“My hands, they’re strong / But my knees were far too weak / To stand in your arms / Without falling to your feet. / But there’s a side to you that I never knew, never knew / All the things you’d say they were never true, never true / And the games you play you would always win, always win….. But I set fire to the rain” – Adele Set Fire to the Rain
When you go through a breakup, friends take sides, your supporters rally around you to compliment your strength and badmouth your ex, and you use anger as a fuel to get through it with your head held high. It’s even more pronounced in a divorce, this bravado that comes from trying to convince yourself and the world around you that you are better off and everything will be perfect now. But eventually, the time comes when you have to look back with an unbiased eye and try to see the truth of the marriage, its failings, yes, but also, you have to be willing to see the moments that you tried to forget when you first began the process of ending things.
Those moments, when it seemed as if your life truly was perfect. Those moments, when love really did seem like the most powerful force in the world. Those moments, when you were undeniably, irrepressibly, irrevocably over-the-moon, as big as the universe, as deep as the oceans happy.
Like when you watched the sunset together from the cockpit of a 4-seater Piper and he gave you control of the airplane and a confident smile.
Like when you held him and cried with him as he tried to understand the huge fight he’d just had with his dad and he looked at you and promised you that he would never be that kind of man and, even though your chest hurt with the weight of his pain, there was a sense of peace in you thinking about the future you’d have with him.
Like when you walked towards him, a terrified, heart-clamped, breath-stalled bride, and you looked up to see his waiting hand, his eyes searching for yours, his lips parted in anticipation, and you shed your fears and doubts like an ill-fitting coat, stepped forward, and placed your hand in his…..
Like when you hid a pang of regret that he hadn’t planned ahead and instead told him it wasn’t his fault that he had very little money and couldn’t take you on the cruise he had promised, you would have an amazing honeymoon anyway because you were together and you rode a motorcycle around Puerto Rico and jumped off a cliff into a cool river and rode horses and ate sushi for the first time and felt freer than you ever had in your whole life…..
Like when you told him you were pregnant, your arms around his neck as his eyes grew big and just a little scared. Like when you shared the heartbreak of a miscarriage, and he held you night after night as you sobbed uncontrollably, asking the questions he couldn’t answer, the ones you didn’t dare ask in the daylight, and his nightly silence, his strength seeping from his arms to your soul, were the only things that helped you not to cry during the day… and eventually not to cry at all…..
Like when he lost his job and you told him, with not a doubt in your voice or in the most secret part of yourself, that you trusted him and that it would be okay because he would find a new door to open and you would walk through it together.
Like when you crossed state lines so he could succeed in a new place and you entered your first real home together just the two of you, and you watched him go from a self-doubting novice to a smooth professional and you were so proud of him you ignored any hardships and sacrifices involved with constantly moving because nothing else mattered as long as he was satisfied.
Like when the big break came, and you crossed an ocean and started a new adventure with his airline back where you had honeymooned two years earlier, and you hiked down to the bottom of a waterfall, had picnic dinners on the beach, took your first and so very overdue vacations, and explored and imagined and created memories that should have lasted a lifetime…..
Like when you started two jobs that you loved, editing an in-flight magazine from home and simultaneously rising quickly in the customer service department of the airline, and he looked at you again like he used to all those years ago, as if you were proving your own worth and strength to him, a look that had somehow been lost over time but you hadn’t really noticed.
Like when you had lunch breaks together and kissed in between flights and took turns making each other dinner and filled your one day off together with as many meals out, beach or pool afternoons, laughs with friends, and nights to remember as possible and after all that, how he hated being home without you and he came and sat and watched you work and held you and you thought, how odd, that he can’t stand to be alone when you had done it for so long for him, and yet, how sweet…..
Like when you could barely get through a shift without repeatedly sitting down, and you got so sick you couldn’t get out of bed, and even though you’d waited a year and then tried for another year and it wasn’t expected at all and you’d secretly given up hope, you found out you were finally, blessedly pregnant, and then you called and told him and he came home from work with a huge smile and flowers in a Valentine’s Day coffee cup left over from the holiday two weeks earlier.
Like when he planned an elaborate birthday for you, with all the friends you’d made a kind of family in this home away from home, and you were both grinning and glowing with the hopes and expectations dancing like something alive in your eyes.
Like when you moved away from that place for better doctors and you cried because this had been the best time of your life and he had been at his best there, confident and strong, loving and respectful, generous and caring, and you realized that despite all the good times before you two had been missing this, this connection, this balance between you that made your life together beautiful…..
All of those moments and more, forgotten when you return to the Northeast, to the states you grew up in and moved to together. All of the warmth between you two simply overpowered by the sharp winds of a Boston autumn and then a New York winter. All of the pieces of your soul that you handed him so trustingly, so easily long ago and over those years, all of it scattered when he reveals parts of himself you didn’t know existed.
