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August 18, 2010

The kids just left with their father–they’ll sleep at his house tonight, fly cross country with him to visit his mother tomorrow. I won’t see them until the end of the month.

This is no catastrophe–I have a huge backlog (and frontlog, for that matter) of work, friends to catch up with, and my patient kind boyfriend to keep me company. The kids have gone on a plane before. They have even gone on a plane alone (last summer, to see my dad and stepmother.) They’ve been away nearly this long before. I’m used to being without them on a regular basis. Still, I have a crushing panicky feeling that I can’t shake.

Summer is over and gone, over and gone, as E. B. White’s crickets sang near the end of Charlotte’s Web.

Today I went back and read my journal entries and e-mails from the week we told the children we were separating. It was dead winter then, almost exactly two and a half years ago. It was, without question, the worst day of my life. I’m not a glutton for punishment–I would happily let the dead stay buried, but I’m writing about that awful day and I have a blank space in my memory, not enough scaffolding to support an essay. So I looked it up. Reading about it was ghastly. Afterward, I staggered around with the excavated horror fresh in my head, wanting nothing more than to hunker down with the kids. I played Monopoly with them, took them to the pool, where we all shared a lane and swam a few crooked laps. Packed their suitcases with them. Kissed and hugged them as much as they would let me, which was, happily, a lot.

And now they’re gone–three whole blocks away at their father’s house (he just called, asking me to bring more shorts over for the younger one–I’ll have to repeat my good-byes, I suppose) and I am utterly bereft. What an idiot I am. It’s not the kind of missing where you’re sure the people will come back. I’ve got that epic feeling of hopelessness, the sense that all is lost, and it’s all out of proportion to reality.

Jean-Pierre Vernant used the term “torn consciousness” to describe “the awareness of the contradictions that divide a man against himself” endemic to Greek tragedy. Duty versus love. Filial attachment versus law. He certainly wasn’t talking about the mild anomie of a divorced woman in a small suburban town, missing her half-grown kids. If my particular consciousness is indeed torn in some self-aware way, it’s because I know perfectly well that my problems are not quite on the same level as, say, Clytemnaestra’s or Agamemnon’s. As usual, I feel rather foolish for being so broken up over trivialities.

Still, I miss them. I wrote my wise editor friend, whose older son starts college this week, an email griping about it.

“To be honest,” she wrote back, “I think the way we live now is a violation of nature. Humans are fangless, furless, clawless creatures who developed as tribal beings for the sake of survival. It’s not in our nature to send children into the world without us or to be separated from our mates by a hundred miles. We are not wrong for feeling this way. We evolved specifically TO feel this way. The world is fucked up. That’s the cause. I’ll let you know if I ever discover the remedy. So far it has eluded me entirely, but I’m wondering if a stopgap might be Skype.”

Perhaps. I’ve never Skyped. It doesn’t sound very satisfying, but I may be wrong. Picture Odysseus and Penelope, simultaneously logged on. Might have eased the sting of the twenty year separation, and put those pesky suitors in their place.

In other news, our week away on the lake with four kids was simply divine. We lucked out–the spot was exquisite, the weather was perfect, and the children behaved (at least some of the time) like sweet old fashioned children–catching fish and frogs and turtles, picking blueberries, swimming and bickering and inventing contests (who can balance longest standing on the floating inflatable raft? Who can build the best fairy house out of pinecones and twigs and moss and bark?) There were moments of pure happiness that I’m storing up for the winter–that calm, full-body happiness I’ve missed for so long. (I’ve had the frantic kind of happiness, that psychic scrabbling, if you will, that is desperate, high-pitched, and inevitably followed by a sudden crash into misery, far too often these past few years.)

But while my boyfriend and I were smiling and smug and feeling all cozy and content, the kids, one by one, had little fits of missing their absent parents. There were a few tears at bedtime, a few urgent cell phone calls “just to say good night.” Even my younger son got in on the act, which is unusual. Walking the path down to the lake by myself one afternoon it occurred to me that my days of easy peacefulness might be over for good. When I was younger, married, with small children, the way before me was as plain and straight as an arrow truly shot. I was where I was supposed to be, with the proper people, all the time.

Leaving a marriage that’s made you unhappy for years, when your spouse wants you to stay, is a fairly desperate act. To get out, you’ve got to reach your absolute nadir of misery; suddenly, you’re ready to gnaw your own leg off to escape. Once free, you think the worst is behind you, and in many ways it is. However, it doesn’t seem so unreasonable to miss the limb you chewed off from time to time. Or, more accurately, to miss that creature formerly known as you who had all her limbs, everything lovely and intact. The person who, in her faith and ignorance, didn’t give wholeness a second thought.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    August 19, 2010 10:17 am

    Your writing is beautiful. I’m so glad I found your site.

  2. August 19, 2010 2:56 pm

    Fucking beautiful.

    I think a lot about the concept of wholeness. By the end of my marriage, I had stretched myself so thin, I felt like I was only half a person. That was why I left. My ex may never be whole, but I wanted my kids to have at least one whole parent.

    I’m still working on it.

