As my marriage fell apart I lived directly above a busy wedding venue. The week my divorce became official I moved into a small three bedroom with a front porch view of a large cemetery.
This opening sounds so contrived. I’d never believe someone who opened her story this way for a piece turned in for workshop. Yet here it is. This is the truth of my narrative.
One sleepless night I wake to noise outside my bedroom window. I look out to dozens of sky lanterns floating upward into eternity, a celebration of newlyweds while my marriage is already nearly gone, only in existence courtesy of an official document. One evening I am hauling groceries upstairs to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” played by a wedding DJ for the millionth time. These moments bring a few tears, but more often an eye roll followed by a snarky text to a friend.
A massive snow and ice system immediately follows our mutual decision to separate after eight years of marriage that include creation of a daughter and building a literary community that spanned the country through a poetry reading series and hand-bound chapbook and literary magazine. Divorce is a death, yes, but more brutal. I’m a cold-blooded murderer, even if all that remained of my victim was an empty shell resembling the full flames of yore. And unlike the death of a loved one there are no sympathy cards, no abundance of casseroles sent my way. No one knows what to say—so they say nothing at all.
The blizzardy winter system pounces quickly, as is prone to happen here in the Arkansas Ozarks, a crossroads where the South meets the Southwest meets the prairie meets the Midwest, in the oldest mountain range of North America. It dumps ten or so inches of wet fluffy snow and then temps rise above freezing for just long enough to allow the snow to become water before dipping swiftly down to single digits, which remakes the sparkling light sugar coating of flakes into massive sheets of ice. The entire landscape is covered with as much as eight inches of rocky, treacherous ice resembling the Artic tundra. My arrangement with the ex is we’d split time at our downtown apartment, and whoever had our daughter would stay there. That entire winter is an unrelenting one, with many more winter storms, and for half of it I am a vagabond.
“I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June/If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too/No, I’m not asking much of you/Just sing little darling, sing with me.”
–First Aid Kit, “Emmylou”
In the heaviest year of my life nothing starts the waterworks more than the Swedish duo First Aid Kit’s “Emmylou”—their bittersweet harmonies singing about the force that were musical duos Gram & Emmylou, Johnny & June. Within seconds I begin bawling fierce, unrelenting tears. The song—up-tempo, twangy, and defiantly melancholy—first resonated with me a year after its 2012 debut that catapulted the sisters into critical and mass adoration. I am still grieving for losing what I thought my marriage was.
I see a therapist for the first time ever and she decides I need a mantra as I am, as she describes it, having been through a divorce with children herself, “trying to swim through concrete.” I settle on “You have no power over me,” a line uttered by the main character in Jim Henson’s fantasy film Labyrinth, starring a young Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie, which I first saw when my mother took my sister and I to see it in the theater to escape an especially hot summer afternoon in 1986.
“Break my legs so I won’t walk to you / Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you / Burn my skin so I can’t feel you / Stab my eyes so I can’t see”
–Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me”
I turn again and again to that mantra, and to crying along with records, most notably Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There, which I spin countless times alone in the dark of my living room with my two cats nestled in my lap. They were Christmas presents from my ex the first winter we spent in Brooklyn. “Why isn’t our national pastime crying along to records?” I tweet. I listen to Are We There a hundred times, crying, singing, and staring out the window. It’s like Sharon made the album for me. She is singing directly to me with every scorching verse.
My divorce becomes official in the historic downtown courthouse, with its iconic clock tower just off the square, November 13, 2014. The year that follows becomes all mine. I start using #goldenyear along with #messysplendor and decide my style is best described as #thriftstoredecadence, and I embrace it all.
For the first time ever my focus, when not caring for my five-year-old daughter, is me. My glamorous life crying in public, single parenting, and cleaning up kitty puke; my decadent winter walks to stare at all the pods dangling from bare trees as I listen to music in my headphones, most notably Basia Bulat’s “Tall Tall Shadow,” which becomes an anthem.
I learn the joys of having a home all my own for the very first time ever, go thrifting for just the right mid-century modern desk, a kitchen table that chirps like baby bird. I take long walks up winding roads in my new neighborhood to marvel at the mystery and light all around me. I plan trips with girlfriends to DC, Chicago, LA, and NYC, reveling in the messy splendor. Refusing to be tragic, and eventually, within the deep lost, the deepest I’ve known, comes rebirth.
November 13, 2015, is the one-year anniversary of my divorce and also Friday the 13th. The arts and crafts bungalow near the train tracks that was the home I took my newborn daughter to from the hospital has been demolished. The universe is literally telling me to let go. I have more battle scars than I ever thought I could.
I’m an optimistic fatalist with a penchant for pinot rosé who will sometimes listen to the same song fifty times in a row. This goes out to the perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts and the hundreds of birds atop a bare tree. The candy cotton sunset glow. The family of deer crossing a busy intersection as I walk to the radio station where I work after a snowstorm. The decadent moss and the mystery of this magic hill. The way Nina Simone turns Cole Porter’s “You’d Be so Nice to Come Home To” into a fugue.
That way in which we are all myths. Fierce compassion. The distinct loneliness of single parenting. A divorce notarized inside a train car. Finding feathers of leaves of feathers while feeding geese at the cemetery with my daughter. We’re all missing out on something. We all have secrets. We all have these moments that no one else will ever know. We are all fighting our own battles. I refuse to be tragic. Instead, let’s make things happen, and revel in this messy splendor.