In my seven years of knowing Pete, he became three different people, scripted primarily by the stories I made of him—of us. Each story was entirely true and entirely false in the way that any interpretation of our lives in the moment tends to be. And they all served as transportation through the discoveries I needed to make and the self I needed to unearth through one of the most profound journeys of my life: marriage, motherhood, divorce.
Story 1: Love of my life
Pete and I just KNEW, pretty much immediately. The rightness of our union seemed evident as a forest glade we had entered together. Irrefutable. There was a delirium to the mutuality of this knowing. I was lost in its untested embrace.
Story 2: Narcissistic, neglectful-to-the-point-of-abuse monster
There were things Pete did, but more significantly that he didn’t do, that seemed brutally uncaring and neglectful. I could not comprehend that a person with a central nervous system could find a way to sidestep several of the life-altering events in our home and our family and come out the other side untouched. My entire being was seized up with the tension between my commitment to peace and harmony with Pete for my son’s sake and the absolute consumption of I-deserved-far-better blame and rage.
Story 3: Handsome, nice-smelling, friendly and helpful co-parent
Our divorce was not complete not when the paperwork went through (I was still lost in heartbreak and rage then), but when Pete had reincarnated in my mind as my friendly and delightful co-parent (somehow, only a few months later). As if I’d snapped out of a dream, there we were: happy, at peace, laughing about the overlaps of our shared parenting narratives. As if all of the petals had blown off our fading stem and somehow given way to a fresh bud.
The monster who had sunk his roots in the shadows of my agonies was reborn as the familiar, kind and thoughtful man who I could count on to problem-solve with me, have empathy for me, and jump in to help in ways he never would have considered (and probably I never would have allowed) when we were deep in the rut of Story 2.
Story 3, it seems to me, is the place where good marriages arrive (with a very different Story 2 as its segue)—that turning point when the stories aren’t working so hard to prove themselves. When what is unconditional rises to the surface and puts both hands on the steering wheel.
For Pete and me, divorce was the path to acceptance. The stories that led us here had to die, as did the people who had lived them. It seems obvious now that the brushfire that took our house down in Story 2 was the only possible way we ever could have let go—determined and optimistic as we both were. We could not have known that those ashes were, incomprehensibly, the lush nothingness on which we would construct an enduring and collaborative sense of family.
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