It’s supposed to rain early in the morning, so I load up my car the night before check out. I move quickly because it’s cold out, carrying one bin at a time down the dark side path to the main driveway where my car is parked.
For two weeks I’ve been renting a small cottage in the back of a beautiful large home in the Southern California woods, a few miles from my own home. The cottage has a studio layout where the kitchen is visible from the bed. There is a small back room with a desk and a bunk bed where my kids slept on the days I had them. The backyard is filled with pine trees and has a view of the main house. I’m two miles from my own home, and the woman who owns the property gave me an odd look when she asked why I was renting her cottage for two weeks when I lived so close. I just needed a getaway, I told her. I’m sure she suspected something darker.
During the first week of my two-week stay, I was relieved to be away from the questions, from the decisions, from the accusations, from him. During the second week, I have dreaded returning. The stressful dreams started a few nights ago. Dreams where I’m forced to explain myself to him and his family. This was a trial separation and was supposed to be a time to evaluate my feelings and intentions, but my only intention was to escape. For months I could not breathe. He wanted to persuade me I was making a mistake, and I wanted to avoid the conversation. I had been hiding in my room too often, and taking multiple showers every day to clear my head and be alone. This trial separation was an expensive way to continue delaying the conversation. To catch my breath.
I see my yoga mat and hand weights that I brought to the cottage two weeks ago, so I make a fourth trip to the car. The motion lights come on one at a time as I walk the long path that I now know by memory. I wonder if the kids will remember our stay during this strange but peaceful getaway. They knew this could be the beginning of the end of life as they know it. My older one cried during the first few nights. “Don’t get a separate house from daddy,” she pleaded.
“Don’t worry about that yet. We’ll all be back home soon and can think about that later if we need to.” The kids and I agree that if we think of any good reasons to have separate houses, we will add them to a list.
There is an old wooden swing set in the front yard of the main house. The kids have loved swinging early in the morning while I get ready to take them to school each day that I had them. Driving them one morning, my daughter says, “If we could get a yard big enough for a swing set, that could go on our list.” I smile at her in the rear-view mirror and my anxiety subsides a little.
As I walk back up the path after loading the car, I am hopeful the three of us will look back at these two weeks as important and magical. It’s possible my son won’t remember it at all. We found comfort in each other as we watched movies in the large bed, as I pushed the younger one on a swing, as I let them take off their shoes and pants to test the unheated swimming pool one sunny November weekend afternoon. This was the week my son learned to swing on his own.
My husband doesn’t even know exactly where I am. I had thought if he asks for the address, of course I would tell him. But he never asked. I feel free for the first time in fifteen years. This was an experiment. I needed to see what life was like having the kids on my own, and without the kids at all. I try very hard not to think about them while I don’t have them. This does help, but this part of the situation is the hardest to wrap my head around - having them half the time indefinitely.
Now the cottage is almost completely empty of my things. With any luck I will only have to make one final trip to my car in the morning, leaving the key on the nightstand as requested. Earlier in the evening I tried stopping for wine to calm my nerves, but it's two days before Thanksgiving and the parking lot at the market was a mess. I find a vape pen at the bottom of my purse, and there is only a drop of cannabis oil left. I try to get something out of it but after several attempts I can tell it did not work.
I’m battling loneliness on this last night. The tiny house no longer feels comforting since everything is gone except for one outfit, toiletries for the morning and my purse. My trick where I don’t think about the kids isn’t working, and I miss them. I want to go home, but only to see them and sleep in my own bed. I wish this wasn’t happening right before Thanksgiving. I feel compelled to postpone any decisions until after the holidays.
Over the weekend I was sure I would leave him. Now I don’t know. But in the past two days I realized some things. That this trial separation was an open door to exit my marriage. If I let that door close, I’m not sure how easy it will be to open again. That my husband is not a bad person but has never been the right fit for me. That proposing a divorce is shocking and heart breaking to everyone except my closest friends who lived through it with me, and that I never really cared if my behavior shocked people. That it actually makes perfect sense for me to unstick myself from this commitment to forever I never should have made.