By Tracy McKay-Lamb
PACKING MY HOME feels like undressing the dead. Taking pictures off the walls and clearing the mantle, disrobing my home and making her a blank canvas again upswells all the sediment from the bottom of the sea. All the hopes and joy I felt while setting up my beautiful home now rise on a gentle tide of sorrow. It’s not cruel or malicious. It just is. And it seems almost mindful of my sorrow as it swells up and breaks the surface to float away in the cool winter sunlight.
We are moving away from a neighborhood of three-car garages, landscape lighting, and security systems to a small rental in an older neighborhood. I am going from gleaming hardwood floors, French toile wallpaper, and curving staircases to linoleum, outside parking, and one bathroom.
I am choosing to take my kids and myself out of a situation that is beyond my control. Because of choices my ex-husband made, I cannot keep my home house. A single mom supporting three children by herself cannot take on the kind of debt a house like this brings. It must be sold.
The hardest part of this is the dissolution of my dreams. The hopes and plans for a future that seemed so secure, so idyllic, so perfect, so much a fulfillment of everything I wanted—all that is gone. I miss the man I married. I miss my best friend. I miss him with a gasping chasm of perfect pain where my heart was—but he is gone, and I cannot bring him back.
I met with my attorney this week. When the severing is laid out before you on paper, it’s like ripping open a sutured wound. You think you’re ready. But the actuality of it—seeing your life, your heart, your best friend, your children, your home—laid bare in legal terms on stark, white paper . . . I cried all day.
I took the kids to see what I am calling our “new small house.” They don’t notice things like linoleum floors; they think sharing a bathroom will just make Saturday chores go faster. Cleaning four bathrooms does take time, and who needs two walk-in master closets anyway? My cheeks sting. I feel ashamed of my pride, ashamed that I am not more grateful for the “new small house.”
Goodbye House. Goodbye white picket fence. Goodbye master bath larger than the new small house’s kitchen. Goodbye emerald-velvet grassed yard. Goodbye high ceilings and sunroom. Goodbye curving staircase and food-storage room. Goodbye French doors and central air. Goodbye double-hung windows and arched doorways. Goodbye deeply shaded backyard with climbing trees, quail, foxes, and deer. Goodbye cul-de-sac where kids could play safely, where the boys learned to ride their bikes. Goodbye front porch with Adirondack chairs and birdfeeder. Goodbye deep soaking tub and the kids’ own bathroom. Goodbye dreams and future. Goodbye “we.” Goodbye “us.”
SOME DAYS BRING me to my knees; you can follow my path through the thorns by the drops of blood left behind.
There’s the grieving always just beneath the surface. The acting out. The child who crawls into bed with me and weeps into my shoulder. The little girl who tells her dolls that she doesn’t have a dad anymore.
I am one person trying to meet the needs of three little human beings. But it’s not only their needs I must meet—which are great and deep—I must manage a regular life, too. The bills, insurance, rent, gas in the car, the garbage, Scouts, homework, baths, laundry, meals, bedtimes, IEP meetings for my autistic son, dentist and doctor appointments, school registration for them and for me, church, callings, visiting-teaching and being visit-taught, scripture study, Family Home Evening—and that doesn’t even begin to touch on the personal.
Everything on my list is likely on the list of every other woman reading this—I’m not special. The only difference? There is no one to share the weight. Child has an ear infection? Take them all to the doctor. Out of milk? Everyone in the car. Need the prescription filled for the ear? Let’s go, buckle up. Kid with stomach flu and you’re out of bleach? It’s all you, baby. There is no “divide and conquer” anymore.
By dusk, I had put all the kids in their rooms. I was standing in the kitchen holding the broom I had just broken trying to get a Lego out from under the stove, crying my eyes out. You’ve had days like that. Days when your husband was on a business trip and you were counting the hours until he got home because you were so exhausted. I’ve been there. I remember that feeling. I would love that feeling now—the anxiety coupled with the anticipation. I can make it till Friday . . . what a relief Friday will be. Only now, Friday is never coming.
I HAVE A list as long as my arm of things needing attention. Maybe they’ve been there for a long time—I don’t know. It’s hard to notice the match under your foot when your whole life is on fire. Every time I try to tackle something on my list, I realize I haven’t unpacked the box I need for that particular task and then I’m off on a wild goose chase again. Maybe I just need to finish getting the house set up before I plunge forward.
I don’t want to say this too loudly, but I think I may kind of like living in a smaller house. It’s easier to keep an ear on the kids. It’s easier to keep things clean. It’s easier to keep on top of chores. Even laundry is easier, because I cleaned out all the clothes we don’t really need. You should see the piles in the garage for the yard sale! The buffet is up for grabs, patio furniture, my Adirondack chairs, an antique piano, clothes, shoes, kitchen stuff, pretty sit-arounds, books, toys . . . it’s going to be great.
