Posted by: shelliejelly | November 12, 2009

A lifetime of unluck

The moment he said it was over, I didn’t have time to think of anything beyond the immediate future: Taking the ring off my finger, walking over and handing him a few things he’d forgotten to take when he moved out the month before. A flood of emotions swept over me in rapid succession, anger being at the top, followed by relief, sadness and regret just a trickle beneath them both.

Only when I’d had time to stand still, to sit on my bed and cry into my phone as my parents and brother busied themselves with details like how I was going to get O. off of my mortgage, did the gravity of what was happening hit me. I never wanted to be divorced. Divorce feels like personal failure, like I had one chance to get it right and simply watched dumbfounded as three balls sailed right past me, the ump screaming “You’re out!”

And then I thought of Sabine, and sighed deep aching exhales, lost in the feeling that I’d ruined her. Please forgive me little girl; I never meant for this to happen. Because for me, the divorce wasn’t our failure, it way my failure.

Even today I can’t get past the feeling that I’ve muddled my life so completely there’s no room for redemption. I’m standing in the middle of untamed territory, eyes frantically sweeping a landscape I don’t recognize and actively dislike, no way back, no eraser to wipe the slate clean. I’m tainted. I’m tarnished. I’m branded by a past that serves up more anguish than delight.

“I feel so unlucky,” I tell my mother. “Well, you have at least one piece of luck,” she responds, listening intently to Sabine’s conversation with her Papa in the other room. “She must be my lifetime’s worth,” I answer.

If Sabine is my lifetime’s worth of luck, I’ll take it. But what about her? Am I her lifetime of unluck? O.’s diagnosis of bipolar unhinged me a little; his illness made him unavailable, responsibility after responsibility being heaped upon my shoulders until cracks in my foundation started forming. Stoic, perfect mess who only wanted to get things right.

My voice would get shrill, my words shorter, clipped as I asked her, for sometimes the 100th time, to get her shoes on, get her coat on, we need to get going to school and to work. She resists, sometimes, and I raise my voice, sometimes, and in that high-whine plea is more personal pain than need for her to actually get done what I need her to do. She was 19 months when he left; she is three years old now and can’t possibly discern the subtleties of my emotions. She can’t possibly know that my weary annoyance has nothing at all to do with her, my bright spot, my north star.

After these moments, she often asks if she can give me a hug, pulling away to ask: “Are you happy now?” I smile and try to convey in this expression, my arms holding her tight, thumb caressing her back gently back and forth, a whole host of truths: Happiness is complicated, fragile. Happiness is sometimes elusive and dormant, but always part of my extraordinary fate, my privilege of calling her my daughter. Happiness can’t be bullied out of existence by sadness, trial and struggle. Most importantly, you, little girl, aren’t responsible for my happiness.

I want to take this burden from her, set it in the corner, watch her skip around it oblivious of its presence. I want to undo a lifetime of unluck, to give her all the happiness she can hold.



  1. […] all lost A recurring theme in my divorce is the almost obsessive need I have to get it right. I subconsciously try to put all the pieces together so that Sabine will get through this part of […]

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