December 16 – Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?
(Author: Martha Mihalick)
The following was not at all what I expected to write from today’s prompt. I was going to write about some new friendships I’ve been cultivating in this little Ohio town, about how the truth is just underneath people’s skin, how it’s almost always a shock to know what’s going on behind someone else’s closed front door, about how it just takes one moment of stillness, two of listening and the right question to find out way more than you ever wanted to know about someone else’s struggle, how it's an honor to be trusted enough to learn those hard things. I was going to write this post like a poem.
But when I sat down to focus, this is what came out. I'm sorry it's so long:
It’s been seven years plus four months (to the day) since my husband and I agreed to start living separately. It’s a long story born in 1988 on his ugly plaid sofa in his apartment in the little Central Texas city where we met. We were smooching (as my mother would have called it). He had the most gentle mouth I’d ever encountered in anyone who had kissed me. I didn’t actually see his full mouth, his upper lip, until July 2003, though, because when I met him and for the 14 years of our “together” marriage, he had a mustache, usually a beard, too. I should have known he was about to leave me when he shaved off his mustache.
Gentle man. Beautiful mouth. Our daughter has his beautiful mouth.
We had the best courtship ever. It was full of humor, surprises, great meals, lots and lots of music. He was one of the funniest people I’d ever met and one of the smartest. My parents liked him because he was more educated than I was, because they thought he might be at least as smart as they thought I was.
So. There we were, sitting on that ugly sofa. He’d been boring me to yawns with a photo album he’d put together from a trip he took to Italy. His doctorate (that he never finished the way I never finished my masters in journalism) had something to do with architecture and music. I was so relieved that he was boring the shit out of me because I just knew there had to be something wrong with this lovely man. “This is it,” I thought. “He likes to talk about boring architecture!”
“I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with you,” I said when we came up for air after sucking face for a while. “There’s always something wrong with the guys I date. But so far, I’m coming up blank.”
“Well, I have a secret dark side, and when you find out what it is, you’ll leave me.”
“You? A dark side? No way. I’d smell it on you. And I’d never leave you.”
“Everyone has a dark side,” he said. “Even you.”
He was, of course, right, except that he officially left me because of his “dark side.” He only meant to leave temporarily, but I was tired of trying and wouldn’t let him come back home.
By all the Wisdom in the Great Books of Divorce How To, philosophies about moving on, reinventing yourselves after the death of a marriage, etc., yada, blah, he and I should have done it legal, been DONE with each other by summer of 2004 except for the part where we have a child together. I’m pretty sure we meant to do it legal. We both had attorneys. We both gathered paperwork from each other. We both snarled into the phone about the whys of the split (one of the worst things he said (or it felt like the worst to me in the moment) was that he left me because he couldn’t stand my messes and my raging procrastination).
I wept and wept and wept.
I’m pretty sure he did, too.
Somehow in the midst of selling a house, buying our separate abodes, quit claim deeds, trying to figure out how long the child should be with each of us, paying bills, work, not work, his father’s death one day, my great-niece’s birth the next, we lost sight of the idea of divorce.
So. Here we sit, seven years and four months (to the day) later, still married with, apparently, no plans to snip that frayed string still attaching us to each other legally.
It’s been an interesting seven years.
Here’s the thing, though. Something has shifted between us this year. It’s a subtle thing, this thing between us. It’s almost separately sentient, an entity of its own built out of our striving to be kind to each other. That’s sort of been the theme of this time apart – kindness. This year, we haven’t needed to try so hard. The kindness has just … come.
Until this year, there have been many moments when I’ve wanted to dip his head in cat piss and sprinkle him with rotting mulch. I’m sure he has felt the same way about me, though much of his behavior toward me has been tempered with great civility and gentleness (I have always wondered if this is because he feels guilty. Hope not. Hope he's let that go; I have).
We’ve changed this year. Maybe what we did was say aloud, “You know, I think you’re my best friend.” How weird is that? The guy who broke my heart is my best friend. Or I am at least his. He's said so. Recently.
This learned or grown or steeped, stewed, brewed ability to be such good friends with the man who should be my hated ex-husband has completely changed me, has changed how I see things, how I live, how I see myself. It’s been gradual, but the acceptance, or maybe realization, that we don’t need to get divorced or don’t need to stay married, that we will always be what we are whatever our legal relationship to each other is, seems to have landed on me within the past couple of months.
I mean, really, it’s amazing that I like him as much as I do because, dudes, things were not good when we lived together. The awkward sex, the lack of sex, the feeling judged (both), the arguing, the not arguing. It all came down to a need he had that I couldn’t fulfill that he tried to stop needing, and down to my need to stop twisting myself into knots trying to figure out what to do about this incompatibility, how to let him have what he needed without betraying myself.
Now that we’ve stopped trying either to be each other’s one and only or each other’s mortal enemy (I like to think we were striving to be each other’s Professor Moriarity), I think we have discovered (created) a new kind of true love.