the smell of my desperation has become a stench

“I’m lying alone with my head on the phone”

Marlo is sitting in my lap, her feet draped just over the edge of my knees. I hold her close, press my nose into her fine blonde hair while she takes a small mound of blue clay and tries to mold it into a circle. Her body is so tiny, so perfectly shaped for the space against my chest. I will wake up tomorrow and she will be gone, off living her life without me, joy and agony sweeping up against her because my back is no longer big enough to shield it all.

I reach down and hold her foot in my palm. I trace all five of her toes and stop on the smallest one. I draw outlines, fold them up and tuck them away so that at some point I can take them out, lay them flat and run my fingers along the memory.

Leta is busy gathering pillows to build a fort next to the back door. Pillows from the couch, from her bedroom, from the outdoor furniture we brought inside for the winter. Her arms and legs stretch like cross-country roads now, endless and winding and nothing like the stout, dimpled elbows I used to cradle in bed while we watched cartoons.

She throws another pillow onto the pile and then stops, inspects her work and turns to me.

“Mom?” she asks. She doesn’t wait for me to answer. “Why does Dad not sleep here anymore?”

I swallow. She can probably hear it. I let go of Marlo’s foot to tuck my hair behind my ear. I hope my voice doesn’t shake.

“You know when you’re playing with Marlo and need to take a break?” I answer. “You’ll go upstairs because you want to be by yourself. Because that’s what you need.”

“Yeah,” she says, and it sounds like a question.

“Well, sometimes adults need that kind of break, that kind of distance. Dad and I are taking a break.”

She curls her mouth, an outward sign that she’s trying to piece this together. “Is that what you guys need?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I answer. “It’s something we need. And it has nothing to do with you or Marlo or anyone else. It’s just me and Dad.”

“Okay,” she says as she shrugs her shoulders. Without hesitation she runs to find another pillow.


My emotions sit at the bottom of my eyes. I blink often to keep them from rising any higher. In order to get through the day I pretend I’m in a pool, and before I go under water I exhale until there is no more air in my lungs. I sink to the floor and feel the weight of the water all around me, holding me down, blocking out all the noise. Down there I can move my arms and legs and cook dinner and read stories at bedtime.

But my body inevitably revolts and sends me shooting to the surface. I gasp desperately for air, sputtering, and sometimes the water that splashes up from my face makes its way into the words on this page.


The still aching ten-year-old Heather is screaming at me, angry and raw and hurt that this is happening. This isn’t fair. Sometimes when I’m in bed at night I can hear the rapid beating heart of my ten-year-old self as I sat in my father’s lap listening to Air Supply, his tears burning my forehead as he wondered aloud about how things could go so wrong.

How do things go so wrong?

I had put Leta to bed, and then somehow I was standing in the garage with a dog leash in my hand looking up at a pipe running along the ceiling. I don’t remember walking from her room down the stairs, but I looked around at all of this, all of this that I hold together — all of this that is supposed to be perfect and satisfying and perhaps even enviable — and the dog leash made sense. The only way out of my unhappiness was to take myself out of it. The only way out. The only way.

I was sane enough to walk away from that moment, one that occurred a while ago, and standing up to that hopelessness has only made me stronger. But I’m still trying to figure out how I got to the garage in the first place. Because this isn’t a chemical issue. I wish a pill would make all this ongoing, unbearable pain go away.

I’m sad and devastated, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been more stable than I am right now.

No, this is me facing a list of issues that I have neglected, issues that have subsequently settled like dust to the bottom of my soul. And a few weeks of intense running, time spent alone on sidewalks tripping over limitations and physical pain have stirred it all up in a giant, suffocating cloud.


The girls are doing incredibly well. They are our top priority, and the time we spend with them individually is of course made so much more precious. They are surrounded by people who love them, and since I have experience being on their end of things I’m hyper aware of how they are making their way through this. We’ve kept certain things relatively normal for them, as much as we possibly can given the circumstances. They miss their dad in the morning, and I let them feel that emotion without any interference. I have to honor what they are feeling. And then I hug them and tell them that I understand.

