By Robin Rapaport
Three weeks before Thanksgiving, my 28 year old daughter told me during dinner that her dad intended to propose to his girlfriend of two years, after the holiday. My daughter asked if I was okay with the news, and I said “Yes, I am fine. I let go a long time ago”. I desperately tried to control the code red alarm sounding off inside me. I feigned joyous enthusiasm by displaying an inauthentic I’m- Happy For- Your- Father smile. My perceptive daughter didn’t further question me. After dinner, I was left with a mess bigger than dirty dishes to clean up.
The news leaned in with force and threw me off balance, sending my head spinning. I even woke up the next morning with my frenemy, Vertigo, who commands thoughts, actions and life to slow down to a near halt, when I can’t downshift on my own. By afternoon, reeling in a vertigo hangover, I tried to organize and clean up the reactive thoughts in my head – mental dirty dishes, piling up and ready for a good soaking and scrubbing. Please. Where can I get a brain washing?
Why did I care, 19 years later? I have little to do with him anymore. Except that he will forever be the father of my children, the grandfather of my grandchildren. That’s about it. He is only the father of the most important people in my world, who I love with all my heart.
I am a single 62 year old divorcee of 19 years. I have been almost married 3 times since the breakup. Almost being the key word, which loosely translates as I was unable to love, unwilling to share, and unable to commit to men who saw me as their absolute life partner. I am more ready now to raise the almost bar, but that’s a different story.
Towards the end of 15 years of marriage, I became an after-the-kids-go-to-bed drinker. This nocturnal coping tool rendered me unfit to properly process the day’s events, feelings and emotions. They sat like a half – baked cake, removed from the oven too early, day in and out for years. Alcoholism stunted my emotional maturity. I divorced Chardonnay four years ago and left it for a healthier me.
Over the years since the divorce, 3 beauties sported his engagement ring. I was an unwilling witness. These magazine pretty women enchanted my children with gifts and relationship, holding their hands as they flew off on family vacations or fashioned themselves as a maternal stand-in during special occasions- taking MY rightful place. It was gutting and painful. But what had I expected? I thought that the pain outside of the marriage would be less than the pain inside of it. I was very, very wrong. It was just a different kind of pain. But alas, each of his relationships had failed. Until now. This is The One.
I thought I’d moved on years ago, though we celebrated occasions and sometimes even traveled together as if we were a cohesive family. My Ex and I supported one another in parenting. But NOW, old wounds pickled by alcoholism, well preserved and believed to be scarred shut, opened with a new vengeance. The next evening I walked my dog as the sun was setting. Cumulus clouds were illuminated in shades of rainbow sherbet. I saw my children’s innocent young faces in the light of the sunset, a flash of a memory of holding their hands while walking the dog in our old neighborhood years ago. A holding tank of sadness ruptured and tears gushed forth from my being with unresolved pain. I sobbed on the street, while picking up dog poop, and felt the agony of divorce, as if 19 years ago were yesterday. I mentally tightened the grip on their little hands.
A flip book of photographs flashed before me, displaying nanosecond memories of a family that was torn in two. The initial tidal wave of news swept me away with grief and drowned me in guilt. I relived the culpability of sentencing my children to a life of packing and unpacking between two houses, two parents and their separate lives.
My Ex would say over the years that he would have stayed married. My great need to disconnect from him injured all.
Failure laced with shame squared off with me. What makes him my gauge and measuring stick of the passage of time and achievement? His success in relationship doesn’t signify that I am a failure in life, or that I won’t someday have a healthy relationship. The timeline and trajectory of his life has nothing to do with me. Yet I can’t help but compare our lives. As I am thrown backwards in time and feelings, he moves forward. My singleness had heightened my inner voice to a panicked pitch.
The engagement marks the closure of a more comfortable era, a time in which it seemed okay that I hadn’t found someone, because he hadn’t either. There it was again, my delusional sentimentality. The paralleling up of two lives that in reality don’t converge. This was the proverbial “nail in the coffin” of our symbiotic relationship.
I don’t want him but it still bothers me to be so unwanted, so gotten over.
My mind’s eye called forth images of future events to come. Imagination painted my face pressed to their windowpane, peeping inside to the dining room where my adult children sat with their father and his new wife. The scene was reminiscent of a rosy cheeked Norman Rockwell family, laughing and talking around the table in harmonious domestic bliss.
The steam of my breath was on the cold glass, obscuring the scene of comfort and love within. I felt destined to be an observer to the life I hoped would be mine- a spectator to normalcy (whatever that is).
Annoyingly, there is always an Ozzie Nelson type male present at the table’s head in Rockwell’s portraits. Though Rockwellesque events occur in my apartment too, I have no father substitute, let alone any guy, comfortable sitting shotgun. I remind myself that what I offer is fine. I don’t need a man to complete me, or my seating arrangement.
Yet, I felt the value of my table property had declined. My Ex dominated the Best Family On The Block Market by finding the love of HIS life. He had a house with her. WITH windowpanes. His real estate was worth more than mine in this emotional neighborhood of feeling sorry for myself.
Like Alice, I fell down the rabbit hole of victim of consciousness. Wonderland was not on this tour. There was no “make me feel better cookie” or Happiness Elixir. Soberly free falling through grief- revisiting denial, anger, and depression, I hoped the bottom of this process would be cushioned by acceptance instead of more despair.
The crux of the pain was my bruised ego. I was a misplaced matriarch and commander-in-chief. A family leader without a proper table to rule. A dethroned queen who must share her crown. I knew in my heart that no other woman could take my place. The crown stays with ME! Step mothers are vice queens. SHE impended upon my position anyway. Get a grip, I told myself. The damn crown is mine and mine alone! No matter how close my kids are to her, I firmly reminded myself that I am a good mother and tight with them.
Illogically, I felt abandoned by my Ex, my children and the illusion of family.
Quiet depression set in for weeks. I lay low in my healing rituals: meditation, therapy, writing, exercise, pints of ice cream, and Netflix. Friends lifted me with their love. Emotions and thoughts were acknowledged. This mourning process journeyed through me, loosening my fierce grip on the past and my children. Eventually, the darkness began to fade, and light was revealed.
The news of the engagement ultimately gifted me insight, healing and liberation. My identity as a whole person unto myself, was returned to me. I felt tremendous gratitude for all I have. Embracing acceptance and the present, where I have all I need.
My home is a beautiful, modern apartment with a breathtaking mountain view. I adore it. Weeks later, we gathered around my Thanksgiving table. My children, grandchild, Ex and his fiancée to be. Though he hadn’t officially proposed yet, he referred to her as his wife and “other half”. I wished her Mazel Tov after dinner. I was actually happy for them.
Alice finally dusted off her pinafore, and found her way out of the rabbit hole.
After dinner, there was still more than dirty dishes to clean up. But thankfully, less than before. I looked out my big window, grateful to have made a new memory.
Grief has no expiration date. Mine had a 19 year shelf life which even surpasses that of a Twinkie. Everything is a process. Who knows what the next 19 years will bring.
A native Californian, Robin Gail Rapaport is a UCLA graduate, an educator, former small business and non-profit owner and a writer. Robin currently teaches memory classes in the Los Angeles area. Robin is devoting this time of her life to her family and to her passion for travel and writing. Robin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org