivel and because I thought sniveling in an organized fashion (as opposed to a wholly circular fashion, over and over again all night long in my head or to my long-suffering friends) might help me snap out of my grief. But it didn’t take very long for the whole enterprise to go straight to my head. After only a few comments thanking me for sniveling, I decided I wasn’t sniveling at all. Instead, I was doing something totally necessary, helping guide poor sad readers through the horror of divorce. I couldn’t ever stop blogging! People needed me! This lasted for years, during which I felt alternately smug and vital (when I posted) and guilty (when I didn’t). And then, recently, the whole thing flipped again.
Now I’ve realized that I do, in fact, write this blog for totally selfish reasons. I write it so that I can go back and see what a mess I was when I started, and pat myself on the back for having come so far. I write it so that I can reread things I’ve written, because reading things one has finished writing is the most seductive pleasure I know. (I mistrust people who say they love writing. I don’t love writing. I do, however, love having written.) I write it because I have lots to say about my fascinating life, and I require a captive audience. I write it because no one is keeping track, and I can therefore start an entry and not wrap it up till months later, if I feel like it.
And I write it because, invariably, I get back more than I give. Not only do your comments flatter me (which they do–I wish you could see me preening), but they tease out the inconsistencies and unclear bits in what I write, and they make me go back and reconsider things I was quite certain about when I was writing them down. When I’m overly full of myself, a comment or two punctures my ego most kindly. This is more valuable than you know. After all, writing’s a lot like acting, since one is generally writing for an audience, and everyone knows how conceited actors are. Being brought back to earth, being held liable for one’s narcissism and solipsism, is invaluable.
Moreover, every time someone tells me that she knows how I feel, that the similarities between our marriages/divorces are astonishing, that she can identify with what I’ve written, I am truly moved and comforted. In real life the people I hang around with are mostly still married. I know that being divorced is not that big a deal, truly I do, but sometimes it feels rather like a big deal, and most of the time I feel as if I’ve crossed over some strange divide that not only separates me from most of the people I know, but also from my younger self, who could never have imagined she’d end up here.
And so, the comments on my last entry prompted me to think seriously about a few things I have said. Do I wish I had never gotten divorced? No, actually. I see my ex-husband now and I cannot imagine even having supper with him, much less going to bed with him every night from now until one of us dies. (Not all that long ago, I took him to the airport. I drove, he rode, and the minute he settled into the passenger seat I started grinding my teeth in annoyance. I called consoling-windows friend the second I dropped him off to tell her that the twenty-minute drive had nearly killed me. “I hate the way he sits in the car,” I hissed. She thought it was hilarious, but actually it made everything absolutely clear; if I can’t stand the way he sits in the car, then it’s probably safe to assume another thirty or forty years of marriage would be an uphill climb.)
Do I wish I had stayed married? I implied that I do, in a response to one of your comments, and then I thought about it some more, and I must redact what I said. I do not wish I had stayed married. (Is this the same thing as wishing I had never gotten divorced? Not quite, somehow.) I used to be wrenchingly sad about all kinds of abstractions–the idea that I’d destroyed our family, for instance, got me every time–but I am not any more.
I wouldn’t wish divorce on anyone, is I guess what I meant to say. However, I’m very happy I got divorced.
I actually think this is how most people end up. I think it’s rare to not feel better after the worst is over. I think it’s hard to resist first the lure, and then the thrill, of new beginnings. I think it’s impossible not to feel disproportionally independent and brave when you start doing even the silliest things (maybe especially the silliest things) you used to avoid, or not know how to do, or even fear, when you were married. This has certainly been the case for me. You do something tiny–call the plumber, say, or pay your taxes on time–and suddenly you feel like a real live adult with her shit together. Then you realize that you’re the equal of pretty much anything the world throws at you–and that’s an amazing feeling, really it is. You reserve the right to be vexed when shit goes wrong–which it will, just as it did when you were married, on a regular, unpredictable basis. But you don’t feel like you’re out to sea every time the check engine light comes on or the basement floods. That edge of desperation is, it seems, gone forever. The best thing about stepping up and coping with all the minutiae of adult life turns out to be the realization that you now know exactly how to step up and cope.
So, seven years after the marriage started to fall dramatically apart, and five years almost to the week after our separation, I realize I’m awfully glad I got divorced, after all. This is no small thing. It might actually mean I stop second-guessing myself, stop looking for what I did or he did and what was or wasn’t justified, stop trying to locate the precise moment my life went terribly wrong, because if I’m happy where I’ve fetched up, then how could everything have gone wrong?
It couldn’t have, and it didn’t. This is an obvious way to repackage the last seven years, and I’m shocked I never truly thought of it until now. You guys did, though. You figured it out. Thank you. And–for purely selfish reasons, mind you–I intend to keep writing here provided you keep writing back.