Divorce Leaves a Residue

My ex husband’s parents were smokers. Entering their house always felt like walking into a parking garage on a warm and still day, the smoke forming clouds along the ceiling and tendriled wisps climbing the walls. The rooms felt dark as the haze filtered the sunlight and the once-white ceilings felt oppressive with their tar-stained varnish.

My ex used to seal his room from the smoke, employing towels and blankets in an effort to barricade his belongings against the nicotine attack. And, while he was there, we thought it was a successful endeavor. After all, compared to the rest of the house, his room smelled clean and his furniture looked unadulterated.

Until it came time to move. We pulled his sofa, that we had intended to use in our first apartment, into the garage. Hopeful, we peeled off the sheet that had been covering the fabric. We were horrified. Not only did the couch smell like the upholstery in a pool hall, the exposed surfaces were stained brown in contrast with the untanned underbellies of the cushions.

And no matter how hard we scrubbed, the stains and the smell would not fully release. There was a residue left behind.

We left that tarnished sofa behind that day and spent money we didn’t have on an unsullied replica from Montgomery Ward, determined to start our lives together fresh unburdened from the remains of the past.


In a moment of unedited honesty the other day, Brock turned to me and said, “Sometimes I wish you would give up writing about all of this and it wouldn’t be a part of your life anymore.”

And sometimes I wish that too.

That I could have escaped from the past with no residue, as clean and unspoiled as that new sofa. Because the truth is that divorce leaves a residue. A film that no matter how hard you scrub, you can never fully remove. It’s not something that disappears just because you take yourself out of the environment. It resists fading and clings tenaciously to every roughed-over surface.

You can try to cover the damage, hiding it beneath a slipcover of smiling perfection. You can scrub at it until your hands are raw and your the very fabric of your being becomes worn and thin. You can perceive the disfigurement as terminal, and live your life as an abandoned piece of furniture cast off in an unheated garage.

Or, you can see the stains as battle scars. Signs of a life once lived and a love once loved. You can learn how to find peace with the residue, viewing it as the reminder of your past while weaving into the fabric of your future.

Divorce leaves a residue.

And what you do with it is up to you.

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19 thoughts on “Divorce Leaves a Residue

  1. I like Brock’s honesty. I have made a conscious effort with my blog to no longer focus on the past (and the negativity that engulfed me back then). I know for some it can be therapeutic. For me though, I need to focus on the current. The now. I can control this part of my life. But you are right. Divorce leaves a residue. No doubt.

    1. I like his honesty too:)

      I, too, focus much more on the current (or the past’s effect on the current) than on past for past’s sake. And when I do reference it, it’s more to make my posts accessible for people earlier on in the process.

      Yet, for me at least, all of this writing was born from that time, as I never wrote before then. Interestingly, he doesn’t even really know what I write about since he rarely reads my posts (unless I send one to him). I think he assumes they are all about divorce and/or my ex, taking the same tone and focus of the book (which he did read).

      At this point, I’m compelled to write to help others and to release my creative energy (which has hopped from outlet to outlet over the years). And that damned residue of the divorce would be there even if I never spoke of it again. Blech. 🙂

      1. I know you are writing to educate your audience, and I have benefited from your posts immensely. I started blogging to help me get through the process of moving on and divorcing. Now that I am divorced (and have love in my life), my need for writing has dissipated.

        We all write for different reasons and at different times, I guess.

  2. Wow…really good. It does leave a residue, but then again every moment of our lives are leaving their mark on our lives in one way or another…and I think we just have to “smudge” them all together and blend out the corners.

  3. All of our experiences leave a residue, and as you said, it is up to us to determine what we want to do with it.

    A while back I read about something called the responsibility principle, and I thought it was fascinating. The basic ideas was that the human brain has a number of default modes in response to things. First we deny, then we blame, then rationalize. The next step is partially accepting things, but in this level we are operating more out of guilt or a sense of obligation. The top level is personal responsibility, where we are owning things and accepting our role in them. We are doing things because they are the “right thing to do”, and not due to any external sense of obligation.

    When relationships fail – even in tsunami divorces, it’s easy to get caught up in how taken off guard we are. We are hurt, and we want to deny, blame or rationalize. Yet even when the fault is largely on the shoulders of the other person, we played a role too. Maybe we enabled, maybe we turned a blind eye to things “out of love”. No matter how small our role was, we had one.

    In order to fully let go and move on to a better future, we need to make our peace with what happened. And hopefully that process allows us to learn and to grow.

    1. Responsibility is so important. And after a sudden or malignant divorce, it can be difficult to find that balance between accepting your role and assuming full blame. It’s scary to take that responsibility. Yet also empowering. Because once you own it, you can change it.

      1. Assuming full blame is terrible, as no one is entirely ever at fault. The more common thing I have seen is when people lay all the blame on the other person without accepting their own role.

        One thing I have seen a rise of is “divorce parties” (usually women), where they go out and celebrate finalizing a divorce. I don’t know, regardless of how things end, if a couple gets married I would guess it’s because they once had something positive. Accepting that the marriage has failed and moving one is one thing, but to me celebrating it seems somewhat crass.

  4. I understand Brock’s sentiment as well…but I also appreciate your need to make that big pile of…that was your marriage into something meaningful. You ARE helping people. And inspiring them.

  5. I remember moving from my smoking parents home into our first home and having my clothes stink for weeks….it was vile.

    I for one am thrilled you write and I look forward to every post! You always get me thinking and I feel you actually put a thoughtful spin on our situation rather than a negative one!

  6. EDITED – I’m with Brock on this one. I say that reluctantly as I think it will be sad for the many people who find solace in your writing if you ever stopped. Maybe writing is your ongoing therapy by scrubbing away at the “nicotine” that has stained your heart (or made you the wonderful woman you are today)

  7. I have to admit it is kind of funny reading all of these comments about ” Brock” I thankfully am in a place after nearly 10 yrs of divorce that the ” residue” from the marriage and abuse is finally lifted.

    1. 🙂

      I’m there with my ex’s name too. My husband has friends with the same name and every time I would hear them, I would cringe as I thought of my ex. Now, I just have to figure out which of the two men in his life he’s referring too.

  8. You’re so great, Lisa. Thank you for helping me feel not-so-alone today. I feel it. I feel the residue. But guess what … everyone around me can just suck it up, because I’m still here and I’m kickin’ and that’s saying something. At least I didn’t kill myself somewhere along the way … I let my life experiences (abuse, divorce, etc.) make me stronger instead. How are we supposed to come through hellfire like that unscathed? Even plastic surgery leaves scars.

    And as usual, your imagery is to-die-for! I read that first paragraph over and over … Geesh. Love you, girl.

  9. What I don’t understand is that as I try to clean my life from the residue of my marriage and eventual divorce, why is it that I’m the one that’s letting go while my “support group” is having issues cleaning his residue from their lives? I’m happier and healthier and freer than I’ve ever been in my life. There’s no right way to clean and begin my life anew, but I’m trying, and it sure is scary! Love your posts!!

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