What You Learn When You Can’t Go Home Again

The hot pavement blisters my feet the instant I step out of the car. I always kick my sandals off about an hour into the long ride, and in my hurry to get into the house, often leave them forgotten on the floorboards.

The children stream out of the car, noisy and excited, running in and around the house. I call to them my usual and often ignored reminder to stay out of the lake, and go inside.

It’s dim and cool in the front room. From where I am standing, I can see three televisions, each throwing light into the darkness, competing for attention. He’s in the recliner, and greets me with a familiar “Hello, Kid.”

She’s in the kitchen, always. She wipes her hands on her apron and hugs me. I take my place beside her, joining a rhythm I know well. We talk easily as we set the table. We will for the next several days; I call her so often during the week that when we’re together it’s just a continuation of the conversation (or seven) we started apart.

I am home.

I met my first husband’s parents nearly 25 years ago, and they quickly became surrogates for my own. My family traveled the world, and I was geographically orphaned in college. Bill and Kathy, Billy’s parents, filled the gap. I spent holidays around their oval oak table and summers on the back deck with a soon familiar group of neighbors and family and friends.

I loved them. I loved the abundance of snacks stacked on the top of the refrigerator, and the chocolates on the counter. I loved the idea that a day on the couch watching football was a day well spent. I loved being part of stories that started long before I arrived, but shifted quickly to include me. I loved the noisy holiday celebrations and the quiet nights at the kitchen counter with pie. I loved the catalogs carefully saved and stacked under the coffee table for me, their daughter who loved to shop from home long before the days of Amazon Prime.

Kathy and Bill were different from my parents. My parents moved every two years, our home was wherever my father’s job sent us, marked by our pictures on the wall and our ancient salad spinner in the cupboard. My parents are active adventurers, always on the move, doing and seeing more.

Kathy and Bill were always home, entertaining family and friends and spending the hours sharing old stories. Once, not interested in the pregame show of the day, I set about cleaning Billy’s childhood closet and found a toddler’s dress shirt hanging, pressed and ready to wear. It was his, pushed to the back by shirts that fit his now six-foot frame, but still hanging in the closet nonetheless. The safe same-ness in that closet and that house called to me.

I settled into the familiar comfort of Kathy and Bill’s, a nomad child finally home. Nothing ever changed.

Until everything did.

We were on the phone when I told her. Sitting in a parking lot I said that we’d separated. He’d said he didn’t love me, wasn’t sure he ever had. My voice cracked and faltered.

“You have to fix this,” she said. “I know he loves you.”

“I don’t know if I can,” I whispered.

“You have to,” she repeated firmly.

I don’t know what I said next, but it must’ve been something that suggested my truth. I knew we weren’t going to fix. I didn’t want to say it yet, even to myself, but I knew. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember her uncharacteristically sharp response and what happened next.

“You’re my family,” I pleaded softly.

“No,” she replied. “Not if you don’t fix this.”

In the years that followed, she kept her word. Billy and I divorced the following year. He and I navigated the tricky terrain of separation and divorce and coparenting as well as can be expected; we’re amicable now. But I’ve never gone home again.

Kathy, once my mother in nearly every sense of the word is a familiar stranger now. We exchange texts about the children’s activities and birthday lists, and pleasantries when I happen to see her on a visit. I’m embarrassed to admit how happy it makes me when she occasionally signs her texts (because she does that) “Love!” as she did years ago. Some part of me is like the bird in that old book searching for its mother.

I tried in the early days to rationalize away my missing of his mother and the home she and Bill created for me. I wondered if I was fooling myself: perhaps I wasn’t as happy as a single mother and later a married woman as I felt. I tried to make “either/or” the right answer.

Over the years, I’ve come to accept it as it is. Divorce is a wound and grief is complicated. “Both/and” is the answer that makes the most sense for me. I can both be be delighted with my new life and understand that it is complicated in a way first-families are not. I can both be grounded and sure that our decision to divorce was the right one and deeply miss part of my former life.

Dreams like the one I woke from in the early light of this morning still feel both warmly comfortable and vaguely disconcerting.

I am both wholly comfortable in the new life I have created, delighted by the noisy chaos of our tribe and the soul-to-soul partnership with my husband, and still miss part of my old life. Accepting that allows me to dwell in the sleepy comfort of that dream for a minute longer, honoring the memory and history it summons, before getting up to greet the new day.

By | 2017-06-15T09:36:52+00:00 June 15th, 2017|Divorce, Other Musings, Our Story|

3 Comments

  1. Jenn June 16, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    I love so many of the things that you have written but this is the one that speaks the most directly to my heart. I know I am in the right place, I don’t want my old life back, it wasn’t healthy for me, I wasn’t happy even if I didn’t realize just how unhappy I truly was at the time. With that being said, I miss the family that I had in my old life, the traditions that we had, the vacations that were set in stone every year, my piece of their puzzle. I’m so thankful my children are all still part of that puzzle, that they are still so loved and accepted, but I am sad that I lost so much of my family because of choices that were made, lost people that I loved so deeply. I wouldn’t change decisions made, this life is so much better, I am so much better, both for me and my children, but I still miss my family.

  2. Laura Barona June 25, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Hi!
    I read your entire blog in a week and I wondered why it appealed to me so much.
    Unlike many of your readers, I have never married (or had a serious relationship, tbh) grow up in a really secure environment, surrounded by two loving parents that still keep going loving each other after 30 years of being together, and never have experienced anything like you and your family have gone through, and still…
    Still, I could not stop reading. I found your words echoing through me and I must say, reading about your strength and courage, your loving words, the happiness and sorrow of your family made me feel warm inside.
    I am going through a really inestable patch of my life, where I can’t really plan anything beyond the summer, waiting anxiously for a decision from a third party to be able to keep building a life that was really hard to choose, rebuild from nothing, in a different country and far away from home two years ago, when I decided to start from scratch at 25, with a 5 year degree I will never use and full of hope for a different life.
    Your words give me hope, that no matter what, new beginnings can be as sweet and rewarding after feeling like throwing away everything you worked for. That new dreams are as magic, possible and valid as the ones you once had but don’t work for you anymore. Hope that everything will be as chaotic, challenging, wonderful and rewarding as it is supposed to be, even when you still miss your old expectations and the plan you were supposed to follow.
    Thanks! In a way, as you said in other posts, I felt mothered. Your stories, even when they are pretty much alien to my own experience, carry so many words of wisdom, that I can apply them to many areas of my life.
    Besides, you are a terrific writer 😉
    I will be forever grateful for finding your blog and I will keep an eye on the adventures of your crazy tribe and any other words of wisdom and encouragement that you write for now on.
    Lots of strength from a Colombian lost in Germany,
    Laura

    • Kate Chapman June 26, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      Laura,

      What a lovely letter, thank you. I wish you lots and lots of luck, and remember – it’s never too late for a new beginning. Con mucho amor, y un fuerte abrazo, Kate.

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