Today is my mom and stepdad's anti-anniversary. If they hadn't divorced in 1990, today would have been their 28th wedding anniversary.
For a long time, I dreaded April 6. Each anniversary was a reminder of life as it was and would never again be. I would think of that painful period of life and feel overwhelmed by those emotions again. I would think of all the ways the divorce had made my life harder--the financial challenges, the abandonment issues, the sense of being lost and forgotten, the trust issues and insecurities, the way love is so much harder to give or receive, a general feeling of being ill-equipped for adult life.
When I got up this morning, I had to stop and remember the significance of the day. I wondered if it was someone's birthday, or if I had a doctor's appointment or deadline. And then I remembered. And discovered it didn't hurt so much today. And I don't remember the last time it did.
Mom and John have been divorced for sixteen years...pretty much my entire adult life. There's a myth that when parents divorce when the kids are adults that somehow it's less painful. When I speak about being a child of divorce, I often say that mom and John's divorce was much harder than mom and dad's breakup. There are a lot of reasons for that, only one that I'll mention here because it makes the point of this post.
When mom and John divorced, it disrupted my launch into adulthood. Like most high school seniors, I was looking forward to flying the family coop. But when I left, we all left. My house was sold and my family dismantled. All the artifacts of my past were boxed up, sold, or thrown away. When I left the house, I lost my home.
It was a hard time for all of us and I know my mom and stepdad made the best choices they were capable of making at that time. I know that they love me and didn't mean to hurt me. I know that they assumed my perfectionism and independent traits would help me survive, maybe even thrive. We were all hurt and we all went our separate ways.
When biological parents divorce, circumstances can require a reunion. When stepparents divorce, the non-biological parents can walk away. I grew up with John. He was a family friend before he and mom married when I was six. I spent my entire school years with him in my home. He taught me to tie my shoes, match my Garanimal clothes, he taught me my state capitals, presidents and parts to my car, he came to all my games and student conferences, he was present on all my vacations, and he terrorized all my dates. But when mom divorced him, in a lot of ways, he divorced me. The family of my life--mom, John, and me--has never had a reunion in these last sixteen years, and every anniversary, I feel that sense of loss again. I miss the family I had, and I long for the family I want to create.
I think it's the living in limbo that made the anniversary so hard each year. John has since remarried. Mom is unmarried, and has had her own share of struggles, but perhaps has had an easier time because she was adult and she did the choosing. I'm still haunted by the ghost of a family I didn't choose to lose.
What I realized today, is that even though that pain still exists and is palpable when I allow myself to stop and think of it, the pain is lessened somewhat because I have found my own place. It isn't the family I want--with me as the wife and mom--but it's still a place of connection and belonging. I have created an identity independent of my family--through my faith, my work, my writing, my dog, my home and especially with my own family of friends.
My friend Erin is in my family of friends. She encourages me with each scary step I take with my heart. "It's progress, Jen. Progress." This morning, I am grateful for progress.