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It Was the Day I Became Bliss

“Crows are wise,” I thought to myself as I swiped on a final coat of mascara, examining my face in the mirror. Things have changed a lot since 2010. Signs of experience. Signs of living. Signs of wisdom. Gathered, for better or worse.

Whoever had first compared their laugh lines to the feet of crows probably knew that too. Or maybe they didn’t and meant it in a self-loathing kind of way that women are taught when they’re young. Decades away from worrying about what to call their imperfections.

Ironic.

I untwisted my purple and platinum hair and began to dry it. The loud hum of my old dryer drowned out the music I was using to distract myself from the divorce hearing I had in 45 minutes. “I Want to Be Free” had become my anthem for this season. Usually it made me cry, but to day it made me feel triumphant. I was less than an hour away from the freedom I’d wanted for more than a decade.

Thirteen years. That’s how long it took for me to realize I was cheating myself out of a happy life. Thirteen years to realize that marriage isn’t something to endure like there’s some kind of prize at the end if I sucked it up long enough. Thirteen years of forcing myself to believe that marriage was supposed to be lonely and devoid of affection. Or joy.

Thirteen. Years.

I ran my fingers through my newly-shorn hair that would’ve been deemed unsexy. Now it made me feel powerful. Liberated. Beautiful. Perfectly coifed into a pompadour akin to Johnny Bravo, but slightly more feminine. Androgynous. Me. The real me.

I thought about all the years that had passed. All that I had accomplished up until that moment. An award-winning business. Local celeb. Internationally published author. Most-influential person in Spring Hill a couple years running. How much of it was for me? How much of it was to earn love from him? Earning love. Like dollars that won’t spend. Pointless.

I thought back further to when we first started dating. How easy it was to get swept up in the moment. All the times his affection had been genuine. The flowers for no reason. The dates. The post-date shenanigans in the backseat of his Camry. The enthusiasm. The attentiveness.

Then I thought about right after we came back from our honeymoon. How everything had changed. How all of a sudden I needed to earn his affection. How that didn’t feel any different from growing up. Acts of service. That’s what it would take. So that’s what I did. I cleaned out a garage full of crap that wasn’t mine. Organized closets and cupboards of unused and somehow still sticky kitchen tools. Found a ring from his last relationship. Confronted him with tears.

Why hadn’t he been honest?

Even then, it didn’t matter how hard I worked. How many great meals I made. How spectacular of a holiday I’d planned. Nothing was ever enough. Goal posts were moved time and time again. And when he told me that he would be affectionate after I was productive enough, I didn’t realize exactly how big that red flag was. Or if it was even a red flag at all. After all, that was what I’d been used to.

Affection was something to be earned. Conditional.

I buttoned up my deep citron shirt. The one that makes my eyes glow like honey in the sun. My freedom shirt. I rolled up my sleeves to half-mast, revealing old baking wounds and new tattoos. Signs of hard work and milestones. Stories I earned and tell when asked. Badges of honor.

Memories of earning those burns came back. Covering the gross ones with bandages before I’d load up to sell at farmers markets. Rain or shine. Sweltering hot or unbearably cold.

My girlfriend texts. Almost three months of learning that love isn’t something you earn and affection isn’t a reward for good behavior. When the right person loves you, unconditional love standard. Goal posts never move because affection isn’t doled out based on productivity. It only took me until 40 to learn this truth.

“I love you. Everything is going to be okay.”

“I love you, too,” I responded. “I’ll call you when it’s over.”

“You’re going to do great. I’m here for you if you need me.”

Eighteen months earlier, I bought a mattress and moved upstairs into the bonus room. To get away from the pain, and hurt, and to decide if any of this was worth saving. When my birthday gift to myself is better than anything he’d begrudgingly gifted me, that’s when you know.

Two vacations and lots of sleep later, it was clear that there was nothing to save. In fact, it had been over for years. And now that my daughter was an adult, my husband who had apparently “only married me to be her dad” had fulfilled his duty, told me he didn’t owe me anything. Cool.

So much for collecting any return for that investment.

Now yes, he did help me build my business. More like took over the building process while telling me I wasn’t smart enough to do it by myself, but still. I guess that initial investment was well-earned over the course of the last seven years. Too bad he had to make me feel completely incapable throughout the entire life of my business. A damn shame that he couldn’t be bothered to care about my well-being enough to be concerned when I collapsed from exhaustion. Why wasn’t I worth caring about? Selfish bastard.

On February 8th, I signed the lease on my very first apartment. I moved in before Valentine’s Day. A genuine gift of love from me, for me. I packed up everything without help as I had each of the seven times we’d moved over the years. Hired my own mover.

And I moved.

Once seated on my velvet turquoise couch–yet another sign of my impending freedom–I opened my laptop. It was perched atop copies of my book. I tapped the zoom link and adjusted the lighting. There was no reason I shouldn’t look my best while I waited for our turn. I was the first future divorcee on the call. We weren’t the only ones finalizing a divorce today. Others began to trickle in.

Eventually, his stupid face appeared in the queue.

How was I ever attracted to that complete douche bag? He’s not even cute. All I felt was disdain. Disdain and relief. No bittersweetness. No regret. Only eagerness to move on with my life without that man-shaped albatross.

As I waited, I stared down at my new name. Imagined signing it on checks and copies of all future books. Not my maiden name. Not my married name. Not a name that signified that I belonged to someone else. This was a name that I had chosen for myself. This was my freedom name.

A genuine gift of love. For me. From me. And eleven minutes later, I became Bliss.

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