The last time I was heartbroken, O was too young to speak and her favorite snack was her toes. This was the end of her parents’ marriage, little did she know it, and although I was the one who left, make no mistake; my heart broke all the same. In fact, the end of my marriage to O’s dad was so devastating, that I was determined to live a life void of serious relationships. Casual ones? Plenty. But if those pesky little feelings began to bubble to the service, I was always quick to find something or someone to replace them.
But, that’s the thing about love, isn’t it? When it’s real, you can’t ignore it and more often than not, it sneaks up on you when you least expect it. Like when you attend your first company meeting at your new job, and a handsome, unassuming gentleman asks you how your first few days have been going. “Pretty good. It’s a lot, but, pretty good,” you say. “I think it takes a full year to really get the hang of it,” he says back. And maybe you didn’t know it then, but looking back now, you know you were already in love.
And despite the feelings that bubbled, despite knowing exactly what heartbreak feels like and not wanting to feel that again, I just kept falling. Like Chris Farley down the mountain in Black Sheep; down and down I went. And every bush I hit with my head on the way down came and went. BAM! He’s married. POW! He hasn’t told her. WOP! He’s hiding me from everyone. I felt the smacks of the branches on my face, right in the middle of my face, and yet I kept falling. Somewhere at the bottom of this fall was all of the promises he made, right?
The problem, above all of the other problems I just stated, was that I wasn’t the only one to fall for him. O was right there with me. The more I believed that he was leaving, that he was choosing me, that the forever I saw with him was right around the corner, the more I let him into her life. She loved his children, his gifts, his silly dances in our living room. She loved his big truck and the trips to Chuck E Cheese we took in it. But more than anything, she loved how happy he made me. He made me cheerful, optimistic, silly, fun – all the things a six year old wants in a Mom on a day-to-day basis.
Let’s just skip ahead, why don’t we. It’s a year and a few months after that first meeting and O and I are getting into bed. I realize in this moment that the text I sent earlier in the day breaking it off was the first time I meant it. That all the other times were either a threat, an attempt to light a fire that didn’t exist under him, or a knee-jerk reaction from anger or despair and that when the emotions settled, I would miss him enough to take it all back. This time was different. I no longer had any anger, or sadness. I was relieved to be free of it all, and this is why I knew it was time to tell O.
“You broke up?” She asked, with tears in her eyes. “Why?”
Because he’s a lying sack of shit, I wanted to say. (Okay, maybe some anger resided.)
“Because sometimes people aren’t meant to be together,” I said.
“So, you’re not going to marry him?”
“No, I am not.”
After a few moments, she wiped her eyes and said, “I’m going to miss him a lot.”
“Me too.” I said, crying for the first and only time since ending the relationship.
The tears were not for him, but for her. I suddenly found myself falling down something different; a spiral of guilt. Guilt for letting someone who was covered in red flags into my daughter’s life. That I let her believe in a family that will never happen. Guilt for the times that I was glued to my phone, waiting for answers from him. For the times I was sad and miserable because he had let me down. Guilt for not sticking to the plan of never falling in love again and growing old with only O and at least 27 cats. Had I done it all wrong? Was I supposed to wait until everything fit perfectly, and we were ready to merge our lives before introducing them? Was I supposed to keep all of my happiness from her because sometimes the happiness came with despair?
Then, I thought about all of the times he made her laugh. I thought about the times he helped to teach her how to count while playing board games on the floor. I thought about the sweet texts we would secretly send each other when our kids bonded, drawing pictures together or making paper airplanes.
O was never in despair because of him. He never let her down, not once. Her memories of him are only good, happy, full of kindness. I only shared in the joy with her, never the sadness. Despite my anger, my confusions, my never-ending, fleeting feelings of maybe some day…, he was a light in her life, if only for a short time. And I promised from the beginning to fill her life with light. Even if, sometimes, the light goes out.