Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Mental health, Relationships, Self-help, Uncategorized

Starting Over at the Beginning

Painting of Lizzie and Reggie commissioned for Xmas 2010 for Audie
First picture of Lizzie Roberts – the day Audie adopted her in 2005.

“Don’t you want to leave the painting here? Why do you want to put it in storage? You said you wanted to keep it here last summer because you were worried something would happen to it…” I said to him as he took the painting of Lizzie and Reggie and wrapped it in bubble wrap, along with the photo of Lizzie he took the day he adopted her.

Then he put them away in the box, taped it shut, and said he wanted to take them with him now.

“But they might get damaged in storage…”

“No they will be fine…”

I wasn’t prepared for the panic I felt when he took those keepsakes of Lizzie and Reggie off the shelf: the painting I gave him for our first Christmas as husband and wife, the photo of Lizzie, and Grey Kitty – with her urn – and the funny door hangers I bought him with Frenchie and pug heads, respectively.

Before he left, he took one last look in every space in the house, to make sure he had not left anything behind.

And that was the end – all of his things – were gone.

Last night, at midnight, I knelt down in front of Lizzie’s and Reggie’s pictures.  I placed a hand on each of their urns .

“I would never have known you if I’d never met him…”

And then- it all came crashing down on me –  I gave into the sorrow and the tears came. Hard and fast.

“You’re all gone! All four of you are gone!” I cried – looking over my shoulder at Toby’s pictures and then back at Lizzie’s and Reggie’s. I gripped the edge of the table.  I let out the pain I try so hard to hold in and hide from everyone – this void that I am ashamed to talk about – because I don’t understand.

Why can’t I get over him the way he has gotten over me?

It’s as if the last 10 months didn’t happen – I am right back where I started that night he was packing some of his clothes and personal things.

“I’m not going to bring a lot of stuff with me. I don’t have a lot of room.”

And when he walked over to the shelf, he held the painting, of Lizzie and Reggie, and that look in his eyes, I’ll never forget, as he said, “I don’t want anything to happen to this. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten.”

Last night, he said the exact same thing as he packed it away: “This is my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten.”

It was not all he said that night in June…because he thought, maybe, if his feelings changed, he’d come back, before December 31st – if he felt a spark at all, he said, we wouldn’t sign the papers.  And he’d come home.

I held onto that hope for dear life, day after day, for a long time – it took longer than that for the reality to set in after he told me, five months early, that it was over.

Now, I’ve had 10 months.

But, yesterday – it was as if he had left all over again – as if I was right back there in June – back to that night when he left.

How is it possible that my feelings are right back where I started at the beginning? The last 10 months – how could it feel like they never happened – when I know very well that they did.

I thought I would be all right. But I wasn’t. I thought because I prepared myself ahead of time, for what I might feel like yesterday, that I would be okay. But I wasn’t.

And I’m not.

Since he left last night, I have been feeling claustrophobic in this house. I feel like someone’s hands are around my neck, gripping it, and choking me.

I feel lost in this house.

It suddenly feels empty, and larger than life.  And the loneliness is overwhelming me.

I cry as soon as I come into the front room, and see their painting is gone, and the pictures are gone.

I hurry past the ugly brown desk that I asked them to move into the dining room after they removed his beautiful table. I can’t even look at it. The curio is gone, and the coffee table, and all of his things. All of them, every last one.

There is so much emptiness – the spaces where his things were – I suddenly can’t breathe.

I didn’t realize it would feel like this. I didn’t realize that I was holding onto the things he left in the house as a way of unconsciously holding onto him, and our marriage. There must be something wrong with me – it makes no sense.

Except – grief doesn’t make sense. It never does.

I’m sitting in my green chair, looking out the window. In the room where the dogs’ photos and keepsakes are – it is the only room left that feels safe now. Safe from the agony that is gripping me. My classical music is playing – the newly-sprouted leaves sway in the wind. The lush trees dance as the trunks move from right to left. It seems like winter was never here…

I know that there is no way I can explain to him, or to her, or to anyone, why I feel this way.  I am ashamed that I still feel this way.

Only someone who matters to you can make you feel anger…or joy…or pain…or…love.

He is lucky. He is no longer affected – not negatively, not positively – there is nothing. It is just a blank. I am invisible. I am mute. I am a phantom of a love story that I am beginning to doubt was ever real for him at all.

All I know for certain is that I don’t want to feel this way – the only person that I’m hurting now is myself -not him, not her.

I do not want to hurt either of them – not that I can – only someone who matters to you can hurt you.

But I know that I am hurting myself, not intentionally.  Pretending like I’m fine, and more importantly, acting as if I’m fine, is so much harder than I thought – and I have not been able to do it as well as I wanted, or needed, to.

