Filed Under (Acceptance, Creative Non Fiction, To Get To The Other Side, Writing) by Estee on 13-04-2010
“Forever can be undone in a second,” says Stacy Morrison, author of Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through The Hell of Divorce (Simon And Schuster).
Stacy is a successful editor of Redbook Magazine. She begins at “the end,” she says — when her husband declares without counseling or any other clue, that “he’s done.” He leaves Stacy to piece together all the possible reasons for his leaving (over 300 of them apparently, which she has numbered), as well as the pieces of her life and very being. She is left to raise her three-year-old son Zack and learns to become a single parent, throughout trying to figure out where she belongs.
Chris, her ex, hangs around a bit, although he clearly doesn’t take a role in parenting in the beginning. With all of her obligations, her job, her type A personality, Stacy stumbles, crashes, falls, and then swims into new existence for as long as two-years post divorce. She finds she does not fit into old social networks, is struggling to keep all the balls in the air, while dealing with an “evil” house that gushes water in the basement which she must repair before selling it post-separation. The theme of gushing water runs throughout her memoir as she finds a new home for herself and for Zack. The sound of water (and she even experiences the gush in her new apartment from a leaky toilet) haunts her in her dreams even as she has moved into her new place and it serves as a metaphor for her feeling of drowning post-divorce. “I was still afraid of my not-quite-ex-husband and the way he seemed to hate me. And I still had to start over on starting over, because here I was almost two years later still stuck, still falling apart, still floundering, still drowning, goddammit. Still under water.” (p.205)
What was startling to me was to read how such a confident, capable woman, similar to most women I know, was so scared and disabled by having been left. It was striking because no matter how competent we believe we are, the dissolution of a relationship, especially one with a child, can be so debilitating and take years of recovery. It is endemic of our society that we think we can plan everything. It is this belief that we can actually be in control that leaves us standing dumbstruck at the aftermath, wondering why it all didn’t work out.
Chris, her ex, seems supportive of this book, wherein she regards his unfulfilled dreams having been one of the reasons for their divorce. “He hated me for being capable. For dealing. For buckling down and handling the stress of life. For being someone who attracted stress into our life. For being someone who liked challenges. For being the person who would step in when he had to step out.” (p. 63) For letting Stacy write this, I give Chris so much credit and it attests to his strength. It must be difficult to read about your short-comings from your ex, your unfulfilled business dreams (which I hope have since been fulfilled). Yet, on balance, Stacy lists a multitude of her own shortcomings and she has to work through the perceptions of Chris about her as well as of herself.
“At night I could feel other reasons sneaking into my head. I caught glimpses of where Chris and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, the parts to me that I didn’t necessarily even like myself, the instances in our marriage in which I had been selfish or mean or ungenerous, the moments when I had doubted our relationship. Maybe I was a bad person. Maybe I wasn’t who I thought I was. Maybe I was unlovable.” (p. 40) “Every single piece of who I thought I was was being called into question as I sifted through our shared history, looking for my answers.” Stacy talks about how he called her an “unhappy person” and “crazy,” which seems to be, as she notes later on, Chris’ issue. Yet it effects her to her very core as she tries to heal from the breakup.
In one exchange, she gathers her wits and says to Chris, “‘I am sorry that is how you see me and how you experience me. And I know that you do. But I know in my heart that I am a generous and loving person.’ It was the turning point, the moment I realized that I didn’t have to meet anger with anger, that I didn’t have to marinate all the terrible things he wanted me to feel….I could also see that Chris was lashing ot at me partly because leaving me hadn’t cleared him of his responsibilities to me and Zack, but I knew that whatever anger he was feeling about that was for Chris to deal with on his own. In that moment of vulnerability, of being open to his anger, I sensed a strength in myself that I knew I could trust.” (p. 121)
Stacy shares so much of herself and of her struggle to stay afloat emotionally for herself and her son and she learns to grow into a new relationship with Chris while letting go of the dynamic they once shared. She lets go of all the “complicated reasons a marriage starts to fray,” and reflects on her friends and colleagues need for a reason — did someone have an affair? Who was at fault? Although she was the one who “was left,” she doesn’t have a high opinion of how onlookers need to find reason or blame, and postulates that perhaps finding those easy reasons (at least easy in terms of logic) shields them from the many cracks in their own relationships. All one has to do is to look at Elizabeth Edwards and not feel terrible after what she has been through. The fact that a woman has to be blamed for “emasculating” her man if he has an affair or two is just but one example of how society wants to find a simple reason for a failed marriage. Certainly we all want to believe that we are untouchable by the possibility of breakups. We all want to believe that what happened to our friend, that politician or celebrity would never happen to us.
Stacy’s moral is that no life can be planned, and as a arch-planner, this was one of her lessons. She says, “Life is good. Life is hard. These two truths are unrelated…Everyone has pain in their life. It counts all the same.” (p. 230) The truth is, it can happen to anyone. There don’t seem to be any rules we can abide that can truly determine a successful relationship. There are too many factors in life, too many circumstances, too many turns to be able to determine a cause for either success of failure. Perhaps too, there is no such thing. Perhaps we are simply fortunate to have had a relationship at all — no matter what the duration.
While she becomes successful at learning to leave Chris’ opinions of her behind and leaves him to sort out his own issues, I once again applaud Chris for allowing Stacy to write this memoir so honestly. There is not a hint of self-pity in this book and for every one of her perspectives, I believe she is fair and she cites many of her own “faults.” It is simply an honest tale of how two people have grown apart and their need to find their own paths. In writing it five years post-divorce, she also calls her own situation “fortunate” in that she and Chris are still raising Zack together. “I think about how Chris is a much better partner now than he could ever have been if we had stayed married,” she says.
When reading her memoir, I think back to how excited I was to marry Adam’s father and how we spent our thirteen years together as a couple and all the joyous and challenging days. I think about how proud I am of having had that relationship and having Adam come from it. I had always called Adam our “love child,” as he was conceived right after our marriage. I remember the courting, the planning and how excited we were from all of that and how the whole family got involved and how important it was for me.
It saddens me, however, that we still, in a liberal day and age when we are learning to get along in many different familial configurations, that divorce can still become so acrimonious, and how it can end so abruptly. It is devastating for so many people — family and friends combined. While anger is natural, it is just but one stage in the process of divorce. It was this paragraph by Stacy that I liked that I feel could help people heal better, in order to honour a partnership so significant:
“I believe there has to be a better, more connected, more compassionate way to help people around us honor the end of one of life’s most beautiful leaps of faith.”
And that is what marriage is. It is a beautiful leap of faith against all odds, and like Stacy, I’m still glad I did it. By being glad, by honouring the time we spend with someone, we permit ourselves to move forward with evermore hope and joy in our lives. It seems that both Chris, Stacy and Zack have been able to do just that.