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Don’t go home again

November 5, 2014

September marked what would have been my twentieth wedding anniversary. It’s stupid to dwell on phantom milestones–you don’t get to think about your twentieth anniversary if you divorced your spouse right around what would have been your fifteenth. Still, my nerves twitched a bit as the date approached. Then, on the anniversary itself, I forgot. I’m sure my ex did, too–after all, he’s married now, starting the count all over again. Twenty years ago if you had shown me this particular future–us divorced, him remarried–I would have been horrified and appalled. But what do you know? I’m fine, better than fine, happier than I have ever been in my life. Marriage, as the amazing Louis CK said, is just like a larva stage for true happiness–which is divorce! Here, watch this.

Remember how last Christmas I’d planned to fly to California, and then my grandfather died, and then I wound up here instead? I rebooked the ticket, finally, about a week before it was set to expire, and I went to San Francisco to visit my lovely divorced friend. I have other friends still out there, too–friends from each of the three towns we lived in over the course of nine years, plus my old professors, my dissertation advisors, and so forth. I could easily have spent the entire week rushing from one to another, driving up and down the peninsula and across the bay to visit old haunts. In fact, this is what I have done, other times I’ve flown back to visit.

But this time I didn’t feel like haunting. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, save my hostess herself. I didn’t make a single plan. I stayed away from my graduate school campus, from the first house we ever owned, and especially from the little house that made me so sad the last time I visited, and the time before that. Instead, I holed up in San Francisco, a city we never actually lived in, a place with no fraught memories. It felt a little bit like avoidance, but it also felt really good. I’m sick of revisiting the past, actually. I had no interest in going back to my old stomping grounds, and then taking my psychic temperature, the better to blog about it.

West coast jet lag is a beautiful thing. Every morning I woke up right at sunrise, and watched the light over the rooftops across the street from my friend’s apartment–that incredible, limpid California light–shine free of the fog and take hold. God, the light in California. The trees, the water, the smells, the sky. I hated living there, but good grief, it’s a spectacular place.

The weather in San Francisco in October is surreal–I had to keep reminding myself, as I walked around basking in the sun, that these particular parts were foggy nine days out of ten the rest of the year. Mostly, I ate and walked and went to bookstores and ate again. My friend and I had plenty of time together–she’s a midwife, and all of her clients politely stayed out of labor while I was there. But I also had plenty of time alone.

The last day, right before I got on the red-eye home, I walked through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach to Point Lobos to Land’s End and then the long way back. It was a brainless day of sun and beautiful scenery. Here, look:








You just don’t get this on the East Coast. I sat down by the water’s edge and watched some seals for a while, as the tide came in and their rock grew smaller. They bickered, clambered, got splashed by the mounting surf. One jumped in and swam closer to me, bobbing up and down on top of the waves, till he finally flipped under one of them and disappeared. The sun beat down–I was getting burned, but I didn’t care. My head was empty, but my heart wasn’t quite light.

My ex-husband grew up in Palo Alto. He was so happy when we moved to California for graduate school, and he would gladly have stayed in the Bay Area for the rest of his life. I made us move back East, a move I’ve never regretted, though I bet he has. These were his rocks, his waves and sky, his seals. Does he hold this against me, too–that I took California from him as well, along with the marriage and the house and the kids and the safe future he once had? I would probably hold it against him if the tables were turned.

Or does he now think, Thank god all that shit happened, because I’d never have met my new wife otherwise? Does he feel–as Louis CK and I do–happier every single year? I’d like to think so. But I don’t know, and it’s none of–and never will be–my business.

I can’t wait until he has been married to his new wife for longer than he was married to me. I can’t wait until the years of our divorce outnumber the years of our marriage. I can’t wait till those shadowy paths not taken–the lives we would have lived if things had turned out differently than they did–don’t haunt me any more. I can’t wait until I stop feeling guilty for leaving him.

Those of you who are divorced, please answer: When, exactly, will that be?

27 Comments leave one →
  1. DES permalink
    November 5, 2014 11:49 am

    When is that? The tenth of never (33 years and counting). Even though it was the right thing to do, we didn’t have kids, and I haven’t had any contact with him for 25 years. I will admit that the pangs are far less frequent, and the second marriage reasonably happy.

    But there are times when you just know, even at the time, that an experience will, as they say, leave a mark. The divorce was one of those.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 6, 2014 10:09 am

      A friend who was divorced (no kids) once compared the experience to ripping apart two boards that had been superglued together. “There’s no way to do it without damage to both,” he said.

  2. November 5, 2014 12:16 pm

    I have no answer to your question. I only want to say I’m glad you took the trip and the photos are beautiful. If you ever want to hang out in Milwaukee and make different memories connected nothing from your past, there is always a room waiting for you.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 6, 2014 10:10 am

      Thank you, lovely Kory.

  3. November 5, 2014 1:06 pm

    I don’t know when exactly, but one day the guilt was gone. The curiosity has faded over the years, too, but it still pops up once in awhile, without any emotional component. Just a random wondering.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 6, 2014 10:10 am

      The curiosity is the weirdest part, in a way. It’s like you’re kind of hankering after some vestige of your old closeness. “I wonder if I still know what he’s thinking?” I think from time to time. Which is a silly thing to wonder, and self-indulgent too.

  4. November 5, 2014 1:07 pm

    Two divorces here – and one long, contented third marriage. I finally got it right. One of the former marriages “left a mark”, as the other commenter said, and, even though the years have piled up and have outnumbered the years of the past, I’d say the answer to your question is never.

    He just died in June. I still feel guilty. But I also know I did the right thing.

