I left my daughter a note by her bed letting her know I was taking her younger brother to school, then going for a short run, and would be home in a half-hour. She had gone to bed the night before feeling sick, and by the sound of her breathing, I could tell she was stuffy so I let her sleep and called her school to let them know she would be home for the day. I was relieved to be honest; I didn’t want to be alone that day.
My husband and I are separating, and I have been filled with equal parts relief and guilt.
When I arrived back home, she was weeping in her father’s chair. Her face wasn’t just red and blotchy — she didn’t even resemble my 11-year-old daughter. Her puffy eyes shot up at me. She looked lost. I ran over to her. Damn, I should have stayed home. I suck. I absolutely fucking suck.
“I don’t want Dad to move out,” she said as I got down on my knees and wrapped my arms around her. And the guilt — it didn’t just come and swallow me whole so I could feel it all at once. It took huge, painful bites out of me, one at a time. I could feel its teeth twisting and turning. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever felt. It was greasy and left me feeling dirty. I couldn’t get ahold of it. I sat there and let it beat me. It was enough to make me question my myself as a mother like I never have before. Who did I think I was going for a run and leaving her alone after we had dropped this bomb the night before?
And the next day when I dropped my youngest off at school and saw tears spilling out of his eyes and soaking the front of his fleece jacket, I didn’t know if I should make him go or let him stay home. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and keep him safe and tell him his father and I had changed our minds. What kind of mother sends her kids to school when they are upset because their father is moving out? What kind of mother lets her child skip school because they are sad?
I will tell you: A fucking real mother who loves her children so much she is fighting her way through the day for them — and I have done both.
The guilt — it comes in waves, but those waves wrap around me, every inch of me, they take me to their deepest, secret places. They suck me in hard and fast, and I can’t breathe, yet all I can do is breathe. Everything else is too much. They don’t release me until they are ready. Those waves of guilt are enough to make me change my mind and put on a mask for my kids. To try to rebuild again, to try to salvage what we can until they are older, to try to forget the pain. Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to separate my feelings from theirs. I want them to be happy, yes, but I also need them to be happy — for me, it is selfish, I know. But that’s the reality of motherhood. And making them happy by making myself unhappy doesn’t compute for me, even when I feel like we are doing the right thing.
Besides, I am sure the guilt will still visit me regularly, regardless. It will come, sit upon my shoulder, and remind me I am not being honest; that I am a big fat liar who doesn’t believe she is worthy of the possibility of seeing what is down this unpaved path. Not worthy of the happiness that I am praying to God is out there somewhere, whatever it looks like.
I can push the guilt down, I can try to wring its neck, I can kick it with all my might, but the guilt, it always comes back to me.
People tell me not to feel guilty, that it will be better for all of us after the “hard part” is over, and I wish that was enough to make it go away. But it’s not going anywhere, and so I need to use it to my advantage. I will use it like it has used me. I will suck the life out of it like it has sucked the life from me.
This guilt, this fucking guilt, will make me a better mother. It will help me pay attention to my children’s feelings more; it will help me pay attention to my own feelings more. It will make me a better person. I will use it to make me feel all the things that I want to feel that I’ve pushed back for so long because I’ve been dealing with the what-ifs and living in the in-between.
I am person who loves deep, and I hurt hard. I’ve never been one to be ultra-private, or paint a pretty picture of my life when the pretty picture isn’t the truth, and of course there’s guilt associated with that too. I’m guilty right now because I’m sitting here writing about it, wondering if I should just shut up, but fuck that. Writing is my meditation, and I need to do it.
Whenever I have been feeling like I’m in the middle of a shitstorm, there’s always something that pops up in front of me; sometimes I find out a friend is going through the same thing, or I see a story in the news, or read an article about someone who has been through something similar (or much harder), but they come out stronger. They always seem to come out stronger — better than ever.
This guilt has planted itself inside me, it is embedded in my heart and soul, and I cannot get rid of it. But I get to decide. I decide if I feed it, or starve it. I decide if I am going to let it eat me alive and keep me from moving forward. I decide if I can tell my story in hopes of helping someone else.
Me, not the guilt. Me. I run this now.