On the day of my 45th birthday, I was sitting in my car outside the home of my son’s guitar teacher. They were inside having a lesson, and I was waiting. I knew I’d have about an hour alone and so I brought with me some comfort: a small French Vanilla Yankee Candle in my favorite cobalt blue glass candleholder, a book, a soft throw blanket, and silence.
This was rare for me, since my sweet daughter (then 8 years old) was always with me. But on this day, she was left at home with family.
For just this very short time, I didn’t have to think about juggling her tenuous health care or navigating someone else’s volatile and often frightening moods. So I was prepared with ways to make myself comfortable.
It was October, and I had the windows open. I’d reclined the seat a little and could hear blackbirds in abundance.
After reading for a bit, I wished I’d brought a little snack with me. I rooted through my purse and found a Starburst fruit chew. Just one. The wrapper was well worn but intact. Score! I was happy.
I popped this candy into my mouth and returned to my book. I don’t know exactly what happened — I’ve eaten food for a very long time and can usually manage to do this with skill.
On this day, I sucked when I should have swished and the candy shot to the back of my throat.
I was suddenly not breathing.
I am always calm in emergencies. In a way, I’m at my best when the shit is hitting the fan. In this moment, this shit had most certainly hit that fan and I was in danger. (*Spoiler alert just in case you’re worried: I lived.)
This entire event took moments. But time slows down when things get real. So I had time to think and feel many things, the most primary of these was:
NO FUCKING WAY am I going like this.
I will NOT die here, on this day, in my car, where my 16-year-old son will come out from his fun music lesson only to find my lifeless body.
On my birthday.
With him stranded.
I cannot leave my children.
I have not had a chance to live.
I have not yet been really truly KISSED.
I have not yet been LOVED.
I refuse to let this happen.
I slammed my fists into my belly but nothing happened.
I got up high on the drivers’ seat and slammed myself hard onto my steering wheel and *pop* out flew the Starburst, slapping wetly into my windshield and thunking onto the dashboard.
I gasped precious air into my raw throat and sat, stunned and thankful I could breathe again. So thankful my son didn’t have to find my corpse.
I felt shaken on so many levels.
This stupid moment seriously cemented my very serious, scary, growing realization that I needed to step away from my long-term but very painful marriage.
I think that being faced with your own mortality has a way of boiling all the bullshit out of a thing that originally seems overly complicated, condensing and clarifying the issues in your heart.
Here it was:
My husband was unwell and things were never going to improve. We’d talked and processed and contorted. We tried so many ways to make him feel safe and loved but nothing worked to address his escalating unrest and growing rage.
I was 45 years old and had become a mere shadow of the woman I’d always been.
I was sad and lonely all of the time.
I was frightened all the time.
I worked to make others feel light and easy so we could all feel the love that was surely present in our lives.
On paper, we should have been happy. But his illness was another character in our relationship and that character did not work toward love and trust and comfort. If my husband could have been different, if he could have handled life differently, he would have. I believed it then and I continue to believe that today. He was a good man struggling with an illness that required he be far away from us. This clarity was overwhelming but no longer deniable.
I sat with all of this for another week or so, trying so hard to understand this realization and wishing I could find my way back to ignorant denial. I felt my heart had made a continental shift.
I talked with him and we split soon after.
This realization and subsequent change broke my heart more than it already was. But it felt honest and so necessary. I’d spent years trying to breathe life into something that was long gone and that wasn’t good for any of us.
Last year, that cobalt blue glass candleholder broke and I cried, mourning its loss more deeply than seemed rational.
Like so many things, that too could not be replaced.