I finished Falling Apart in One Piece by Stacy Morrison a couple of months ago. I discovered it through her Modern Love essay the Ex-Husband Who Never Left, which left me feeling jealous on one hand and wistful on the other hand. My relationship with my ex isn’t like hers and won’t be. The ongoing conversation I have with myself about this goes like this: “if we did communicate and work that well together, we probably wouldn’t be getting divorced.” Yet, this new relationship that Morrison forges with her ex-husband is the result of her divorce process, one that takes her through her son Zack’s infancy, grief, sadness, and anger to optimism and life with a preschooler.
I’m not one of those people who is obsessed with my own divorce and spends my free time, what little there is after making lunches, supervising homework, washing endless piles of laundry and working full time, talking about divorce & reading divorce memoirs. But now that I do see a wee bit of light a the end of my personal tunnel, I like to have a peek now and then at how other people, usually women, coped and make their ways forward.
Falling Apart in One Piece describes her life with her ex-husband, Chris but she doesn’t focus on the past, the mistakes she, or he, may have made. She uses the passage of time and introspection to acknowledge that “yes, this could be the reason things didn’t work out” but she is focused on getting through.
Morrison chronicles the history of her relationship with Chris, her husband and now ex-husband, which parallels her career in New York publishing, one that culminates with her being named editor-in-chief of Redbook. It’s impossible to separate the two, they go hand-in-hand during Morrison’s post-college adulthood and working life. Talented and ambitious in a way that her husband was not, Morrison becomes the primary breadwinner. The editor-in-chief position at Redbook appears just as her personal life is falling apart — both her marriage and her newly purchased Brooklyn house. Once she moves in with her husband and newborn son, the house – both roof and basement – leak badly every time it rains. But like many of us, Morrison can’t quit work to deal with her personal problems.
so after a few minutes of giving myself permission to wallow in all that was falling apart, I pulled it back together. I dove headfirst back into the comforting rhythm of meetings to attend, decisions to be made, story ideas to approve, photographs to edit, focusing on bringing my readers the best ideas of what life can be, to inspire in them optimism and comfort. This, in turn, comforted me as well. I have always believed in what I sell, and I sell only what I believe in. And so I spent those long, busy days at work making the magazine more honest and real as well as brighter and happier.
As much as she loves the house, the house must be sold for the divorce. Morrison has to go through an extensive and expensive process of fixing the house, working with plumbers and engineers to find the source of the problems, so that she and her husband can sell the house, split their assets, and finalize their divorce.
The house leaking-marriage ending symbolism struck a strong chord with me. I too got a message that my life was about to change radically, profoundly. My metaphor was my feet. In the years leading up to my decision to end my marriage my feet started hurting. So much so that in the last year before we separated I could not take any long walks;it was too painful. I became acquainted with the connectivity between feet and calves and knees — a connection I never knew about before. I spent months going to physical therapy learning how to stretch — hello Metaphor Central? I got it! – and strengthen my feet, ankles and calves. I could not walk happily again until I accepted that I had to do these exercises. Message: I had to come first before I could take care of anyone. It’s a lesson I have to repeat a lot.
Even as she figures out how to parent her son Zack alone and with Chris, she discovers that old friendships, even as they endure the divorce, as not the same. On one summer vacation with old friends on Cape Cod finds Morrison with the only toddler amongst babies, the only solo parent amongst couples.
When all of us were together in the house, I felt very self-conscious about Zack’s classic toddler behavior, which didn’t bother me in quite the same way at home. here I felt as if it were unsettling the household’s calm order in a way that wasn’t welcome. We kept bumping into rules that I didn’t have at home and that Zack wasn’t prepared for. On Wednesday, he put surface scratches in a much-loved coffee table when we were playing in the living room with Julia, despite the fact that Tina had put a towel on the table to try to protect it; he took all the toys out of the toy basket at once, spreading them around the playroom, while Tina quietly picked up behind him because Julia played with only one toy at a time….
I kept thinking, I hate being a parent alone. If I just had another person here, this wouldn’t be so hard. I needed someone to help entertain Zack. Someone to help discipline him. Someone to distract him. I wonder when I would stop missing my lost partner. I felt weak and worthless that this was where my brain went, and i cursed myself that free time only created the space for me to feel all my fears, all my loss, still. And I felt even more foolish that I had dared to believe that I could let down my guard, relax, be safe.
When I started this memoir, I worried that because I was the one who made the decision to end my marriage, I would read it on the defensive. Would she condemn me, through her husband’s action, for ending my marriage? I didn’t feel that way at all. When Morrison is this blunt, this honest, about her feelings, I see how similar we humans. I too, live with this burden of parenting alone. As the school year ends, I feel a small sense of relief. My children will be spending more time with their father and while I will miss them desperately, I will also get a break from the routine, to breathe a little more slowly. To relax and feel safe.