Because I do. I understand.

I hope you will at least try to and bear with me as I linger a bit underwater.

  • sweetney

    2012/01/17 at 11:51 am

    Big, huge love to you and the girls. You’ll get through this, and you’ll all be better than okay. xo

  • ccthomson

    2012/01/17 at 11:52 am

    Hugs. You’ll get through it all and be stronger because of it.

  • suesheeme

    2012/01/17 at 11:52 am

    Oh my God. I want to hug you now more than ever.

  • Mom101

    2012/01/17 at 11:53 am

    I can only send good thoughts and love. You are strong. Don’t forget it.

  • luv and kiwi

    2012/01/17 at 11:55 am

    Oh Heather…I knew something was wrong.

    You have a LOT of people thinking of the two of you right now. I wish nothing but good things for the both of you…


  • tokenblogger

    2012/01/17 at 4:08 pm


    How can this be?

    This is the last thing I could ever expect.


    I keep coming back and read it all over again.


  • ThePeanut

    2012/01/17 at 11:55 am

    I’m so sorry to hear this. You guys are in my thoughts.

  • Emmadoula

    2012/01/17 at 11:55 am

    SO sorry to hear. My heart goes out to you, the girls and John. Take as long as you need. Your fans will understand and support you in whatever ways we can. Sending you hugs from afar and hope you will feel this love from us to you.

  • acm

    2012/01/17 at 11:56 am


    wishing you space, air, a breather, calm.
    and ground under you when the chaos comes anyway.
    and time and energy to sort things out the way they need to go.

  • FeyIndigoWolf

    2012/01/17 at 11:56 am

    I’m sorry you and your family are going through this difficult time. I hope you are able to find a way to work through everything.

    My aunt and uncle spent a month apart thinking things through. They got back together at the end of the month and their marriage was stronger for it. I hope the same happens with you guys.

  • The Dalai Mama

    2012/01/17 at 11:56 am

    Time. A break. Such small word for the struggles inherent in their meaning. You all will figure a way through this. Putting the kids first is the most important step.

    Hugs to you and your family.

  • Lo The Phoenix

    2012/01/17 at 12:02 pm

    I hope you both find all that you need, together and apart.

  • jg

    2012/01/17 at 12:02 pm

    Love and strength to you both. Jx

  • Sassafras Mama

    2012/01/17 at 12:02 pm

    I am so sorry to read about the separation. Holding you and your family in the light, confident that y’all will find a way to peace. I’m just one voice, but I’m pulling for you.

  • lisdom

    2012/01/17 at 12:02 pm

    Finding the right words to say in this situation seems impossible. Your online family supports you guys as you go through this.

  • wakeandbake

    2012/01/17 at 12:03 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear this. You guys are in my thoughts.

  • Stevana

    2012/01/17 at 12:03 pm

    Oh honey. Much love to you.

  • ninesandquines

    2012/01/18 at 6:43 am

    “The only way out of my unhappiness was to take myself out of it.” – YES…I have been there. Not in the “I want to end it all” way but to remove myself from a situation where I just wasn’t happy. I know how you feel. I know that this does not make it any easier but know that you have many people thinking about you…sorry you and Jon (and the kids) are going through this…

  • CJ

    2012/01/17 at 12:03 pm

    So often your words have comforted me, encouraged me, and made my life better. My heart is in my throat for you, and I wish I had better words to comfort you and encourage you that these, but I do hope that the comments of everyone will help in some way.

    I will be praying for you and your family. You take all the time you need — the web will wait for you.

  • theurbancowgirl

    2012/01/17 at 12:04 pm

    I arrived at work this morning with a text from my husband saying he wanted to separate. It hurts, so much.

    So much love to you and your girls, Heather.

  • SushiForBaby

    2012/01/17 at 12:05 pm

    I started crying when I read this post. It was like looking in a mirror to my past.

