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Annette Powers

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Precipice

Posted: 03/ 8/2012 6:29 pm

My eyelids felt like thick clay as I squinted through the windshield, mesmerized by the bright Portuguese highway. We had just landed in Faro after a long overnight flight and an early morning layover in Lisbon.

"Put on some music," he said. "We've gotta sing if we're gonna stay awake."

We were driving to Sagres, the southwestern most point in Europe. Before the Age of Exploration, Europeans believed these cliffs to be the edge of the world.

I put on Bob Marley, a bit cliché, but good sunny vacation music. We sang along to "Three Little Birds," as my new husband navigated that long windy drive from the airport to our Honeymoon suite.

"Singin' don't worry, bout a thing.
Cause every little thing gonna be all right."

And I believed it.

A few weeks ago, we heard that song again during our son's music class. We were now separated and shared custody of our almost-three-year-old. So much had changed since that sleepy car ride in Portugal four years ago.

I remember standing on the perimeter of that cliff in Sagres, the harsh wind whipping against my face, my hair blowing wildly. It was mid-summer, but the wind brought a chill from the middle of the sea. I stood there on a precipice -- somewhere between single life and married. With his arms wrapped around me I felt loved, happy and safe.

As we danced with our toddler in music class, I was acutely aware that I was once again on that same precipice, but this time I stood alone. I wrapped my arms around my son, so he would feel loved, happy and safe.

I filed for divorce in November 2010 and was still waiting for the judgment. There was no explanation for why our divorce was taking so long other than bureaucracy. It was an uncontested case that simply required a judge's signature.

On Friday afternoon in early February 2012, I finally got the call from my lawyer.

"Your judgment is here. You can come pick it up Monday."

The lump that sat in my throat for the past year and a half grew from a grape to a peach pit. Was that it? Was my marriage officially over? I shut my office door and let out a sob, expertly muffled by my hands.

I had a judgment of divorce, but, moreover, I had judgment on myself. There was a new unwanted adjective attached to me. I didn't want the word divorce to mean what I most feared -- failure.

Monday came. During my morning commute irony greeted me on the subway. I saw him from across the car, his face buried in the morning paper and a cup of coffee. It was one of the few times I had run into him inadvertently since our separation. And, of course, on the day I was to pick up the papers declaring our marriage officially over.

He looked smaller to me than he used to, just a portion of the man I once held in such high esteem. I approached him and said hello. We had a pleasant, if awkward, conversation about our son's schedule for the week.

After work, I went to the lawyer's office. The papers, embossed with the state seal, contained a giant, bold stamp that said plainly in all caps, "JUDGMENT OF DIVORCE." It was so huge, and felt so damming.

One of the things about having a divorce that takes a year and a half is that I could really feel the difference between the first and last time I went to the lawyer's office. This was the only time I had ever left that place without crying.

I walked down the subway stairs, feeling lighter, like the first warm day in March when you don't need a coat. Someone on the platform was playing steel drums. In my head, I sang along:

"Don't worry, bout a thing. Every little thing gonna be alright!"

My first thought was -- Are you kidding me? I couldn't make this up. I felt the lump in my throat grow again as images of the Portuguese countryside whizzed through my memory. Despair's pointy nails started to dig in once more. As I stood on the platform, I realized I had a choice. I could stand at the precipice in fear of the unknown or I could set forth to find out what the new world had in store for me.

Just then the subway doors opened and I hopped on.