It was three years ago when I experienced the first of a series of life-shifting events. The seemingly endless waves would eventually span two and a half years. Everything I thought would mark this season of my journey would be erased and I would find myself a stranger in my own life.
In 1967, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, two psychiatrists, looked at the medical records of more than 5000 patients to determine if certain kinds of stressful life events caused sickness. They took these events and developed what is now known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Any one of these events is stressful enough. I experienced a dozen of them over a relatively short span of time. But it was the first one that landed at the ground zero of my life and forever altered the landscape.
It was February 2015 when I noticed the data usage on our phone bill was through the roof. We had four phones on one plan and my frustration led me to the only thing I could think to do and go through each phone number, line by line, to see who the culprit might be.
As I combed through our bill, item by item, one thing stuck out: a voice call to a phone number I didn’t recognize. None of us were having a lot of actual phone conversations anymore, it was mostly texting back and forth. So a twenty-minute call to an unusual number caught my attention. This was especially odd since it was from neither my kids’ nor my phone line.
They say curiosity killed the cat and as my inquisitive nature led me to Google the phone number, my inner feline started to experience death twitches. A simple search showed the number belonged to a Houston family lawyer who had spoken recently at a Rotary event. Coincidentally, the weekend before the phone call, my ex-wife had been in Houston over the Valentine’s Day weekend visiting her dad who, also coincidentally, is a long-time member of Rotary. I’m no detective, but it wasn’t hard to put two and two together.
So many questions came to mind.
She’s leaving me?
Is the lawyer a friend of her dad’s?
Is this why she didn’t want me to make the trip with her to Houston…on Valentine’s Day weekend?!?!
I sat on my thoughts for several days before finally getting the nerve to ask the question, the answer to which I already knew.
Whatever most people experience when they learn their marriage is ending, I don’t know. For me, it was like everything slowed down to a snail’s pace. Life was moving in slow motion and I was just kind of standing there watching it plod along. And then it was over.
In the summer of that same year, I stood before the Honorable Judge Solomon J. Casseb III of the 288th Civil District Court of Bexar County. As a lawyer petitioned him to accept the divorce decree, what had felt like a life in slow motion had ground to a halt. Judge Casseb asked me some questions I don’t remember, but I do recall him ending our interaction with a simple statement.
“Good luck to you sir.”
And then it was over. What had been for 26 years was over in less time than it took for me to find a parking space and walk across the street to the courthouse. In that moment, the wheels began to move forward again, ever so slowly.
I’m now getting ready to walk through my third Valentine’s Day alone. Life no longer seems to be moving in slow motion. It feels more like I’m at cruising speed and I’m constantly scanning the landscape to see what’s out there. Now and then I get off the train to look around, have some conversations, experience something different, and then continue the journey.
I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever be in love again, but I’m keeping my eyes open. As I watch and wait, I remember something Donald Miller wrote in his book Scary Close:
“I don’t know if there’s a healthier way for two people to stay in love than to stop using each other to resolve their unfulfilled longings and, instead, start holding each other closely as they experience them.”
Of all the rides at Walt Disney World, the one I just won’t go on is the Mad Tea Party. Those spinning cups just aren’t for me. But you know what? I love standing and watching my kids spin themselves into oblivion. There’s not much else that brings a smile to my face. Besides, I know that there are far more things we’ll do together than those tea cups and I also know at the end of the day we’re standing right next to each other closing out the night with an astoundingly choreographed fireworks display over Cinderella’s castle.
I’ve often told my dear friend Rhonda that if there’s a next time for me, I’m not nearly as interested in us doing every single thing together as much as I’m interested in knowing that when we don’t, I’m standing right there with a goofy smile as she spins herself into oblivion doing something she loves.
I also know that at the end of the day, we’re standing right next to each other for the fireworks.