I keep catching myself holding my breath, pausing and waiting for something—noticing the absence of tension, wanting to call it something else, and then feeling off-kilter because of the quiet . . . normalcy. I’m not so dramatic as to think I’ve got post-traumatic stress syndrome. Yet, when you live in a pressure-cooker for years and suddenly the steam-release valve is thrown, it may take some time to trust the new normal.
DEAR CHILDREN: I love you so much my heart cannot contain all the smooshy, lovey, mama feelings. You are the lights of my life, and I would lie down on railroad tracks for each of you. But I cannot bear another pen mark on my table, my walls, your clothes, or your arms and legs. I have thrown all the markers into the outside trash. If you try to find them, I will rip your little arms off and feed them to you for dinner. Also? The next child to give Bean a wedgie is in timeout forever.
Dear Excedrin: I love you. Please don’t keep me awake all night. But if that is the bitter cost of annihilating my headache, I love you anyway.
Dear Washing Machine: Thank you. Thank you for being able to handle that kitchen rug I gave you, despite all the mud and sand. Thank you for dispensing with the dirty jeans and pee clothes I constantly throw at you, and doing so without a complaint. I love you. Without you I would have to haul all this crap down to the river and beat it on the rocks. And I would also be insane. Did I mention I love you? I do.
Dear Children: The next person who calls their sibling Poopy-Head or Stupid-Face is going to have a soap snack. I promise.
Dear Children: Thank you for smelling so nice after your baths. Thank you for getting your jammies on, and for not complaining while I slathered you up with eczema cream. Thank you, boys, for coming to kiss your sister goodnight, and for giving everyone butterfly kisses. Thank you, Abby, for knowing how to read, and reading me The Little Engine that Could tonight, much to my surprise. Thank you for waiting twelve days past your fourth birthday before asking how long before you could have five fishy-kisses at bedtime. Thank you, Jeffrey, for reading quietly under your covers with your little blue flashlight so as not to keep Bean awake. You might have given him an atomic wedgie earlier, but you were sweet to him at bedtime. Goodnight, children; goodnight, kitchen; goodnight, laundry. Goodnight, everyone; and goodnight, you.
I AM DIVORCED. I knew it was what I had to do. Never—not even once—have I thought leaving was a mistake. I waited until I knew beyond any shadow of any doubt that I had to leave. This has been a mercy. I am not plagued by doubts. I do not second-guess the path I chose, or what that path means for my children.
But that has not kept me from missing my best friend. How is it possible for one vessel to hold so many complicated, swirling emotions? My ex-husband was my very best friend since I was barely more than a child. We’ve known each other for more than twenty years, and those were not distant years. They were years as friends, then college roommates, daily companions, confidants. They were years spent picking each other up from broken hearts caused by others, wiping each other’s tears, and being each other’s shelter in the storm. When he asked me to marry him, part of my initial reluctance was that I loved him too much—that he was my best friend, and I couldn’t bear to lose him, like I had all my other love relationships.
And here I stand.
I miss him with a hollow ache that echoes inside my soul. I miss our history. I miss intuitive communication and having someone always on my side. I miss the shared experiences and inside jokes that only come from an honest lifetime of laughter and mistakes. I miss him. I miss him so much.
And when that guy at the gym smiled at me this morning, all I could think was, “No! Where is David?” He is gone. In more ways that I can express, he is gone. My heart cleaves into a million shards—and even so, I know I did the right thing. So I stand up, bury my face in a towel, and move on. I don’t know what else to do.
I WISH WISH wish I could show you the snapshot I took yesterday of Abby sitting on the toilet—naked—with only her Darth Vader helmet on, reading a Richard Scarry book. But even I have some limits.
THE KIDS AND I piled in the car for dinner at our home-teacher’s house. Now that I’m single, we are assigned to an older man (recently released as a bishop) and his wife. They have been an absolute godsend to us—we love them, and they clearly love us. I cannot even list all the ways they have shown us tenderness and care.
When we got there, the house was piled high with grandkids and grown-ups. Everyone was lovely and friendly. My kids changed into their swimsuits and hopped in the pool with about a dozen other people, but I could see Bean was already on the edge of sketchy. It was loud and chaotic, and with so many new kids who didn’t know him or autism, I could feel myself start to tense up.
He had a few moments where he began to honk and flap, but it wasn’t catastrophic, and it diffused fairly quickly. One young woman latched onto Abby and was helping her around the pool on a floatie, and Jeffrey was having a water fight with another boy. Bean floated around in his own world. And I sat on the edge, keeping my fire extinguisher ready should anyone touch him off.
