In the end, for as much as I’d thought packing up our house to move would be a team effort – I mean, what’s the point of having four kids if not to use as manual labor – the bulk of boxing 13 years of our lives turned out to be a one-man operation. Or should I say, one-woman?
Sure, the four kids did pack up their own bedrooms, which was interesting as each child employed strategies for moving that reflected his or her personality. The two girls were all business — leaving behind neat stacks of cardboard boxes and empty closets when they returned to school for spring semester — while my oldest son waited until close to moving day and then paid his younger brother to help him pack. And that youngest child, who at 13 still struggles with putting his dirty basketball shorts in the hamper each night, had a closet full of clothes on the day the movers arrived but had also carefully labeled boxes he actually had packed – filled with his stash of wooden swords and golden Mickey Mouse ears in homage of Star Wars’ c3pO – as “Sentimentals” and “Sentimentals 2.”
And I do not wish to neglect mentioning that my oldest daughter drove eight hours home the weekend before the move with her roommate and spent two full days packing the remainder of our kitchen, color coding all boxes with bright duct tape that correlated to the rooms they were to be stored in the new house and creating a master list noting the contents of each box (so I know that Box #43 contains our crockpot and mulling ball, labeled PINK to head to the living room, and Box #5 – with a GREEN piece of tape indicating it was to go to the office – is labeled Holy Box, which contains a crucifix I received as a wedding gift 25 years ago that I don’t quite know what to do with along with a holy water font) . It’s amazing what can happen when two extremely Type A women are handed clipboards. There was no stopping them.
My younger girl got trapped with me one Saturday during the holidays down in our crawlspace as we weeded through a sea of Rubbermaid boxes filled with Halloween decorations – giant rubber hands on spikes and Styrofoam tombstones – and 20-year-old collection of my oldest son’s Brio Thomas the Tank Engine set (why, hello Percy and Henry), trying to determine where all of it was to go. By the end of the day the basement was filled with piles to be sold (an old Target trestle table and oodles of Skylander figures), thrown out (sorry K’NEX) or dragged to the new house for sentimental purposes (my youngest child is not the only sentimental person in the house and so I decided I could not part with the iron beds my daughters slept on when they were young).
So, the kids did do their part but the majority of figuring out what to do with a lifetime of stuff fell on me. And I mean, I guess that just makes sense and honestly, I don’t know if things would have been much different if I was still married. When we moved 13 years earlier, I was seven months pregnant with our fourth child and don’t really remember my then-husband doing much of the packing and unpacking. He was off at work while I weeded through old onesies and a mountain of American Girl merchandise determining what was coming along.
I thought my strategy for this move seemed at first quite brilliant: as we were planning on staying in our old house for a month after we closed on the new house, I reasoned the kids and I could slowly move all the boxes into the new place while they were home over winter break and then I’d hire movers to handle the big furniture. But, as you may have heard, the best laid plans are often shot to shit during the execution of such and, alas, our closing was delayed for weeks and my strong daughters returned to school in January without moving nary a box.
One of the things that held me back for a long time from ending my marriage was the prospect of being alone. I worried I’d never find someone else. That I’d end up by myself surrounded by stacks of books and cats. And for the most part, so far that’s kinda what’s happened. I mean, the books are all in boxes now and I only have one cat, but it’s been about seven years since my ex-husband moved out and I haven’t really found anyone to share my life with. I guess you could say that in a way, my worst fears have been realized.
Yet strangely, I’ve never felt less alone.
Since my divorce, I’ve made some really wonderful friends and deepened friendships that already existed. One reason might be that I have more time for friends. I don’t have to worry about making a partner jealous of time spent with others. But I think what separates my friendships now versus when I was married is that these relationships are much more authentic than before. I am much more honest – whether through my writing or in person – about things in my life being frankly less-than-perfect. There’s a lot less bullshit now.
Had it not been for the strong group of friends who surrounded and supported me during my divorce – who called me on their way to work each morning or ran by my side through the woods along icy trails and listened to me spill out the latest atrocity or let me lie on their couch and cry while feeding me tea and wine – I don’t know if I’d have come out the other end with my wits about me. I don’t know how strong I would have ended up becoming.
“The middle years are the loneliest period of life,” I heard reported the other day on my radio while listening to a story on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” The piece on how essential friendships are in midlife shared that “friends are key to our survival not only emotionally but biologically.”
Amen to that.
The segment continued, “Those with a network of friends live longer, recover faster from cancer and even preserve their memories better than those with few or no friends.”
I’m not so sure about the memory part – because I am lucky I remember to put on underwear lately which I totally attribute to old age – but am certain they should have added divorce to that list of life’s challenges made just a little easier by having a strong network of friends.
My movers were scheduled to come on a Thursday in mid-February and at the beginning of that week, an army of mommies arrived on a cold, wet snowy morning to move boxes to my new house. This is the group of friends I have taken to referring to, with great affection, as my “Little Mommies.” They’re the girls whose oldest kids are my youngest child’s age and with whom I sit on the beach in the summer and drink margaritas and watch our boys bob for hours in the ocean atop their boogie boards as we discuss pressing issues like Botox and our periods.
