Passport photos, like your driver’s license photo, have a reputation for being awful, but they’re not known for being disruptive. Jenny had been in the middle of her Saturday morning exercise class. There was a break and while she waited for the next song to come up it occurred to her to check to see if the notes from her old stylist were still in her wallet. She had an appointment for a haircut that afternoon and didn’t want to leave for it without them. When she checked she found the notes, but not before finding John’s old passport photos. She’d forgotten she had them; they’d been there since a day so long ago, before they were married, when he handed them to her, complaining about how bad they were. She thought they were fine, and stashed them in her wallet so she could always have him close. Next to these photos was an old post-it note with a list of dates: the date of their first lunch together to catch up; then another lunch to discuss whether they should date, then their first date, a picnic lunch, steamy conversations in parking lots, you get the idea.
She found she couldn’t get through the class. She thought she was fine, but maybe she wasn’t as ready for this moment as she thought she was. She’d been expecting the final divorce papers to arrive in her mail any day. She was bracing herself for it and thought she was ready. But if she couldn’t get through this, how would she handle it when the papers did arrive?
The class was still on, music still playing and the instructor calling out encouragement as Jenny walked into her office and pulled the lap blanket she used while working, folding it up and putting it in a box, along with the passport photos and the post-it note. The blue blanket was another reminder of different times, with his name embroidered on it in red, a blanket he’d received as a gift from his vanpool but one he thought she could use, being always cold. This blanket made the trip south with her but had been put away multiple times, depending on her mood. She almost threw it away last fall when she found out about his betrayal. She probably should have thrown it out with the trash, but instead, she set it aside and out of sight. Months later she brought it out, maybe thinking that it was a good blanket and it kept her lap warm; why punish herself because she was angry at the person who gave it to her? Besides, she wasn’t feeling so angry anymore. Disappointed, yes. But she wanted to hang on to the happy memories, and hang on to her friend.
Recently though, she realized he didn’t want her friendship; he didn’t want her in his life at all or for her to know anything about it even. You might expect that Jenny would be the one to feel this way, but it was John. Maybe that shouldn’t have surprised her at all really. He’d made it pretty clear that she was a part of his past. So why hang on to this stupid blanket? She opened her closet to see what else could go in the box. Their wedding photos? The memento from his daughter’s college graduation that for some reason had ended up with her things when he started separating his belongings from hers last summer?
And what about the cards and letters he wrote to her, way back in the early days? John had promised to write her a letter months ago but she didn’t expect he ever would. After all, when your first letters to someone promise to love them always, what can you possibly write after you’ve told them you don’t love them anymore? He’d also promised to write to her children, but he hasn’t found the words to say to them either.
She placed the letters in the box, but she still wasn’t sure she was ready to part with them. And what was she going to do with this box, anyway? Burn it? Run over it with the car? Her first thought was to send it to John without a letter or note; the contents would speak for themselves. But she didn’t mail it just yet. Maybe it wasn’t time yet.
She returned to the other room where she could see on her laptop that class was just wrapping up. It felt like she’d been staring at those photos and letters for hours, but it really hadn’t been that long. So much for starting her day with a workout. Jenny headed for the shower, hoping to salvage the rest of the day while fully expecting to find her divorce papers in the mail later that day. She knew their arrival was imminent. She could feel it.
It’s Monday morning and she doesn’t want to get out of bed. She didn’t sleep well, again. She’d had a good weekend, despite the rough start. A fresh haircut and fresh flowers in the house always lifted her spirits, even when only one of those things happened, but Saturday she’d come home with both. The weather had turned; the rain had stopped and the sun was shining and the temperatures were high enough that jackets were no longer required. It was gorgeous outside. After spending time with a friend Saturday night, she met a new friend in the park on Sunday for a walk. It was a first date, a casual and socially distanced date, but a date nonetheless. After the date she realized that she hadn’t given him a chance to tell her much about himself because she did most of the talking, and she had probably scared him away by letting him see that she wasn’t as put together and “ready” as she wanted to be. But she was still feeling pretty good. It had been a beautiful weekend and she had dinner in the crockpot waiting for her when she got home, a nostalgic and comforting recipe from home that was a perfect way to finish the weekend.
But now it’s Monday morning and when her alarm went off, the possibilities of what could be in today’s mail loomed before her. She turned off the alarm and stared at the ceiling. It was still dark so she couldn’t see whether today’s weather would match her current mood or lift it. She got up and headed to the bathroom to start getting ready to face the day.
