This was drafted on April 23, 2021, nearly a year ago.
I opted to delay publishing it until today. I edited it some.
Why publish it at all?
Because the details of my story may not be that important, but the message it sends to (mostly) women in a similar situation, might be.
For that reason, here we go …
I am still married, officially.
It has been 820 days since my almost-ex-husband officially filed for divorce. For those of you slow in the math department, that’s roughly 2 years and three months. 814 days since he flew to spend the weekend with his girlfriend, with whom he is now living.
So many strange gifts in how the marriage imploded.
I think I can say without being sued for libel that it has been what experts call a “high conflict divorce.”
I will not go into all of that. There is only so much energy, and the energy you give to a toxic thing cannot be spared and used for something beautiful and healthy.
Hopefully by the time you are reading this, everything will be signed. Court motions flying and a call with the judge on Monday. My soon-to-be-ex has not participated in the last two mandated court calls, so my expectations are low.
Several years ago, I contemplated writing a book about endurance riding, not so much a how-to as a philosophical and spiritual guide.
I’m not kidding when I tell you that it was a Saturday Night Live skit featuring a bunch of navel-gazing, self-important writer types that caused me to jettison that plan. “Yep, nope, done.”
Still, I blogged. Indulging in bite-sized self-reflection.
The title of the book was going to be Musings from Mile 87.
Which of course begs the narcissistically introspective question to my third person self, “But why, dear writer, why that title? Do tell, Patti!”
There is something magical about a 100-mile ride.
It is preparing for and taking on a herculean mental and physical challenge in partnership with another creature, one who does not fill out the entry form nor sign up voluntarily, and while the miles can bring joy, the true blessing is in looking back on the feat upon its completion.
My divorce has not been unlike a 100-mile ride. (Minus the horse.) I am grateful for having completed several – 100s not divorces, for clarity — to prepare me for this.
At this moment, I’m at that 87-mile point. I’m sore and worn out and a little giddy, and there’s only one loop to go. I can almost smell the finish line, the great Afterwards, in which I look back and say, wow, what a ride. (Preferably with a cocktail in hand. And definitely in good company. You know who you are.)
I’ve written about 100s and what they teach you about yourself. Either my own ride or one (or a dozen) I’ve crewed for.
What does it feel like at Mile 87 of a 2+ year divorce?
I’m feeling contemplative, so here goes …
You become acutely aware that stuff is just stuff. And money is just money. A house is just a house.
A wedding dress is just an object far more flammable than you might have imagined as you and your friends burn it in a bonfire one evening, with your best friend’s husband shouting out “too late to change your mind!” as it goes up in a whoosh. Laughing, cleansed, purged.
I’ve never been the sentimental sort, thank heavens.
You learn that despite your claims that you are not mechanically inclined, you will be able to survive (and thrive) alone on a 100-acre farm in a place with epic winters with three horses, two dogs, and two cats. And two businesses.
At some point, your tractor unexpectedly leaves the farm. You eventually grow weary of hoping it is returned and buy your own used tractor, and fall in love with it just a little bit, because it is yours. And pet it, and call it Dutchie and grin like a fool driving it around moving things like rocks and horse poop and fallen limbs.
You come to know that when faced with a broken thing, it is your first instinct, and an unattractive one at best, to immediately give up. That you pout like a four-year-old and claim you can’t, when in fact if you actually stop for a moment and think, it turns out you can. You can get the lawnmower out of the ditch, you can fix the horse’s water tank, you can figure out why you arrived home and there’s no heat in the house. You can figure out software problems and lost passwords and issues with Quicken and your LMS, and your online banking.
And that while you’re still not actually mechanically or tech-gifted, you are pretty $*(#ing resourceful, and that’s way more important.
Life is all about chipping away at it just a little bit at a time.
You learn that your old standby of “good enough” is actually a healthy approach, and one you’ll embrace, thankyouverymuch, for things like the cleanliness level of the floor during mud season.
Perfection is a myth.
One of my mantras, faced with an overwhelming to-do list, became – “what can wait until tomorrow?”
It turns out damned near everything.
Peace and safety.
Your risk aversion is a gift when you are alone in a place where no one would hear you if you screamed.
It means that you realize you should be comfortable with a firearm and now you are. It means you should not go to the barn without your cell phone, because $*&# happens. It means you check in when you ride and when you return, and when you take off and when you land. It means you change all of the locks and garage opener and gate codes. It means that you are thrilled to have a dog who barks first and asks questions later.
Trusting yourself is a process.
