Not long ago, a stray kitten appeared on my front doorstep.
My daughter named her Yurtle, and she was in love. I watched the kitten come and go for a few days before I decided that we would adopt the little thing and give it a home. By the time I had decided, unfortunately, the kitten had moved on. My daughter was heartbroken. Every day for a week, she would peek through the blinds as soon as the sun came up so she could look for her fuzzy friend. Every day, the kitten wasn’t there.
“Where’d my kitty go, Mama?” She asked me one morning.
“I don’t know, baby,” I said with a heavy heart that felt the weight of my own words. “Sometimes people or even little creatures come and go from our lives, and we don’t know why. But we can feel sad and cry and tell the universe that we are thankful they warmed our hearts for a little while.”
She crawled into my lap and was solemn and quiet. Her body turned into a lead weight that asked my mama arms for a warm hug. I obliged.
I spoke the words to her, but I still struggle to accept them for my own life. When I love someone or something, I really don’t want to let go. Everything in me cries out that letting go means that the relationship never really mattered at all. And that sentiment grates against the part of my heart that knows that once I love someone, I am so deeply affected by that love that I’m never really the same again.
Two years ago, though, I learned that sometimes letting go is the only way to honor the love that once existed.
Four years before that, my ex-husband was the sun that lit my sky. He was my first in so many ways — first real love, first wild adventure, first sexual partner and first experience of a relationship that made me truly, deeply happy. Whether it was fair to him or not, he was my hope for the future, and I committed to love him until death did us part.
Not long after our marriage, I found out that he had stolen my social security number and tens of thousands of dollars from me. Our love plunged into a cycle of scary abuse in which he was admittedly awful to me, and I devolved into someone I didn’t even know anymore. I volleyed abusive words right back at him in a twisted effort to ask him to take my pain seriously and seek help with me. He wouldn’t. He didn’t.
Until death do us part, I whispered to myself in the stillness of my brain.
One day, there was another whisper in that same stillness. You committed to love and to cherish him until death did you part. This is hardly loving and cherishing him.
So I left. I left because the only way for me to fulfill my vows was to get out and stop the cycle we were on. I had to lay down my proverbial weapons, or else my vows meant nothing at all. I had to whisper to the universe that it mattered to me that he was in my life, that I was grieved that he had long left my life, and that the only way to honor the good times we had was to get out before the abuse destroyed those memories, too.
It’s funny — in a sad, adult kind of way — that it was only after my divorce was finalized that the good times we had shared emerged from the gray haze that enveloped me as soon as I discovered my ex had stolen my identity. He mattered. He warmed my life for a little while and he taught my heart to hope. And then the person I thought I knew left. But still, he mattered.
My divorce allowed me to pause my own anger long enough to remember just how much he mattered before he went away. And for me, there was great honor in a divorce that allowed me to recall just how much I loved him.