    I cannot tell you how precisely you captured my mindset three years ago. Married with one child, who had become my whole world. But I lost myself. I lost myself in her, in him…I thought it was everything I had ever wanted in life but suddenly I realized it wasn’t.

    The guilt. The denial. The depression.

    I know *exactly* how you feel. I was on the bad end of a suicide hotline. The only way to escape the endlessness was to end it all. But I was smart enough to call, to reach out, to ask for help.

    The road was bumpy. It still is. I can’t lie and say anything you’re going through will be easy. But it does get better. Day by day, up and down. And those two girls will pull you through it. You’ll pull you through it.

    I sat for days, weeks, crying. Mourning the life I thought I wanted. Three years later my ex-husband and I are still good friends and our daughter’s teacher couldn’t even tell she had divorced parents. We have dinner together most nights of the week. We get along better than some still-married parents. Because we work at it. We work at the bigger picture: HER. Our daughter. She is our priority and was the anchor that helped us navigate those rocky days, weeks, months.

    Do the best you can every day, and that is all you can do. Some days your best will be messy hair and sweatpants. Other days it will include a shower. Give yourself time and permission to be gentle on yourself.

    Be the valedictorian of being Heather every day. No more. Just be and keep breathing.

    And remember you are loved.

  • Marissa13

    2012/01/17 at 12:07 pm

    I want to give you a hug and margarita and tell you everything will work out for the best — even though neither of us really knows.

    I’m so, so sorry you and Jon and the girls are going through this.

  • radiantlisa

    2012/01/17 at 12:11 pm

    My heart goes out to you. Things will turn out for the best, even if the road there takes you through every kind of hell you can imagine. I’m just finishing up my year of mourning the death of my almost 25-year-old marriage, so I say with confidence, you will survive, even if the you that exists at the end of your journey is not who you’d expect her to be. [[[hugs]]] You’ll be in my thoughts.

  • awholelotofnothing

    2012/01/17 at 12:11 pm

    Let your girls guide you through, knowing they are your rock.

  • Laurie

    2012/01/17 at 12:11 pm

    Sending peace and love your way. You’re not alone.

  • Mindy Lee

    2012/01/17 at 12:12 pm

    I’m so saddened to read this. Much love to you, to John, and to your beautiful girls.

  • Hagan Squared

    2012/01/17 at 12:13 pm

    I am so, so sorry you are going through this. You and Jon and the girls are in my thoughts. Much love to you all.

  • darango

    2012/01/17 at 12:13 pm

    Oy! That’s Yiddish for “That sucks, I wish I had a time machine so I could work around this.”

    I hope you remain safe.

  • Heather_O

    2012/01/17 at 12:15 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear this. Much love to you, Jon, Leta and Marlo.

    And don’t worry, your readers aren’t going anywhere.

  • Issa

    2012/01/17 at 12:19 pm

    Tons of love to you and the girls.

  • LyzL

    2012/01/17 at 12:19 pm

    Oh, Heather and Jon. I love you both and I wish the best for you both.

    I think the thing with the internet is that when you open your life to so many people, your joys and pain become shared by people you don’t even know. People who love you like family. People like me who are sad that you are sad and wish for you nothing but happiness, even thought I know that to get to happiness sometimes things have to suck.

    I am hoping the best for your family.

  • Marinka

    2012/01/17 at 12:20 pm

    I know that the girls are your priority. But you have to be a priority, too. Sending my best to you.

  • tnzed

    2012/01/17 at 12:20 pm

    I had to read this twice to truly understand what I was reading. Love and hugs to you, Jon, and your sweet girls.

  • Mom2Gizmo

    2012/01/17 at 12:22 pm

    This hurts my heart. I feel like this can’t possibly be happening to your family…hugs to your beautiful girls and you and Jon as you work through this. I never post (although I read regularly) but this was something I had to comment on…you must know how many people support you, and love you, and want to see this turn out well in the end. ((hugs))

  • jenmata

    2012/01/17 at 12:24 pm

    I’m not going to pretend I know you or your family just because I read your blog. But I was sad when I read this, as sad as I would be for “real life” friends.I’m so sorry, I really, truly hope it works out and you guys find your way back to being happy together. Stay strong, and know you have an army of people rooting for you. Hugs.

