Friday, April 03, 2009

Sometimes, I Like to Pretend That I've Learned Something

Three years ago tomorrow, I crash-landed home after a disastrous sojourn in Sarajevo. I'd spent a year in the three smallest, bleakest rooms of my mind: “Woe Is Me,” “Man, This Sucks,” and “Why Doesn’t This Country Have Any Root Beer?”

My marriage was whirlwind, mad, and unworkable, but my biggest problem was me. I’d turned into little more than a seething ball of resentment with an eye for party decorations. Running away was the best of all my bad options. I packed my things, filed for divorce, and landed at Dulles Airport on April 4, 2006.
It’s safe to say I was slinking home in defeat. My scorecard read something like this:

Successful marriages: zero
Job: none
Prospects: zilch
Plans: nada
Home: a rent-free futon crashpad among sympathetic friends.

I am often asked what divorce feels like. Whether you were married six months or sixty years, it’s hell. It’s like being reincarnated, but you take only your ugly bits with you. It’s seeing every plan for your life evaporate, replaced by feelings of confusion and catastrophic failure. Plus, you exude this vaguely toxic, self-loathing substance that can poison even the most promising relationship. But that's OK, because you're scared and run hell for leather towards the relationships that hold the least promise. Oh, and if the divorce was your idea, you can tack on some overwhelming guilt for good measure.
Basically, it’s horrible and it sucks.

I tried to see the whole thing as something better. All that emptiness meant I could start over. I could put together the sort of life I could be proud of, that allowed me to be someone worthy of all the good things I'd been given. I had a second chance.

And what does a second chance feel like? Well, it's like jumping off a diving board into an empty swimming pool, and hoping there’s water by the time you hit bottom. But there’s never any water. In Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma, there’s a line that's both right-on and hilarious: “Most people, given a second chance, f*ck it up completely.”

And, boy howdy, did I screw up. A lot. There’s that Lost Weekend-esque Summer of 2006. And a whole slew of bad choices, from bad friends, iffy men, and McJobs, to more important things like hairstyle and wardrobe. I trusted everyone without regard for instincts or history. Somewhere around the fifth chance, though, things started to click.
I learned to surround myself with good people. Every day, I hear from at least one person who loves me. I learned that self-esteem is something you earn. It's not something handed to you by your parents, or by some guy with a hot car and a dozen roses. I learned that caring about the right people can patch even your biggest potholes, to give more than you get, and that the most important thing you can do in life is just show up.

Which takes us back to Dulles Airport on April 4, 2006. My dear friend of 14 years, the Foggy Dew, took the afternoon off to meet me at the airport. I was jet-lagged, shellshocked, and more than a little freaked. He dragged my suitcases out to the car, opened the door, and I hopped in. Foggy said there was a surprise in the backseat.

You bet your sweet asses it was a cooler of root beer. And, you bet your sweet asses that's when I knew I'd come home.
UPDATE: In a spooky coincidence, I wrote this on a friend's annivorcery. Ah, the Divorce Club. We meet every second Tuesday and have a secret handshake.


charlotteharris said...

You're right that "self-esteem is something you earn" - learn, even. We never really start expecting the best of ourselves until we figure out that we're better than all the dumb sh*t we do that holds us back. Nobody can tell us until we are ready to learn it for ourselves. But my favorite part of your post is the ending! What a good friend to you, that Foggy Dew. He is a thoughtful fella.

Malnurtured Snay said...

I feel I should leave a more substantial comment, but this post just reminded me that I have to pay my rent this weekend or be forced to crash on a futon somewhere. Also, root beer FTW.

Shannon said...

charlotte - He is, indeed. Plus, he can wiggle his ears.

Snay - Life, when you strip it down to the essentials, is all about root beer and futons.

Malnurtured Snay said...

Could we simplify that a bit? Like, beer and futons?

lacochran said...

It's funny what you miss when you're away from home. Root beer makes perfect sense.

[F]oxymoron said...

Kraft Velveeta Shells & Cheese, The Original

Cool. Lesson learned.

Shannon said...

Snay - Goodness, you're so demanding. Fine, life comes down to beer, futons, cheetos and love.

Lacochran - I love my routines, so I think the hardest thing about life overseas was not having any.

Foxy - In Bogota, I used to pine for sharp cheddar (it was known there as, "picante").

FoggyDew said...

What are friends for but to be there when you need them. And, if I remember correctly, you got in touch with many of the people I now call friends to tell them I was moving here and it'd be nice if they showed the new guy around.

You don't need a reason to do something for a friend, you do it because you're friends.

Brett said...

welcome home, lady. I raise my root beer in a salute.

Shannon said...

Foggy - If I can't orchestrate the social lives of others, my life is an empty hollow shell of meaninglessness.

Brett - Thank you! Good to be here.

Malnurtured Snay said...

I'm not being demanding, I just wanted clarification: I mean, futons are the win, I sleep on one every night. And while I do enjoy root beer, I also like beer, however, 'root beer' is exclusionary of 'beer', whereas 'beer' is inclusive of 'root beer.' And by eliminating 'root', I feel it is actually a matter of simplification.


Jeff said...

I'm on a roll with the whole seeking out relationships with the least amount of promise. And the stream of bad decisions part. Finding a nice cave somewhere would be ideal:).

Shannon said...

Snay - And that's the root of the issue, right there. I know, aaagggh.

Jeff - Depends, are you furry enough to go full-on cave dude?

bh said...

As somebody who is wrapping up a divorce (with kids) there is a lot of spot on here. The most upsetting part about divorce is that by the end, all you see is resentment, anger, betrayal. You can't really remember a time when it was good and felt right. In the mind's eye, it was always wrong. You have to force yourself to remember the positive, whether it was memories or that you grew/learned/became stronger from the trial of a catastrophically failed relationship.

But good does come on the otherside. You find out what real love is. It's also hard, because you act badly in a doomed marriage: you either behave poorly, or in my case, bury yourself in a pit of denial so deep that it takes moving out (and on) to realize the lies you'd told yourself of years to cover up the ugly truth. As I learned to behave/act/react/think like a caring, feeling person again, I realized how happy I could be.

That is really nice.

Anonymous said...

I think you know, based on the emotions you've portrayed in this post, that you are a better person for having these experiences. I truly believe that even the worst crap that happens to us is a blessing (sometimes in disguise) as the shitty stuff tends to result in growth and strength. I'm glad to know you :)

Shannon said...

BH - Ah, the Divorce Club. And I agree with everything you said. I'd trade a year of my life to take back everything I said during the last six months of my marriage. Let's just say I was less than nice.

Nuggets - Thank you. I figure it's not a failed relationship if you learned something, and I learned a lot. (Most of which I'm just figuring out...uh, now.)

LiLu said...

When I was in Carolina, my mother used to correct me when I referred to the Cack as home. She doesn't do it now that I'm in DC... I think because she knows that this IS my home now. Glad you're a part of it, lady.

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