It happens in transactional manner: a location in the news in exchange for a memory; a word on the page as a token for time travel; a date on the calendar as a matter of reflection.
Was I ever that young? Was I ever that naive?
More likely, a slip of paper or a photograph betrays the association of past to present. My marriage may have ended years ago, but not so, the ripple effects. Life after divorce, with its financial fall-out.
My arm is aching and it makes me angry. If only I could have seen a proper doctor when it might have made a real difference. And so I find myself revisiting thoughts on fighting back, and the importance of timing.
Should I have fought more during the marriage? Should I have fought dirtier during divorce? Should I have ceased fighting altogether during the long years that came after?
I opted for truce and withdrawal, to no avail. Ending warfare is never a given.
It is spring. I am cleaning. I am forcing a smile – reluctantly, and of necessity. This is my usual rhythm when winter flips its switch and the sun announces its optimistic season.
And so, optimistically, I neaten and shed, I determine to look forward, and I pour energy into renewing expectations. But only of myself, for myself. These are learned limitations that I now consider to be wise.
I have accumulated stacks of project files that are clearly labeled but need to be stored, stacks of House Beautiful and Elle to be browsed and then discarded, stacks of bills that remain a strain to cover though somehow I manage; each final week of the month is a gash, and I count the days to the first like millions of others.
I make my lists and lay out my obligations: mortgage and medical, electric and gas, cable and Internet. Then there is food, the car, insurance, the kids. I count my blessings when it comes to scholarships.
I come across a thick blue folder bound with green elastics. It is labeled with the year in black Sharpie, and two words in caps.
It’s a week during which I am working in the evening, working in the middle of the night, and still sleepless as dawn approaches. I am worried about money, worried about my unofficial mother-in-law, worried about an accumulation of responsibilities that feels increasingly crushing.
My mood is unquestionably worsened by insomnia, and I’m consoled when I write myself a note that reads SLEEP, SLEEP, SLEEP.
I resist the urge to open the folder for an evening, then a morning, and an afternoon later, I succumb. Inside are annotated lists of expenses, copies of correspondence, scans of shorted checks, and notations of missing payments. There is a copy of the support agreement, which I now see for what it was – a piece of paper, and little else.
What do these documents represent, exactly? Round 5? Round 6? Didn’t I know I was down for the count?
I possess a circular vocabulary of knock-outs and near misses: infractions, transgressions, violations. I ponder “right versus might,” the charged nature of “breach,” the longevity of “breakage.”
If marriage made me, divorce was my undoing. Or perhaps I have that backwards.
Just this morning, I tell a very dear friend: “You are one of the few good things to come out of these difficult years.”
But he takes issue with my remark and disagrees: “You are the good thing to come out of your divorce.” Then he adds, laughing: “You may not be quite there just yet, but I’m very optimistic.”
The words on the folder are penned with confidence. Was my certainty feigned? Was it real? How long did it last?
I recall the year for what it actually ignited: a renewal of rage, of despair, and my eventual surrender.
When beliefs are broken, we hope they are reparable.
When we lose the habit of fighting and winning, we may lose the habit of fighting at all.
I place the file at the bottom of a metal drawer. I return to the rigors of my annual cleaning. My mind wanders back to financial transactions – to generating revenue rather than dwelling on costs.
I tire easily when my arm aches, but I resolve to continue. After all, spring has come around again, and the sun announces its optimistic season.