13 months into the end of what I thought was my family, I’ve been traveling for the past 2 weeks with my teenage daughters and the boyfriend of the elder. It’s really been a great trip. My younger daughter finished 3 months of a student exchange program in Berlin. I traveled there to pick her up, meet her host family and see where she’d been living. All wonderful, we ate dinner in a real German beer hall on the River Spree shortly after arriving. I even had a solo night in Paris on my way. It was my first experience in Europe alone: I had two cappuccinos at a park-side cafe near my airBnB studio apartment, then rode an e-scooter up cobblestone streets and sat people-watching in Montmartre for an evening, over too many glasses of wine, before hopping aboard a morning ride on the TGV to Germany. My elder daughter and her boyfriend, both in their first year since graduating high school, had been traveling with friends around Europe, then ventured with the younger to Croatia for a week before returning to Berlin to meet me for our joint journey. We hired cars and toured through Amsterdam (on bikes), more of Paris and on to The NORTH (as described by the motorway signs) in the UK, now over to Ireland, and shortly, back to the US. Really good times for me, and a great vacation during which to see castles and rivers and architecture and metro stations and highlands, but more importantly to catch up with them as nearly adults, especially daughter #2, after so many weeks apart.
But it’s all kind of an expensive distraction, too: See, I’m actually just running from the awaiting, smothering reality back “home” — namely having to do with the selling and vacating of our house after 17 years: in fact, I finished hurriedly packing my stuff and cramming and strapping it onto my pickup truck (only lost one garbage bagful of clothes on the drive) and then into the little house I’ll be renting from some friends, late into the final night before I left the US. The old house is sold, escrow closes next week; and my ex-wife, who has been happily moved out (physically and emotionally) for most of a year, has been tying up the final loose ends to clear the place out. Read on for more on why it feels like the least she can do 🙂
As emotional as the whole experience of the past year has been, I’m worried about what’s next on these, my last few days before flying home, because of the unfinished state of my, our next place. After 17 years of home ownership and remodeling and gardening and projects, I really need to make an 800 sq ft rental with small yard a home for the dog, 2 cats and my two remaining minor children (daughter #2, who is 16 years old, and my son, 7) as they begin to split time between my small, temporary place and the spacious, stylish, fun, multi-acre property their mom has been sharing with her new, perfect, lovey-dovey partner for many months. And everything around it hurts me a lot. I mean, it kills.
But back to right now. For me, traveling to foreign lands had previously offered a refreshing glimpse into how others live. This trip, while in many ways exciting and fluid because of the able-bodied age of my teenage fellow travelers, has shown me how happy other little families can be; both as traveling groups and native, domestic nuclear units. It’s excruciating: I look back not only on our own trips from the past, where younger kids endearingly poop out on long days covering lots of ground and exhausted from seeing too many sights, but also because the sense of a home and the family it contains, with all of the challenges of every day life, have been removed from what I’d once seen as my own happiest years.
This constant burden is due to my particular circumstances, wherein my former “life” partner has reached her happiest point in life in the final affirmation that she never, in 30 years since our first of many tragiComic episodes as a couple (first during high school, then after college, then raising a young family) actually wanted to be with me. She claims to have struggled with it all along, hoping it weren’t actually true, during painful twists and turns of the adolescent, collegiate and parental phases of our life together; finally surrendering to truths about herself, much of which I “really should have figured out, after all this time”.
So the true hurt isn’t that it’s over; so, so over. It’s that it never even was. None of the girls’ toddler times, holidays, tiresome trips, cozy home days, young family firsts, was ever what I perceived it to be: namely the pinnacle of my entire life and the ultimate confirmation of my wife’s and my shared love and dreams. It is all hollow now, and the bliss I naively assumed, and still foolishly ache for daily, hourly in remembrance, never mattered to her, because she always felt the need to get out. So, in retrospect, during my anger and incredulity during the first few months of these revelations, she has claimed both that yes, we did have wonderful, tender times and gave our girls a happy childhood, and that no, none of the good times ever meant anything because she was living in a nightmare world she never wanted, and the best thing would really be for me to just move on like she has, so we can both get over all of the regrets of 30 fake years.
Despite the hard times, and neither of us was perfect, I have been feeling so far beyond broken by this that I’m 13 months into struggling to find band-aids and tourniquets, other than drinking or life-ruining drugs or suicide. I’ve dated casually, and more recently, somewhat seriously; I’ve worked out nearly every day for a year; I’ve neglected and underperformed at, and sought to leave my job out of restlessness; I’ve driven for hours to visit friends and couch surf during the week to avoid a depressing, temporary apartment (proposed by my ex as a shared place to alternate while we sorted things out); and this expensive, mostly free-form trip has been a real beacon for me over the past year at least, since daughter #2 committed to the foreign exchange trip (I was due since my ex-wife took a similar trip 3 years ago when daughter #1 completed her own foreign exchange).
But mostly what I feel, and can’t drink away fixating upon, as I write this from a hotel bar couch in Dublin, is missing my 7 year-old son, who isn’t quite old or aware enough to really miss the just-sold house, and worrying about the frames of mind of daughters #1 and #2, who will return home with me in a few days, and certainly be called upon to help situate the new rental house with lots of familiar furniture and books from their childhoods, as well as look after their brother so I can return to work before school starts again in a month. I truly pity them. I feel I’ve failed them. I’m not the best person in the world, not the greatest dad or husband. But I stuck with it. With her, and would have continued to try, through therapy or an open marriage or celibacy or whatever (this isn’t quite the post to spill all of the details). Maybe that’s why I’m so devastated by the prospect of moving on.
I have so much though. So much: I have my kids, and friends and extended family — and I suppose I could confidently say, a girlfriend — who love and support and commiserate with me. It is unquestionably time to focus on them, and not only survive this, but somehow come out stronger. Still, even from thousands of miles away, in beautiful, historic, inspiring surroundings, there is just no going home.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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