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.