    I love the pictures. So pretty.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 6, 2014 10:13 am

      Yeah, I think I’ll always be haunted. I mean, I lived with the guy from age 22 to age 40. We grew up together. It makes sense. Maybe I should stop seeing it as aberrant and just accept this…what do you even call it? Inadvertent, un-looked-for bond. Unwanted but undeniable (and eternal) closeness.

  5. SarahB permalink
    November 5, 2014 1:08 pm

    I can’t answer your divorce question, but I understand how you feel about California.

    I love it, yet I can’t imagine ever living there. Your photos took me back to a decadent trip I took with my husband there in October several years ago. Ethereal…

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 6, 2014 10:14 am

      It’s so alien, the smells, the plants, the sky. Flowers all over the place. Those pictures came from a WALK–I didn’t drive anywhere to go for some fancy scenic hike, I just WALKED out the door from my friend’s apartment. And then I walked home. Unreal.

  6. November 5, 2014 5:16 pm

    As someone who got left, I have to say I am (unfortunately) still in a place where I really really hope she feels guilty. In the past year I’ve swung from being desperate to try to convince her to reconcile (beyond the point of owning my own part into pathologically being willing to take the blame for everything just so I could have her back – luckily this was all just in my own head) to finally remembering all the mean things she did to me at the end. I guess that is progress? Sigh.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 6, 2014 10:16 am

      I wonder whether my ex wants me to feel guilty forever. It would make sense if he did. Does it console you to hear that I was the bad guy and yes, I do feel guilty–chances are your ex does too?

      • November 6, 2014 10:11 pm

        Not really, because of course, at some level I don’t want her to be miserable. I just want her to realize her error and beg for me back! Heh. (Just to be honest, I also have my own guilt involving relocation and children, so I’m familiar with both sides. And I know for sure my guilt will never go away, entirely.)

  7. Brand New Day permalink
    November 5, 2014 5:22 pm

    I just read a quote (that I now cannot find) that went something like this: “Forgiveness is when you realize that things couldn’t possibly have turned out any other way.”

    I read it and sobbed, and then forgave myself for instigating my divorce, forgave a lover for leaving me heartbroken. Those things had to happen for the world to be as it is now, as it is meant to be.

    Perhaps you can forgive yourself, too, and find a little peace.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 6, 2014 10:17 am

      I’m peaceful, mostly, and happy, but I do wonder. And I worry that I should keep doing penance–that I really should feel guilty for the rest of my life, because I did an unkind thing, and I owe it to him, in a way. I’d have made a good Catholic.

      • November 6, 2014 5:44 pm

        You did a kind thing though for you and your children (at least that’s what I keep telling myself). And, yes you’d have made for a good Catholic!

  8. November 6, 2014 7:21 am

    I am still waiting too. My oldest daughter just turned 18, and the younger one 13; divorced 7 years, married 13. Coming up on what would have been our 20th, I find myself hoping that when we don’t have to actively co-parent things will be easier. Please let me hold onto that hope!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 6, 2014 10:17 am

      I look forward to the non-co-parent phase with unhealthy avidity….

  9. November 8, 2014 7:50 am

    I was the one who was left and I would say the answer is never; although surprisingly I am now seeing great advantages of being single and being able to do exactly as I want.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 15, 2014 12:34 pm

      There are great advantages to not being married, yes indeed.

  10. NancyK permalink
    November 9, 2014 9:09 pm

    The answer is never here too…even though he was just as miserable as I was when we were together…even though he is deliriously happy in his second marriage…
    It doesn’t help my girls hate their evil stepmother because she is so mean and never want to see their Dad at all because of her. The guilt is endless!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      November 15, 2014 12:34 pm

      That sucks, I’m sorry. Damn.

  11. Amanda permalink
    November 19, 2014 11:09 am

    Like the others I don’t think I have good news. I was actually the one left, but I still think of the anniversaries. The “what ifs”. I think with marriage it just comes with the territory. Too many years together, hopes, dreams, the whole works.
    I do hope you find some peace. And as the one who was left I can almost assure you he doesn’t want you to be miserable & feel guilty. Especially after all this time. I know I honest to goodness want the best for my ex.

  12. Christa permalink
    November 23, 2014 9:42 pm

    All these comments are so moving. I did the leaving and have no doubt that it was the best thing for both of us, but almost 30 years with someone has definitely left it’s mark on me. Peace to us all xxx

  13. Casey permalink
    December 11, 2014 9:08 am

    I haven’t read your blog in ages and am not sure why I popped in. I still love your writing and am not sure why I stopped reading, but I think it had something to do with my largely unrecognized depression and then finally, finally facing and dealing with my divorce. I did not even know I wasn’t over it (and yes, I was the one who left). Funny, I pop in and see these beautiful pictures of the very same trip I also took in November…my first time to San Francisco…my first vacation with a new love…we spent time doing the same hike you did, time in the Marin Headlands, in the city, time just being. It was a wonderful and amazing trip. You and I practically crossed paths as we have in so many ways you don’t even know…over the years, the parallels in your posts to what I was feeling or experiencing have been startling at times. I have never thanked you and want to now. Thank you, THANK YOU!

    As for the guilt, the whys, the looking back, the curiosity…I am not sure it ever goes away completely. Divorce is like a death. The pain and loss fade with time but it will always be a part of your life. I like the broken board analogy. I am also of the opinion we would not be who we are today without our past experiences to shape us. I like this broken board. It has character, some cool and interesting cracks and grooves, but in the end it is still the same as it was before…a strong piece of wood.

  14. Sarah permalink
    February 15, 2015 2:22 pm

    Happy New Year to you. Hoping everything’s well and that you’ll enrich us with a new post.

  15. Sarah permalink
    February 15, 2015 2:23 pm


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