it’s been a year. 365 days. and it feels miraculous that i am still standing.
we started that morning in terse silence, a continuation of our avoidance of each other for the past few days. another argument where my son had been at the center, where i was forced to choose, and that choice had become clearer and clearer as time marched on. he was only 15, and sowing his independence by pushing back, and it irked you to your core. i had to step in, and i was so tired of that dance. exhausted from the desire for forgiveness, side stepping the habitual pattern of anger that continually surfaced over and over.
you locked the bedroom door, and we began a vehement discourse that devolved into shouting, our younger children knocking on the door as they cried in fear. you wanted, again, my exoneration for your lost temper, and i was incapable of offering that grace. in a fit of more anger and frustration, you threw out what was to become our destiny: after the holidays, we were DONE.
i emerged from the bedroom to see my children’s eyes pooled with tears, reflecting my own. we had planned an outing to a local immersive arts venue, Meow Wolf, and i had zero desire to participate, let alone as a family. But my children pleaded, and i capitulated, throwing on my coat, and avoiding your glances from the passenger seat as i drove, the car ride rife with tension.
when we arrived, it was as if nothing had transpired. the kids traipsed off, you trailed them, putting on the face you wear well that hides the inner turmoil and rage beneath the surface. i am not so fortunate: my countenance betrays everything i am thinking or feeling at any given time, so i got lost. wandered away from our ‘group’, a fractured entity that found solace hiding in nooks and crannies where I could reflect and breathe. i missed watching my children play, but the thought of standing by them, pretending that i was okay as the life around me i had known was slowly crumbling, felt unbearably inauthentic. it was a vision of my solitary future, but it was the first semblance of peace i had for days.
after we reunited, you announced that you had additional shopping to do, but you would try to meet us later. inside, i heaved a sigh of relief. i would get a reprieve from having to feign a united front, so i dropped you off at home, and then the kids and I headed downtown to Canyon Road for the annual farolito art walk. it was warmer than usual, but as the sun began to disappear across the horizon, the weather dipped into its usual desert chill. we trudged down the hill to meet some of my older kids’ friends, the younger children impatient. finally, with our adopted brood, we wandered back up the hill, stopping for the annual hot chocolate, to warm our hands by small fires, and to listen to carolers belting out our favorite tunes.
we ooed and aahed at the lights, and the mood was jovial, feather light. it was perfect. i forgot about you, forgot about the strife, forgot about what the days ahead would bring with the revelation that ‘we’ were no more. you never did make it, the traffic too heavy, as you explained when we finally arrived home a few hours later. as soon as we walked back into the house, i felt cloaked in a hood weaved from repressive sadness. we ate dinner, sat in silence with the children, dragged out the gifts after everyone fell asleep, then rolled to our separate edges of our bed, and fitfully, i finally fell into slumber. it was simultaneously one of worst and best Christmas Eve’s of my life.
this year, i awoke with a sense of dread. i knew for weeks that this day was going to be hard, and emotional, and i wasn’t sure how i would manage. we had an open house the day before, and i immersed myself in cooking and feeding people, something that always brings me joy. the twins were downstairs when i woke in the morning, with a friend who had spent the night. they were watching a crazy show about a guy who travels the world subconsciously trying to get himself killed by handling snakes and catfish. they were so full of life and laughter, and it was contagious.
we jovially cleaned up the house, and the younger children arrived. i exercised as they ate lunch, then showered, dressed, and prepared to work a parking lot fundraiser at the twins’ school, down the street from Canyon Road. that took an hour, and my older daughter refused to walk with us, complaining of having to stand in the ‘cold’ 47-degree weather for such a long time. the younger kids begrudgingly went, my older son tapping into my emotional sensitivity and throwing encouragement about how much fun we would have.
my reached the entrance to the art walk, and a sea of people enveloped us, and the complaining began from my younger son. he was relentless, not more than a minute passing by without a comment being thrown out about how slow everyone was, or how he was annoyed by something. we walked half way up the hill before my younger daughter broke down, crying that she wanted to go home. i had envisioned us gleefully walking, soaking in every moment, relishing our first Christmas Eve on our own, as freeing as the year before. instead, we were fractured, and miserable, and as soon as the tears began to well in her eyes, they pooled in my own and began to fall. the inevitable damn of emotion that i had felt collecting in my subconscious broke, and poured out all the sadness of remembering. we rushed back to the car, and drove home in silence.
i prepared dinner, then retreated to my room to finish wrapping gifts, where i could openly cry and allow myself the space to grieve. except i wasn’t sure what I was mourning, because the one thing apparent to me was how little I’ve missed you. i have been so happy. my life with my children more relaxed, and fun, without the shadow of worry that i would have to defend someone and constantly put myself in the position as the peacemaker who had to sacrifice so much of her own comfort to protect those she loved. but maybe that was the crux: maybe it was the guilt of having a life richer than anything i had dreamed when we were together. a sense of remorse that we couldn’t build this in our marriage, but something i have been able to construct in solitude, brick by brick, without your absence hindering my own growth and forward motion.
and then as suddenly as it began, the water in my eyes dried, and the ghost of Christmas Eve past seemed to vanish. i wandered downstairs and prepared hot chocolate for the kids, extra marshmallows, and sat at the dining room table, sipping zinfandel and soaking the image of my home: the kids curled up together on the couch, the tree setting the room ablaze in a soft glow, everything toasty and warm. after their movie ended, i carried my younger daughter up to bed. tucked in my younger son, asking endless questions about where Santa was headed. gave them both extra kisses, so grateful that i could spend this day with them, that i wasn’t feeling their absence in a way that i expected to feel yours but didn’t.
truthfully, my heart feels full, so expanded, that most days it seems it might burst. i’m filled not just with an enormous amount of love for my children, but an ungodly amount of love for myself, something i had neglected for over ten years. in my desire to be a good partner, i ignored so much of me, overlooking all the areas of my heart that needed tending. it wore me down emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually. and when i would give one of those areas attention, i could always feel your hesitation, a fear emanating that perhaps i would outgrow what you had to offer. and i did.
i expected this day would hang over my head like a gloomy cloud, reminding me of what i had lost. instead, i realized how much I have gained. how many new opportunities i will have to enjoy this holiday on my own terms, without you. and that i feel no palpable regret for that recognition. it is my hope that you find the same. that you are happier apart than we were together. that this holiday marks not just the end of something significant, but the beginning of a life that is better lived, and better loved.
so, I offer you my forgiveness, because there is nothing else i can give you that wasn’t already collected. not just for a year ago, for its jarring and unsettling division, but for everything in between. for all that you have put me through, and all that i have had to endure. because i have cultivated so much tenderness that malice has no place in who i have become.
my gift to you is absolution.
my gift to myself is serenity.
may we both get everything we desire, and so much more.
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