Divorce by Tara – 16 years old
I don’t really remember what happened. All I remember is that I stopped hearing hushed, harsh whispering from the other room. I started to see everything move around me. Suddenly, my mother had gotten an apartment on the other side of our small community and my grandmother had come to live in my home full time. It was things like this that I noticed, but didn’t understand.
When I was in second grade, I had a friend named Crystal. Her parents had been divorced for a few years at that time, but she would still occasionally struggle with the concept. I remember sitting on a playground bench at recess, hugging her, and listening to her complain aimlessly at the struggles of having an annoying, younger brother and two, unhappy, divorced parents. I remember thinking in my head that I would never have to worry about being this unhappy. My parents would never divorce.
When I finally realized what was happening, it didn’t seem to click. I still had that part of me that hoped my parents would come together again. I was clinging onto false hope for so long. I was 8 years old when my parents separated, and 9 years old when they finally divorced.
So I started to slip. I began to eat my feelings; I was often found in the pantry, digging for candy or chips. I grew two sizes, and my cheeks began to fill. I got extremely sensitive. I would often blame my friends for not paying enough attention to me or being with other friends. Anything anyone did was highly regarded and intensely analyzed.
I didn’t know how I felt and I didn’t ever talk about it, so my parents put me in counseling. Every Tuesday evening for an hour, instead of talking, I would play in a sandbox with short, plastic Lego people. I would make wooden spoon couples- Mr. & Mrs. Spoon- out of yellow, stringy yarn and lots of Sharpies. I didn’t have anything much to say.
The rest is pretty blurry. I remember seeing my dad cry in one home, my mother in the other; two houses filled with hurt. I remember feeling my heart as heavy as stone whenever I had to say goodbye to one parent and hello to the other. I fell into a rhythm that consumed my feelings.
Counseling Sandbox Time with Lego People
Thursday- Go to Mom’s.
Next Thursday- Go to Dad’s.
I followed this pattern for about a year. Things got mentally draining when my mom moved across the country. My dad helped me cope with my mom’s move by allowing me to call her every day and visit often. You would have thought that my mom moving away meant a break of practice. But instead of weekly supplements of my mother, I would have daily supplements- phone calls in the morning when I woke up and phone calls right before I went to bed. For 9 year old me, a phone connection seemed like an impossible way to communicate with my mom. But it was my routine.
Meanwhile, my dad did an outstanding job taking care of his pre-pre-teen daughter. 15 minutes before school each day, he would take me to the bathroom and comb out all the tangles from my hair. He would skillfully slip a headband into my hair and gently put a sweet lavender lotion on my face.
And when it was cold outside (in our snowy city of Seattle, it was almost every winter) he would drop me off to school and make sure I kept my fuzzy, neon purple hat on. And whenever I thought he had left, I would pull it off, only to see my dad darting back towards me with a look that meant trouble.
This continued until the middle of fourth grade. My routine, my sensitivity, my numbness to my own feelings.
I didn’t realize I was in a routine until a smiley, funny, and beautiful woman came over to my house one Sunday evening. My dad had told me to wear the best dress I owned- a poofy, grey, cotton dress with satin black dots. My hair was pulled back by an oversized, corduroy headband, with my teeth protruding from different angles. I had just lost one of my bottom teeth, and the gap was evident. My cheeks were big, but my dimples were deeper.
This lady was a little too cheery for the middle of August. But she asked me about everything an adult could think of asking a fourth grader. She really cared! I thought she was the coolest person on earth. A doctor who saves little kids like me? WOWIE!
Two months later, my dad took me on a bike ride to the pond by our house. I remember the bicycle bouncing on the stone pathway, my belly jiggling with laughter as my dad struggled to keep his bike straight. We dropped our bikes on the dirt path near the pond, and grabbed handfuls of stones. With a sideways motion, my dad sent a grey rock skipping over the water. After a few failed attempts, I turned to my dad, who was watching me with delighted eyes. It was in that moment that he asked me how I would feel to have that cheerful, too-happy-for-August lady as my stepmom.
You can imagine that I said yes (more like “YES! Really, Dad? Are you joking???”). The following months included chaotic wedding planning and several “meet the family” moments. It was fabulous. Slowly, I broke out of the routine that had once consumed me.
I saw the world change around me. My dad was smiling and laughing more. Laughter echoed in my home instead of ear-throbbing silence. I was smiling more. I had motivation to do something great with my young self. It was small things like these that I noticed and appreciated.
My stepmom brought a lot more purpose into my dad and my life. From the second she walked into our home for the first time, she helped me notice the little things that make life worth living.
I am 16 years strong. The toughest time of my life has made me worlds stronger. Maybe instead of talking, all I needed was a little sandbox time. And maybe instead of crying, all I needed to do was eat.
You know what I’ve realized?
Sometimes all you need is someone who is a little too happy for August.
by Tara – 16 years old