On days where I’m feeling good, my legs swing easily out of bed. I smile on the way to have a shower, passing the room where my daughter sleeps as the early morning sunlight starts to brighten a sleepy face. I’m grateful for the smell of spring after a long winter, for trees finally in full bloom and signs of regrowth after Sandy. I do the school drop-off and make my way to the job that lets me pay the bills and buy a cute pair of shoes at the end of the week.
Some mornings, whether they are sunny or rainy, aren’t like that. I’m woken from a dream where I was interacting with my children to a cruel reality of having only 50% of my heart. The darkness that creeps into those mornings makes even the easiest task a chore. My shampoo goes on my head in slow-motion, socks are pulled on with a struggle. The cute shoes I bought at the end of last week stay in the closet, and the comfortable pair come out even if they are two years old. I dry my hair and sometimes put on makeup, but I leave the house disorganized and without purpose.
Today was that day.
It’s the day where you’ve been building up to, the day you’ve been thinking about and making plans for. When those days come crashing down with a cursory denial letter from a lawyer, I can barely function past pouring coffee.
Some days – like today – I can’t be strong. I can barely pull it together for my daughter enough to get out the door and off to school. I don’t think about paying the bills because it doesn’t matter anyway. I would never walk away for good, but I imagine taking a break that doesn’t involve me thinking about two chassidish kids who grew in my body and who don’t see me anymore.
Two chassidish kids that I left behind so I could save my own life. Two beautiful chassidish kids who I used to smush as much as they would let me, then laugh as they wiggled away out of my reach.
It occurred to me recently that my youngest is now just a year younger than my oldest was when I left. The milestones I could gauge with ease – vocabulary, running, playing – I won’t have those memories to relate to anymore. The new milestones – the reading big kid books or riding a bicycle – I will never see. It’s those thoughts, after a benign and reasonable request gets denied, that consume me. They envelop me in darkness that manifests itself in lethargy or sobbing at the worst times possible.
You might say that this was my choice. That I could choose to have stayed, talked to a rov or even chas veshulem the police if it was that bad. I think about how utterly broken I was after repeatedly being told I was worthless – verbally and physically – to the point of considering ending my life. I had a very good friend who thank goodness pulled me from that dark place and gave me the strength to pull up out of the nosedive and choose to live.
You could say that I should have stayed at least a little frum. That going off the derech (at least off their derech) hurt my chances of ever getting more than an hour alone with my kids. That somehow the length of my natural hair and the jean skirt I bought give direct evidence of my inability to be a good parent. For what it’s worth, I am careful and respectful around my children and I have never sought to bring additional confusion by wearing pants or uncovering my hair.
In the end, I am living with my heart in two pieces. One piece belongs to beautiful chassidish kids who will cut me out of their lives as soon as they’re old enough to realize how damaging I can be for shidduchim. The other belongs to a girl who will dance to Disney songs that play on the television, and never build meaningful relationships with siblings who don’t even speak the same language as she does.
Today was one of those days, where the sadness just overcame me and I ceased to function. While I know I’m in an upswing, I dare to even ask for an hour with my kids lest that too gets smashed down unceremoniously by a lawyer.
If I don’t ask, I can still have hope.