While preparing for Halloween and figuring out our family costumes (the eight-year-old will be Indiana Jones, the five-year-old will be a banana, Frank the Giant Doxie will be a Dodger Dog and Cleo the ancient Boston Terrier will just be cranky). My older son asked me what my costume would be. Unsure, he of course had a suggestion ready: “You should be a princess, but a princess that has been stabbed in the chest and is all bloody.” I laughed, saying that that was a little too disturbing, but promising to figure out something creepy but that wouldn’t send the trick or treaters into therapy. Days later I realized that he had unwittingly come up with an almost perfect metaphor for my last year: a princess, stabbed and gravely wounded through the heart.
Like most newlyweds fresh out of college, I’d started marriage with almost no material goods and a lower paying job. Wedding gifts were returned in favor of cash, early apartments were decorated with furniture dragged in from the curb on trash day (like a mom who can lift a car off her trapped child, I could lift and haul free furniture). Over the years though, success happened. Debt was paid off, savings accumulated, a lifestyle was achieved that was luxurious instead of laborious. Ten years in and I had staff, a black American Express card (the stuff of legend, it really does not have a limit), a Birkin bag, enough Chanel to open a very small but well-curated boutique, diamonds galore for every day and special occasions, a huge house and an ocean view. I was about as close as you could get to a princess without marrying or being born into it.
I spent $1200 just to get my hair done (so stupid, I know). I bought home décor that I didn’t have room for in over 3000 square feet, so it just sat in my garage. I didn’t know my credit card or bank account balances. I had no idea how much anything cost: cell phone, home phone, cable, rent. I ran the air conditioning constantly, to the tune of over $700 per month I found out later. I was expertly tended to by a variety of beauty technicians on a fairly rigorous schedule. I was a princess, without the pedestal. Or the love.
Maybe if I got my hair done the way he liked, that I hated, it would spark something. Maybe an exciting new wax would get things going. A new outfit? A perfected interior design? An intricately cooked gourmet dinner? Surely something would work, right? I had the picture perfect life. But just like the perfect couples featured in picture frames in stores, our actual relationship was like strangers who’d just met at a cocktail party: awkward small talk and no real connection, desperately in need of a drink.
Although we’d each emotionally left long ago (or at least I had), when the actual act of leaving occurred it exactly like a knife through my heart. I didn’t want what I had back, I wanted back what I’d hoped I’d had when I’d gotten married over a decade earlier: a family, a partner, a lover and best friend. Now I was just a princess, trapped in a too big, too expensive castle, with two tiny princes to tend to. Like any good stab wound with the weapon left in, it was a slow bleed. A trickle to start, then more to stain. And, of course, if you pull out the knife too quickly you’ll bleed to death. So I left it in. Suffering but trying to stay alive.
Along with him too went access to the private clubs, a handful of friends, and a lifestyle to which I’d become accustomed but wasn’t me. Off to Ebay went the handbags and jewelry and over the top clothes and shoes. Out of the house, to another too big, too much house and finally to a just perfect cottage. Gone too were the bills, what with no air conditioning and no sprinklers and very little house to take care of. Goodwill got the accouterments of our old life, like china and crystal. The wine collection I gave to him, barely able to finish one glass per week myself let alone appreciate one of extreme quality. Furniture was sold and replaced by Craigslist and flea market gems I love. My king bed is gone, and I’m in a twin for now in my tiny bedroom that doesn’t even boast a closet door, let alone a walk in closet with both his and hers sides and custom shelving.
But now, like a very slow motion Cinderella, my life is transforming (unfortunately without the aid of well dressed mice and a Fairy Godmother). My tiny house, which I agonized over, is perfect for us. My boys, for whom I practically grieved for them having to share a room, love it. They have ridiculous, funny conversations going to bed in the dark and we all are spending more pre-bedtime time together in their room.
Whereas before I desperately wanted outside support and someone to cheer me on, I’ve now found that person to be me, mostly, but also an amazing network of friends and family and my very own kids. I’ve had mind-boggling opportunities open up to me with my writing. I’ve learned more about what I want and who I am. I am happy to be alone for now. I enjoy it. It’s not lonely when you’re the only one, but it sure is lonely when you’re one of two sometimes.
Now, I’m performing my written work stage to sold out audiences and kicking ass (and by “kicking ass” I mean I haven’t thrown up, tomatoes haven’t been thrown and people are generally laughing where they should). I’m getting in shape for me and intend to rock a bikini by Spring break. My hair is the color nature and I intended and at less than 1/8th of the cost. I’ve been text flirting with a cute boy I met through work. I fully expect it to go nowhere and I totally don’t care. Because, really, what have I got to lose? I already lost almost everything and it was the best thing. So while I don’t think my son’s costume suggestion for me is appropriate to actually wear, it was an accidental stroke of genius. I was a princess who got stabbed through the heart. But now I’m the woman who saves herself. Boo.