I told a story to a friend of mine today. She told me that her 34 year marriage was ending. How was she going to tell her kids? How was she going to stay strong for them? What would the holidays be like? All I had to offer her was anecdotes of my own divorce, and of my parents’ divorce when I was 16. I told her that I was going home for the break, and that she and the kids could stay in my house if they needed a place for refuge. She explained the fear of having her husband ransack the house if she left.
I will never forget arriving to that little Savannah apartment that night. I walked in to a mess. Things weren’t just taken, but it looked like the scene of a burglary. Books were on the floor near the missing bookshelf, the cabinets were open in the kitchen, drawers open with no silverware, so many things missing. Everything was in shambles. I was holding William, who had just turned one years old. I was just standing there, I had walked into every room to check on things. I remember the floor was dirty and William was crawling so I couldn’t really put him down.I didn’t know where to begin. I remember it wasn’t the next day that was scary, but the next hour—the next minute. Everything was terrifying. I wasn’t in that chaotic, empty, dark apartment for more than ten minutes before I was answering a knock on the door. My body was numb and all I remember was hearing, “Emily Schwarting? You’ve been served.” By the time I looked up from the manila envelope, holding the formal separation papers, the man had disappeared into Savannah’s historic district.
Within the hour my neighbors, Susan and Mike, came to my rescue. Susan had the same thing happen to her three decades earlier. She and her son were left with nothing and no one. She took me in and cared for me, as though I was her own daughter. What an angel she was!
That was two Decembers ago. Two lifetime’s ago. A million heartbreaks ago.
I remember in those two weeks I stayed with them vowing that I would pay it forward one day. When I am a hotshot lawyer, or whatever, I am going to help someone. I am going to look a young girl in the eye one day, as she is holding her infant, and tell her, “You can do this. YOU are a fighter.”
That is the best way to describe being a single mom. Fighting. I am always fighting. Fighting for tomorrow, fighting for today, fighting the system. Fighting for honesty, fighting for respect. All I do every day is fight my way to tomorrow. Some days it’s harder than others. Sometimes I don’t feel like fighting anymore. I can’t even tell you the amount of times I have looked up at God and begged him to send someone to fight for me. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have put my head on that steering wheel with tears streaming down my face whispering, “I feel so alone.” I have stopped counting the amount of e-mails I have sent to professors asking for an extension because William is sick, or the amount of times I have yawned in class because William was up all night. I can’t explain to you the look of shock on my classmates faces when I stroll into the lecture with William by my side, because daycare had a snow day and Virginia Tech didn’t. You will never know what it feels like to have someone walk away because your a mom. You will never know what it feels like to have someone lie to you, but have to find a way to continue on every single day because your a mom.
I am not going to try to explain how long it took me to stop pitying myself, marginalizing myself as a single mother. I don’t want to tell you what it feels like to actually have to pull up your bootstraps. You’ll learn soon enough.
I realized today that a woman at the end of a 34 year marriage was coming to me for advice, was coming to me to confide in. She didn’t have to explain to me the fear she was feeling, the emotions bubbling over. I get it. I am 23, and I get it.
You are so lucky you don’t understand. You are so lucky that at 23, you know nothing about what this world truly it like. You are lucky you don’t know how ugly and merciless the world is, and when you find out you will be able to be shocked by it. I can’t be shocked. I am too busy covering up William’s eyes while I am getting hit by shrapnel on all sides.
I am going to emerge from the ashes one day. I am going to brush off all of this dust and dirt and debris. I am going to do it alone. No one is going to help me. No one is going to come with a glass slipper, no one is going to save me from a lonely tower, no one is going to put on a shining, iron suit of armour on my behalf. I need the armour for myself, I need the weapons—I am going to do this because of ME. I am going to do it for William.
I remember one morning a couple of months ago I read our texts and thought it looked so perfect there on my iPhone—the back and forth. I wrote it down in my journal that night because I never wanted to forget that no matter where we or, or what we’re doing, we think of each other every morning. I read and reread our conversations and I knew you still loved me. You always loved me, always needed me, and I always needed you. It was after this conversation I knew I had to be with you again.
texting on a sunday morning
come nap with me
would you snuggle me?
i need your big arms holding
my tiny little shoulders
curled up next to me
i miss you
hold you tight
i wish you were here
to inhale you
miss your smile and laugh
sunday morning feeling?
The Sunday Morning Feeling has always been a topic of conversation. He used to say before we started dating, that he would drink all weekend, but on Sunday morning, the silence killed him. He always used to say that after that first night at Whitlow’s, he didn’t get that feeling anymore. The way he described the feeling was so sad, so empty, and I was always so happy that I filled that void. After a while, when we weren’t together, I would feel a void too.