That morning their army of minivans and SUVs pulled up and the Little Moms piled out and started hauling my belongings to the new house. In a couple of hours they’d moved a majority of the boxes that had filled most of the den and deposited them in their color-coded areas in my new place.
“Looks like the cavalry is here,” I overheard one of the electricians working in my new kitchen say to a coworker as he watched about 10 women unloading boxes and lamps from the line of vehicles parked in front of the house.
On Tuesday, my friend Janine came over in the morning and helped me remove swinging lamps from the walls and pack up all the Fios cable boxes and wrapped the cords so efficiently that I tasked her with making all the cords in the house neat and tidy. My friend Dan, the famous Girl Whisperer, came over in the afternoon and he and my oldest son – who’d taken the day off from work to finish packing – hauled some larger items over to the new house in his pickup. He helped find a new home for my big, round table I use for parties and six folding chairs and tried valiantly to help me get a set of wire shelves down the stairs to use in the basement (we failed).
On Wednesday, The Knitters arrived with coffee and donuts instead of needles and yarn and pretty much moved everything else that wasn’t nailed down. That morning, instead of sitting around someone’s kitchen table gabbing and eating yogurt and granola and pretending to knit while talking about life – as we have two Wednesdays a month for the last 6 or 7 years – The Knitters opted to pack table lamps and flat-screen televisions into their cars and carry them into my new house.
Listen, I know it’s kinda trite to say that it takes the proverbial village to do anything nowadays but, man, it really did take a small community of people to help get us out of our old house and into the new one. Friends who just showed up, sometimes unannounced and sometimes bearing donuts, to lend a hand.
And then the movers came on Thursday and I kind of fell apart.
That morning, four very large men arrived at my door that morning and started taking apart beds and wrapping side tables in plastic and every time I resumed packing up my bathroom – all the Band Aids and hair ties and dental floss – I’d hear one of them yell, “Amy!” and suddenly, I felt very alone and overwhelmed by the entire undertaking. Even though I’d had SO MUCH HELP in the days leading up to the move, there were still SO many last minute things that needed to happen to make a clean exit from the place we called home for 13 years. Our stuff just oozed into every corner of the place. There was still a giant, red lacrosse net in the backyard and my bathroom drawers were filled with a decade’s-worth of Laura Mercier products and Q-tips and – just when I thought the kitchen was empty – I discovered the dishwasher was full of dirty dishes.
But it was my youngest child’s room that really did me in. That pushed me over that teary-eyed ledge I’d been teetering on for days into full-sob mode. Ugly cry galore.
Thirteen years earlier I’d moved in and painted the smallest of our four bedrooms yellow to welcome my fourth baby. I’d bought new bumpers for the old white crib used by all of my babies and put the old glider – that I’d gotten as a gift from my husband for my 26th birthday right before the birth of our first child – in a corner of the room. It’s where I spent many nights nursing that baby while the rest of the house slept and rocked him to sleep, feeling the pressure of his tiny head on my shoulder.
That baby, that room, that house. They were everything I’d wanted in my mid-30s. I wanted all of the trimmings of a certain kind of life and thought that those were the ingredients for happiness. I pinned a lot of hopes and dreams on the family that I’d created and moving out of that house was the final nail in the coffin of those dreams. It was time to officially close that chapter of my life.
And that’s when the sob that had been simmering in my chest for days burbled up my throat and came out as a gasp that echoed in the empty room.
“AMY!” yelled one of the men from downstairs, and that’s when I knew I needed help. I couldn’t do it alone. At that moment, I needed someone to hold my hand.
And in no time, two dear friends arrived and started packing up all my shoes and cleaning the crumbs out of the bottom of my toaster oven. They accompanied me to the new house later as the movers began cramming all the big stuff into the rooms already filled with the boxes moved earlier in the week. As many of my best-laid plans began to fall apart – the furniture I was going to use for my youngest son was way too big for his new room and those iron beds I couldn’t part with a few months earlier needed to find a home in my storage-challenged new home – my friends helped me make quick decisions and then move on.
I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself since my marriage ended. I’ve had to figure out how to dispose of dead critters in my pool and shovel snow from my driveway. I comfortably navigate gatherings of couples as a single person and even sailed around Greece on my own. And it was just me standing alongside the man I’d married almost 20 years before in front of a judge on a hot day in July when we ended our marriage for good.
It’s good to know you can handle things on your own. To know you are capable of tackling whatever life throws your way. But it’s also good to know that you have a couple of people quietly cheering for you from the sidelines and will be at your side in a flash should the need arise.
I think a lot of my strength has come from knowing I have people in my life who I can count on. Folks who have my back. And probably, that’s what I really needed all along. I didn’t need someone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with or be my de facto plus-one. What I really needed was someone who was on my side.
What I really needed, it turns out, was a friend.