“I decree and declare that the bonds of matrimony are hereby dissolved.”
The sound of the gavel against the wooden pallet made me jump as I sat in the courtroom next to my attorney. I didn’t cry. I didn’t make a sound. In the silence that remained, I waited. I waited to feel different. I waited to feel liberated. I waited to feel free. Only the freedom feeling never came.
I walked back to the seat where my father sat, stoic and quiet. With nothing else to do, we all walked to the clerk to record the judgment of divorce, my new ex-husband, my attorney, my father and me. We made the necessary copies and paid the required fees and made it “official.” And I waited. I waited to feel relieved. I waited to feel independent. I waited to feel free. Only the freedom feeling never came.
The May sun was shining brightly as I shook my new ex-husband’s hand and we departed the building. My dad asked me if I wanted to have a drink. I guess he thought it was a time to celebrate or commiserate, but I didn’t feel much like either.
Waiting to feel independent:
We had gone to lunch before court. I hadn’t eaten much and still wasn’t hungry. So we just went back to the same house I lived in with my now ex-husband and our two kids and waited for them to come home from school. A friend was picking them up today, in case I felt sad or angry or…but really I felt mostly the same.
We were separated for only nine months prior to the divorce being finalized. Our split was mostly amicable, and we utilized a mediator, so the court appearance was really a formality. Still, I expected to feel somehow different after leaving court this afternoon and was honestly a bit disappointed to find myself feeling the same as I did that morning, or so many mornings and days before.
It’s not as if I didn’t realize I was a divorced single mom. I was fully aware that I was no longer married, but I didn’t feel like it, at least not yet.
I soon discovered that much like there is a process to becoming and feeling married, there is a process to feeling and becoming truly divorced. Neither happens overnight.
I don’t know if it was a reflection of me or the nature of my marriage, but it was uncomfortable at first for me to make independent decisions again. I had to remember the activities I liked.
I had to remind myself at first that I could arrange the furniture how I wanted it.
Play music as loudly as I felt comfortable.
Watch the television shows that I enjoyed.
Cook the food that tasted good to me.
And perhaps most importantly, nurture my boys in the manner that suited me best. There was no one to comment, criticize or complain about anything anymore.
Waiting to feel liberated:
Conceptually, this was a liberating notion, but in practice, this realization still did not bring me the feeling of freedom that I wanted. So, I kept waiting to feel independent, to feel autonomous, to feel free.
I kept my ex-husband’s name after the divorce because of our kids. I wanted our children to have the same last name I had. I wanted no confusion about who belonged to whom, but in the year or so after the divorce, I felt like the name didn’t fit me anymore.
His name was a part of an identity that was no longer mine. That woman, the woman who had been married to him, had evolved into someone completely different, and that person deserved a name. To the extent that my marriage had been a departure from my personal truth on nearly every level, it only seemed right to return to the me that I was before ever meeting him.
After I decided to reclaim my maiden name, I discussed it with my boys, who at 8 and 10, assured me that they did not care what my last name was. They told me that they knew I was their mom no matter what.
Waiting to feel free:
Armed with their blessing, I marched to the social security office on a blustery October day to officially change my name. I sat in the waiting room with people, most of whom were newlyweds filled with excitement at the opportunity to reflect to the world their new identity.
Upon being called to the next available window, and explaining my request to change my name, the clerk said “Congratulations”. I quickly corrected him by shoving my divorce decree under the slot and said, “I’m not newly married. I’m recently divorced and I’m taking my name back.”
He apologized and began to try and make me feel better by saying that he couldn’t believe anyone would not want to be married to me.
I smiled in response and wished he would hurry along. I paid the necessary fees and signed the required paperwork then he slid the Social Security card through the slot and said “Enjoy your new old last name.” As I picked up that small card and read my name once again, it was as if I laid down the weight of eleven years of an unhappy and unhealthy marriage.
The old me was gone. I felt lighter. I felt stronger. I felt like me. And finally, in giving myself back to myself, and in giving myself my own name again, I felt free.