Learning to Breathe Again: On Being a Divorcee Cliche

I’ve been studying writing and literary fiction at the University of Washington for the last two years. I’ve learned oodles about the craft of writing and story telling and I love it so. It makes my brain hurt and my heart soar and my soul sigh in sweet relief. One of the first things I learned about is the dreaded hallmark of bad writing… the cliché. Never, ever, EVER use clichés. Clichés are lazy; a sign of immaturity and lack of creativity and originality on the author’s part. Clichés are the death of good writing!

But right now, my WHOLE LIFE is a cliché.

henna tattoo feather

Don’t worry Mom, it’s henna.

Mid…okay LATE… thirties female, newly divorced with two small kids seeks red wine for comfort. Also, lurks on dating websites, dives head-long into yoga, buys vibrators off infomercials and contemplates getting tattooed. Up next, attempts her best impression of Mrs. Robinson.

See. Cliché.

Going through a divorce (my kind of contentious divorce, anyway) is a trauma. It’s a grenade exploding in the middle of your life. There is a shell-shocked aftermath. A time when your ears ring so loudly you cannot hear the world; all its messages lost in translation. The air is so heavy and thick with acrid, poisonous smoke that you choke, then panic for fear of asphyxiating. You spend weeks, months even in this state trying to find one safe place to take one clean breath. Just one. If you can breathe, maybe you’ll live.

Then, after the imminent danger has passed, you begin the cleanup process. You sweep up the cracked and blackened picture frames of smiling faces from a bygone time. It knocks the wind out of you instantly. You clean out closets stuffed with mementos from “before” and your hands shake with anger and fear. One day you get a wild hair to organize the detritus in a corner of the garage and you find some dusty snorkel gear. That snorkel gear puts you right back into the blast on a rolling tide of emotions so violent you have to sit down right there on the garage floor to steady yourself. Breathe, just breathe.

And all of this happens below the surface. In the murky depths so filled with pain and sorrow you’re too afraid to take anyone down there with you. You leave the world and its people up on the surface along with the easiness of your anger and sarcasm because at least up there, up there there’s air. Like trauma, divorce carries with it a kind of PTSD. In this deep, dark, personal space, a space as intimate as your previous marriage, is where you, and you alone reside. Just trying to breathe.

After the blast, and in the early phases of post divorce, this empty, airless place and it’s shrapnel are always somewhere on the edges of your life; in back of junk drawers, at Costco in the frozen aisle, at the beach in the summer, in the curve of your son’s face after a growth spurt… in your daughter’s toes. When you see these things, it steals your breath again and again leaving the taste of smoke in your mouth. And then you must remind yourself again to breathe. Just breathe.

I’m six months post blast, and I’m learning over and over again how to just breathe. I’m still cleaning up the pieces, still getting the wind knocked out of me. But as I grow stronger I’m also taking the frayed threads of my new reality and spinning them into something brighter. More beautiful. Something full of sunlight and the smell of lilacs and daydreams that make me giddy with possibility. It’s not easy though. It’s actually very, very hard work. In fact, I get tired a lot. I lose my creativity and inspiration and that’s when I turn to my overwrought clichés.

The other night, at 1am, wine glass in hand I sat on my back porch and sang sad songs alone, to no one. Actually, not to no one because my neighbor heard me, and called me out the next day. “I heard you last night, singing.” I didn’t know what to say. For a brief second I was mortified. I was busted being this predictable cliché of a sad, lonely woman. But then I realized that I didn’t care.

Because nothing in my world is easy right now. There’s not one damn thing that’s simple, including breathing, and while the whole world is being hard I’m going to take the path of least resistance. I’m going to be an immature, simple, mindless cliché, and I’m going to embrace that shit like the spare pillow on the empty side of my king-sized bed. Because while I’m floundering around in the dark, murky waters of divorce PTSD, I might as well have a nice glass of red, an expensive vibrator and a playlist of Sam Smith to keep me company.

Keep your windows closed neighbors… I have a feeling it’s going to be a long summer.