a letter to you on your birthday

Today, in a bizarre toast to you on your day, I made the decision to go through my box of old love letters. Back when we started dating I went to TJ Maxx and bought a box with purple lilacs and French script printed on the cover. What a perfectly romantic place to store the letters you’d been sending me from school! How heartbroken our little teenage hearts were when you left! We knew it was the beginning of a long road paved by the military; lined with long-distance, hard-work, and loneliness. 

Your letters were sweet and short and written in between desperately busy days. You wrote to me about how beautiful I was. How sweet and kind. How much you looked forward to seeing me again. How much you looked forward to the next part, the next month, year, whatever, because it all meant we were closer to seeing each other again and always inches closer to the ultimate: life together after school. You wanted to see me wake up in the morning and hold me at night. You wanted to tell me you loved me and laugh with me. You wanted to be friends. You wanted to be family. 

What do I do with those letters now? Do I throw them away and pretend they never existed? Do I reduce them to some manipulative scheme and dismiss them? Do I let them sit in my heart and feel the love I felt when I was 18, 19, 20, etc., etc, etc. 

I’d like to think it was real. If you were manipulating me I don’t think you knew it. I’m not sure you loved me as deeply as you claimed or as intimately as I needed, but I think somewhere and somehow you loved me. In some universe, when you addressed cards as my love, I really was your love. When you wrote me that I was beautiful and would be a perfect mother and wife, that you would take care of us and protect us, you didn’t know yet I would need protecting from you. You didn’t know that you would tell me someday you wouldn’t want kids because you didn’t want them to grow up to be like me. That one day you could watch me tip the man in the parking lot and look at me, seriously, and say “I fucking hate you” and pretend you never said anything at all. I don’t think you knew on our first Valentine’s Day when you called me your heart and soul that on our last Valentine’s Day you would get me a blank card on the way home from work and never write in it. 

Buried even deeper in the box is a list of things you loved about me where you told me I was smart. I don’t think you knew we would get in a door-slamming, sleep-on-the-couch fight because you thought men were smarter than women, and especially that you were smarter than me. That you could tease me and call me dumb and useless and I would laugh it off. 

How do I reconcile these people that I knew? There was the sweet, sensitive boy who wrote these letters. He surprised me with a weekend to the beach one of our first married summers. We took a ferry to an island and spent the days eating seafood, sleeping on the sand, drinking and smoking cigars and singing 90s songs on the porch. We were at home together. You used to open your arms up to me and ask for a hug while you were on the couch- I loved that you did that. I would be busy, cleaning or folding clothes, and you knew that sometimes an interruption was best. Your arms were strong and warm.

How was that the same man who could leave me alone in a house night after night for hours at a time? Who could disappear to a bar with friends without caring to tell me when he’d come home? Who wouldn’t hug me or touch me or speak to me unless I begged him? Who could scream til he was blue because I took too long curling my hair? 

I used to think the kind version of you was the real one, and the dark version was the one that needed excusing, and there were plenty of excuses. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe that version was real enough, but those roots can only grow so deep. At the core and buried underneath is your darkness and sadness and hatred. I think it might be rotting you away, because it certainly tried to rot me.

I’ll put it so you can understand: I think your kindness is real in the way paint is layered on the canvas. You’ll paint it on thick enough until even you believe it and everyone else sees something beautiful. In the end, though, the canvas is weak and thin and when the paint starts to chip off there’ll be nothing beneath but sadness. 

Happy birthday.

Love,

Me

the morning i left my husband

The morning I left my husband we both cried. I was going to the airport for a weekend trip, he was leaving to visit family for a few weeks. We both knew when he came back I’d be moved out.

I saw him in the kitchen that morning and we looked at each other a little awkwardly- were there rules on saying goodbye to your spouse? We did what we’d always done, held each other, until I rolled my bag to the front step and closed the door behind me.

He followed. Sometimes I wish he would have followed me forever. Or just found a way to stay good.

We held each other in the front yard. Me on my tip toes, my arms around his neck. Him bent over with his head on my shoulder, keeping me close.

More crying.

Somehow I endured a Lyft with a driver who talked the whole ride about nothing. I wanted to fall apart and scream and sleep all at once.

How do these people not know this is the day I’m falling apart? How do they all keep looking at me and talking to me and breathing near me?

Don’t touch me. Don’t look at me. Please.

The flight cross-country is a long one. Longer when you feel like you’re somewhere between crushing, overwhelming sorrow- and I mean sorrow, deeper and broader and more absurd than regular old sadness- and simply not existing. I just shrunk smaller and smaller, collapsing inside myself, somewhere quiet where it was a little bit safe and far from laughter and iPhones and snacks.

Honestly, it was almost was comical- “Hey, how are you, where are you going?”

“Oh, just leaving my husband. I’ll have peanuts, thanks.”

Who was I to walk away? This Catholic girl, marriage is forever, love-him-till-I-die girl? How do I leave those arms, that face? Those joys, those hopes, those dreams? The routines, the rhythm. The long mornings in bed on Saturdays. Brunch by the water on Sundays. Summer nights- bushels of oysters, bottles of wine. Endless fights with the dog about staying off the couch until we realized we liked him on the couch.


It was a summer night when our marriage met the start of it’s end. The emotional distance was getting to be too much again, and I had finally worked up the courage to confront him.

Strike that. I confronted him all the time. This night, he agreed to talk.

We met on the couch, fans oscillating furiously against another heat wave. Just a little extra misery, salt in the wound, courtesy of California.

He admitted he knew he’d been off.

I always can tell right away- the touches don’t linger. The sex is lazy, at best. Slow Saturday mornings are gone. I beg for brunch. He turns away in bed, doesn’t come at all. He’s with his friends more often than not. There’s no pet names, no chats about the day. He just exists.

Somehow he denies it and tells me nothing is wrong- until finally something is wrong.

This time, it was kids. He told me he didn’t want any.

So I told him we were done.

I already knew, really, that the problem wasn’t kids.

It was me.

You see, we had always planned on having kids. At least, I had always planned on kids, and he had always been agreeable.

All I’d ever wanted was to be a wife and mom, to have a little home and family where we could grow in love and grace. From the day I could hold a doll, I was planning on it. At seventeen I chose nursing so I could have time at home to raise a family later. Now I was halfway through grad school because I thought it’d be easier to finish before toddlers were running around. We had just bought a house with an extra room!

You cannot tell me this man I married somehow overlooked the fact that kids were part of the plan and then realized overnight he didn’t want it.

The truth is, he did not want them because he did not want me.

The night of his grand reveal he packed a bag to stay at a friend’s house.

We were crying, again.

Clearly, a lot of crying goes into killing a marriage. Crying and saying I love you, crying in doorways, crying outside. He told me he was going to drink till he forgot everything, saying something about the biggest decision of his life being a mistake. The mistake was me, I guess.

Even still, that night I followed him out the door until he made me go back inside. We both were crying so much he couldn’t leave.

It didn’t matter; there weren’t enough tears in the world to save us. 

It was another summer night, weeks later, when I told him some men chose women like me. Some men wanted women of faith who wanted children. He could tell me he wanted me to stay, but he didn’t want what made me me to stick around- my faith, my dreams, my heart.

It was enough when he, so sincerely, so kindly, conceded, “It’s okay, we’ll figure it out. I’ll just cope with it.”

That was that.

I am not a woman to be coped with. I am a woman to be cherished.

Welcome to your final descent.