On the Eve of my 30th…

I have never been one to celebrate my birthday.  At least – not in a big way.  But there were a few.

16th:  My husband (then boyfriend) threw me a surprise party at his family home.  He made me a video collage of photos he had borrowed from my mother from birth until high school and we all watched it.  It was beautiful.

19th:  My husband (then boyfriend) saved money and got me one ticket (they were very expensive) to see Barbra Streisand – my favorite.  I think his selflessness was better than the concert – and the concert was fantastic.

21st:  My husband (then boyfriend – seeing a trend?) planned a weekend away in Atlantic City.  It was wonderful.

In recent years I stopped celebrating my birthday and my husband’s birthday became big affairs.  For his 30th I thought of a 30 for 30 idea where people would attend, pay $30 that would go to a cause and enjoy food and drinks on us.  He is an elected official and the turnout was great and we raised thousands of dollars for a good cause.  I decided sometime in June that I wanted to do something big for my 30th birthday – possibly a fundraiser as well.

But, July 16th happened.
So, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I mourned the two month anniversary of our separation.
On the eve of my 30th birthday, I went to the bank and took my portion of the money in our joint checking and opened my own bank account – he had done the same the day before.
On the eve of my 30th birthday, I went apartment hunting with my mom.
On the eve of my 30th birthday, I bought a new dress to wear to work on my birthday.
On the eve of my 30th birthday, I made a bet with myself about whether or not my husband would wish me a happy birthday.
On the eve of my 30th birthday, I cried for the first time in weeks.
And though I went out for drinks with friends and family and celebrated in a small way, on the eve of my 30th birthday I could not help but think of all the things I would not get to do and all the setbacks I was now facing.
So, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I prepared for life without my husband –  the person I had spent the last 15 birthdays with.
And on the eve of my 30th birthday, I wrote a blog post about the eve of my 30th birthday, because even though this isn’t the big celebration I imagined – big things have happened.

But there are moments…

One of the most fascinating things about this experience for me has been how surprisingly calm I am for the majority of the day.  Had you asked me months ago what I would be like if my marriage ended I would have said “an absolute disaster.”  I would have envisioned hours of crying and inability to sleep, days of skipping work and staring into space, weeks of begging and doing nothing but sleep.  And yet, it has been none of those.  Although I have cried, I have also slept.  I have not missed a day of work…in fact, I have been coming early and leaving late.  I want nothing to do with staring into space.  I have not begged.  I have not spent a single, entire day in bed.

But there are moments…

When I walk across my work campus alone and I have to suddenly hold my breath because I fear the next one will bring with it uncontrollable tears.

When I hear someone say “husband” on the radio while driving and I grip the steering wheel a little tighter.

When I scroll through wedding posts, engagement announcements, or gender reveal pictures on Facebook and I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

When I hear Adele’s “When We Were Young” at a Dunkin Donuts as I stand in line waiting to order my medium coffee light and sweet (or cold brew black) and I pretend I’m fixing my eyeliner when really I’m just letting the tears pool on to the side of my fingers.

When I see someone who does not yet know and I avoid contact as I chant in my head “please don’t ask, please don’t ask.”

When I’m laughing with a friend or coworker and suddenly I feel like I’m two people at once – one who is going to be ok and another who wonders if she ever will be.

When I notice the clock getting closer to the end of the work day, signaling the time to return to a home I didn’t ask for, and I can actually feel a rope connecting my heart and throat as if they are playing tug-of-war.

When I’m out with friends having a seemingly good time and a memory makes its way into my head so I make fists, pressing my nails into my palms because I heard that your body can’t feel pain in two places at once.

And you can’t.  Your brain also can’t handle dealing with so much hurt…so it doesn’t. So for most of the day you’re fine, and smiling, and laughing, and telling yourself you will rise above this.

But there are moments.  Too many moments.

If Only…

On Sunday, July 16th, my husband of 3 years  – but partner and best friend for 15 – told me after a nice dinner out that he no longer loved me and wanted a separation.  The wine held back my tears as I told him it was going to be ok and that he deserved to be happy.  Packing my things for the next few nights, I cried a silent, composed cry, believing in my heart that all would be fine in the next few days.

I drove to my mom’s house that night, brought up my duffle bag to the home I had been sad to leave just three years earlier, and slept on the floor – praying that morning would come fast. All would be right in the morning – wouldn’t it? But it wasn’t.
And not for the 36 mornings that followed.
And not, still.

And through it all, I knew I wanted to write. But where? And how? And since words meant everything, what would it be called?  A friend –  and fellow English lover – and I spent lunches and evenings texting about the perfect blog title.  Maybe “On a Sunday” since that’s when it all happened.  Then “How Was Your Day?” because my husband had stopped asking me that question.  Then “Always” because of Harry Potter’s Snape and the engraving we had in our wedding bands.  “It should be something you frequently say” my friend said.  “I feel like you frequently say…can I have a side of guac.” There needed to be some laughter.

“We’re going to be having lunch one day and you’re going to say it and we’re gonna be like THAT’S IT.”  Exactly.  And so, when I found the name, I texted my friend who was the only person in the world who would tell me if it was it or not.

At exactly 8:00pm on the Monday of the Totality Eclipse (somehow that seems relevant), I texted the only person who would understand:

“So once upon a time for my scholar’s project I wrote a book called ‘If Only.’ A friend of mine just commented on my eclipse picture on instagram and said ‘once in a blue moon anything is possible,’ and without thinking…I responded ‘If Only.’ And somehow that gave me the type of feeling I’ve been waiting for.”

“Yes.” she responded. And then:
“That’s it.”

And there it was. My title. And I thought of the picture I had taken for the cover of that book.  A picture of a mirror removed from the wall on which it once hung for years, now leaning on the floor against it.  With the outline of the mirror still visible on the wall from where the paint faded around it.  The premise of the story being that even if people are gone, there are memories of them that will last forever, like the faded outline of a mirror that is no longer there.  And even that was perfect.

And for the past 36 days I have been telling myself “If only I was kinder…” “If only we communicated more…” “If only we had kept our promise to remember who we were when we first fell in love…”

Because when your world shatters around you and the mirror is taken off the wall, all you are really left with is if only.
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