My eldest son graduated this weekend. The week leading up to it was a flurry of crazy activity and final plans and motions. The realization that, once again, things will never be what they once were. I remember him getting on the bus for preschool, throwing temper tantrums on the way to second grade, playing the clarinet in fifth grade, hopping from one school to the next, and doing school-at-home for a bit. Now it's done, I miss it but I'm so proud and excited for what lies ahead. It is one more chapter ended. One more milestone met. The third significant family moment I spent without my partner by my side.
I spent an anniversary alone on a mountain mourning what was lost. Then just last week I celebrated our eldest's announcement that she is pregnant by myself. I will be a grandma. He will be a grandpa. I didn't believe it at first but then when the reality sunk in the next thought was… I want to share this with him. I want muse about being grandparents so young with him. No one else. I don't want another man to be called Grandpa, but I don't want to be a lonely Gramma either.
And now our son graduates and we are still apart.
He came to the graduation barbecue. It was awkward but I'm glad he was there. That day wasn't about us. It was about the boy, his accomplishments, his achievements, his 12 plus years of hard work to make it to that night. I'm happy for the sake of our son that he was there despite the separation. I'm sad it was the first time in almost two months either of the boys had seen him. I was wondering why this has to be so hard on them? Why couldn't he have just left me and not them? I kept reminding myself to be glad he was there then, for our son's moment to shine.
I almost touched him once. It was an accident. He was in the door frame of the house that once was his and I was walking past. Before all of this leaving business, I would have reached out and grazed his torso or touched his hand or stopped briefly to kiss him and smile as I passed. I almost reached out, 14 years of habit is hard to break, but I stopped my hand from reaching for him. It didn't stop my soul from feeling. We were one once, we are no more. Why God why? What did I do?
It was the first time in nearly two months I'd seen him. I barely said a dozen words to him because I didn't know what to say and only made eye contact twice. Once, the first time, I was reminded of how his eyes mesmerize me, beautiful blue oceans of depth, fathomless, and now lost to me. The other just before he left for the night, a fist-bump and “Good job, Mama” and a second, or maybe two, of soul connection. I willed him him to fix this with my gaze. If he saw, he ignored it. He hugged our daughter, squeezed our other son's shoulder and told him he loved him, like that made up for 55 days of absence, said good-bye to the rest and left, like he did all those days before.
It was an afternoon and evening of cool, careful cordiality. The whole time I was asking myself: how does 14 years come down to this? What did I do? What is so bad about me he wanted to leave? And now that we're here do I even want to go back? How do we move forward? Do we be friends? Do we follow a plan? I know I don't want to be enemies, there's too much we've shared, too much of my soul wrapped up in his to fight or hate him. But where do we go from here?
I know don't want to be in the waiting room in seven months as our daughter gives birth unable to look him in the eye or have a conversation as we pass the time waiting to hear the news of our first grandchild's delivery. I want to share the moment in some way even if it's not as husband and wife. I want to be able to talk to him and look at him and not feel like my soul is bleeding all over the place.
Where do we go from here? How do we move on? What do I do?
The funny thing is all of the little things that annoyed or pissed me off. I noticed his shirt and shoes were new, maybe his jeans too. I thought... how nice to be able to buy new stuff for yourself when I'm trying to use my money to help our kids deal with the heartbreak of a parent leaving. It was mean, but it was my thought, what can I say? Then the next moment I thought… Was I such a Nazi with the budget that he didn't feel like he could buy clothes or shoes for himself? Why didn't he just say something instead of depriving himself? And the next thought… those jeans do nothing for his butt. Then … how many days has it been since I've had sex. A season at least. And... how can I think about sex at my son's graduation party? But… will I ever have sex again? I want to have sex again. And why is sex such a big deal anyway? I know how to take care of myself… And… It's my son's graduation I need to get my mind out of the gutter and focus on him, his night, his moment, his achievement. And... all of this really started because I noticed he had on a brand new shirt and shoes? Really?!
Then there were the strawberries. He said he would take the boy to the field to get ready for the ceremony. I packed up the strawberry shortcake leftovers he brought but he told me to keep them and give the bowl back to our mutual friend when we were finished with them. My immediate reaction was anger. I felt horrible for being angry but I was. Our friend had been checking in with me and he said to give the bowl back to her when we were done. What did he say to her about me? What does she think of me? Why is he making it my job to clean his stupid bowl of strawberry goo and give it to someone. Typical… leave the mess for me to take care of. And then I thought … that's mean, don't think that way, he's a good man. He's just tired of this life we had. And why? What was so wrong with our life? I liked it… it had issues but it was a good life. And again, what did I do?
Then for the first time in 14 years we were together but sitting three people apart, watching the child we'd raised graduate but not sharing the moment. I was glad he didn't have another woman with him but part of me wished he did. At least then there would be a reason for the leaving. But no, just me, too much and not enough to keep him. Another dismal notch in my failure column.
And our son graduated and we didn't squeeze hands in pride or kiss conspiratorially as he waked across the podium. We watched separately.
I wanted that moment for us, to celebrate his achievement, our achievement, to worry about what the future holds for him, to wonder what the next weeks would entail together. I wanted my fingers all wrapped up in his, we probably would have had sweaty hands because of the heat, but we would have been together. Instead we were three people apart and his ring was around my neck and his new shoes were scuff free, but his arms had scratches on them. Were they from work, from fishing, from helping an elderly friend or something else all together? I had no idea where the scratches came from or how new his shoes were to still be scuff free, because I do not know his life anymore. I wondered, as the students walked across the stage, one after the other, as we sat in the bleachers breathing the same hot, stagnant air, how could it have come to this?
I looked at his hand, ringless as it was and again touched the ring hanging around my neck. I remembered a promise I hissed in a moment of anger, “I'll wear it until it's back on your finger or until another ring takes its place.” But now I'm not so sure about that. I want closure. I need resolution. I tried to tell myself, I'm still trying to tell myself I don't care if it's divorce or restoration. I just need resolution. Two months is too long to live in limbo. But if this is the game of life and he moved out, isn't the next move mine? And if it is, what do I do? What's my move?