After my husband and I separated, I chose to stay in "our place" with ambitious plans to make it my own. When a few plants and Ikea throw pillows didn't do the trick, a talented and generous friend donated his time and creativity to give my apartment a new look. After months of brainstorming and collecting color samples from Home Depot, we were ready to start painting.
I had just made it through what my mom called, "The Year of Firsts" - the first birthdays, the first anniversaries, the first holidays, the first everything without my husband. Each of these firsts were difficult as I remembered how we had celebrated those events as a family the year before and each left me feeling like an empty vessel, pummeled against a sea wall. But I had survived the year and finally felt the momentum to move forward. Putting a fresh coat on my apartment would make a big difference, and I was really excited.
The redecoration plan had fallen into place - my two-year-old son would be in Connecticut with his father for the weekend, freeing up my time and energy for the project. It would be much easier to paint without a toddler underfoot.
The planet, on the other hand, had a different agenda: Hurricane Irene was comin' to town.
Under the circumstances, my ex decided a weekend at the beach was out of the question, but I was still determined to do my renovations. My friend then informed me that painting and humidity do not mix. Ok...so we couldn't paint, but I could still take advantage of this child-free time to do something else, right? And then I got the text, "I think he should stay with you. My apartment is on the 17th floor and that's no place to be during a hurricane."
My immediate reaction was to be annoyed at my ex for suggesting we change our plans, but of course it was better for my son to be with me on the second floor. Plus, I wouldn't want him to be with anyone else than me during an emergency. Yet I still felt the bitterness well up inside.
I realized that it wasn't because my plans were thwarted or that I felt "stuck" with my son, it was that I felt abandoned by my ex. I hesitate to use the word "abandoned" because I know there are so many women out there who are really left high and dry. I am fortunate that my ex is a good father and a good co-parent, but still the loneliness was palpable. I had never experienced a hurricane before. It was a new first and I didn't want to face it alone. What if the windows blew in, the power went out or we had no running water? Just over a year ago, I had a partner who would have endured this crisis with me, but now here I was, left to parent alone during a potential catastrophe.
As the weekend wore on, my mood turned from bitterness to an ugly shade of green. I knew that my ex wasn't alone in his 17th floor apartment, but was at his girlfriend's place. I cringed at the thought of the two of them cozied up, drinking wine, playing games...you get the picture. I knew firsthand that these extraordinary experiences could be quite romantic since my ex and I met during a blackout. We had had the Blackout, but now they would have Irene. It wasn't fair.
I also felt ashamed. How could I throw such a pity party when people around me were forced to leave their homes and were in real danger? Why was I focusing on such banal matters instead of more important things like what non-perishables to pack in my "go-bag?" But I couldn't help it...I was pissed off. Here I was, looking down the barrel of another first! Hadn't I survived the "Year of Firsts?" Would the firsts never end? No. There would always be more firsts and I needed to find a way to stop them from churning the tempest in my heart.
My son and I weathered our first hurricane and, as it turns out, I even enjoyed it. A close friend came to stay with us and we spent the weekend watching movies, cooking dinners and having playdates with the neighbors' kids. I felt so lucky to have her there. If angels exist, she is surely one of them.
The storm came and went and we were no worse for the wear. We had no flooding, broken windows or power outages and as I watched others picking up the pieces on TV, I knew just how lucky we were.
It wasn't my last "first," but it has helped prepare me for the next round of unexpected firsts. At some point, I know I'll stop feeling the absence of my ex and look forward to these milestones...my son's first day of school, his first little league game, his first role in a school play. And then there will be my firsts...my first trip to Nepal, my first heavy-bag boxing class, my first second marriage?! I have no idea what firsts are on the horizon, but I know whatever they are, they will be my own.