THE BLOG
04/06/2011 06:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2011

The Moment I Knew

In the years that followed, my ex would go to a high-powered divorce lawyer in Manhattan, who would say to him, "Oh, Christ! Not another one. If I had a penny for every time a man comes in here saying that his wife 'found herself'!" Then, it was wounding: a line of men, teeth bared, baleful gazes, waiting for one of the women before them to try to break through and run. Now, I cheer, and I hope that guy has an office overflowing with pennies.

But for us, divorce did not end up as a pitched, expensive battle in the courtroom over money or custody.

Charlie Sheenesque antics are easy to understand. Growing apart is not.

The night that comes to me is the moment, as good as any other, when I knew it was over. I had left home, 'found myself' halfway across the world where I was doing research in Japan for six months, and my childhood sweetheart, who I had been with for twenty years at that point, had gotten lost. Or rather, I was the one who was lost, and happily so. From my new distance, I could see my old form, which I had acquired without knowing it. Much as a bonsai tree can be coaxed into elaborate spirals, my husband and I entwined, each filling in where the other was unformed. Without him to lean on, I had grown new parts. We had worried about me - how would I make it, I who had never lived alone or in a foreign country? - and had not concerned ourselves with his adjustment, since he was the one who remained in the familiar place, surrounded by family. But there was a hole that followed him, a cavity, that he suffered and refuse to fill because it was waiting for me to sink my roots back into it.

So many mixing metaphors for what happened to us, and very little plain talk. When I returned home, I wanted to conceive a new life together. He wanted to cling to our old one.

On the night that I remember, at the end of a fight - just like all the others, which lasted for hours and only broke when I finally cried - we lay in bed together in the dark, holding hands.

"We built a treehouse," he said to me. "And it was perfect."

Two decades together. All of my adult life. Every day of it in relationship, in twinship. In compromise. He wanted to go back to that life; he wanted the last six months erased. And faced with that impossibility, before he could go forward he needed me to define precisely who I now was.

And that was the problem. Even that. I couldn't say who I wanted to be. I didn't know, and the point was that I didn't want to have to guess and negotiate. I wanted to be allowed to grow, to change, with the assurance that I was still loveable.

I tried to put that into words.

"What about a boat?" I asked him. "We could build it big and wide and deep, or fast to catch the wind. We could sail where we wanted, dock when we wanted. We could explore the world."

To his credit, there was a long pause in the dark of the night before he answered. I didn't look at him. He didn't release my hand. And I imagine at that moment I could feel the wind in my hair and smell the rich, salty musk of the ocean.

But I could also feel in the beat of his heart in my palm that he wanted the shelter he'd created. The nest we had had, each plank, each twig a relic from our past, a sign of our reliance on each other.

"But I like the treehouse," he said, at last. His voice was small. "I want the treehouse."

We had been children together. We had a love that still endured, how could it not?; we had become each other's family. He had as much right to his treehouse as I had to my boat.

But our marriage? It was over.