I never listened to the toothsome Suze Orman or read the "Modern Love" page in the Sunday New York Times or even knew that the Huffington Post had an entire section devoted to navigating the ugly world of divorce. Why would I? Divorce was for tired, harpy wives and boorish, philandering husbands. Not us.
Last year, when my best friend and husband of fifteen years couldn't sleep, I padded after him to the kitchen. "Let's make a sandwich," I said in the half-light. "What do you want to eat?" His reply came fast and clear: "I don't love you. I haven't loved you for years. I want to see other people. I can't do this anymore." Whoosh, down, down the rabbit hole I went.
The next morning, he moved into a suite at a fancy hotel, without explanation except that he felt "more confident without me than he did with me." As the news spread through my tight-knit community like a game of telephone on steroids, a barrage of well-meaning advice filled my in-box; the best were examples of Zen warrior women who either held down the fort with valor or moved on with courage. Sadly, I could do neither.
Every day, after making the kids breakfast and sending them off to school more or less intact, I resumed my near comatose fetal position on the kitchen floor. I'd try to pull myself together for their return at three o'clock, sometimes successfully, more often not.
"No knight in shining armor is coming to rescue you," my mother barked four weeks into this nightmare. "Get up, Jacqueline. Figure out what's in your 401K and get yourself a pit-bull attorney. You've forgotten who you are." When my husband signed a thirteen-month lease on a two-bedroom apartment, I dusted off my knees, hired the most expensive lawyer I could find, and prepared to file for divorce.
On the heals of our first $10,000 a day lawyer-lawyer slugfest, my once cavalier husband showed up at the front door, without apology, mind you, but agreeing to come back and make our marriage work, someway, somehow. My children's misery cut even more deeply than my own, and so it was that my Icarus fell back home, unpacked his suitcases, reinstated my credit cards, and returned his toothbrush to the sudsy mess by the side of the sink, as if he never left.
All the men in my life told me I was an idiot to take him back. Couples counseling was for chumps. I was selling myself short. "Pretty girl like you," the building engineer would say, "You'll be off the market in no time." True enough, in the past year, everyone and their brother has come out of the woodwork; some advances seemed gross, others enticing.
My damsel-in-distress rescue fantasy has been a powerful force. Eyes closed: my mythical knight rides in, scoops-up what's left of my tattered family, and then, nothing can harm us. I fall asleep with the kids and the dog on the chariot floor, cushioned by a pile of money, dreaming of sugarplums, braces, summer camp, college, appliances that don't break, and an army of lawyers. Yes, this is a man who will love me forever. To the tune of Gershwin's Summertime, we lope off into a Kodachrome sunset with some post-modern, easy-breezy Demi-Ashton-Bruce arrangement, where everyone's needs are met, and everyone's happy. But, sure enough, in the middle of the dream, my eyes snap open: three years of watching Oprah while breastfeeding has taught me that affairs rarely end well. The goal is more clarity, not less.
All the women in my life urged me to keep my marriage together. "Relationships have ups and downs," my sage girlfriend Lisa would counsel. "Your husband's not the first successful guy to have a massive mid-life crisis." How could I have missed all the dopey bourgeois signs, like his new and improved Bikram body, and his sudden disinterest in all the usual family trappings in favor of clubs and clothes, Armani cologne, and all night raves (seriously)? "He still loves you," she would say. "He's just turned around right now. Give him time, he'll find his way.
But could I find my way? A year of weekly joint counseling sessions has been like eating glass. I've spent each morning of 2010, waking up by prying open my eyes, swollen from crying and my tilt-o-whirl home-remedies of salt, vodka, chocolate and Xanax, repeating the same stupid mantra: "Smarten-up Jaq, you're drowning. Find courage. Save yourself. Pull the trigger: File." If Julia Roberts gets a second chance at happiness frolicking through the stage sets of Bali, why couldn't I?
But then, every morning, like clockwork, I'd stumble out of the bedroom to two crack-of-dawn realities: one, my adorable kids loitering in the kitchen, refusing to make breakfast for themselves, even though they have four good hands between them; and two, my less than adorable husband out in the cold, walking the dog.
Here's the truth: I've stayed in this marriage for a year now, not because I've forgiven him for destroying everything I held dear, or because I've become that woman of valor; no, I've stayed because I cannot bear the thought of missing out on a single breakfast with my kids and I'm too lazy to walk the dog.
Here's the other truth (and it's slippery): my husband is a good man. A very good man. He is honest and funny and soulful. And, he is the smartest man I have ever met. It's still maddeningly unclear how we fell so far, so fast, but I have come to understand that our marriage will be measured by how well we faced life's ambiguities, deeply flawed and fragile as we both are. In the 5,843 days we've been super-glued to each other, our little ark of civilization has navigated all kinds of treacherous waters, but none more perilous than these. I'm not sure how we will ever reach dry land--although I hear people do--but at least now, we are moving forward, and when we fall, we will be falling forward, together.
So, this New Year's Eve, in lieu of my usual halfhearted resolution to stop drinking so much or loose ten pounds, I resolve to put both feet in, even though I may very well drown. I will stop taking advice from well-intentioned friends, potential suitors, or the tattooed clerks at Whole Foods. This year, I resolve to soldier on, put this monstrous year behind me, and try to believe in the power of love to get us through.
Picture by the author's then-ten-year-old daughter