By Kimberly Zapata
I packed my pants first: workout pants, yoga-style pants, really any pants made from spandex and held in place by an elastic waistband. Pants which said, “New mom here.” Pants which suggested others should be thankful I was trying because, let’s be honest, black sweats were a step above my Jim Beam boxers. Pants which said, “Leave me the fuck alone. I’m not interested.”
I don’t know how many pairs I grabbed, rolled like a hotel towel, and stuffed into my small blue suitcase, but before long I moved on to shirts—nothing special, just graphic tees and plain tank tops. I grabbed a handful of bras, maybe a half-dozen panties, and countless socks (with and without their matching counterparts).
You see, I didn’t have time to figure out what I was packing. I couldn’t think about outfit coordination or the practicality of certain materials in the summer. Instead, I just had to get the damn thing done. I just had to close it, lock it, grab my sleeping 11-month-old daughter, and walk out the door.
I just had to leave.
It wasn’t always like this. When I met my husband—the father of my child, my only child, and the man I lost my virginity to—we were just 12 years old. We were in seventh grade—seventh freakin’ grade. I was short and blonde and shy, he was short and stout and shy, and we never spoke. Never. But after a few weeks of watching him, of checking out his cartoons and doodles and endearing smile in art class, I built up the courage to talk to him. I brazenly asked him to save a dance for “the witch” at our school’s upcoming Halloween dance. He did, and we danced. We laughed and held hands. We spoke and sipped 50-cent sodas in the school’s cafeteria.
Before long, we were friends. Before long, we were boyfriend and girlfriend. And the next thing I knew, we were engaged.
Before long, we were married.
But over the years, things changed. We changed. And before long, I realized I could know longer tell if I was in love with my husband or in love with the idea of my husband.
Before long, I was packing a suitcase—a blue suitcase.
Before long, I had an exit plan. I wanted a divorce.
Having a child changes everything. And while I was warned about the sleep deprivation and advised that my body would never forgive me (though it has), I was never told just how much having a baby can change your marriage. I was never told just how difficult it could, and would, be to keep divorce out of every conversation. But as the newness of parenthood wore off, there it was: divorce. I wanted a divorce.
And why not? We were yelling more. We were fighting more. I was crying more, and instead of talking, we both pulled back. We both pulled away.
Before long, I was considering running away—not in an angsty preteen way but in a desperate “What have I done with my life?” sort of way. Before long, I was working more and sleeping less. Before long, I found myself packing that damn suitcase—the same suitcase I packed, unpacked, and repacked at least once a week for nearly three months. But no matter what, it was always full. It was always within an arm’s reach by my nightstand. It was always ready, and it remained that way until my daughter was 15 months old. Until I told him, his family, and our friends I wanted a divorce. Until I knew we needed a divorce.
We agreed to go to marriage counseling. We agreed to give it one last try before we walked away—before I grabbed my luggage, the diaper bag, and our daughter and walked out the door.
Marriage is hard, damn hard, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. It takes constant work, patience, and compromise. You may not realize it at first; the courting phase usually looks like the cover of a Hallmark card, and the honeymoon period lasts anywhere from six months to six years. But eventually your picture-perfect relationship starts to decline. You stop talking and start fighting. You notice a strange numbness spreading through you—crippling, paralyzing, and freezing you until you are no longer able to communicate, or willing try. Conversations about who can use the bathroom first or what the hell to have for dinner turn into screamfests about insensitivity and a lack of respect, compassion, and love, until chicken becomes the catalyst for divorce.
I know this because we were there. I was there, opening private bank accounts and knocking on divorce’s door, because we couldn’t fix us anymore. We were broken and couldn’t find compassion for each other. We tried, but we couldn’t communicate with each other. But if we were going to get a divorce, we were going to do it “right.” We were going to exhaust every possible option, and that included going to therapy.
We have been in marriage counseling for more than a year now, and while I do not know what tomorrow will bring, I know we are better. We are doing better. There is understanding, there is tenderness, there is empathy, and there is love. Our defenses are down, our minds are open, and my bag is unpacked. And for today, that is enough.
For today, knowing I am in love with my husband and not just the idea of being in love with him is enough.
© 2016 Kimberly Zapata, as first published on Scary Mommy