I am standing in the kitchen with my work bag still slung over one shoulder staring at the envelope sitting on the bench. On the front, in my husband’s handwriting is my name. Not the nickname he calls me, but my full name. In capitals. I know it must be serious. Slowly, I place my bag on a kitchen stool and pick up the envelope. Something inside doesn’t want me to open it. But I do. And there it is, all in the first line. “If I didn’t love you, leaving would be easy” it says. And that’s it, he is gone and our five year marriage is over.
There are a lot of other things in the note, incidentals like how he will be returning to retrieve his things, instructions on not to contact him and myriad reasons regarding why he has to leave. But I just keep looking at that first line. ‘He loves me’ is all I can think, knowing that if there is still love, then it’s not too late.
And so begins my autumn. Those months where everything is not yet dead, but dying. For the first time in my life I am truly alone. I wake each morning and the first thing I do is remember The Note, then will myself not to cry. I get up and everything feels wrong. The house is empty, my husband is not home and inside I am aching. At night when I am home and sitting on the sofa I think I hear the familiar sound of the key in the front door. My heart leaps – he’s coming home, he’s coming home! But it’s my mind playing tricks. I don’t know it at the time but my husband is not coming home because he is playing happy families with someone else.
And then comes the winter, those bleak months when the truth hits me hard like a frozen white bullet through the heart. Any sense of normalcy is gone and I am left reeling from the shock and devastation. All our plans, our dreams, our future … gone. I want answers. I want to know why. I want to know that if he loves me, how could he do this?
After the shock I turn numb. Eventually I stop crying and everything becomes robotic. It’s the only way I can cope. I drive to work and I am efficient, polite and professional. But inside I am dead, just a hollow shell that functions through the day; one grey lifeless foot in front of another. Every day is like this. And then there is the weekend. Emptiness. Around me laughing couples divide the newspaper into their favourite sections, instantly knowing what the other likes. Meanwhile I stop buying the newspaper as it is too painful having to throw his reading material straight into the bin. We had been together since I was a teenager and now, almost a decade later I don’t know myself without him. I feel incomplete and lacking and sometimes it seems like I am being swallowed up by the spaces, the bits that aren’t there anymore. The missing is agony and so is the knowledge that he is now with someone else, despite being married to me.
My winter continues for a long time and I remain numb, cold and lifeless. I feel nothing. Perhaps it’s better that way. All my spirit, zest and passion is gone. My smile has faded and instead I am pale and skinny. After a while I get so sick I end up in hospital. I am relieved. Now someone else can take the reigns as I am just so tired of the responsibility of living. After hospital I go back to work, and then it’s back into hospital again. My body refuses to heal and I know it’s because I have lost the will to keep going, I am losing the battle with this intolerable grief.
But then something unexpected happens. The old lady in the bed next to me dies in the night and I am confronted with the reality that we are only here for a limited time. One day I too will be dead. In the meantime what will become of me? Will I slowly fade away as she has done, or will I choose to live my best life and despite the disappointment and fear, go on and do all the things I have ever wanted to? I decide to take three months off work and reclaim my life, my future and soul. I travel to Fiji with my family and then I fly to Western Australia and swim with the dolphins. For the first time in a long time I feel glimpses of happiness. I am coming alive.
When I return I go back to acting school, rehire an agent and do the work I love. I quit my office job and go freelance. I finally move out of my marital home and throw out all the remnants of the Old Life.
I celebrate spring. I start anew. I write a list of all the places I have ever wanted to travel and then I go. New York, Paris, Prague, Canada. I see them all. I spend time doing my art, something I had cast aside when my marriage ended. Suddenly I can draw again and I am surprised at the colours flowing out from my hand to the pencil and onto the page. It confirms that life is beautiful.
One day I drive through the national park and marvel at the effects of a bushfire that has swept through the greenery some time ago. I recall the burnt blackness that used to be there, the trees seemingly dead, with all hope gone. But now, with time I am amazed at the way nature regenerates. Lush green springing up from the black. And better yet, somehow there is more life and richer colour.
The experience of the bushfire restores something deep in my soul. I see that after obliteration comes greater beauty and I start to believe that life can be better than before. Nature is never wrong and I hold this knowledge close to my heart over the ensuing years.
It’s been a decade since I came home to find the note on the kitchen table and thought my life had ended. But I realise now what I thought was the end was really the beginning of something more wonderful.
It’s summer now and I am living life in the sun. I am married to a magnificent man who is warm, loving, kind and loyal. We have a gorgeous daughter and another baby on the way; life is great and along with the contentment of coupledom I’ve discovered a deeper sense of fulfillment I never had before. My ‘Independent Years’ as I now call them allowed me to flourish and become the person I had always wanted to be, so that when I did meet the man of my dreams I could be a happier ‘significant other.’
Divorce does change you. It challenges your ideals and lets you think nothing is secure when in fact, you always have everything you need.
It teaches you many things but mostly enduring a divorce encourages us not to take things for granted. It reinforces that we need to cherish what we have whilst we have it and to go on afterwards even when we think we cannot. It affirms also that love is a miracle and worth celebrating in whatever form it finds us – whether that be through a partner, family, friends or the simple gift of nature.
Most of all, through divorce I learnt there is a season for everything and after the cold bleak days of winter comes the warmth and glorious light of summer.
Vanessa Waters is a writer. She lives by the beach in Sydney with her husband and daughter.