I tried so hard to be perfect, that inevitably, I failed to do so, when I had to.

It is just too hard to be perfect, and to never make a mistake – especially in this, of all things – losing the person you love most in the whole world, that you love more than you’ve ever loved anyone.

It is too hard to be perfect -watching them leave you – watching them run toward someone else – because you were not enough.

Because no matter how hard you tried to fix what you did, and said, that was wrong – you can never make it right. Because the love was not strong enough to withstand your mistakes. Because all he can see…are your mistakes…

“You’re a good person, but a wife is something special.”

He was sitting at the dining room table – I’ll never forget.

It was the last thing he said to me, in August, before he told me, two days later, “I do not want to continue our marriage.”

It took me two more weeks to fully process that our marriage was really over.

And now, I’m back there again, as if it just happened. And I don’t know how to stop the hurt.

One of my best friends in San Diego called last night, out of the blue, thankfully, to check on me. I told him what happened, what I’d done – what I’d said – last night after he picked up the phone in his car. I heard a ringtone that I didn’t recognize, he looked at me, and I knew, I knew who it was. And then he answered the phone.

We were at the Starbucks drive-thru – on our way back home from his storage unit.

I was so mad at myself (I still am), but, the hurt was so strong, what I said, it just came out.

I had come so far with him – to the point that I almost thought he was not stressed around me anymore.

And then the reality of the two of them – right there in his car – hearing her voice, and  him talking to her – it just – it was too much for me – on the hardest day – the last day – the day he was taking the last of his things from our home – the absolute end of our decade-long life together.

At that point, I could not think straight. It was just too much for me to hold inside.

I’d held the pain in for 3 weeks, hidden away, and in that moment, it pushed its way up to the surface – all the pain of losing him, for good,  to her.

My friend told me to stop being so hard on myself – we’d spent so much time together in this house, the house we shared, in the last few weeks, it was understandable, he said, that I’d feel like this. He also told me that he’d known me for long enough (19 years) to see how far I’ve come, how much better I am – he told me 5 years ago, and 10 years ago, he never could have talked to me about what happened like he did last night. I would not have been able, or willing, to listen to him. And now I was, he told me.

I told my friend, “5 years ago I was with Audie, and that’s what happened. I couldn’t listen to him tell me these kinds of hard things.”

I was thinking an hour ago, as I was thinking about when she called, and about what happened after that conversation – that it was a good thing, in a strange way, because it made me think about her in a different light than I had since I found out about their romantic relationship, about a month ago.

I understand why she feels the way she does about him. I don’t know much about her life, but the little I do know, I admire and respect.

It is unfortunate the way she and I have this man we love, in common, now, but I think, I sense, from what happened in his car, that she doesn’t wish for me to be hurt.

For me, I think, in other circumstances, if I were anyone but his soon-to-be former wife, I would admit that I know that this isn’t easy for her, either, and that she’s doing the best she can, in this awkward situation, just like I am.

Falling in love with him, is something we have in common, and there’s no way to navigate that easily – no way whatsoever. But I don’t feel angry at her, strangely. I did, for a while, but not now.

I understand – when you fall in love with him, you just want to be with him – you don’t want to have to wait for the final chapter of his previous life to end, in order to begin the first chapter in yours.

He would not have such strong romantic feelings for her, or be so drawn to her, if she were not a wonderful person, too, in her own unique ways. I’m sure of that. And I’m sure she’s trying her best to be fair, too, in her own way, under the circumstances.

It gives me peace to think the best about her, and I want to continue to try to focus on wishing happiness for him, even though I am grieving for the loss of our future together.

I know it is not going to be easy, and I don’t know how long it will take. My friend said I will never completely stop loving him, and I know that’s true – he was my husband and we were together almost 10 years.

He and I feel differently, but I know that’s how I feel, and if I can give myself permission for it to be okay to love him, as long as I keep trying to move forward, and to continue to heal  – then maybe there’s nothing bad, or wrong, if I do not get to where he is at.

We are different people – I don’t know if it really means it was never real – because he feels nothing now at all – but I think it is okay if I do feel these things.

As long as I can somehow find a way to re-open the gap between June, and now, that suddenly closed completely, when he was here in this house, our marital house, ending our life together for good.

I know that because I had to be perfect, I couldn’t be. It was just impossible for me. I wish it had been enough to be better, to have come as far as I did, but I couldn’t be perfect.

I know he needed me to, but I couldn’t do it. He told me many times that when he’s in love with someone, they don’t have to be perfect, and I was far from perfect.

I’d like to think that there were many things about me that were perfect for him – he used to say to me, “You’re perfect for me.”

