On a Tuesday night in July, I got my two-and-a-half year old down to bed. I’d had a long day. My plan was herbal tea, Stranger Things, and to be in bed by 10.
My husband of 8 years was waiting for me on the couch. I could tell he wanted to talk. Normally at that time of night he was in the basement, Xbox controller in hand. It was strange for him to be above ground when he didn’t have to parent. It took me far too long to realize that the conversation we were having was not about how we need more date nights.
This was it. He was calling it.
I thought we had more time.
All the other times we’d come up to this cliff, I had always walked us back. I was the optimistic one. I was the one who made plans for our future, who dreamed for all of us. I was the one that treated my mental health while he stayed sullen and hopeless. It was always my job to imagine us being better.
But this time I couldn’t do it. Intellectually, I knew that therapy and talking and date nights and sex and time would help. But in my gut, my body, I knew that the only way to protect myself and my child from this happening again was to jump off the cliff once and for all. This time, it wasn’t about me, it was about myself as a mother and the need to find that strength that only mothers truly know. A voice in my head told me to wade through, do the hard part now, get this done and never do it again.
In the words of Glennon Doyle, I’m a mother and I have responsibilities. It was up to me not to let a man make me this vulnerable ever again.
That night he slept in his basement cave, the next night he moved out.
There was screaming, crying, shock, strength, and a bitter tiredness in those first few days. I circled the wagons with my closest friends. I took our daughter camping with his mom and sister because I needed the company of furious women who know how to chop wood. I got day drunk while they babysat.
Our daughter is so little she’s not even potty trained. She groups everything she sees into threes and points out the mama, the dada and the baby. Her dad had taken her snowglobe of a world and shaken it. For days and days and days she would say “Dada coming back” while I said “No baby, Dada will come to visit. You will go to Dada’s new house for sleepovers. You live here with Mama.”
Being a parent is about finding the words for things you never thought you’d say.
After the initial shock, my body over-corrected. The second week I was euphoric. I rearranged the bedroom. My friend bought me a new set of sheets and a dusty rose colored comforter. I claimed space. Eleanor jumped on the bed proclaiming “Mama’s new bed so comfy!” She’s slept beside me every night since her dad left and I love it.
Even in these early days, I can see myself getting into the rhythm of 50/50 co-parenting. All the energy I put towards keeping score and resenting my partner over the division of labor can now be used elsewhere. Now, I can be an amazing mom 50% of the time instead of being an impatient, exhausted mom 100% of the time. This would be the Renaissance of Eliza. I would come into my own as an entrepreneur in her mid thirties finally at home in her house and her skin. Live, laugh, leave baby!
But then, the reality of the pain I’d been caused started to hit. The body, truly, keeps the score. I was really meant to cut my time with my child in half and hand her over to the person causing me this pain? I was meant to watch them drive away? I went through crying and out the other side to a place of dark numbness. But I am a woman and an immigrant and I know how to find support. The first night Eleanor spent with her dad, my friend took me out to dinner and I ate enough linguine to feed a family of four. I avoid being at home by myself. I avoid quiet. I don’t go to bed until I’m too tired to lie awake thinking.
In the week that followed I had to come to terms with finances and the sheer terror of being on my own as a parent and a small business owner. I became furious that my husband had made a decision for all three of us unilaterally. It was up to me to teach him about mortgage refinancing and community property and earning disparity and, and, and….
Thankfully, the absolute bastard I married is still the good man I fell in love with. We agreed that the most important thing is that Eleanor sees us being friends. I’m keeping the house, we’re sharing expenses. So far, so amicable. I’ve told him that since I was planning on watching Stranger Things and he was planning on leaving me, I need some time to catch up. A change in status can’t be made for you, you have to get there on your own.
It’s always been ironic that, as a happily married woman, I helped found a gift registry for divorce. It was a funny line that we’d toss out during interviews and investor meetings. “Between us we have two divorces – both of them Beth’s!” Sadly, I’m an expert in software design, not family law, and starting this company doesn’t shield me from the pain of seeing my little girl miss her dad.
But it has made me more determined than ever to make the world better for people in marriages and after marriages. When it comes down to it, Beth and I are both hopelessly romantic. We want each and every one of you to be in relationships because you want to be, and not because refinancing a mortgage is a pain in the ass. We want, eventually, to divorce romance from practicality.
Live, laugh, leave!
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