The other day, Reed said to me, “My favorite birthday was my first-grade birthday when you had all of my friends over, and we wore superhero costumes and had a scavenger hunt.” Then, “You left my dad exactly five days after that birthday.”
You left my dad exactly five days after that birthday.
It was November 19, the day before Thanksgiving.
The next day, I let Reed accompany Caleb to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving, and while Reed was gone, I packed as much stuff as I could and stuffed it into my car. My friend Rebecca was with me. She says now that I was most concerned about taking my plants because they “bring light into a room,” but I don’t remember that.
Rebecca says that I bring light into a room. Rebecca says that I am all light, but I am darkness too.
I give thanks for the light. I give thanks for the darkness too.
I spent that awful Thanksgiving with Rebecca. I wrote about it in “It Will Look Like a Sunset”.
I wrote, “After packing, Rebecca and I ate at a Chinese Buffet attached to a casino because it was the only place open in three counties. The future loomed before me like a buffet full of hungry, lonely people.”
The future is here, and I am alone, but I am not lonely.
I give thanks for my solitude.
I have another essay coming out in Guernica tomorrow. Guernica has been good to me. When this essay was finished, I sent it straight to the Editor-in-Chief,and I wrote to him that I hadn’t been that excited about an essay since writing “It Will Look Like a Sunset.” He wrote back that I was “family.” In the four years since I left Caleb, I have found family in the most unusual places. In Guernica. In my graduate advisor, Dinty. In my favorite writer, Rebecca. In my agent, Joy.
And so many others.
Another writer messaged me a while ago. She said, “How do you cultivate mentors? You know all of the important people.”
I had no idea what to write back. This was not something I had cultivated. I wrote back something true, something like, “By being intensely vulnerable and sincere. Also, hardworking.”
I give thanks for vulnerability.
This new essay was written with Melissa Ferrone, who is a beautiful writer, and also, a campus rape survivor. I have a lot to say about the process of writing with her, but for now, I’ll say this: She is family too, though I have not even met her in person.
What Melissa and I wrote has power.
I give thanks for power.
The irony of this new essay being published on Thanksgiving Day is not lost upon me.
I give thanks for irony.
I am a funny person. This does not come across in my writing, but I am a rather avid Facebook poster, and my humor sometimes comes across in my status updates. Last night, I posted about getting stuck in a dress in a J. Crew store. Literally stuck. Some friends commented with this.
Some other folks commented about how nice it is to see my less serious side emerging. Those who spend time with me in person will know that I am often funny—joyful even—in person. I am not as sad as my writing conveys. I write about sadness, not because sadness is my permanent state of being, but because sadness is what interests me.
I give thanks for the humor that is too often born from sadness.
You know how November is so often the “Thirty Days of Gratitude” month on Facebook for optimists everywhere?
That trend was happening in the November when I left Caleb. Caleb and I both had dark senses of humor, even about the state of our marriage. Caleb had a friend who was having some writing success, and his life was in a constant state of AWESOME. His book was the best! His wife was the prettiest! His kids were the cleverest! Caleb, the man who once confessed that his number one resentment was “other people’s success,” was resentful of that friend, but he would joke about it too.
I cannot do those terrible jokes justice here, but that month, Caleb would come up with mock Facebook responses to that man’s gratitude. Stuff like, “Well, I beat my wife yesterday, and the Zoloft is giving me brain zaps, and, just to piss off my wife, I threw away a perfectly good pork dish that I had labored over.”
And then, we would both laugh. It was the most fucked up kind of camaraderie that two people can have.
After I left Caleb, but when we were still talking on the phone, and he was still hoping to reunite, and I guess that I was too, he told me that, when he was arrested, he had told his mother that it wasn’t the first time he had beaten me. He told her, “Don’t hold it against Kelly. It’s not her fault. This has been happening for a while.”
And God, I loved him in that moment. I wanted to say, “Come over. I forgive you.” I did not say that. Instead, I said, “What did your mom say?”
And he said, “She said, ‘Put your problems at the foot of the cross.'”And then, we both laughed.
Sometimes, I still miss him. That is what fucked up camaraderie will do to a girl.
I give thanks that I don’t miss him very much anymore.
The first Thanksgiving after I left Caleb, I was alone in my new town. I was overcome with grief for all that I had lost. I thought, There is no one who would understand this grief but Caleb (fucked-up camaraderie). I called him. I told him how sad I was. He told me that he was sad too. I was sobbing. Then I think I said something that blamed him for my sadness, and he exploded. He yelled at me, “You are not my problem anymore. Get a new husband to deal with your problems.”
And there I was, all alone in my tiny apartment, and I was no one’s problem.
I give thanks that I didn’t get a new husband to deal with my problems.
The winter after that first Thanksgiving away was so very cold, but I put my head down and I kept going.
I am coming upon my fourth winter out, and I am still going.
I give thanks for progress,
That first Thanksgiving out—the same one when I called Caleb—my new friend Maggie had invited me to her house for Thanksgiving dinner. It was supposed to be a graduate students’ only thing, but her family ended up coming to town, and she still included us. It was lovely. I no longer felt so alone. Maggie had written an essay about her own divorce, and another friend asked her father what he thought of it. He got choked up. He said something like, “It is so hard to find out that your daughter has ended up with the wrong man.”
I thought of my own father, of how he didn’t want me to leave Caleb. Of how hard that was for me. Of how my mother made him call me to apologize, and when he called, he cried. I thought of how my mother told me that my father hadn’t even cried when his own mother died.
I am crying as I write these words, but I cry all of the time, so that means very little.
I feel so angry at Caleb for doing this to my family. He didn’t just hurt me. He hurt us all. He hurt my relationship with my father, which was sacred.
I do not give thanks for the damage that Caleb did to my relationship with my father.
I am tired of the idea that we should always be thankful.
Sometimes, there is no silver lining.
But my relationship with my mother, which was always strained through my teen years and twenties, is the best that it has ever been. That’s a silver lining.
And my father and I went backpacking this past summer for the first time since I had married Caleb. He is almost 70, but he takes great care of himself. We had the same experience that we have ever had backpacking. My brother was there too, and my brother and I chatted while our father listened. My father is a good man—uniquely good—and I have never loved another man as much as I love him. He raised me to be the activist that I am. He raised me to care about everyone, and not just the people in front of me. He raised me to stick to my values, to be honest, and to be consistent.
He messed up when he didn’t support me in leaving Caleb, but I forgive him.
I give thanks for forgiveness.