To My Daughter, During My Divorce

by Madeleine Somerville
A divorced couple sitting with a cartoon house between them in an empty room

I’m sorry.

I wish I could say it more, deeper, differently. I say it almost every day for a million tiny reasons—when you fall down the stairs at the playground and when I forget to bring you something and when you can’t have what you’re asking for. I apologize for a dozen different reasons every day but underneath each casual apology lies something larger. I’m sorry there are just two arms here to hug you. I’m sorry that it’s just me right now. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I wanted more for you. You deserve more. You deserve to be like the other families we see during our adventures around this city—dad, mom, child. All of these little families perfectly balanced on three legs, while we wobble around on two. It feels like we could simply topple over at any time.

It has been hard for me, but the worst is quickly fading like a scar glinting silver instead of angry red. The losses feel less like losses, now, and more like doors opening. Weights are being thrown off off my shoulders; I feel a slowly blooming sense of happiness.

For you, however, there are some losses you will feel for your whole life. No matter which one of your parents you are with, you will find yourself missing the other and knowing they ache, too, missing you. You will go through your life living with half of your family at a time.

No matter how I look back, how much I rationalize, how hard I tried—this fact never changes. You come out the worst in this. You lose the most. I can’t think about that without crying, and I can never apologize enough for being a part in that loss.

We were walking to the park a few weeks ago, holding hands in the bright heat, and you asked me where your brothers and sisters were. Tears immediately sprang to my eyes and I could feel that tight, choking feeling take hold in the back of my throat.

I don’t know how to explain to you that you’ll never have full siblings. I don’t know how to explain that you may not have siblings at all. I’ll never have another baby that looks just like you.

I’ve had to practice letting go of all of this; every day I wake up and practice letting these unrealized futures sift through my clenched fists like sand. I am trying to create something strong enough to replace them. I will have to help you do the same, to accept these losses you don’t even know you’re losing. And as you become more and more aware of the world around you, I will have to become better at answering these questions: about siblings, why you have two houses, and why your parents live in different cities.

I will have to get better at answering your questions without feeling like I’m choking on a loss I can’t explain.

You are so happy, my love. You are bright and soft and your smile is my favorite thing in the world. You are sharply intelligent and deeply considerate. You loyally proclaim someone “my best friend!” after knowing them for mere minutes.

I know you will be fine—you will be more than fine. That never worries me. You are strong and fierce and surrounded by love. I know that you know that. There are worse things in this world than your situation, I know. You won’t—unfortunately—be the only one of your friends whose parents aren’t together.

So, it’s not that this story is terribly unique, it’s just that I never thought it would be my story, and I certainly never thought, when I held you in my arms that first day, that it would be yours.

When you curl up into me at night, or when I pack your suitcase, when you cry when it’s time to leave or time to come back—when you ask if I’m coming with you, and I see that you do not understand why I can’t, and I don’t know how to explain it to you—I can’t apologize enough.

I can’t say sorry deeply enough to reach what I imagine you must be feeling, even if you don’t understand why. Especially because you don’t understand why.

I say the words and I know that you hear them, but I just can’t say it enough. I’m so sorry.

I hope that we can grow strong, even separate. I hope that our family can still stand solidly on three legs, even if they are spread a little further apart than most. I hope that this never feels like less to you. I hope that we can become more than the sum of our parts.

I hope that we can become enough that one day I won’t feel like I need to fill this hole with apologies. I hope that one day I can let go of this deep, aching sense of guilt. I hope the goodbyes will become easier. I hope that one day this will begin to feel okay, and good, and normal, and not like a shabby, hastily taped together version of a family.

I hope that you will have brothers and sisters. I hope that you will feel that crush of annoyance and love and closeness and shared history. And if you don’t, I hope you can create them from your friends and cousins and your passel of crazy aunts and uncles.

You’re okay, sweet pea.

I rub your back when you have nightmares, repeating this like a mantra. I feel your breath slow and I look at the soft night light filtering onto your cheeks and your crazy mop of hair, sweaty with sleep.

I’m sorry…I hope…you’re okay…