In one of my many imaginary conversations with a person I care deeply for, usually held while doing dishes, folding laundry, mopping or showering, I caught myself saying “I don’t want to be that girl. I want to be that girl. The one who is smart enough, pretty enough, worthy enough. The one who has someone who sees her the way she sees the world; Perfectly imperfect, magical, and moving.” This thought fell out of me and before I could really process it, I finished the thought with saying, for the first time in my nearly forty-four years, “because I am that girl. And I am worthy.”
People get divorced for many reasons. My reasons seemed simple enough. I was not happy. I disliked the person I had become in my marriage, and was ashamed this was the person my children knew as their mother. I avoided my feelings by immersing myself in any and every volunteer position I could find; PTA, Community Board, Theater, Recess Duty, Field Trip Chaperone, Girl Scout Leader, Coach. I pushed down my unhappiness with force, only to have it spring up and exit me like a spewing volcano over the smallest of slights or inconveniences. At times I’d close myself in my closet, weeping and wailing in desperate grief, banging my head against a wall, knowing I was slowly going insane. It was, when I look back, the most painful time in my life, that is, until I actually mustered the courage to seek a divorce. And this is where that girl showed up.
One of my early childhood memories was of learning to ride a bike with my dad and grandpa. We were down at Cedar Creek Park on an early spring day, the sun shining and the grass green from days of rain. This memory should be a good one, because here were two of my favorite men teaching me a new skill. But I remember it with a tinge of pain. You see, I fell off the bike. It slid out as I tried to turn a corner on loose gravel while going too fast. I skinned my calf and knees, had a spattering of rock pressed into raw pink skin. But it wasn’t the physical pain from the fall that I remember or that hurts when I remember it. It was the look of fear and concern on dad and grandpa’s faces. It hurt that I put that look there, that I caused them any fear or concern. It killed me, at the ripe age of eight, that I could do something so terrible to two people I loved so much. In my head, I felt a rush of embarrassment and shame, guilt and self loathing. I was so concerned with ridding them of their concern that I hopped right back on the bike and rode around again for what felt like hours, even though I wanted to go home and cry in my room, just so they would feel better. And this is how I’ve pretty much lived most of my life. I’ve never cared much for what others think or say of me. But I care deeply for how what others say or think of me affect those I love and care for. I have never thought about what I, as an exclusive self, wanted. I’ve always wanted to be part of a family or group of friends where I was of value. I’ve always thought about how and what I can do to make others happy. I truly believed if I could bring happiness and pride and security to those I love and care for, I would in turn be happy and have everything I could possibly want. But the bitter reality is this is not realistic or achievable. And when that girl showed up to tell me so, it was like getting punched in the gut, hard.
Having to tell the person who gave me my most precious of gifts, my kids, that I could no longer “do this” was the most brave thing I have ever done. It killed me to know I was hurting him. Destroyed me to think I would be hurting my children. But it needed to be done. And that girl made me do it. For months beforehand she wouldn’t shut up. She was there when I walked the dogs in the morning, there when I closed my eyes at night, there when I drove alone in the car, there when I folded laundry alone in my room. That girl kept telling me I was a liar, a fake, a speck of the person I should be. And that girl was right. She made me dream again, she brought out that girl inside of me, she showed me how strong I was and had been over the years, told me to take my shame and self-doubt and flush it down the toilet, along with all my self-criticism and unachievable expectations, and just go be me. She was driven and fierce. A force I couldn’t ignore.
That girl never said it would be easy. And it wasn’t. In the span of a year I ended a fifteen year marriage, moved my kids from their home and into a new school, lost friends and family I never thought I’d lose, found myself as broke as I was at twenty-five when living in an East Harlem sixth floor walk up, furnished with a futon and a bench my Pop-pop made (now my living room coffee table,) subsisting on Little Debbie Cakes and fifty-cent coffee in order to feed my puppy. But that girl never left my side. She was there whispering in my ear that I could do this, alone. That I’d find a way to put food on the table, pay for dance classes and rec basketball. That I’d figure out how to juggle getting the kids to and from their games, lessons, and play dates while reinventing and running a small business. That I’d start new holiday traditions that didn’t rely on my old idea of the necessity of extended family, but ones that were about us as a family. That I’d find the friends I deserved, and who deserved me. That I’d find the kind of love that made me feel like I’ve found home, that made me whole. And that I’d get over the mislead rumors, the gossip and the judgements made of me, because they weren’t true and didn’t deserve my time. And that girl was right. Just as she had been when she started showing up two years ago. I was doing it. And the person my kids know today is much more the person I am, much more the person I want them to know, much more the person I deserve to be, than I ever was before. There is friendship, laughter, and love, lots and lots of love. That girl made me find it.
So, as I spent an evening alone catching up on housework, having an imaginary conversation with this person I care deeply for, I realized in saying what I said about wanting to be that girl, that I was her. I had become that girl. I no longer take ownership of another’s feelings. I no longer feel shame or guilt for being imperfect. I’m no longer waiting to be part of a family or group of friends; I’m making my own. I’m smart enough. I’m pretty enough. I’m worthy enough. And I’m one of the most caring, empathetic, loving people who just happened, at nearly forty-four years old, to get lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the smartest, most caring, empathetic, loving people out there, who find me perfectly imperfect. And all it took was discovering that girl lives inside of me. And guess what? She lives inside of you, too. She’s there and always has been, loud and wild, honest and full of love, and she always will be.