This is what happens when you rush through a divorce, when you make agreements that it is for the best (out of kindness to each other); that it can be relatively benign; that yes, it has been over for you, too, for years: months later, what has been moldering in the basement (regret, grief, and the most intense nostalgic longing), drags you down into the dank, dark room.
The day I moved into my rental house, everything was immediately and helpfully unpacked and arranged in the new space. Pop-up home! Even the knickknacks, the few I’d claimed (mermaid bowl, poppy pottery, glazed, clay birds) had found pleasing places. The speed was a manifestation of my fear of being alone in foreign territory. No need to live with the actual emptiness if all of my belongings (1/2 of what we’d owned together) were in an aesthetic order around me. That approach was terrific except when it came to my books (1,000?) and bookcases. The movers were magicians in folding and tying up my now-enormous-for-one king-sized mattress in order to squeeze it around the sharp-turning staircase. No idea how they managed the box spring, but I can attest to sleeping on top of both every night, my body, out of twenty years of habit, still on the right side. No sprawl, no claiming the whole bed for myself, just a polite amount of space, what is minimally necessary. This, too, a buffer against loneliness. Or perhaps my growing ability to claim the space I need.
In any case, the twenty-one boxes of books and bookcases were the last things to be moved into the house. I was exhausted by the loading and unloading, by the fact that my then-husband was assisting (glad for his help, but in retrospect, cruel on the heart), by the fact that it was the end of my paid-for-time with the anonymous and accomplished movers. When they tried to get the giant IKEA bookcase up the stairs, it wouldn’t fit, not without gouging out a piece of the wall (bad idea for my deposit). So in haste and desperation, the only place that had room for the bookcases and books was the basement (dry, according to my landlord). A stupid decision. Everyone knows there is no such thing as a dry basement in Meadville. But I was overwhelmed, and sent the bookcases down there along with my lifeblood—books I’d been collecting and reading since high school.
There is nothing, really, in the basement, so I never went. Not for months and months, except for a brief two minutes at the beginning of the month to dump salt in the water softener. So when I went down there a few weeks ago in search of a book, after a month of straight rain, I found the outside of all of my books covered in a thin fuzz of green mold. This is what happens when I neglect what is meaningful, what gives me comfort and hope, what can often speak for my pain. For hours, the kids and I wiped down every book with disinfectant wipes and carried them in stacks upstairs to the spare room that was once meant to house them. I managed to save most of them—the bookshelves, mold creeping up the particle board, will have to be tossed.
All of this is to say, after the rush and surface detachment, I am in a delayed period of shock and mourning and longing for my now officially ended marriage. My children are going to my former in-laws with my ex-husband (I still trip over that compound word, mention “my husband” in conversation, only to have to retract what I’ve said, ashamed that it is taking me so long to give him, us, up) and his girlfriend. A new-sort-of-family trip. Agonizing for all the reasons one might expect: someone in “my” place, someone who will sit at the same table where I sat drinking tea with my mother-in-law, someone playing in the pool with my/our kids and saying good night to them. Though I would like to be ready for a new relationship, if only to cast off the pain of the old, I have to give myself time and space for that lonely emptiness: feeling the depression when it knocks me out, allowing for jealousy and anger rather than believing I am above them, and knowing, too, that though my spine might be covered in the mold of neglect, all is not ruined, love and hope can be salvaged.