It should have been a sad day. After a long, cruel winter that left dark days and even colder mornings, we had a fever for change. It was a new beginning. After three years of endless excuses, futile therapy attempts ending in loud arguments of escalated blaming, we had come to the conclusion it was time to live apart.
A whisper of spring filled the air in late January, lifting the dust off thick snow clouds. The sun peered in through the morning window with a sky so bright you could see clear through to the other end of town. Traffic was bustling on the street, people were gathering newspapers, grass was green again. There was a promise of a new season of hope, one of cleansing. We were ready to discuss the separation. But was our daughter ready to understand? We sat her down on the ottoman in the living room. Why not the couch, I don’t know. Something about the limitless boundaries of the cushioned rectangle seemed appropriate. We could protect her from all sides.
We cradled our arms around her as she intuitively asked what was wrong. The stability she felt at 8 years old would now be challenged in ways she wouldn’t understand for years to come. “Why are you telling me this?” my daughter cried, over and over. It wasn’t a cry for help, but one of confusion. I had rehearsed the possibilities so many times and was ready for anything except the pain in her eyes that I had caused. Nothing can prepare you for your child’s disappointment. Once again I began to question what I was doing. We could continue living as roommates, right? Just until she went to college. She’d be older, more mature. It wouldn’t hurt as much. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t continue the lie. I was dead inside.
I thought about our little family and what went wrong. Above her head hung photographs her father had taken to document our lives together. There was the one capturing her waking up in our bed. She was barely a year old. It had been snapped for a photo illustration that my husband, a news photographer, was working on for an assignment about the family bed. “Baby XYZ, 1, just wakes up after a good night’s sleep in her parent’s bed,” was the caption the editors used when it ran in the local paper. At first it was our bed, the bed I coaxed him into buying when I had finally had enough of sleeping on the floor. We were renting in those days and had no sense of permanence, so we slept on a futon mattress on the floor. We were like two mavericks shunning the rules of conventional marriage while trying to make up our own.
It seemed fun at first. But I got sick of that apartment, living like a bohemian surrounded by pictures we never hung and stacks of books we never read. It was no longer art to me. It became clutter. As my belly grew larger, I needed to put my foot down, literally. To swing it off a bed and plop it on the floor—not lift my heavy body off of the ground level. A bed symbolized a sense of belonging. I wanted to belong to something. I wanted a home where we put nails in the walls and hung pictures. To my husband, furniture was wood that would eventually get replaced when it went out of style. Nails were holes on walls you would eventually have to fill.
I ultimately won that fight, but there were plenty I lost too. It was a give and take, until the take outweighed the give. And now I am left with the bed that was once his, mine, and ours. And I now own the house we bought when we tried to make a home.
To our amazement, we coped quite well that afternoon. We explained the situation the best we could. We told her exactly how her life would change and how much of it would remain the same. We gave her assurances. Then we showered her with love and affection and made a promise we intend to keep: Whatever happens, Mommy and Daddy will always be friends.
She had a heightened awareness that both scared and soothed me. I knew it was the beginning of a long road. “I’m okay with it,” she said after much contemplation. She extended her arms and drew us in. We held each other tight. The sunlight cast a shadow of us on the wall and made the most incredible picture—one worth a thousand holes. Still, I knew what it would take to hang it. I couldn’t live in shadows anymore.
I looked ahead to a brighter future, knowing nothing could be as cold as it was this winter.