Like when you start catching him lying about spending money on his family and you’re hurt, not because he spent the money but because he pretends you wouldn’t want him to even though you’ve spent almost all of the 300 dollars a month he gave you the last few years on your in-laws, trying to make them love you like you love them.
Like when he starts blaming you for his long commute since it’s your proximity to the OB-GYN that helped you two pick an apartment and you’re hurt again, because you wanted him to take the flight line offered in Boston, only 15 minutes away, but he chose to take a schedule that meant he had to drive an hour and a half each way.
Like when he stops looking at you, really looking at you, at first a little and then at all, and you feel so alone and you wonder why people say husbands are more loving when their wives are pregnant and you start watching more and more television to fill the void and to bring some noise back into your silent home.
Like when you start finding out he’s lied to you for years, about big details and small, and even how much money he made and you realize that you’ve come to feel guilty spending any of it on yourself because he’s slowly made you think that would be such a burden on him and now you’re not just hurt, you’re angry.
Like when his temper starts getting worse, and his angry times come quicker and last longer and the moments he disrespects you and curses at you or the ways he allows his family to be rude to you or make fun of you or cause you heartache all come more frequently and without warning and you think about how you don’t want your child to be born into this…..
The memories are there, good and bad, and if you focus you can find endless lists of either one tucked into your history, hidden by the ways you tried to be “strong” to get over it. And they haunt you, these lists that, if looked at separately, paint such a different picture of your time together. Was it all so bad? Was it ever really good? And you think about how it all ended…..
Like when you couldn’t take the sense that nothing was in your control anymore and you felt betrayed when he told you he’d made major career decisions on his own (including where he’d be living!) and lied to you about everything now it seemed and finally told you just two days before your pregnancy was going to be induced that he had not, in fact, told his parents that you would be arriving in New York a week later anyway so nobody should come visit you in the hospital in Boston. And you felt like you didn’t know this person at all and all you wanted was just that one week to bring your baby into the world together and spend as a little family without the distractions and disruptions of people he had been allowing to hurt you anyway and why didn’t he understand that?
And when you think about all this you have to acknowledge how your sadness and desperation and fears and pregnancy hormones led you to react to his personality shifts in ways that must have hurt him, too. Like when you told him you wouldn’t let him into the delivery room if his parents were there and you started crying and screaming at him, and as he screamed back at you it was as if the switch in your brain that had always kept you supportive and smiling for whatever he needed and quiet when he or his family were mean to you, that very important switch had suddenly not just turned off, but disappeared completely. And since your fears were choking you, you told him you didn’t trust that he’d take care of you and that baby or that he’d be the man you needed him to be if his parents were around and you both knew that the only reason you’d been so happy in Puerto Rico was because it was so damn far away from these people that had tried to divide you from the beginning…..
He held your hand and rubbed your back and counted. You saw only him as you did the hardest thing you’ve ever done and went through something indescribable. He has never been more your husband, more of your love and strength, more of a man than that time when it all came down to pushing and exhaling from 1 to 10 and inhaling and counting and pushing again and his voice keeping you going and his eyes looking into yours keeping you hanging on.
And then she was born.
and then when time starts again, even though you had apologized and he had apologized and you had done this amazing thing together something has changed in you both. Even though you had calmed down and agreed to his parents being there and later he held you and his daughter together in the hospital bed, you suddenly knew that you couldn’t be silent anymore when anyone hurt you.
You look at this tiny face, this tiny but powerful presence, and you vow that you will be a stronger woman and finally tell him that you want his Puerto Rico, beautiful love connection, moments that make you undeniably, irrepressibly, irrevocably over-the-moon, as big as the universe, as deep as the oceans happy and you want it for her, so she sees what a man and a woman should be to each other.
And while you’re finding a strength and backbone in yourself you should, but didn’t, always have, he is already somewhere else, someone else. He’s gone even if he’s sitting right next to you. He’s far away from what you want and you’re no longer what he wants and so the holes are there for someone else to fill. And while you gain a new sense of self and learn what you want for you, he finds someone to fill his void.
Whether he’s always been playing games and weakening you without you knowing it, or whether the perfect moments really were perfect, it doesn’t matter anymore. You’re happy being you and when you look back with that unbiased eye you can say that for a while, you were also happy being his. And you can carry yourself forward now, ready to give yourself the chance to make yourself happy, in any way possible. You’re able now, to look with greater clarity at what kind of a person you are and what you expect from a lover. And you know now, too, why it’s not only okay, but necessary for you to demand respect and how you can be kind and generous without losing yourself or letting anyone use you.
As hard as setting fire to the rain, seeing what was and accepting it and moving on without any real answers to the painful WHY.
And like setting fire to the rain, the process of discovering your own strength, your goals, your love of yourself, and the kind of inner peace that will let you stand in love, instead of falling weakly to someone else’s feet.
So I set fire to the rain.
And I survive.