Things always seem harder to have done than they are to actually do.
On reflection, the amount of change in my life over the last year is staggering. I separated from my husband after twelve years together (a third of my life, I often tell myself, for dramatic effect); I lost my job and found another; and along the way I started dating a 51-year-old Dubliner whose life before me was calm, quiet and, above all, independent. That changed in January when I learned I was pregnant – the first child for both of us.
The day my husband left, we woke up very early. We had tea. He took our two dogs on a walk while I got their crates ready. We all piled into the taxi and headed to the airport. They were returning to the States, and I would be staying on in our home in the Netherlands.
At Schiphol we walked the dogs up and down the parking lot and gave them tablets so they wouldn’t be anxious. We stood in the check-in line for Indianapolis. Then the dogs were taken away on a large trolley, and my husband gave me a kiss and disappeared behind a sliding door. I went to work.
When I got home that first evening the house was empty and still, but not in a way that felt permanent. That comes with time. The first night I somehow put off thinking about it. I sat on my balcony and drank a bottle of wine. I smoked cigarettes.
In fact I spent several nights sitting on my balcony, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes, emotionally stuck. An old friend with whom I’d only recently reconnected offered me the keys to his Shanghai apartment, which was vacant for the summer while he traveled. And so, on a lark, I went.
I landed in China with my friend’s address written in English. I had it translated into Chinese characters so I could communicate to a taxi driver where I wanted to go. That was as far as my planning had gone.
At the start I embraced Shanghai. I went to museums. I drank cocktails with other travelers who invited me to join them for fried crickets. I wandered gardens. I went to a tea ceremony with three Chinese students who wanted to practice English.
But I got up later each day and stayed closer and closer to the apartment. Toward the end of my trip, I mostly sat on my friend’s balcony, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes.
In stories, when your life changes dramatically, the thing to do is to go far away and find an answer of some sort, discover something about yourself, run with the change as far as you can and see where it leads.
My experience: when your life changes dramatically, the thing to do is to face the change, and reinforce normalcy around that change as much as and as soon as you can. Let yourself feel the strangeness and the sadness, but force yourself to function in the “new way.”
By all means, drink wine on balconies, when you are doing so for the right reasons. But don’t smoke cigarettes. There’s just no benefit to doing that, ever.
A year on, I’m amazed and humbled by just how lucky I am. My ex-husband and I remain truly good friends – which we agree is perhaps what we are supposed to be. I’ve embarked on a new relationship and I’m navigating my first pregnancy in a foreign country, preparing for the future while making sense of the past, and proudly carrying my baby bump through my daily grind.
There’s a lot of change still to come, and there’s a lot that’s happened that I’m still processing. There’s also been a lot of frustration dealing with Dutch law, a few surprises relating to the Dutch health care system and the Dutch approach to pregnancy and labor, and of course the awkwardness, hilarity, and learning curves of a new relationship and a first-time pregnancy. This blog is my way of documenting all of this.