As she made her coffee later she thought about the steps she and John had memorized as the “best way to make coffee with a French press” and wondered whether she should come up with a new “best way.” She started working on today’s gratitude list while she waited for the coffee to do its thing. The weekend she’d just had was on the list, as were the fresh flowers and her day in the park. But when she looked out the window and saw the gray skies she had a feeling that today would indeed be the day.
With her list finished and the coffee poured, she headed into her office and turned on her work computer and started logging on. While that booted up and she got logged in she turned on her personal computer, navigating to the Internet radio station someone recommended to her recently. Something she’d never heard before was playing, which was good, because she liked discovering new artists and new music (or even old artists that were new to her but familiar to the rest of the world), but today she needed to know that the music would be positive, cheerful, so she went back to her standby “happy music” playlist.
She’d just finished checking work email and checking her calendar and to-do lists for the week when she noticed a new email on her personal computer. It was from the postal service. Yes, she was right. In today’s mail there was something from the courthouse.
She thought about it for a minute or two.
‘I knew this was coming. No big deal. Get back to work.’
Jenny tried, pulling up spreadsheets and compiling numbers. But her attention was straying back to her other computer, where the image of the envelope from the courthouse was still displayed. Tears started to fall even as she told herself that there was no reason for them. By the time she reached for the tissues it was too late. She was in a full-blown cry. She could barely see the screen in front of her through the tears. With a video meeting just minutes away, she decided she didn’t want to cry in front of her boss again. There was no denying the fact that she would be crying on and off for the rest of the day. Why fight it? She sent her boss a brief email along with a text message, and logged off.
She grabbed her box of tissues and climbed back into her bed. To her surprise, she fell asleep, waking a couple of hours later. The sky was still gray and her coffee was cold.
‘Now what?’ She said to herself as she wandered back into the living room. ‘Sit here and wait for the mail to come?’
She wasn’t done crying, of course. She raised the shades in the living room and sat on the couch with her phone and the remote. She stared at the blank tv screen a while, wondering if it was too early to start drinking something stronger than coffee. Not wanting to feel like a complete alcoholic she settled on a handful of Oreos and turned on the tv. Might as well wrap up the series she was currently binging.
While she’d been sitting and crying and watching tv, the sun came out from behind the gray clouds, pushing the clouds aside. It was now a beautiful afternoon. She was in the middle of the last episode when she saw the mail truck pull up. It was early today.
‘Should I wait, or go get the mail and get it over with?’ She wondered. She made herself sit through the end of the episode, crying some more through the last scene, one that was clearly intended to stir emotions and evoke sadness (it was a funeral scene, after all). At least there was a mostly real reason for crying just then.
But then it was over and it was time to go. She slipped on some shoes and grabbed her mailbox key. It was the only thing in her mailbox. A thin envelope, sealed with a single piece of tape, postmarked last week. She opened it and skimmed through the document, trying to read it through the tears that blinded her once again, looking for the date it was signed. It was dated five days ago. She was no longer just separated; she’d been officially divorced five days already.
Jenny wondered whether she should be celebrating, doing a happy dance, instead of crying like it was still day one. She had accepted this reality months ago. She was starting to embrace being a single woman. She was making her own decisions and each day was mostly better than the day before. She was on dating apps, talking to men, and having first dates.
‘It’s natural to feel this way. It’s a bittersweet ending to a chapter in your life.’ One of her oldest friends reassured her. ‘It’s ok to cry. But you are strong and you are doing all the right things in order to move on.’
Jenny wasn’t sure she bought that; that she was strong. She certainly didn’t feel strong today. But she knew that just because she spent most of the day crying that didn’t mean that tomorrow would be the same, or the day after that. She’d already been through that and she knew that she would get back to putting together a new string of back-to-back days that were tear-free, days in which she only felt happiness and peace. She had given herself permission to mourn and honor the end of her marriage today. It didn’t matter how John felt when he got his copy of the papers, though of course she wondered. But she wasn’t going to ask him or check in with him. There was no need. John wanted to move forward (though whether he was doing that was most definitely debatable in her opinion) and so she was moving forward too.
Tomorrow would be a better day. But tonight, tonight she was going to have a good cry and a strong drink.