On a scorching-hot afternoon last September— approximately three lifetimes ago, by my calculations— I sat in my lawyer’s office with a huge stack of papers on the desk in front of me. I signed, flipped. Signed again. Flipped again. I did this until I’d reached the bottom of the stack, then handed them over, and all of a sudden it hit me:
Wait. I asked her. Was that the thing that people in movies are always refusing to sign and crying about? And usually the person crying and not wanting to sign but signing anyway is played by Diane Keaton?
That’s exactly what it was.
I’d just signed my divorce papers.
I didn’t cry. I just signed and flipped and signed and flipped. And then I left my lawyer’s office and wandered off down the street, wandering slowly, because really: I had nowhere in particular to go, and nowhere in particular to be.
In May, I sat on my husband’s therapist’s couch, and told the man I’d spent the last ten years married to that I needed a break. By September, we were divorced. And now it’s winter, and I’m sitting in a new house, on a new couch, in a new city. My kids are off somewhere – I don’t know where – with the person who used to be my husband and who is now my “co-parent.” We are on opposing teams, currently playing in the Super Bowl of familial breakdowns, and we have transformed virtually overnight from each others’ cheerleaders into each others’ harshest, most evil-eyed critics.
We hover around each other like vultures, waiting to peck at every poorly-fastened car seat strap, late drop-off time, and crappy snack choice.
It is all as awful as it sounds.
After the split, I moved to LA both for work and for space. I commenced my new role as a parody: an actual walking, talking movie character: “The New Divorcee In The Cul-de-Sac.”
I am Cher in Mermaids, dancing with my kids in the kitchen while the rice burns on the stove. I scrape off the black parts, and we sit down on the floor in the living room and eat with plastic forks. I am grateful they can’t hear my heart pounding.
Last night, a new neighbor of mine came over with a basket of pumpkin muffins; I was on the phone with a client when the doorbell rang, and while I ushered her in with one hand, the other clapped over the mouthpiece – sorry, sorry, no no it’s fine, come in! – I could see myself as she saw me: disheveled in my boxer shorts and t-shirt, with no bra and a messy bun, cats twining around my legs and kids yelling from the kitchen for another Fruit Roll-Up. She mentioned that the pumpkin muffins were made with applesauce instead of oil, in case I was a calorie-counter or healthy eater or some such. No no, I said, I’m currently on the Divorce Diet of Diet Coke and sadness. I could use some muffins.
I know how to play this role.
We sat down and chatted for a bit – about schools, mostly. I overshared, because that’s what this character does. I told her about one of the preschools I’d looked at for my daughter, and we bemoaned the prices of preschools these days. I told her how I’d asked for financial aid. I told her that the director of the school had offered me some used uniforms so I wouldn’t have to buy them new, and that I’d accepted the offer.
I told my new neighbor all this within five minutes of meeting her, and I tried not to cry about the “secondhand uniform” comment. It’s such a weird, small, silly thing to get upset about.
But still. This is all pretty fucking humbling, and the uniforms make for a neat metaphor.
Here’s more reality for you, while we’re at it.
The first thing that happened in 2018 was that I had a misdiagnosed ectopic pregnancy. My stomach filled up with blood, and I almost died. I lost parts of my body I had never given much thought to, and never knew I could miss quite so much.
My management company— the company that brought in the business that made up the bulk of my income for the last decade— fired me, turning the career shift I’d been slowly building into less of a “good idea” and more of a “holy shit-emergency.”
My formerly treated insomnia returned like a freight train.
I am in a new house, in a new neighborhood.
I miss my friends.
Divorced. Fired. Broken. Walking on shaking legs into a brand-new life. That’s just my reality right now.
Towards the summer’s end, I spent a weekend in the woods on a retreat with a group of women, and ended up on a meditation hike with one who’d gone through a divorce herself. She said I should probably expect to fall apart a few months from now. It’s only when everything finally calms down, she said, that your brain and body can finally process all that’s happened. She warned me that the depression might come at me like a freight train, and told me about this thing she does – it’s such a hippie thing, she said, so bear with me:
She pictures herself during an earlier time in her life when she really, really needed support, and didn’t have anyone there to hold her. And then, in her mind, she goes back, and she holds herself. She lets her future self be the person that her former self needed.
Walking in those woods, I swear to god, I felt my future self there. Holding me.
I do not know how to be alone. I’ve jumped from relationship to relationship my entire adult life (with a year-long, horrifying, ill-advised foray into singlehood during my mid-twenties that I somehow survived, but probably shouldn’t have). I want someone– anyone– to help me through this, because I’m not sure I know how to make myself feel better all on my own. I’ve never really had to do it.
I told this to my best friend, Francesca, last night after the kids went to bed and the house went quiet and the sadness came in and smacked me in the face. I said I was furious with myself for feeling so stupid-lonely. For wallowing in self-pity, when really: shouldn’t I be Cher, dancing in the kitchen?
You know what Francesca said?
She said that the journey I’m on isn’t about “making a new life,” or “finding happiness again.” It is both those things to some extent, but really: it’s about figuring out how to love myself. By myself.
I don’t think I do; at least not yet. I’m angry with myself a lot of the time, and can’t stop questioning every little choice I make. Who the hell am I?, et cetera. But I also think, Maybe the simple fact that I made a decision that was very literally impossible is kind of amazing. The fact that I upended everything in my life with no greater hope than the hope that there might be something much bigger than I’ve ever imagined out there waiting for me — maybe that’s kind of amazing, too.
This morning, a friend texted me this quote from a Brene Brown book:
As you think about your own path to daring leadership, remember Joseph Campbell’s wisdom: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Own the fear, find the cave, and write a new ending for yourself. Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid. At the exact same time.
So yeah, I feel humbled. Sad. A little embarrassed by the parody I’ve become. I want someone else to take the reins for a moment, so I can rest. I don’t feel certain that I can love myself.
Brave and afraid, though? That I can do.
It’s a start.
For more from Jordan, pick up a copy of The Big Fat Activity Book for Pregnant People and preorder The Big Activity Book for Anxious People! Make sure to visit her site, Ramshackle Glam, and follow her on Instagram @ramshackleglam.