In the space of nine months, I found out my husband had been secretly using drugs, I had two miscarriages, he ran up $20k in credit card debt and then embezzled another $10k from his employer, and I had an affair. This is the final part of that story, told part by part. Part one can be found here.
Simon and I had our very first date on Ellis’s due date, the due date of my first dead baby. There was a bitter symmetry to this: a beginning and an end at once.
My lawyer advised me that dating before a divorce was finalized would be considered adultery in Tennessee and would not help me in the divorce proceedings, but certainly wouldn’t harm me much either.
“Don’t bring him around the children, and don’t bring him around your husband,” my lawyer had told me.
“Should I tell my husband I’m dating?” I had asked.
“Only in a deposition, because if you were not to say so then, you would commit perjury.”
It had been exactly nine months. Ellis, my first dead baby, could have already been in my arms, at my breast. The man I had once called my husband and I could have still been married, instead of what we were now: separated. But we never quite fit, or so I thought so now. Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? All the tiny and major violences we both committed, how much we longed to fit together, how much we scraped each other raw.
But that poverty of completion meant I was ready for Simon, for the weight of his tenderness.
Before I left for my date for Simon, my Oncehusband and I set our children in their cribs, working at that time in a shared effort of settling and playing that would end soon as the pain of separation meant it was impossible for us to be in the same room together. I changed into black pants and a light gray blouse before slipping out into the garage. As I opened the door, I could hear our twins laughing at each other in their cribs.
I pulled my car out of the garage and thought about the sweet noise of my children’s jubilance.
Simon was to cook me dinner at his home. I felt as I was driving that I had driven this route a hundred times over, that I was driving home. I talked to a friend on the phone about the absurdity of this:
“Why do I feel this way?” I asked her.
“I don’t know, but it can’t be bad!” she replied.
I parked in front of Simon’s house, a 1920s red brick bungalow with a screened-in porch. I could see the front of it was landscaped, flowers planted in the middle of painted tires. That’s so Simon, I thought.
I breathed in deeply. I had not been on a first date in ten years, and my skin prickled with nervousness. Will he kiss me? What will I do? Will I know how to kiss someone other than my oncehusband? What will happen if it’s terrible? I breathed in again, collected myself, and walked to his front door.
Simon opened the door to the porch before I was halfway up the walk.
“Hi, Simon,” I said, liking the feel of his name in my mouth.
“Hi, Tara Mae,” he said.
I walked up the steps and he immediately drew me into his arms. A moment later, he was kissing me we were kissing.
“That was so nice,” I told him after. “I was so worried.”
I watched Simon as he busied himself making us dinner: flank steak with garlic mashed potatoes. Sometimes he came to me to kiss me in between checking the steak or spicing a dish. When it was plated and set before me, I ate it and I knew in its eating that I was going to fall in love with this man, very well might already be in love with this man.
I marveled at my lack of guard, my frank irresponsibleness. Shouldn’t I be protecting my heart after all? Shouldn’t I erect fences and walls to protect myself? Shouldn’t I shouldn’t I? But I didn’t. I didn’t know why I didn’t, but I didn’t. I leapt right in.
Do I think my oncehusband and I would still be married if he hadn’t used drugs/embezzled? I don’t know, but I assume yes. Do I think I and/or my children would have been better for it? Of course not. I hope both my oncehusband and I get what we deserve, and I hope what I deserve is joy. Some days I want the same for him. I hope that will turn in to all days I want it for him.
I didn’t know what is ahead of me at this point. I thought that we would valiantly, politely handle the unraveling of our shared lives, but I would learn that divorce is like having a limb removed without any anesthesia or pain relievers.
I would feel everything viscerally: the moving out, the splitting of items, the decrees and interrogatories and parenting plans and custody worksheets and hiring goddamn painters to patch and prime the goddamn room filled with his goddamn Antique Signs to be able to sell our home. That everything would strike me like it was drilling straight through my flesh and nerves and into my bone, that I would howl when I was alone in the house I moved into, that one day or many days I would curl up in one of my children’s beds, suck in my breath, and think that my grief will surely ravage me until there was nothing left.
How a searing numbness would come over me for a time when I saw other married couples out with their children, and I would look for my oncehusband, my phantom limb. How I would constantly forget to say “I” or “my” instead of “we” or “our.” How sometimes I would wake up in a bed I have never shared with him and wonder where he was. How I would travel with someone else or by myself and see something, anything, beautiful, and store it “to tell him later,” only to remember, I would never tell it to him. How my oncehusband would go on with his life without me and how I would go on with my life without him. How once we were each other’s futures, and how now we are only each other’s pasts.
After my date with Simon, I drove back to the house my oncehusband and I share for this time in our separation. We would not share this home together long. He would remain, and I would leave, but then we would sell it.
The lights are off where my oncehusband was, in the room and the bed we shared as a couple. I climbed the stairs, stopped at my children’s room where I could hear their slow breaths. One stirred as I stood in the doorway, so I walked past their bedroom, past the bonus room where my oncehusband’s antique signs still cluttered the walls, his collection of expensive history, past my children’s bathroom, and into the guest bedroom where I slept at this point. And there, ignorant of what would be beautiful and what would be horrendous that lie ahead, I put myself to bed.
Nine Months, Part 16 (aka the end) was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.