My First Abandonment

On divorce

For a long time, I pretended it wasn’t a big deal. I pretended it wasn’t a trauma. I pretended it wasn’t my first abandonment—abandonment of self, of a life I thought I had, of an existence that was probably far too comfortable.

My parents divorced when I was five-years-old. I remember the evening they sat my older brother and I down at the kitchen table like it happened yesterday. My parents had tears in their eyes as they quietly said they were getting a divorce. I, of course, didn’t know what this meant, but I could tell it was something I didn’t want. As tears swelled in my eyes, my eight-year-old brother said to me, “It’s okay. We’ll be okay,” as if he was already putting on the “man of the house” costume. I ran to the garage door and shouted, “Nobody is leaving!” I ran to the front door and shouted it again. I slumped down in front of the door, and cried. The following hour, day, month after this is a blur.

From what I remember, my parents had a loving relationship, but they were two very different people, and opposites can’t always sustain a relationship. Their divorce was probably one of the “better” ones. They never fought in front of my brother and I. They never talked shit about the other to us. They made the choice to consciously uncouple in the early 90s before Gwyneth Paltrow made it fashionable. They have always been amazing co-parents, and I deeply appreciate the friendship they have with each other.

Though their divorce was as good as a divorce can possible be, it affected me a great deal. So many changes. Moving houses because neither could afford to stay in the only house I knew on a single income. Living with my dad on Mondays and Tuesdays, and my mom on Wednesdays and Thursdays, then switching off weekends. Eventually meeting my parents’ new significant others.

I never once felt like they didn’t love me. I never once felt like it was me that caused the divorce.

So, as I grew older I constructed the narrative that it wasn’t a big deal. I told myself this enough times and I truly believed it. Even though as an adolescent and then as a teenager, I didn’t go to school with many other children who had divorced parents. Even though this made me feel abnormal and less than, I still clung to my personal narrative of divorce not being an issue in my life.

Sometimes I wonder what I would have been like had the divorce not happened. Would I have less anxiety? Less fear of abandonment? I know it’s not good to live like this, so I don’t spend a lot of time in this place of thought. All I know is, I am finally, at the age of 34, coming to grips with the fact that the divorce meant something to me. It had a profound effect on me and all of my relationships. Maybe I will always mourn the life I thought I was going to have.

My fear of abandonment is thick and slow like crystallized honey. It seeps into every relationship I have. I am able to love, but not fearlessly. I am able to trust, but only gingerly. I wasn’t built to be comfortable or at ease. But maybe that’s okay. I suppose it’s better to be kept on one’s toes through life. I suppose it’s better to be comfortable with discomfort in an ever-changing world.

Perhaps I will always live with a tight throat and honey heart.