That was the scene when I suddenly burst into tears. No reason. Nothing happened. But there I was, alone with my three wildly different kids, trying to balance all three of their needs by myself. In the pool were piles of kids with a mom and a dad to care for them. There were dads tossing toddlers in the pool while the moms fussed and worried over them. There were men barbecuing; there were children calling gleefully to their grandparents, “Look at me!” And then there were my kids and me. Alone.
And just for a second I felt completely abysmal and hopeless. I felt like I couldn’t possibly do this myself. I felt gut-lurching sadness for my children and their lack of a father. I felt waves of guilt for not choosing my husband more wisely, for how that choice has and will impact their lives. I felt aching loss for the healthy relationship my kids are missing, and the loss of the blessing of a good father. I watched those men and was jealous and sad. I wished, for just a moment, I could have a second chance. How would life be different had I had known then what I know now?
BEAN (WALKING INTO my room): MOM! I really like how I feel when I say bad words.
Me (picking up laundry from the floor, full stop): Wha . . . ? Um. Okay. You like bad words? How do they make you feel?
Bean (shrugging and now skipping around my room): I just like it, inside, when I say them.
Me (trying to play it cool): So, um . . . what words do you like to say?
Bean: POOP! I like to say POOP!! And sometimes (whispering) . . . fart!
Me (exhaling): Oooooooh.
IT’S BEEN MORE than a year. I’ve mourned and processed the dissolution of my marriage. Meaning that I think I’m ready to go on a date. However, there’s a dearth of single men in my area. And if I insist on dating someone reasonably not messed up, the pool shrinks from narrow to nonexistent.
So I thought, “What the heck. I’ll toss a profile up on an LDS dating site, and see what happens.” I snapped a picture with my laptop, wrote a quippy little snippet about myself, and popped it onto the interwebs.
I don’t know how to write this without sounding snotty, but I’m going to try.
During the two or three days my profile has been up, more than 130 men have looked at it. More than a dozen have emailed me, and twelve additional men have sent what is called a “flirt,” which is a canned message saying something like “I’m interested in you!” (OK) or “You’re cute!” (that’s nice) or even “Blowing Kisses!” (ick). Of the more than two-dozen men who have initiated contact of some sort, more than half were older than my father (60). Of the other half, two could not speak English (which is fine, but it’s hard to communicate anything, right?), one admitted up front that he was unemployed and living with his sister (thanks, actually), one asked me in the first email if I would start an eternal family with him right away, one was younger than my youngest brother (ick again), and one has repeatedly sent “flirts” despite my asking if we could have an actual conversation. Two are “separated” but not divorced yet—yeah, that means you’re still married.
Somewhere there has to be a single man who fits in my (incredibly broad) demographic, right? I’d like him to be an intelligent, honest man who is not afraid of a traditional family situation, but who is also supportive of independence within a relationship. I’m not looking for someone to take care of me, but someone to walk next to me; someone who is comfortable with a woman who is her own person. I’d like to get to know someone slowly, especially since my children are involved and will be affected by anyone I may date. If he is divorced and has children, too, that is perfectly okay. Life happens and none of us have perfect situations.
Tell me, friends, is this unreasonable?
Yesterday I got an email from a new man. He attached a photo of himself leaning on his big truck, and another of him holding a hunting rifle. He is 81 years old.
After the 100th email from someone who didn’t even bother to read my profile, who wanted to know the status of my uterus (!!!), or who was just plain creepy, I deleted my dating profile. Too much crap.
MY WARD IS the best ward on the planet. The women I visit-teach are willing to come to my house when my childcare falls through yet again, and my own visiting teachers are happy to take a kid to Scouts, pick up Abby, or just come by and hang out with me at my kitchen table. It seems like every time I turn around there is someone wonderful at my door with a gift, or a note, or just a smile and a hug.
Today at church, my Relief Society president stopped me in the hall, leaned in, and said with a grin, “Tracy! You . . . are . . . smokin’!” I was simultaneously embarrassed and completely flattered—I mean really, what woman doesn’t want to hear that at some point in her life? It was a small thing, but a compliment is a compliment and it totally made my day.
Then I got pulled out of Relief Society because Bean was utterly out of control in Primary—but even that was done with love. He has teachers who strive to understand him.
When I got home from church, there was a message from X canceling his visitation in an hour; there was also a message from my home-teachers, saying they would be by tonight to not only fix a draft in the backdoor but to watch my kids because there is (gulp!) a single adult fireside tonight. The kids didn’t even bat an eye—on either message. They are fine and secure in the love of so many people. I am grateful for the vastness of the human heart and its infinite ability to chose to love. Thank you, my ward family.
I guess I’m getting pushed out of the nest, ready or not. Off to attend my first single adult night at church. Wish me luck!