The Alchemy of a Car Wreck

I was talking to my mother last night, and we got on the subjects of life, and love, and hope, and disappointment.  And the ongoing game of Spot the Brit, where in Amsterdam, she and my father had first thought they spied a gaggle of drag queens out for a pride parade, but was actually just a stag party.

It was the groomsmen dressed as the bridesmaids, and the groom dressed as the bride! she exclaimed.

The mere mention of marriage got me back on the subject of love, and I said that, for the first time in a long time, I was angry about being divorced.

I’ve been separated or divorced now for nearly as long as I was married, so it’s funny that I should still be talking about it like it’s A Thing.  But marriage is transformative — it’s not just like living together — because, why else would you want it?  Why do people fight so hard for it?  And don’t tell me it’s just taxes, or insurance, or end-of-life rights — because while those things are incredibly important, those aren’t the sort of things that make the Oxford English Dictionary change its definition of marriage, and they aren’t the sorts of things that have both sides of the political spectrum up in arms.

Marriage is alchemical.  It changes you for good.  I don’t think that’s something you ever realise until you’ve been separated or divorced.

After a divorce, I think you feel a bit like a wrecked car that hasn’t been totalled — you can put the pieces back together, and you might look almost exactly the same as you were before.  Hell, you might even look better.  But you’ll never be quite the same.  The gears will always feel a little different; the brakes are not going to catch in the same way.

Four years after separating from my husband, that’s what I am: A car that hasn’t been totalled. Which is…perfectly fine.  But I’m never going to feel the same way again.  And that’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean I’m not over it (whatever that means), and it doesn’t mean I haven’t worked through it, or I haven’t moved on — it is simply A Thing.

What I didn’t tell my mother last night was that I had been preparing to get rid of a very old computer, and had been trying to wipe the hard drive.  It was the computer I’d bought after mine had been stolen while I was studying for the bar exam almost a decade ago; right before I was married.  I’d stopped using it and bought a Mac around the time I got divorced, and so the thing was a snapshot of my married life.

shoes ad computer

I’d used Outlook back then, and frozen in time were all of my emails from an old address; all of my emails as Mrs. His Wife.  I couldn’t help but read at least some of the messages, and I sort-of regretted doing it.  What I discovered was that Andrew and I were so good at going through the motions!  So good at using the words people were supposed to use to communicate!

We said “I love you” often, and till the end.

We were liars.

And even after we split, in the year we were separated and he was putting me through the wringer, I wrote him a kind letter every single day of Lent that year to thank him for the great things he did during our marriage.  He was breaking my heart, and the man I loved was dead to me, and writing the good things down and telling him was the only way I knew how to work through the pain.

I wasn’t lying, then.

So last night, after sneaking that peek, I deleted all the emails.

My life has changed so much since I was Andrew’s wife — in such unimaginably wonderful ways!  I don’t think I would be happier, or better off, or anything like that if I had stayed in an unhappy union.  And I don’t feel like “divorcee” is an overwhelming part of my identity anymore.  I don’t know how or when or where that happened, but it has been a huge relief.

But what I have learned, perhaps the hard way, is that people who don’t know divorce will tell you that you should get over it before you are ready, or that you are not, or cannot be permanently altered by the experience of walking down and back up the aisle.

The fact of the matter is, after the crash, you will put yourself back together and you will rock n’ roll when you are ready.  And you will move about in your new form however you see fit.  It will never feel quite the same again, but the wheels will spin; the engine will growl.  And the same transformation that made you work in the first place will have you working again.

That, friends, is the alchemy of a car wreck.  This is the life I am living.

1 Comment

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  1. It’s a peculiar life to be living, isn’t it? The same, but not the same on rebuilt parts.

    In a year where both my physical and emotional selves have been rebuilt, I’ve been thinking a lot about the mystery miles that seem to come with old/new parts.

    I read this post from the garage at a racetrack, where I am spending the weekend watching/half watching a newish beau drive his car in fast circles. I am yet again dating a boy who likes fast cars and wondering if I am still a girl who likes boys who like speed. The thing about having been in a wreck before is that it’s much harder to drive like you’ve never hit the wall before, isn’t it?

    As always, your elegant words give me more to tumble about in my head. Thank you for that.

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