  • Susabelle

    2012/01/17 at 12:26 pm

    I know that sometimes and its Community turns into a mind-numbing distraction for me, and I end up spending too much time here. I become distanced from my much-more-important everyday life. So I step away and take a long break and put everything back in perspective. Maybe you need to take a break from too.

  • knolting

    2012/01/17 at 12:28 pm

    Thinking of you all.

  • Rosie R

    2012/01/17 at 12:32 pm

    Oh, Heather, I am so sorry to hear this. I had wondered why you looked so sad in your last photo. I will be thinking of the four of you, and wishing you as much ease and comfort as is possible.

  • Katie

    2012/01/17 at 12:33 pm

    Shit, sorry you’re going through this. I hope you and Jon are able to find peace and happiness.

  • CitronDrop

    2012/01/17 at 12:36 pm

    Sending you so many good thoughts!

  • virtualcarly

    2012/01/17 at 12:38 pm

    I’m so sorry. I am thinking of you, pulling for you, and sending out my hope that you will feel comforted in the dark moments.

  • fableq

    2012/01/17 at 12:38 pm

    Oh, hugs and love! This particular pain is far to real and far to familiar to me right this moment.

  • Deserex

    2012/01/17 at 12:41 pm

    OMG!!!! I’M SO SORRY FOR ALL OF YOU! Please know that your blog friends are there for each of you. Someone shared something with me that I want to now share with you: Relationships are like houses. When you first buy a new house, you love it, and it makes you happy to walk in the front door. Over time the “newness” wears off and it’s in need of many repairs. Over much time, you would need to have 2 or 3 things fixed before you can fix the main thing. At this point it just makes more sense to go buy a new house, but eventually the new house will need repairs too. You can’t keep buying new houses, so stop and see what kind of “remodeling” you can do to the house you have now. You need to also be sure to use the right kind of tools, because you can’t hammer a nail with a putty knife. XOXOXO

  • Kikimarcus

    2012/01/17 at 12:44 pm

    My husband and I were disgustingly happy. All our life plans coming together much sooner than we expected that we quickly realized we were going to have to make new ones. Such an exciting and joyful time for us. Then he dropped dead of a heart attack. I became a widow at 37. That was a year and a half ago.

    It hurts my heart to see lives fall apart. I hope like hell that you and Jon can work this out. However your future comes to you, there is life on the other side of cutting pain, is what I want to share.

    Your blog has been a shinning little star in my days during the darkest year and a half I’ve ever experienced. Thank you for that gift. May you have many shinning stars during some of your dark nights.

  • Mme Wong

    2012/01/17 at 12:45 pm

    Big hugs all around.
    Thinking of you all, and wishing you peace.

  • kristanhoffman

    2012/01/17 at 12:49 pm

    “Without Pain, How Could We Know Joy?”

    This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.

    – The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

    I thought you might appreciate that, Heather.

    I wish I knew what more to say, but all I have is this: I feel for you.

  • MissCaron

    2012/01/17 at 12:50 pm

    Much love to you all at this very difficult time. I do pray that you are able to work things out between you and Jon. I pray that y’all are able to both remember what held you together in the first place and grow to understand what is needed to make it work for the long term. God bless.

  • girlfriday

    2012/01/17 at 12:52 pm

    We are rooting for you.

  • preppypitbull

    2012/01/17 at 12:56 pm

    I am really really sorry to read this, but I know that you’ll get through it and be stronger because of it. Keep working and keep your head up. Know that you are in many peoples thoughts and prayers. Please keep being strong. Sending lots of love and hugs from Pennsylvania.

  • MadelaK

    2012/01/17 at 1:00 pm

    Oh Heather, I’m so sorry. I hope that you and Jon can figure things out. Much love to your family.

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Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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