He said it many times, those first two years, but he also said, if he’s not in love, and the feelings are gone, all the things that would never bother or upset him before, now…

I do not think he is unusual that way. I think being in love, we have blinders on. Maybe that’s why it is so easy for me to focus on his good qualities, and it’s always been that way. Even when I got upset, I got over it so easily, because in the end, I loved him so much, I only saw the good.

Even now – I still only think about the good.

I guess that’s not a good thing – especially now. But, it’s not a choice. It just is.

I wasn’t prepared to start over at the beginning, but I’ve been told, it won’t take as long to get back to where I was – to full acceptance and being able to bear the pain, and the grief, without it taking me down like it has today and last night.

I don’t know how to stop being so hard on myself – he told me there’s no point in beating myself up for what I did.  And yet, we fell into that conversation loop I thought we’d put to rest, after she called, and he reminded me of the reasons why I lost him –  how do I not beat myself up for that?

He told me he’s not angry. I believe his connection, his feelings, for her, have a lot to do with that. I’m glad he’s okay. I want him to be okay, even if it’s not with me.

I think my friend is right. Up until he took the last of his things, I was okay living alone in this house. Through Lizzie’s death, Reggie’s death, I was okay in the house.

But now, I feel like it’s a gravesite – because it is – it is the gravesite of my life with them, and I have never, ever felt so alone in my entire life. I have never ached for anyone the way I ache for all of them.

I do not feel like I want to go back to San Diego the way I did in the very beginning, and this is so sadly ironic – I left my last home to be with him, and now I think I have to leave this home to heal from losing him.

It feels like I’ve come full circle – back to the beginning – leaving one home for him at the start, and now leaving another home for him, at the end.

After last night, I realized that I have no choice. I have to try my hardest to find a way to be at peace with his new dreams with her, and to lay to rest, once and for all, the dreams I had with him.

The first day after a death is the hardest – the shock is real.

I must be in shock, I suppose, but I don’t feel numb. I feel the pain of everything.

Today, I was thinking back to four years ago. This weekend is the 4-year anniversary of the weekend I came back home – to him and our dogs.

My mom was very ill for a long time, and when I should have been here, I was in San Diego, in 2012, and 2013, and then for almost 5 months in 2014-2015 when she was acutely ill.

During that time, she said something to me, that I can’t stop thinking about today. She said, “I just want to be normal.”

On February 3rd, the last day I saw him before he began moving out, he said to me, “I understand. You’re just different.”

Normal is not different.

I think she found him at the right time in his life, and I found him at the wrong time. And sometimes, sadly, that’s just how it is. It just comes down to luck and timing. But, also, sometimes when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.  And when you know, you know.

I believe, that’s what’s happened between them – I may be wrong, but that is what I believe. A casual friendship, over the years, led them to reconnect at the right time in his life, when he was ready – he wasn’t looking for it, he told me. That’s usually when it happens.

Ironically, he said the same thing to me ten years ago, when we met, for the first time, but he must not have been ready then – his life is set now. He has fought the hard fight and come out on the other end. I imagine it’s the same for her, though I don’t know, but I think so, the little I know, it sounds like it. And that’s usually when people are able to make it work – when everything else has come together for them first – and then, the relationship feels effortless.

I wonder – my friend told me that I will always have to live with and cope with the part of me that led to the difficulties I had in my marriage. That is something that I am finding difficult to accept. I hope I can.

I am grateful he also reminded me that I am a wonderful person. Last night,  I needed to hear that.

I don’t know if Audie believes that, too, but even if he did, I know that it is too late now. It would never be enough.

Starting over from the beginning was so unexpected, and I have new regrets now. But, I hope I have not undone whatever good I did when I was able to choose the high road these last several months. I wasn’t perfect, neither was he, but, it truly is hard to be perfect in a divorce. I think that might be impossible, actually.

Every journey begins with the first step.

For now, I am determined to do what I set out to do – to be helpful,  to be brave,  to be gracious, and thoughtful, and mature – and considerate –  anything that I can do that makes me proud – to be me.

Audie, Reggie, Lizzie, Toby and me: my former family. In Balboa Park, July 27, 2011




1 thought on “Starting Over at the Beginning”

  1. Dear Jill, I believe I know how you feel. Divorce is as hard for a person who is still in love, as the death of a loved one. I know that from the experiences of other people and from reading about it. And even when my husband was gone for a day or two (after the kids grew up and were gone) on business trip, and I stayed alone in our house, the latter felt like a coffin. Ronald says the same thing about being alone, without me, in the house. I know how you feel being left in an empty house – and being left by your husband. With the love cases, the one who loves more than his or her spouse is always somewhat on a losing side. The one who loves less has more power over the other spouse. I sympathize with you. I feel for you, and I love you. You are a kind and wonderful person. I wish you all the best. I hope to see you soon again. Zhanna


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