In many ways, the divorce, or the feelings I confronted during the divorce anyway, were similar to those I felt after break ups in middle school, or elementary school even. Shame, embarrassment, confusion, shaky self-esteem, and an awareness of people’s reactions to what you say and do that is nearly unrelenting.
Here’s a memorable break up to illustrate the point:
While on break between classes in the seventh grade, I was summoned by my girlfriend’s friend. This, while not immediately alarming, was indeed odd. This summons was not part of the elaborately orchestrated but never discussed routine of our relationship. During break we hung out with our friends. I was with the fellas, outside of the boys bathroom, waiting my turn to join in on a little game of paper wad keep-it-up. She normally sat in our writing teacher’s room eating healthy snacks from a floral lunchbox.
I followed her friend through the hall to our teacher’s room, Somewhere along the way I decided it would be a good idea to cram an entire Snickers bar into my mouth. I’d like to believe that I had already put it in my mouth before the summons, but at this point there’s no way to be certain. The only certainty concerning a mouth full of Snickers bar: it is impossible to speak when your girlfriend dumps you in front of all of her friends in Ms. Kelly’s classroom.
I nodded my head as she delivered the news. Tried to say okay but ended up having to catch a stream of chocolate spit that had escaped from my mouth.
I don’t think anyone laughed. Even middle schoolers know a social catastrophe when they see one.
Just as I was wildly unprepared to deal with those emotions at Bourbon County Middle, divorce broke new and rich ground in the calamity department. Several people have told me I’ve handled it well. Most of those people, whether I’ve told them or not, helped me handle it.
Enter my friend Maggie. It was summer, maybe a couple months after Eloise had moved out. The timeline is hazy. I’d been invited to teach a class at a young writers camp in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. I could muster enough to teach said class and socialize a barely acceptable amount before disappearing into my room to do what I do during every break up: read a ton of books.
Still, somehow, Maggie wanted to be my friend. She talked to me, asked questions. The phase of healing I happened to be struggling through tricked my brain into thinking everything, including myself, was burdensome.
Maggie introduced me to the joy of letter writing. We road tripped up to Pennsylvania to run that summer camp together this past year. After she read the manuscript of Open Burning (she’s a poet and teacher) she sent me a letter with a playlist of songs the book had inspired.
Basically, I wish I was as cool and as thoughtful as Maggie, but I’m happy to be learning from one of the best.
And another poem from the book.