My marriage imploded on a Thursday afternoon in September 2011. It all began around 3 p.m. when I opened an email account. I brought my son to baseball practice as if nothing was wrong, helped my daughter with her homework, and asked my husband to leave our house by 6 p.m. After nearly 16 years of marriage, my husband packed a small bag and left the house without a word. He knew there was nothing he could say that would make it okay for him to live in our home anymore.
Sixteen years is a long time. You accumulate many things in 16 years.
Over the next six months, my husband came by the house to collect many of his things. He was careful to arrive when the children were out. He didn’t want to upset them, he said. But really, he didn’t want them to know that he had left for good. He refused to tell them that we were getting divorced. I had to do it myself, sitting each child down on the sofa, individually, to break the news. My son was six and burst into tears. He yelled and negotiated and then gave up. My daughter had just turned five, and she hung her sweet, pudgy feet over the side of the sofa until she understood what I was saying. Then she curled up in a ball and asked to go upstairs to play. She wouldn’t talk about the divorce for months afterwards.
After this, their father would come by to visit the children several times a week. Sometimes he would bring something back to his apartment with him: a cookbook, a painting, a small piece of furniture that had belonged to his grandparents. But what is remarkable is the number of things he left behind.
He left behind nearly all of his books. He was a great reader of nonfiction, a brilliant man, perhaps too brilliant, who read military and political and policy books and never forgot a detail in any of those books. They now pile up in bags and boxes in my basement. Some still sit on my shelves, reminders of a time when we were so young and optimistic that all we wanted to do was read and talk and learn and share.
He left behind other books, self-help books about the problems that started to overcome him in the last years of our marriage. I realize that I bought all these books for him. They remain here, unopened and unread.
He left behind his passport, long expired and filled with stamps from all over the world: Turkey, Kenya, Chile, Columbia, Argentina, England, Ireland, Spain. I study the passport photo, but I see someone I can’t quite place. He’s so young. Was his hair really that curly and blonde? He looks like trouble, I think.
He left behind much of his clothing, and I don’t know what to do with it. Until divorce court is over, I dare not throw it out. But it’s been here for more than two years now. I look at it and realize that it’s old and dated and preppy and would no longer fit the long-haired man who has gained more than 30 pounds since he left our home.
He left behind his family photos. I see a round-faced little boy with pale blonde hair. He plays with his cousins. He lost touch with them many years ago. I see his mother, who is hamming it up for the cameras, and I feel myself stiffening up. I blame her for much of this, but she has died of lung cancer. I feel a familiar uprising of anger followed by guilt; I shouldn’t be angry at a dead woman. I look at the photos again. His father is missing because he was probably drunk when most of the photos were taken. He only sobered up when my husband started law school. He beat his addiction, which made my husband believe that he, too, could beat his problems.
I have gone through the house and boxed up whatever traces I found of him. I don’t want to be reminded. I want to forget and move forward. But traces of my deeply flawed soon-to-be-ex-husband still remain.
“This post is in response to this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge.”