Caleb is moving. I have no idea why he’s moving. He says that it’s for a “better job,” but he’s moving from Morgantown to Charleston, West Virginia, and I don’t think that anyone could see that as an upgrade. Also, when I asked him about this new position, he told me to “go fuck [myself]” so my inclination is to think that he’s not happy because he would be smug if he was happy.
Tonight, at dinner, my friend said “Well, this is what he did to you. He knocked you up, then moved you away.”
And she was right.
I was having dinner with my friend Mo tonight because I’m at a writer’s residency in Vermont, and every night here is dinner with friends.
Today, I told another friend–a new one–that the condition of my life in Athens is one of loneliness. I am so often lonely. I told my new friend that, while I enjoy my solitude, I do not enjoy loneliness.
This friend and I went to the gym, and we both worked out hard. Then, we changed into our swimsuits and swam in a swimming hole in the river. The current was fast, and I got swept into it, grew scared, then panicked. I have had some bad experiences in the river in my hometown, and, like Caleb’s fists, those experiences have made themselves at home in my body.
My new friend saw me panicking, jumped back into the water. She put her arm around me, guided me to a quieter current where I was still panicking, and then, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Put your feet down.”
I listened, and I could stand.
After that, I waded across the fast current, then swam and climbed on to a large, beautiful rock where I sunned myself next to my friend.
I laid down.
Closed my eyes.
Opened them again and stared into the light.
I have discovered that the light everywhere is different. Every time I go somewhere I love, I think that it has the most beautiful light.
Before Vermont, that place was New Mexico.
I am in love with light, but I am also in love with newness.
This evening, I FaceTimed with Reed while I was at the laundromat. He mentioned that people had looked at his dad’s house, and it occurred to me that I could look up the listing–could see into their home.
I told myself not to do it, but I did it.
So much of me is still in that house.
The big things–the floors, the paint colors. The kitchen that I designed, right down to the custom ordered countertops.
The mirror in the downstairs bathroom that I had chosen. The kitschy chandelier in the dining room that I had found at Ikea.
The baskets on the wall in the kitchen that I had bought to hold our mail (constant bills) discretely.
I saw Reed’s bedroom. A toy that Caleb and I bought him for Christmas when he was four or five is still in there. He’s almost a teenager now.
And I saw their bedroom, which was the same bedroom that I had shared with Caleb. It looked different in ways, but one thing was the same–the floors. They are the same black that I once painted. I sat on that floor and swept the roller brush–then followed up with touch-ups from the regular brush. I painted those floors because I thought that they would offer us a new beginning.
I painted those floors because I thought that, if Caleb and I had a beautiful home, we would have a beautiful family.
I made that house beautiful because I couldn’t make my marriage beautiful. I couldn’t make Caleb beautiful. I couldn’t make myself beautiful.
When I left Caleb, we were living in the first-floor apartment of a dormitory. I moved back into our house, which, at the time, was being rented by my friend, Rebecca. I was surprised to find that she and her partner had taken up residence in Reed’s former room. Perhaps they had sensed the darkness in the room that Caleb and I had shared.
I stayed in the room that Caleb and I had shared on a twin mattress on the floor. I was surrounded by tubs full of Rebecca’s stuff.
On that mattress, I was so close to those black floors.
I read books about abuse. I argued with Caleb on the phone. I sobbed to my best friends on the phone. I took an Ambien at 8 because, maybe then, I would fall asleep by 11.
I woke up in the morning and drove my little boy to the bus stop. It was just down the road, but I couldn’t walk because I had to wear a boot for my injured foot.
On the mornings when I had to teach at 8:30, Rebecca walked Reed to the bus stop. I know that Reed enjoyed those times–that Reed–though he probably hardly remembers her–still loves Rebecca as a surrogate mother. During that period, she was his surrogate mother because I was absent in almost every way possible.
I don’t love Caleb anymore. Not even a little bit.
One day, I checked my horoscope, but I didn’t check his, and I knew that I had moved on.
Writing about how much I loved him is hard now for so many reasons. I don’t want to remember those feelings. I don’t feel those feelings anymore and have a hard time understanding them now. I don’t want to justify those feelings. I don’t want to relive those feelings. I don’t want to be angry at myself for those feelings.
Feelings are pretty much the worst, and the love that one has felt for an abusive man kind of tops the list of worst feelings.
At dinner tonight, I told my friend about how I had looked at Caleb’s house listing online. When we divorced, I let him keep that house in exchange for his retirement. He was young, and his retirement was nowhere near what the value of the house was.
My lawyer told me, “He can pay you every month for his part of the house,” but I didn’t want–couldn’t even imagine–having that kind of contact with him. Caleb had told me that, if I wanted him to compensate me for the house, he would have to just sell it and move into a trailer somewhere.
I worried about Reed. My own issues with having been raised lower middle-class kicked in. I let Caleb keep the house.
Maybe they’re moving, so that his new wife no longer has to live in my shadow. One thing that I learned from looking at that house listing is that my shadow is in that home:
The shadow of me crying.
The shadow of me screaming.
The shadow of me raging.
The shadow of me fighting.
The shadow of me running.
The shadow of me leaving.
How will she ever live outside of my shadow?
At dinner, I told my friend that I had looked at that real estate listing. I told her that I had worried about being triggered, but I did it anyway. I told her that I was fine when I looked at it. I told her that I was fine because, look at my life.
I told her that my goodwill towards Caleb usually only extends as far as my goodwill towards my own life, and right now, I’m really happy with the life that I live.
Today, I slept in, then had a meal prepared for me by a chef. I swam in a river with a friend who calmed me when I panicked. I listened to artists and writers talk about their work in intelligent ways. I did not work on my book because I know that my agent and editor are on vacation, so why can’t I vacation?
The truth is that my life with Caleb never really felt like home. It was intoxicating and addicting, but never comfortable.
I am at home here in Vermont.
I am at home in the house I share with Reed.
I am at home in so many places, but I was never at home in that house in Morgantown–the one that I worked so hard to turn into a home.
I didn’t realize that the reason my house in Morgantown wasn’t a home had nothing to do with the house, or my decorating or design.
That house wasn’t a home because Caleb was in it.