  3. Momsy permalink
    August 19, 2010 4:18 pm

    Definitely try Skype. I dropped my son at College this weekend and it was utterly heartbreaking. We Skyped on Tuesday and it helped me so much.

  4. nancyd permalink
    August 19, 2010 10:05 pm

    somehow your posts are always just what I am going through…right now dreading my girls’ first 9 day trip on a plane away from me. its NOT natural to be separate from our kids for that long!

  5. minoti permalink
    August 20, 2010 12:43 am

    you are an amazing writer. and interestingly enough, i was actually going to ask you how you come to terms with your kids going on vacation with their dad and leaving you by yourself for an extended period of time. and lo and behold. i did not have to ask the question.
    i am sorry you feel that desperate, really lonely feeling, and i feel sorry that i cannot offer you any consolation because i am feeling that exact emotion, you phrased so eloquently, right now.
    i clean a lot when i’m alone or stressed or unhappy … but there is so much you can clean, huh!
    here are some hugs for you; and hopefully tomorrow you will wake up with a wee bit lighter feeling.
    take care of yourself.

  6. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    August 20, 2010 9:48 am

    Funny e-mail I got last night that cheered me up:

    “So, the whole plot of the Odyssey wold fall apart if they had video chat. Nobody could claim O wasn’t coming back — he could have been there on the screen issuing orders all along. Assuming, of course, that the laptop survived the shipwrecks. Or maybe the laptop becomes another of those things the gods manage to provide at key moments. On the other hand Circe wouldn’t have liked it, and you never know what sorcery might have managed…”

    The Skypessey: An Achaean Homecoming. I’m going to pitch it as a warm and fuzzy dramedy….like thirtysomething, with chitons and computers. Lute music for the theme song.

    • midlife wanderer permalink
      August 20, 2010 1:36 pm

      I’m glad the new Skypessey cheered you up, I guess I should have posted it here. I’m about to teach it again, in fact (well, the one where all the stars in the heavens are stars, no satellites)…

      Meanwhile I’m wondering if you’re maybe a bit seasick, not quite got your sea legs, for this next leg of your journey which is, all told, one with good winds and sturdy vessel — you’ve been clinging to one piece of flotsam after another for a long while, or rowing like hell with no sails — what does it feel like to take the helm?

      bon courage!

  7. Celeste permalink
    August 20, 2010 9:57 pm

    Best post ever, including the comments. I love it.

  8. August 21, 2010 8:12 am

    Yes! That lonely, not whole feeling you describe is exactly the feeling that left me utterly paralyzed the first time I came home to an empty apartment and no Sunshine (my daughter) post divorce. It’s very hard to describe that feeling to people who’ve never been through it…but you nailed it. And, the thing is, three years later the feeling is still there in the back of my heart every time she rotates to the “other” house for parenting time with her Dad. It never really goes away…although sometimes it seems less intense than other times. It throbs, if that makes sense.

  9. August 21, 2010 11:09 am

    Ah, the holiday sounds wonderful. Something to remember always.

    We do need our tribe. I often feel there isn’t enough of my family, somehow. I feel our resources aren’t enough, there is not enough numbers for safety, or they’re too old and it wouldn’t take much to lose them all. There aren’t enough spares! We’re like a forest that has thinned out to the point where we don’t offer enough protection to each other anymore. Our group life is sporadic and insufficient, too.

    On the other hand, people are maddening and tiring, and I want to be on my own.
    ‘Tis the truth, I’m afraid.

  10. August 22, 2010 10:52 am

    Thank you for your honesty and your skill with language.

    I found this post through Beligian Waffling on Twitter, and will gladly add you to my feed reader.

    I hope your feeling of panic does not dominate, has writing it down helped at all?

  11. butterfliesrfun permalink
    August 26, 2010 4:54 pm

    I don’t quite remember how I found you, but I’m sure glad I did. You have nailed my feelings precisely time and time again.

  12. nancyd permalink
    August 26, 2010 10:57 pm

    you know what is good about kids leaving with ex? If you can jet off to bermuda with your fun sister and lying on the beach and drinking your face off every night-this helps QUITE a bit with the feeling of missing the kiddies…..

  13. Christina permalink
    September 5, 2010 8:20 pm

    Cool–how great that you and your boyfriend feel so complete thanks to another woman’s children–almost like the daughters you never had!

    So happy for you!

    • A Friend of the Blog permalink
      September 7, 2010 10:15 pm

      I’m mainly a lurker, but I’m decloaking to say that I think maybe Christina is sort of missing the whole point of this post. Irretrievably is fully aware of the irony inherent in feeling complete only at the cost of others’ incompleteness. It’s the same thing as saying you can never be fully happy again– or have all your limbs safely in place, once you’ve chewed off one of them to make yourself free.

  14. anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2010 9:26 am

    That last paragraph… I need to carry it with me wherever I go. Except I can’t, because I’m at the point where I’m in complete and utter denial of the nadir of misery. I don’t want to have to chew any limbs off. I’m positive that I can’t.

    Which begs the question: why am I here, wishing I could carry your words with me wherever I go?

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