BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
When people say it will get easier with time, believe them. Grief is a life-long process, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop living during that process - or any process. Most of the time, it’s not even possible to just stop, not with obligations like jobs and kids and, of course, to ourselves. We owe it to ourselves to thrive, not just survive.
Any challenge or trauma begs us to make a choice: to drown or rise up stronger than before. This choice isn’t always easy or clean-cut (and most of the time, it’s a little mix of both). Sometimes we drown so we can float again. Actually, most of the time we do.
A divorce is a type of death. It’s not the death of a loved one in a physical way, but it’s definitely the death of a home, a relationship, a partnership, a promise, a choice, a love. That’s not something easy to walk away from, or survive. It doesn’t matter if it was your choice, how long the marriage was, or what happened. It’s always hard. It’s OK to be sad and to mourn. It’s OK to be angry. You deserve to let yourself feel all of the emotions. You deserve to make the choice to date or not date, to be alone or not be alone. There is no right way as long as you process your emotions, as long as you are honest with yourself and others. Otherwise, there is only your way.
I get it, considering I’ve been at the front and center of my own divorce story this past year. There’s nothing like going to your local bank on your lunch break and getting your divorce papers notarized. I did that after being prompted by my ex on Gchat (because Gchat is where you apparently talk about divorce). So, I finally did it after sitting on the papers and letting them fester in my bag for too long.
The man who notarized my papers laughed and said, “Need this in a rush?” I wanted to say no, I was reminded. I also wanted to say, yes, it’s been a long time coming. Yes, it needed to happen a long time ago. Yes, I am over it. Yes. No. Yes. The manager said I was very “patient” for waiting for an hour to see the notary. He gave me free tissues and hand sanitizer, a metaphor that isn’t lost on me - as if I’ll need the tissues and sanitizer to clear my body, to be reborn.
My main advice: Treat yourself. It doesn’t matter what it is, or if it’s a new routine or a pair of shoes you always wanted or ice cream or Netflix. Just do something. Make yourself feel like you matter. Believe that you matter. You do. I treated myself to a very delicious lunch and a piece of jewelry.
It’s bittersweet to do this during the holidays. It’s a strange, melancholic reminder about messiness and love lost and loneliness during an already stressful time of year. At the same time, I’m choosing to think of it as an appropriate end to 2018 – and to let 2019 be a year full of love, happiness, joy, and beginnings.
Divorce isn’t pretty or fun or easy, even when it’s more amicable than tumultuous. I don’t wish it on anyone. I’m sad for what happened, and for us, but I also know it’s the right thing. It’s been the right thing for a long time - and any couple that isn’t happy knows this. The cliche is true: Life is too short to waste it being unhappy. Life is too short to waste. We only have one body. We may as well use that body to be present in, to love someone grand with.
I’m OK. I’m happy. I’m sad, of course, but I’m also happy. It’s OK to have conflicting emotions. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for all the new beginnings and the new loves and the messiness that is life. We all makes mistakes and fuck up and do ugly things. But we learn from them. I have definitely learned so many things from this, like how to be a better partner, like what kind of partner I want – and I’m proud of that, and proud of who I’ve become for myself and for the people in my life. As my friend Tara said, “Breakups are rarely uncomplicated emotionless. Partnership is hard. Personhood is hard. I feel like we don’t just admit that enough.”
This is a letter to remind myself, and you, that life is messy and that’s OK. It's OK that it doesn't always look or feel how we want it to. Things always pass. The hard moments will pass.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente