The first few weeks after my ex-husband moved out were surreal, to say the least. I vacillated between extreme highs and extreme lows.
I loved living alone!
I hated living alone!
Slowly, though, my emotions began leveling out and I found myself reaching small victories here and there.
I no longer waited around each evening, listening for the garage door to loudly announce his arrival. I flipped through our wedding album without shedding one tear. I left cabinet doors open in the kitchen and on purpose, because there was no longer anyone around that hated it.
But, without a doubt, the hardest hurdle to clear was the new normal of being without my kids for days at time. Don’t get me wrong, they have a good dad who adores them and I’d never intrude on that to make myself feel better, but the loneliness was crippling and the pain was physical. I’d pace around my too-quiet house, exhausted and panicked, for hours searching for acceptance and peace. The first night without them I vaguely remember calling my best friend to talk, only I couldn’t talk for several minutes, because I was sobbing so hard. All she did was listen, because that’s all she could do, and what else are best friends for?
Fortunately, I realized early on that staying home curled up in a fetal position was only serving to make my transition more painful. So, one night, after going through Robert Flatt’s outstanding work for the umpteenth time, I grabbed my camera and went in search of his famous feathered subjects. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he found healing through the Night-Herons and Great Egrets that nest nearby. Generations of these exquisite birds have returned to this same spot, year after year, to ensure their legacy.
It was time to find some healing of my own.
I continued this strange coping ritual night after night and week after week, whenever the boys were with their dad.
At the same time I was getting to know these birds, they were also getting to know each other. I witnessed mating ritual after mating ritual. I saw rejection and acceptance, followed by bonding and connection.
I watched in awe for hours as they built their nests together, branch by tiny branch. The male fought with giant Oak trees, pleading with them to offer up a tiny piece of themselves, pulling and tugging until they relented. Once they had, he returned back to their growing nest and enthusiastically announced his arrival in a Honey! I’m home! sort of way. His best girl would then stretch her long neck up to meet his, and graciously accept his hard work beak to beak.
This dance played out again and again until the sky grew dark and, after weeks of hard work, they finally had a place to call home.
The irony of the situation did not escape me. I sought comfort by watching these new couples build their homes, but only because mine no longer existed. I laughed out loud through tears, in an attempt to push back the desperation.
This routine turned into my therapy. The once foreign esplanade had become the only thing I could depend on, and the only thing that made any sense.
I watched as they made their babies.
Then, I waited along side them for those babies to arrive.
Any day now…
After what seemed like an eternity, one evening the waiting finally paid off. I hopped out of my car and immediately heard them — little babies, squawking orders at their mama the same way my little babies squawked orders at me. It was all I could do not to sprint over but, always careful not to scare them, I chose to do the mom-walk instead.
When I finally reached them, I could see the tip-top of tiny heads, with mouths turned up begging for dinner, or comfort, or probably both.
I shut off my camera, sat on the ground below, and burst into tears. I cried for them, for me, and for the family I’d once pictured, but would never have. I’m not sure how long it took for me to pull it together, but I eventually picked myself up and took around one million pictures … give or take.
On the way home that night, relief washed over me as I finally began feeling the acceptance and peace I’d been searching for from the start. It was the first time I knew that everything wasn’t just going to be okay, but be better than okay.
And, I was right. It isn’t just okay. My new family looks exactly how it’s always meant to look.
* * *
Today, I visited the last few remaining herons and egrets, the others having long since left for their journey down South. Sadly, some of them will fall on hard times and won’t make it. But, most of them will not only make it, they will succeed and they will thrive.
Thankfully, I’m pretty sure I’m among the latter.