Years ago my friend Katie suggested that I try doing something called “writing scared”. Writing that plucks material from parts of you that are made immediately uncomfortable and unsettled.
Journaling is one way for me to do this, and lately, with so many big feelings to process, it’s been very rewarding.
Then I started re-reading the book that I turn to whenever I’m rummaging deep within myself for something to hold on to: Just Kids by Patti Smith. If you have not yet read it, I will repeat my recommendation that you do every day until you tell me to fuck off and finally just get a copy and read it. I acquired mine from my mother-in-law…ex mother-in-law (argh), and it has been a friend to me for many years now.
Just Kids is her account of life in the 60s and 70s with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and it is a most inspiring and vivid journal of her young life. When I read it I want to make things and I’m convinced that I can, and I put down my stupid phone or laptop and I just start doing. So…read it.
I’m going to write now about the way things are here, because I will be writing scared and that is a really pure way to write, and because I think some of you will find it interesting, based on the questions I’ve been getting via e-mail and text. I’m going to try to shed the Catholic image that has always been the plastic wrap that protects me at home, and allow my skin to breathe a little bit.
You all know who is who here, but I thought I would change names in this very personal blog in case other people in the world come across it. So for now, I will use Ex as a stand in for the former partner, and Offspring for, well, why the fuck am I explaining this?
A rough landing
It started on the 9th of March.
I don’t know how Ex got the courage to do it, but I’m proud of him and I’m glad that he did. Twelve years is a hard thing to extract oneself from, at least not without some kind of catastrophic event upon which to base that extraction. We had no catastrophic event, just months of therapy and a slow fading. It ended in a physical distancing when I remained in Cape Town for one month and he returned to Norway. During that time we learned things about ourselves and our need to find our identities, and so he sat me down a few hours after we got back, and we talked.
I was relaxed, I’d had a nap and a hot shower and my body had forgotten the icy wind outside that been part of our foreboding welcome back to Oslo. But, naturally, the conversation and the break-up shook me. I was no longer relaxed but completely without muscles at all. I phoned my best friend and I told her, and she just let me cry until I had nothing left. While I cried in one room, he cried in another. Offspring slept peacefully and knew nothing. Like I said, I’m both proud of him for doing such a difficult thing and grateful that he did, because I never would have.
We didn’t have space for bitterness. We have always loved and respected each other, and we made plans to find out how to make the divorce work for us both. Everything moved so fast. I typed a furious and emotional letter to all my friends back home about the split and naturally regret this embarrassing moment for its raw and unfiltered glimpse into a very vulnerable moment in my life. But I console myself with other people’s stories of the mad things they do in times of high emotion, and writing an e-mail to everyone, including your former boss, is probably not the worst thing one can do in one’s life. Certainly I have and will continue to do far more regrettable things in mine.
Everything really did move so very, very fast. I was rescued by my friend Helge, a person who balances his deeply generous and caring nature with cutting little comments to the people he cares for so that they are inspired, on occasion, on just one occasion in my case, to slap him in the face. In my defense he told me to do it, and he’s still proud of that day of the slap. Helge lives in London for now and will occupy his apartment in Oslo later in the year, and he offered it to me immediately after I told him the news. He refused to take rent, and treated me so gently that I almost started to miss the insults and wonder if he had been bodysnatched over there in London, but I didn’t have to worry much, the insults flowed pretty quickly once he was certain I could handle them again.
I had returned to Norway, ended my twelve-year relationship and moved to an apartment by myself in the space of thirty-six hours. Everything was going at the pace it does in the movies, when you don’t see all the hard little steps in between, but that is just how it worked out with us. It possibly how we did everything: meeting, moving in together, traveling to Norway, getting married, having a child. Spontaneous and with conviction. No half-measures. It made for a wonderful, wonderful decade and a bit. Always fun, always in the moment.
And so now I sit, exactly a month later, reflecting on everything that has happened and writing scared about all of it. So much has happened. Would you believe I would have my heart broken again? In that short time? I did, and it was excellent. I’ve met wonderful people and terrible people and I’ve unraveled and picked up the little threads that make me again, possibly putting them back in the wrong order, I don’t know. In all of this, Offspring has been a perfect beauty, dealing with the changes with such confidence and patience that he inspires me daily to feel OK about everything that is happened.
So to those of you who want to know what recently-divorced-immigrant-black-woman-mother life is like in Oslo, I’ll see you all next week.
Read: Week One: The Downward Spiral (but listen to the song first! It’s so great).