[Disclaimer: needless to say it’s not easy for me to write this and I do this mostly to help myself process than to help you understand why and what’s happening because at the end of the day I don’t owe anyone any explanation. My extended family members do not know about this yet and I will talk to them when the time is right. Please be gentle with your thoughts and comments.]
In 1969, a Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with a framework postulating the pathway of those experiencing grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and (eventually) acceptance.
In 2021, the night you said you were coming home, I thought you decided that we could start over, but instead, it was what Kübler-Ross called a “shock event”: you wanted a divorce.
I still vividly remember your expression when you said it—you looked deeply broken-hearted while breaking my heart all at the same time. I wanted to hug you, but at that point I wasn’t sure what we were anymore that perhaps it’s best that I kept our distance. You sat on the staircase and I was on the sofa. We talked for hours all civil—there was plenty of “you know I still love you, but”. My rational brain can’t possibly comprehend what was happening. A minute ago we were a together and overnight you decided to leave.
Nah, I thought. You weren’t thinking straight. It must’ve been a very bad dream.
Barely three hours since we fell asleep, my alarm woke us up and you were still lying next to me. I wished that the moment could linger a little longer. But even then I knew it was going to actually be the last time we shared a bed. You had to leave early for a company shoot. I asked if I could drive you there and you let me. Before we leave, you sat by my side of the bed, looked me in the eye, and asked if this was the right decision, if you were gonna regret this deeply one day. And I said, as someone who genuinely cared for you: that you needed to look after yourself and do what you think is best.
I was clearly blindsided of how painful the separation would be when I said that. When you finally hugged me good bye and and got off the car, it finally dawned on me: you were really gone. And suddenly I lost all the strength I could ever felt in my body and broke into a long cry in that parking lot. A friend had to pick me up and drive my car since I was so weak (grateful for him).
It was like the waterfall we visited in Bandung that one time. I couldn’t stop crying the entire day. And it was barely a start for a lot more crying to come. Forever indebted to the kindest of friends that gave me company in all the crying—their shoulder, their sofa, their bed, and their ears, even across the oceans.
Even after—and in between—all the crying, I silently prepared rebuttals in my head. What you said made absolutely no sense. We would’ve been stronger together. We had always been fixers and this will just be another round of it: we could attend couples therapy, I could change, you could change, and we’d all be better. For a little over a week, I kept sending you the best possible forms of argument on why you should stay. I thought it’ll help you realize how wrong you were and you’d be back with me again by the next week.
But of course you saw beyond what my logic could reach. I’d always hated how you have this conviction; a clear conscience that just knows what is right. I just couldn’t see it yet.
So I went to the one person who understood you but could speak in a language that speaks to my System 2. Then suddenly it all made sense. I understood why you had to leave. Sorry for pulling you back and making you say no over and over again until I finally got it (-ish, because there will always be a tiny part of me that doesn’t).
I was a mess and a lot of things for a whole month by then, but one thing I never was is angry. Did I question why this thing happened to me, out of everyone? Sure. Did I wish something would change your mind? Of course. Did I hate that you had no friends that manage to convince you that we should stick together? Like hell I did. Did I hate you for letting us plan for new chapter in New Zealand and perhaps even with kids? It still cut me deeply remembering this.
But no matter how hard it was since the beginning, I kind of understood why you had to do this for yourself. Trust me kiddo, I do. I know that you never wanted to hurt me, and just wanted to save yourself. But no matter how inadvertently, I was hurt, and I was hurt bad. It was like coming out of the worst war and I had open-flesh wounds all over me. And underneath all of that, you could only find almost-permanent sorrow. I even thought about harming myself just to keep the emotional pain away.
When it came to it, however, I realized the only person I was angry at is myself. Enter:
As I drove back and forth between my and my friends’ place (because I can’t stand being home alone throughout the day), I can’t help finding out all the things I could’ve done differently: I should’ve properly treated my mental health so I wouldn’t have breakdowns that slowly led us where we are (although you would say it goes both ways); I should’ve noticed that you stopped arguing with me and letting me pick things instead (which married couples before us had warned us this many times); I thought of the many times I could’ve come back to bed and snuggle with you in the morning—can’t help but wonder if any of that would’ve led us to a different place today.