You learn to ask for help. You learn that one of the signs of emerging from a toxic relationship is that you no longer trust your own judgment. You designate three people to be your wisdom because you’re not healed enough to be that for yourself. You are tickled when they almost never disagree with one another, but are shocked when they almost uniformly disagree with you at first. (When you still give the benefit of the doubt. When you still think this thing can be mediated. When you still find yourself walking on eggshells. Old habits die hard.) Then you heal some and you find you’re checking in just to be sure, and then you find you don’t even need to check in.
Two plus years is a gift.
Because you are back to trusting you. Turns out that broad knew what to do all along. She just lost her way.
You come to realize that you don’t actually have to do everything yourself. You are reminded of what you once knew and can believe again, that if you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in their field and trust them to handle something for you, they can and they will.
You become a lean-er rather than a lean-ee, and it is uncomfortable at first, the sort of uncomfortable that is wool on tender skin, but it is warm and it is safe and you get used to it.
You realize that this is the flip side of giving; it is receiving with humble gratitude. There is something healing in surrendering to doing so.
And that, no, there is no way to re-pay such favors.
No. Really. You are a catch.
You laugh through tears on the phone with your baby sister, early on, lamenting that you’ll be alone forever, and she announces to you with great confidence …
“Patti, you are a catch.”
You contemplate a line of t-shirts. “I’m a catch. My sister says so.”
You are stunned to discover you are not, as you have announced in the past, invisible once you turn 50.
You begin to say out loud to people, jokingly, that you are a catch. They do not laugh. They agree.
Laughter and joy.
You had not realized until more than one person (actually a startling number of people) said “you look so happy” just how unhappy you’d been. It is surprising what people see, what people sense. And yet no surprise at all.
My sister said to me the first time I saw her — “It’s like someone had cranked the dimmer on your light switch. I hadn’t realized it until now, seeing you fully lit up.”
Silly. I’m silly. I dance. I laugh until I cry. I tell people I love them. That I miss them. Often.
Just me, I suppose, but more so.
I became a Buffalo Bills fan again at just the right time. (This will be a new heartache I know. Alas. Sigh.)
Socializing with friends and family, no longer making excuses for someone’s absence, or someone’s mood, I’m untamed and no longer concerned about being “too much.”
Being given dating advice by my nieces. Laughing until I cried. But listening. Taking note. Priceless.
As Glennon Doyle would say … I am a god-damned cheetah. (Untamed. Required reading. Twice. Maybe three times.)
Real and good men do exist.
You come to recall that real men (and women) work for a living because they feel responsible for themselves and that what you do for fun comes AFTER your work because you are a grown-ass adult. A real man wouldn’t dream of being carried. A real man says, “Don’t worry; I will take care of you.”
Real men will not let you down when it is important, real men show up and real men will worry for your welfare. A real man drives an hour to your house when your last text to him says you are heading to the barn to do chores and then you never text again. (It turns out you were with a friend with your phone on vibrate in another room, unheard.) You are more shocked than anything to find yourself the object of worry. It makes you uncomfortable at first, to be worried about this way. People tell you such worrying is normal. You take that in. Absorb it.
Real men are uncomfortable when you express that you are scared. They do not use a vehicle as a weapon to express anger. They will slow down and drive like a senior citizen when you are a passenger for the first time on a motorcycle, they will reach back and squeeze your knee in reassurance to make you feel safe. They buy you a helmet and leather gloves and advise you about what to wear on the motorcycle. You learn to sigh and exhale and lean into feeling safe.
Real men expect that you have an opinion and have boundaries about what is okay and what is not, and that a real man wants to find a solution when there is a conflict. A real man is afraid of losing you because he knows you are a catch. A real man apologizes.
A real man watches you overthink out loud, a verbal tornado of working-it-out because that’s your process, and smiles. He catches your hand and holds it and laughs. He is not mocking you. He tells you you’re one of the smartest people he knows. (He is correct on that one. And he’s not the least bit intimidated by it. He’s so much smarter than you about entirely different things.)
You are a bad-ass boss bitch.
You learn that your businesses –both of them successful– are in fact, yours. One of the keys to their success, the biggest, being, well, you.
You never thought of them that way; they were just vehicles to serving clients and earning a living, more of a means to an end than some sort of legal thing. You suspect that parents feel that way about their children, never thinking of them as possessions until someone is threatening to take them away. You fight for them, for their continuity, for their reputation, for your clients — at great expense, mental and financial and emotional. And it is worth every dime, every changed password, every brilliant chess move, every hour exploring vendor options, every phone call to a client to check on service, and every court motion.
You build a team of women, expand upon it, set goals and run projects and do what you were always meant to do. Your business philosophy remains true.
Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.
You are finally unburdened of the one and only employee you ever had, an anchor who was preventing you from doing just that. And the timing is perfect. It can only be explained by divine intervention.
You learn that you can survive a pandemic and a lockdown, cleaning up junk hoarded for 20-some years, a major house repair, the legalities and work of listing, staging and showing that house, participating in preparing for a divorce trial, bringing landscaping back to glory, all while running two businesses without interruption. If not with ease, then with grace. And help.
The myth that you were somehow incompetent was just that.
You learn you are no longer controlled.
You learn that is okay to read in bed, watch The Real Housewives, and walk around the house brushing your teeth because it is too challenging to be still in the bathroom doing only one thing. You let the wood boiler go cold and turn up the thermostat, you transplant daylilies, rejoice about squirrels at the bird feeder and tell them they are safe, and drive on the part of the driveway that was “not a driveway” and break a million rules you had forgotten you were following long after he was gone.
You learn that it is okay to be you, and damn, you deserve to be loved with every one of your quirks and faults and foibles. And you smile as you break the rules.
You no longer tip toe around the anger. There is no simmering rage anywhere. No circular arguments with no resolution other than that it is best to keep silent, lower expectations, don’t rock the boat.
You realize you said “it’s not that bad” for far too long.
You learn that it is okay to call the police and stand up for yourself when your property and sense of safety have been violated.
You are almost free. You can smell it.
You now know that when you said you didn’t have anything left, that you were out of endurance, that you were, miraculously, wrong.
You learn that when you sit on your front porch watching the sun rise and mourn giving up your home that the sun will continue to rise just as beautifully somewhere else, and you look skyward in gratitude for that realization.
You learn that you’re driving the little bus, but someone else is driving The Big Bus.
You learn that if you ask God to show you the way, to say thank you for what you have –reminded of a night your big brother told you he was fairly confident you would not be living in a cardboard box anytime soon—those signs will come, doors will open, timing will align in a way that you could not have imagined and which you cannot explain, clients will call, and your faith is renewed.
You learn that your tribe is and was and will always be your tribe. That this was one of the biggest lessons all along. Like a Big Life Lesson. The biggest.
You learn that some people will lie and steal and gossip and talk about you rather than to you, and that that is okay, that it’s easy to shrug and thank God for the awareness that they are not your tribe.
You realize, finally, that being accused of something does not make you guilty. That you are not, nor have you ever been, as a matter of character, mean or angry or vindictive.
And that anyone who thought you might give up or roll over or lose your integrity had underestimated you greatly.
You learn that when you made a promise to someone to stay on the high road because you wanted to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you had –having stood far too long in line when they handed out self-righteousness– that you had more fortitude than you knew possible. That you said please and thank you and did the right thing from the jump and right until the end. That you did not have to participate in every fight you were invited to, and didn’t. That no response is a response when you were being provoked for a reaction. And possibly the best one in your bag of tricks.
You think of the things you would do and say and write if you had not committed to staying on the high road. You don’t do it, but you fantasize about it just a little bit, because well, you are human.
You learn that his fate is none of your business, but you sign up for a Google Alert in case he dies so you can discontinue the monthly maintenance payment.
After all, this is just a business negotiation.
You now know it is true. The opposite of love is not hatred. It is indifference. And you got there.
One of the things you say when people ask about the divorce cannot be denied.
It didn’t have to be this way.
You join your own fan club.
Somewhere along the way, you start to understand what people mean about being kind to yourself.
You make mistakes and stop using them to beat yourself up.
You understand what it means to be content with your own company. To have a kind chat with your inner child when she’s hurting or cheer her when she does something amazing. You turn up the radio and dance in the barn while cleaning stalls. You sing at the top of your lungs, badly. You make difficult decisions and trust that you did the right thing. You do not second-guess yourself.
You find yourself smiling at the life you’ve created so imperfectly for yourself, the fact that you still routinely step in shit and need to apologize, but that that is okay. You’ll likely do it again tomorrow.
You love someone else for their imperfect self because like you, they are good and kind and generous.
And because he’s a real grown-ass man.
You look to the heavens, you say thank you, you know deep in your bones that without a marriage ending, without the dragged-out legal torture that it was, that it would not have aligned so perfectly with what was meant to happen next. What is happening next. That life is short and you’ll be damned if you won’t be living every bit of it fully.
That last 13 miles?
Yep. I learned I have that in me and then some.
At Mile 87 and looking forward to looking back.