Fourteen years ago (12/31/05), I married someone. Let’s call him S.
It was the morning of New Year’s Eve. Huge storms that weekend led to flooding, resulting in a few big things and a bunch of little things that went wrong. But overall I felt that something had gone right. It was the last day of what had not been the easiest year, yet I had high hopes that the new year would usher in a clean slate, a fresh start.
Instead, it brought about one of the darkest periods of my life, at least in hindsight. Like a boiling frog scenario, I didn’t realize how unhappy I was at the time, because in the beginning, I wasn’t. In fact, it took years for me to see things with any kind of clarity, and to be completely honest, I’m still picking up the pieces and trying to establish a narrative that makes sense, as there are so many things I don’t know.
What I do know is this: S. was someone who cheated on me, did drugs, went behind my back, and lied to me—even about things that didn’t matter, just because he could. Whenever I confronted him, he told me I was overreacting, he shifted the blame onto me, he called me crazy. Constantly living with this anxiety, this suspicion, this sinking gut feeling became my new normal. I didn’t have the vocabulary back then at 21 to name it, but I know today that it was gaslighting.
Eleven years ago (12/31/08), my divorce to S. was finalized. He’d left me some six months earlier, the final blow after more than three years of emotional abuse. And it broke me—not just the leaving, but everything that came before and led up to it, and the year or so after when he continually fucked with my head, sending me text messages telling me he loved me, and then reneging on them, even though he was with someone else (the someone else he’d left me for).
But you know what happened? I predictably went through a dark, dark period. I lost hope. I drank a lot. I treated myself like garbage. But I had friends who pointed out my worth and gave me endless love and support. I started figuring myself out. I wrote a book about it. I came out the other side not as damaged as I could have been. I became self aware. I developed a healthy relationship with myself. I moved halfway across the world. I met someone who was in the same place I was, who loved me in spite of my past, and who wanted to continue this journey of life together. And now here I am, a person I never thought I would be, living a life I never imagined, and feeling more grateful than I have before.
But as far as I have come, I still can’t help but look back on who I used to be. And it always hits me the hardest on New Year’s Eve, even after all these years. A day that I once thought would be a cause of joy for years to come reminds me of some of the worst things I’ve been through.
I mentioned this to a friend recently when she asked me about our plans for the day. And this is what will happen: we will have a lazy day hiding out from the fireworks and cuddling on the couch, eating doughnuts and drinking mimosas, watching movies and doing puzzles, eating popcorn and leftover candy and listening to audiobooks. Because nothing makes me happier than feeling cozy and secure with my partner, our child, and our cats.
But there will be an undercurrent of sadness (for me), because there always is. I know enough about grief to know that it doesn’t just go away after a certain amount of time. It evolves, it ebbs and flows, and some years the pain is acute, and other years it’s a dull pang from somewhere deep within. Either way, try as I might to erase S. and the pain he caused, I can’t, nor do I want to, because what happened is and always will be a part of my story.