I just opened the last of the boxes my ex-husband shipped from Seattle. They arrived a few days ago and have been sitting in a corner next to my futon. I didn’t want to open them. Any of them – coming in dribs and drabs since October.
I thought I had already decided what to take and what to leave when I drove out at the end of summer. But my ex asked me to revisit the issue. A gift really, for I was in no condition to make good decisions when I left.
I remember talking on the phone to my friend Lisa. I told her I didn’t know what to pack. What I could fit in the car. What to do. I slid down the refrigerator door and onto the floor. Sobbing, I said, “I kept waiting to be in a heap on the floor. I kept waiting. And now I am. I am literally on the floor in a heap.”
My friend Michael mostly packed me, me pointing out what I wanted to take. Clothes. Some massage sheets. Paperwork – the kind one accumulates having survived nearly 43 years on the planet. Leases. Mortgages. Attorney and mediator bills. Client files. Health records.
He put too-big-trousers and sweaters and dresses (I had lost 12 pounds since Lee asked me for a divorce) into large, plastic Ziploc-type bags and sucked the air out with a vacuum. He made sure each box was filled to maximum capacity and slid into place in the hatch.
Prior to my leaving, my soon-to-be ex-husband assured me I didn’t need to worry about cleaning up. To take what I wanted and leave the rest behind. And so I did. I left on August 28. And a few days later, he left for Italy. When he returned, he came back to the reality of what I left behind. A lot. He wasn’t pleased.
I had left the house like a ghost town.
Some years ago, Lee did a medical rotation in Binghamton. He said the town, and the neighboring towns, appeared to have closed up overnight. That if one walked into a house, they might find a hot bowl of soup still on the table – the residents having fled quickly. I imagine that is what I left the house on Wheeler Street looking like.
We agreed he would ship me my books and my Bianchi road bike, helmet, lock, riding shoes and snow shoes when I found a permanent place to live. After sending those items, he asked what else I wanted. Photographs I took in Spain and France? Artwork we purchased together in Napa? CDs my friends made specifically for driving cross country? A travel journal from Amsterdam? Boots?
I was angry. I didn’t want to decide again. I had left Lee to deal with the remains of our 15 years together. And now he was asking me to share the pain. It felt like pulling off an only partly-healed scab and my tender new skin oozed and bled when exposed to light and air. I didn’t want to do it.
And I was angry he didn’t pay for the shipping. My entitled, 5-year-old, victim-y self didn’t want to pay the cost to ride the bus of my own life. But I didn’t tell him so. Instead, I kept it to myself. Toxic.
And so we began the process of cataloguing what remained – together, long-distance.
Some decisions were easy. The cookbooks I hadn’t packed in the first round. The ones stained with food, dog-eared, and with Weight Watchers Points values noted in the corner. Vegetable tagine. Thai coconut shrimp. Curried lentils with spinach.
Next came CDs. Ceramic appetizer plates with Chicago landmarks drawn around the rim – cartoon style – a gift from my Thursday morning Weight Watchers group. A small tray I keep my assortment of vitamins and supplements on – a wedding gift from my ex-boyfriend and his wife. More massage sheets. An air-popcorn popper. An unopened, collapsible lunch box. A small, iron teapot. Two books of cut-out art by Nikki McClure. A print I kept in my office – “Masks of the Healer.”
We argued about splitting up flatware and serving pieces. He wanted to keep it even though I couldn’t imagine he’d ever have a dinner party for 12. “You said I could have it, “he insisted. And I had.
Sometime in November he asked that we “finish this.” It had become too much for him to move around the remnants of me. He had changed out some photos. Put my things in the garage. “Moved some energy around.” But I was still there. We agreed we would be “done” at year’s end.
I struggled with the final decisions. I told myself it was because I didn’t know if I wanted to pay for shipping. Or I wasn’t sure if I really wanted certain items. Or if it even made sense to ship them rather than re-buy. In truth, I think I was afraid to be “done.” Even though our civil divorce was final in September, our Jewish divorce in November.
I let go of my hot-stone cooker and rocks. Too heavy. And I told him to keep my cross-country skis. I was never very good at it. And our ski trips usually ended in a fight. I wasn’t sure if skiing was my thing, his thing or our thing. Same with cycling. After 15 years together, the lines of me and we had become somewhat blurred. And I’m now just beginning to figure out what is mine.
Some of it came in those last two boxes. In one, the karaoke machine he bought me last Hanukkah. A last, ditch-effort at togetherness. My friends Mike and Rachel have the same one. I loved it so much that I asked them to host my 40th birthday party so we could sing all night. They did. Lee and I used ours last on New Year’s Eve 2012. We rented a house on the river, just south of Steven’s Pass. It had heated floors and no cell-phone reception. I sang my “best” karaoke songs. Dream a Little Dream of Me. And Easy, by the Commodores. “I know it sounds funny but I just can’t stand the pain….I paid my dues to make it….Everybody wants me to be what they want me to be….I’m not happy when I try to fake it….”
In the other box: North Face winter-hiking boots. Cougar rain boots with felt shafts. A bowl from Vietnam made of lacquered paper – another wedding gift. I called it my prosperity bowl, collecting loose change in it and cashing it in once a year.
Green glass dessert plates, a gift from my client Joanne when we left California for Chicago. We stayed with her our final days, when our belongings were packed on an ABF truck and we had planned to sleep on hardwood floors. A pair of winter cycling gloves. I don’t recall buying them. Two contact lens cases. Three CDs. Disc Two of the Donna Summer Anthology. Neil Young, Harvest – a gift from Lee. Michael Jackson, Off the Wall.
He also threw in a copy of Eat, Pray, Love. I read it several years ago but Lee just now read it. On the phone he would recount stories of her story to me. How it spoke to him. And we would talk about our own Eat, Pray, Love trips taken mid-divorce. Mine to Rwanda. His to Italy.
There are no more boxes to open. Just things. Many of them still on the floor. Things I thought I didn’t need. Didn’t want. Had already decided about. Turns out, I get to decide again. I get to change my mind. Always.