I’m getting a divorce. He has moved out; I’ve filed all of the papers; we’re beginning the process of moving on with our lives. So over the weekend I find myself riding in a car to go hiking at a park in a nearby town and all of the sudden it comes to me in a flash: I haven’t told anyone where I was going . . .
Wait a minute.
Who should I tell? I’m 40 years old and many years from needing my parents’ permission. I’m getting a divorce and I don’t have a significant other who may wonder where I am.
I’m getting better. My parents say I look happier and more relaxed. Friends who kept watch in the beginning offer fewer dinners and obvious attempts at “being there for me.” My therapist (something I never thought I’d have) compliments me on my progress.
It’s like those forms – those vital statistic forms you sometimes have to fill out. You know how hard it is to change age columns, like when you move from the twenty-something column to the thirty-something column. I changed columns. My soon-to-be-ex-husband told me he planned to lose himself in routine the first few weeks in his new apartment; he seems to think it will free him from thinking about his life. But I find in routine stark moments of awareness that I am changed; my life has changed. I changed columns.
I remember this lady from my town when I was in high school . . let’s call her Mrs. Whatsits. I went to school with her kids, but they weren’t in my class. They were a good looking family; she looked like Jackie Kennedy, the picture of grace, always friendly and smiling. Her kids looked like her. When I was a senior, Mrs. Whatsits’ life turned upside down. Her son was diagnosed with leukemia and died just a few weeks later. Very suddenly after that the whole town was gossiping about her husband had been having an affair, he moved out, they divorced. Mrs. Whatsits’ house was sold and became a B&B and she began working at a local drugstore. I suppose she had an apartment. She was the same . . . grace, smiling, Mrs. Whatsits. But whenever I saw her downtown, I always felt uncomfortable like I was at a dinner place setting with forks I didn’t know when to use.
I’m changing my name back. I never completely changed my name in the first place, opting instead for hyphenating. About the process of changing my name, I remember next to nothing. It seemed to happen seamlessly, quickly. About the process of changing it back, I feel like I should apologize for making a fuss. Like I am a precocious, presumptive child. “Excuse me! I’m not going to be a married woman anymore. Permission to reclaim my old identity please?”
And, of course, it’s not that simple. My old identity hasn’t simply been waiting to be reinhabited. That would be like trying to cram a 40-year-old woman into the dress she wore when she was 20. Besides I haven’t talked to anyone who has gotten a divorce who didn’t reach the stage, “I don’t know why we got married in the first place.” You’re at the end of the book, you know how it turns out and you can no longer identify with the character who made those choices a million years ago. Maybe she really was the idiot I now believe her to be. Maybe she was just an optimist. Either way, I looked at a tax form this year, but thinking of next year; and noticed there isn’t a column for “divorced.” You’re either some sort of married or single.
It made me mad. If I can’t shoehorn myself into that 20-something, “Miss” dress; neither should the IRS. My life has changed. I have changed columns. But someone forgot to create a new column.