By Ann Bodle-Nash
The day I heard he was leaving I was shocked. My eldest daughter’s husband of fifteen years, a forty-eight-year-old who sports a reddish beard and a ball cap, and drives a shiny pickup truck. Father to their only child. I had encouraged the purchase of the truck, supporting this man’s dream, when my daughter had demurred. It turned out the truck was useful.
Now it would be useful for his belongings, as he transported the contents of his side of the two-car garage to his new apartment. An apartment with a garage, where he will attempt to rebuild his life—reconstructing a warren of shelving units to house his camping gear, car-care products, gardening tools, survival food cache. His numerous hiking boots. His build-stuff tools.
We were blindsided: our daughter, her daughter, and we, the parents of our daughter aged forty-one. We are seventy-two and seventy-one, having weathered many a marriage storm ourselves over forty-seven years.
There is never a good time for a marriage to fall apart, but having a granddaughter on the cusp of puberty seems a particularly poignant moment. Olivia, a name that rolls off the tongue with the grace of a French ballet dancer. A maker of beaded bracelets with a rainbow of colors. A singer with the sweetness of a backyard wren. A girl who loves to run fast, around a track or on a soccer field. These qualities will serve her well in the next years as she navigates between parents.
And so the dance begins. How to be equitable with the assets, both the home and a shared child. Friendships, the extended family ties, the garden greenhouse—all teetering now. The bomb of broken love exploding with collateral damage.
Our daughter has removed scores of photos from her family gallery wall. The ones of her and her husband in their early days, on-vacation happiness in exotic locales—hand in hand or posing for photographers, rendered in black and white or full color. Wedding photos. The young family-with-baby photos. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays. Fifteen-years-plus of joined memories. Now headed for the dustbin or a dark cedar chest or a box in the garage earmarked for Olivia years from now, so she will have tangible evidence of what was. My son helped her remove the photos.
I said to daughter, “It must have been painful to take them all down.”
She said, “yes.”
I could hardly bear the emptiness of the walls, the son-in-law’s erasure as if he had died, not chosen to leave. Is one easier than the other I wonder?
Has something shifted in this world in response to climate change, territorial wars, the Pandemic? Has tolerance for ordinary routines eroded? Has the will to continue when life feels flat-lined vanished? Or did the husband fall out of LOVE? What is love anyway?
I bought a mid-sized rhododendron (bright pink says the tag), fully-budded, ready to be planted. I bought it for my daughter to mark her new life. It barely fit in the car, blocking my rear view as I sped down the freeway, relying on my side mirrors—a trick I learned one year as a school bus driver, when mirrors are your best friend for collision avoidance. It’s often not enough, but it’s a baseline. I named the rhody Angel.
I bought a new shovel as a gift, grabbed gardening gloves from home, and visualized where the shrub would be located. A spot the soon-to-be-ex had always kept free from plantings, near the front door. It was a bare spot, perhaps in the marriage as well as the yard. I needed to plant this rhododendron in that spot, where it could flourish in partial shade. It is the state flower of Washington after all; we are accustomed to shadows.
I had not expected overlapping layers of weed cloth, or the resistance it expressed. The shovel could not pierce the cloth to reach the earth. In my garden, weeds propagate more freely. I have no weed cloth safety net, no deterrence to surprise encounters. I am more free-form in my living. Others lead more defined lives, preventing weeds from even thinking about appearing. But it does not stop the weeds from considering, like a man leaving a marriage. Occasionally they pierce the veil.
With kitchen scissors, daughter and I cut openings in the cloth, making large Xs until we can see the grey clay. I watched for the gas line and electrical lines but saw only the weed cloth and underneath the welcoming earth. I kept digging. It takes a big hole in which to plant new life. Or is it that it takes a large something to fill a big hole? In yards as well as hearts.
I miss her ex already. Often, he was helpful to me. We laughed a lot during those fifteen years. He called me Mom. I finally called him son. I can’t summon the strength to speak to him now. The destruction is too close, too difficult, too raw.
But we recently gathered to celebrate Olivia’s birthday and our other daughter Laura’s birthday. They nearly share the day—-separated by four minutes—-they are both quick to point out. It brought our remaining family together: siblings, daughter-in-law, boyfriend, and parents. The nuclear family intact, with beloved extras. We will all remember this day—- of milestones and new beginnings, even when the sky is dark and rumbling and spattered. Candles on cakes, a new rhody in the yard, emptiness in the garage. Hearts broken.
Copyright Bodle-Nash 2023