When I was a little girl, I ran to and climbed up a pine tree whenever things got too grown up inside my house. My brother had nailed down a plywood board about 15 to 20 feet up this one tree. I’d sit and listen to the windmill’s blade rotate and creak, and the sound of the wind passing between the neighboring trees that stood like friends on a sidewalk, and I’d close my eyes, imagining a life that was happy, a life I dreamed to have one day. This story grew and built itself into the walls of my mind from those years, years when my long brown baby hair was still curly and I could make all the sadness disappear if I just retreated to my imagination and the plywood board.
Living inside of my head, then and now, made all the cruelty, meanness, and disappointments bearable, personal or not. It never mattered where I was; I was running laps of jokes around my mind, playing complicated mind games, holding hands with the greatest guy in the world, and he was all mine and he wanted to be mine. He was gonna show up one day and see right through me, right to that plywood board and all the silence and thoughts I’d ever had. He was going to know exactly how I felt. And I would be all that for him, so in love.
I never met that guy. I got pregnant a few months after I met my daughters’ dad. I bought a house and he proposed. I did the right thing for my first daughter. She deserved to live with both parents. All kids do. I said yes to her life, his proposal and that common tale someone else wrote.
I withdrew. I was all business and motherly duty. I thought ‘My happiness means nothing next to this child, one who worked so hard to create her life inside my body. I am lucky to have her, she needs her dad around.’ Seven years passed, half way through which I gave her a sister. I withdrew further and further. I had failed all my dreams, I had nobody to talk to, nobody got my best jokes, nobody knew or liked that part of me that is who I really am. I had no choices. I was standing inside a 2′ x 2′ room with four doors. With each door I opened, all I did was hurt somebody.
Last winter I had a narrow window of escape. My husband saw a side of me he hadn’t seen before. He saw me happy and relaxed. He saw me sticky-sweet. He saw this side for only seven hours but they rattled loose the seven years of his denial.
I had said how I felt, for years. He couldn’t hear me. After those seven hours passed, it wasn’t me who was confronted, but him. I slipped quickly through the door. The passage was so quick, so painful, maybe like birth, and just as irreversible.
I lost something new, fears that were old, ideas I didn’t believe but borrowed, and was left black and blue inside. Blue enough to sit in a very deep tub and stare, crying silently at the tile cracks, immobile, wishing he knew how I felt. I sat like that all last winter and most of spring.
Two weeks from now, I am going to court at 9 am to finalize my divorce, alone. I thought for months that I was a shining example of genuine liberty, bragging that I had filed all of our paperwork myself. I am the only person I have ever known who got divorced without a lawyer. Ingrid, Plaintiff Pro Se.
But as the days grow closer, as I see myself standing there alone in court, all I feel is failure. All I see, in expectation of that cold morning, is me standing in front of a Camden County Judge with her finger pointed towards me in shame, shame for failing society, for failing my family, for failing my little girls, for failing the dreams of a little girl who sat in a tree to escape the cruelty inside her childhood home; but mostly, shame for never being good enough to find real love.
I come up for public judgment that day. My love life, my choices, my sex, my children, my loneliness, all quickly looked over by a public official. I am then granted my freedom and maiden name, things I shouldn’t have to be humiliated to regain, things that should just be mine.
I am going to try to hold my own hand that day, to tell myself my best jokes if I start to feel afraid or nervous. I don’t want anybody there with me. I want the story to reset itself, to begin at zero. A blank page. I am leaving all that shame and feelings of failure in that court room and walking outside alone. I’ll close my eyes and imagine a life that is happy, and remember all the purity of my childhood dreams created inside the branches of a pine tree.
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