Suddenly there was this mountain of guilt that I carry with me on my shoulders. Like all of this was my fault. That I wasn’t a good enough wife.
Other times, I wanted to blame the pandemic. I’ve read statistics about how it had increased the number of divorce cases significantly, but when I learned that it was mainly due to domestic violence and/or economic difficulties, I pushed it aside and thought this would never affect us. But the pandemic tested us in an entirely different way, and we failed that test. You told me that maybe the pandemic simply accelerated what would have happened to us five years from now, and who knows if that would’ve been better or more painful?
There were a lot of “what ifs” and “if only”. Being a stereotypical control freak, I can’t help but going into rounds of options on how I could’ve affected the outcome. My peak bargaining phase was when I even drove up to your place that one dreaded Tuesday, thinking my grand gesture would’ve changed your mind.
But of course it did not.
Then came the long quiet. Then came the day when it actually felt better to stay at home alone than to be surrounded with friends. Like that way I could hold and process this multitude of sadness inside of me properly, without interruption or someone else’s interpretation. Or advice, or encouragement, or validation.
The very survival tools that helped me get through the past few weeks are now just extra weights. Because now I’m not a fixer anymore, just someone going through this journey by foot.
For a few more days, I woke up every morning crying. It didn’t even take any triggers. I just did. I would wake up, emptied my bladder, then back to bed suddenly feeling so weak and couldn’t get out until I stopped crying for an hour. Then later in the day I cried some more. Maybe a little more before I go to bed.
The people whose judgment I trust the most told me that this is not permanent, that it will get better. Later someone updated that to a more realistic version: there will still be ups and downs, but the downs wouldn’t be as low/bad as before. And that’s when you know you’ve become stronger; by allowing yourself to be weak.
I’m not sure if I’ve arrived at this stage per se. Some of Kübler-Ross’ most ardent opponents would disagree with this framework altogether. But for now at least, I think writing this blog has been part of my graduating from stage 4. Funnily enough, I think you’re the person who also helped me get here.
In a fortnight we would have celebrated our 5th anniversary. Who would’ve known that we had to stop before we even hit five. You told me to never blame myself. That the past five years hadn’t been a waste of time, but the most beautiful chapter that we have gone through together, that helped us grow in our own ways. My first instinct was to argue that if it was so beautiful we should try making it to 10 or 20. But now I know that you’re right.
I know for a fact that some people thought they saw this coming because we were never meant to be. How could it be, with us being so different. I’d really hate to say that they are right, because they’re not. In a lot of different, perhaps incomprehensible ways, we are also very compatible. I brought structure to your beautiful abstract colors. You hit the accelerator and I know when to hit the brakes. How can we not be meant together when our bodies fit perfectly when you spooned me? Or how we were in perfect sync while brushing teeth before bed?
Maybe it was just the wrong timing. Maybe we decided to be together for the wrong reasons, but can meet again in the future and be together for the right ones. Or maybe this separation was supposed to happen because we were supposed to be a better version of ourselves to prepare for the next person. Or who knows, be happy by ourselves. Maybe this way I could find out whether I have truly loved and accepted myself, or if I had only been doing that vicariously through your complete acceptance of me?
I guess you will never know and shouldn’t even dare to try to guess. Two things I do know:
1. Help is everywhere. I am deeply, deeply thankful for all the love that I have received this past month. While they will never instantly fill in this big, new hole (“the baby teeth I thought I needed”), I was held, and I could survive only because of it. So to every single person who has texted, called, video called to check in, let me stay or cried, listened to me, or just sit there: I love you.
2. We still have our lives ahead of us. When you told me you could never be angry at me for more than five minutes, I believed you, because it’s like that for me too. For now, I’ll let you do what you needed to do. I’ll be right here as your best friend and I know you will too.
Trust me—I know that they call it a cycle for a reason. That it’s not a linear line of progression. In fact I’ve been going back and forth a lot until now. But at the end of the day, I resort to this quote for comfort:
“If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there’s salvation in life. Even if you can’t get together with that person.” ― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
And this one. Always this one: