You can build me up / You can tear me down / You can try but I’m unbreakable – Richard Welch
I got a phone call a couple of weeks ago that I never expected to get. The kind of never that goes along the words ‘in a million years’.
It was from the wife of one of my ex-husband’s long time friends. I had met her once, maybe twice, in person many, many years ago. Each year we exchanged holiday cards, but that was about the extent of our interactions. Until my husband left. At that point I figured I wouldn’t hear from them anymore, given that they were his friends and not mine.
I was wrong.
That first holiday season brought not only a card, but also a lovely, long hand-written letter asking how I was doing and letting me know I was in their, or at least her, thoughts. I responded back with a copy of the first picture holiday card I had ever done – a simple picture of me and my son – and a letter back. I have no idea what I wrote as I was still in a bit of a fog at that point, grateful that I no longer had to walk on eggshells around my now-former spouse but not to the point where I was anything more than functional.
Each year after that we exchanged letters and cards at the holidays. The letters were usually brief and chatty, the kind of things you tell acquaintances – where we went on vacation (when that still happened), how the kids were, if we had snow yet. (One had a lovely, hand-drawn picture of Groot on it that my son immediately grabbed and claimed as his own. I think it is still in the house somewhere.)
Up until this year.
This year, between Hanukkah coming so early, the continuing pandemic, and the loss of my cranky, beautiful 19-year-old kitty cat, I only sent cards as replies. If you sent me one, I sent you one. Otherwise, I took the year off as I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with the holidays. I didn’t get a card from her, and honestly didn’t think anything of it. The pandemic has been hard on everyone.
Then my phone rang one afternoon from a number I didn’t recognize. The city name was familiar, although in the moment I couldn’t remember why, and while I generally let numbers I don’t know go to voicemail (assuming they are spam, which they usually are), this time I answered it. A soft voice on the other end, said, “Lisa? This is (her name). (Husband) pulled a Mark.”
I stopped in my tracks, completely stunned.
After nearly 30 years together, he came home from work one day, announced he was sad and needed a change, and was ending their marriage. The ironic thing, she said, was that her husband had apparently yelled at my ex when he had done this to me nearly eight years ago, and now, here he was doing the same thing to her.
She called me because she had been sitting at the computer looking up the names of divorce lawyers and wishing she had someone who had gone through this to talk to. The she realized she did.
I said the first things I could think of; that I was sorry this had happened and that while she wouldn’t believe me now – because G-d knows I didn’t believe my therapist when he told me – that things would get better. I listened to her as she told me her story, how once he had decided to leave the relationship he was like a different person, almost a stranger. He didn’t call to see how she was doing when she got COVID. He told her he needed to come by the house and pick up some forms and just walked in without any kind of greeting or letting her know he was there.
At some point, I gratefully realized my son – who, along with the dog, was patiently waiting for me to get off the phone so we could go for a walk – had put in earbuds and was playing a game on his handheld device, which was good as I was saying some rather uncomplimentary things about his father in answering her questions and sharing some of my story. (While I no longer wish him bodily harm, I was really not happy with his father for a fairly long time. A really long time, if I am being honest. And while, I am pretty sure he inadvertently learned a few things from my perspective that he hadn’t known about, they don’t seem to have scarred him or affected his relationship with his father.)
When she wanted to know how I coped in the beginning, I was honest. My son was twelve, and he needed me. I had a job that I had to go to so bills would get paid. I had cats that demanded to be fed. It wasn’t easy, but these things meant I had to get my ass out of bed each morning and carry on. Her situation is different. Her kids are grown, and she is unable to work due to health issues. I suggested meet-ups, even virtual ones, to find other people with interests that align with hers. I went to coloring groups, book groups, writing groups because I knew if I didn’t get my butt out of the house – or my comfort zone – I would sit on the sofa and cry. Which wasn’t good for me. No matter how much I wanted to do nothing but sit on the sofa and cry. Instead, I wrote in the earlier iteration of my blog. Because my therapist, who is much smarter than me, said I needed to.
At one point in our conversation, she said that once she got her transportation situation straightened out – a whole different story – she was going to go get a cat. She had always wanted one, but the husband was VERY allergic. And if he was no longer living in the house…
I suggested she get two, a bonded pair if possible. Because more cats – and more creatures to love – are always better.
As our conversation was winding down, I told her to call me any time she needed to talk. Any time. I had gotten the same offer from friends of mine and didn’t take them up on it because I didn’t want to be more of a bother than I was being. So, instead I have decided to give her a few weeks then call back and check in.
I want to know she is doing all right. Or is at least keeping her head above water. Because that’s what friends do. Maybe she will have a kitty she can tell me about.
(Oh, and virtual cookies to everyone who gets the quote reference at the top.)