I remember one time we didn’t talk for three weeks. Over the summer, when I went to Canada. I was so mad at you. That was the longest we went adhering to the silence and the distance, without saying, “I wish things for different.” Or whispering, “I am always going to love you.” One foggy, Canadian, July morning in the country I woke up and while I was watching William play on the porch as the sun came up over the lake, I pulled out my computer and booted it up. I was off the grid up there in the Canadian country side, but I couldn’t resist. We don’t have internet at our country house, so I pulled up a word document. I copied the poem that reminded me of you by Khalil Gibran. The one that ends like this: “bestow upon me a deep and dizzying kiss…” The book of poetry and essays was yellow from being in the attic for decades, but I brought it back to life. And I wrote to you, that lazy morning. I wrote as if you might not even read the letter, and so it was one of the most honest things I ever wrote. I told you about the cable knit sweater I was wearing, even though it was July. I told you about my sadness and how much I missed you and how fervently I still loved you despite all of the pain and regret. I remember, Neil Young was on in the background. We spoke on the phone that night and I remember being so relieved. He still loves me. Thank God.
I came down for your birthday, and we sat there under the August night sky, on the steps of the Georgetown Waterfront, the new ones that go all the way down to the water, and the ducks were swimming so close to our feet. We just talked, among the Kennedy Center and Key Bridge and all of DC shining on the Potomac River. It had been exactly a month since I had last seen you. Sadly, I never felt further from you when you said, “I can’t sit in an office all day and wish I was skydiving.” I remember my response too: “E…people work during the week, so they skydive on Saturday.” I don’t know why, but hearing you say that broke my heart.
There was an unbridgeable gap between us. We hadn’t come full circle from the heartbreak of May yet. I don’t know what it was. Maybe I was starting to finally get over you? I don’t know how I felt. I was so lost this summer.
And then I really did start to be fine. I dropped off William with his Dad and headed down to school to move into my new apartment, and hopefully make some new friends and start fresh without you. I wanted to make a life at Virginia Tech of my own, heck maybe even make a new friend who was a mom! Then you called again. You were on your way to Blacksburg. I was happy of course, excited to see you. I was giddy and bubbling all day waiting for you. You said you were staying for one night but of course you stayed for like… two weeks. I fell all over again. I never hated my love for you so much as I did when you left. I remember dropping you off at the bus and crying, and when I got home and put the car in park, laid my head on the steering wheel and cursed you for coming back into my life like that—without warning. You came and you left with no promises, gave no hope, no encouragement. Those ten days would stay those ten days forever. So I hurt you. And I used one of your old tricks. I began the semester, you began a little fling. You thought you could hate the love out of your soul.
You never did. We never stopped. We will always be, and we were again, and will be again. We will always text on a Sunday morning, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. We will always wake up and wish the other was there to roll into, to love and feel the warmth and the heart pounding. We will always choose those moments over mediocre moments with people who don’t understand us. The atoms in our bodies will always collide, and if they disconnect even for a moment, they will always come back full circle. It’s one of the only truths I believe in this world anymore. I am sick of trying to explain to people something that will never make sense, that they will never comprehend. Maybe our love really is different, maybe it really is once in a lifetime, really is some chemical phenomenon that science hasn’t discovered yet. It is one of those things only the poets know anything about. So what? We collided again a couple of months ago, on that warm October day, admitting to one another we were thinking about each other, texting on a Sunday morning.
Despite the pain in between and when we say goodbye and when we are desperately drowning in our own love for one another, I will never forget the passion, the romance, the finishing each other’s sentences, the poems and the laughter, and the happy tears that flow when you have never felt so understood by another human before. I will never forget the loyalty, and the blind trust I had in you. I will never forget the hours and hours of Friday Night Lights and chinese food and country music and drives into the Appalachians going absolutely nowhere. I won’t ever forget how much I bugged you when you were at the gym. I always went and stalked you at the gym when you didn’t pick up the phone. I will never forget how when your mad at me it lasts 30 seconds. I wish I didn’t stay mad at you for so long. You were always able to cure my loneliness though, always, in a heartbeat, you could warm up my soul. Delicious Poison. So I sit here, in the early morning of a busy day, wondering if when I am old I will look back and see you will have been a fleeting romance, who I tell my granddaughter about when she thinks love didn’t exist in my generation. Or will you be there next to me, telling everyone together the story of us, bringing tears to everyone’s eyes when they hear all of the hurdles we jumped over, holding hands. Losing each other, letting go, remembering and coming back. Like moths to a flame.
My Grandma has an old, faded photograph of a handsome Latvian man who she once loved, before she ever got into that little rowboat and escaped to Sweden, leaving everything behind. It isn’t my Grandpa. She doesn’t say anything about the faded portrait. Only that he was tall, dark and handsome. She is 98. I am 23. There is no need to escape to another land, running from dictators and oppression. I am free. You are free. I need to understand why. I need to understand how this is slipping away from me. Or isn’t it? Never in my life have a sunk back into my chair, run my hands through my hair and closed my eyes and admitted to myself: i know nothing.