Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

“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.

  • Round Rock Gal

    Wishing you peace & clarity during this difficult time. I hope this is just a rough patch that you can Jon can overcome.

    It took forever to log onto the website and even longer to make a comment, so I think your readers are here to support you no matter what.

    Hugs to all of you!

  • Kar

    Well. Hell. I’m sorry. You, Jon, and the girls are in my thoughts. I’ve been divorced for 11 years. It’s got it’s own problems. I don’t need to tell you that. I hope you can work things out, but either way, there’s life on the other side. For all of you.

  • k.wren

    I am sorry to hear this, but I am sending lots of good thoughts and love your way. Stay strong Heather, you are amazing.

  • PLMsMama

    Heather! My heart is heavy for your family. I know that you and Jon will make it through this . . . with those little munchkins by your sides.

  • waitimaprincess

    Fuck. Just. Fuck. Don’t stay in the water too long, come up for air when you need to, and know that we will be here with the highest thread count (possibly stolen) towels you could ever imagine.

  • Laura Wattles

    Well crap. I’m so sorry to hear that. It just goes to show me that imagining someone else’s perfect life and comparing it to my own is ridiculous, because we all have our own problems to bear. Thoughts are with you.

  • MelissaJ

    i am sorry. i am sure you and Jon are doing everything you can to work this out.

    you two work well together.

    i hope this is a bump…a break…and the realization you are better together than apart.

    prayers will be said.

  • cdw43

    Wow Heather. I’ve never commented here before but this made stop in my tracks. I am so sorry to hear about this. I have no words of wisdom, but I will keep you and the girls in my thoughts.

  • apgordon

    Dang, Heather – I’m sorry to hear that. Well, here’s one more wishing you, the girls and Jon all happiness at the end of this tough situation.

  • slappyintheface

    oh honey … I am so sorry

  • napangel

    I am so, so sorry, Heather. I’m thinking of all of you.

  • tracy

    Sitting here in disbelief, once again realizing that individuals or relationships aren’t always what they seem to be. I hope that doesn’t sound incredibly awful & cruel, and I think (hope?) you probably know what I mean when I say that?

    I so hope that you & Jon are able to work through whatever needs to be worked through (individually & as a couple) so that you find your way back to one another. I feel confident in saying that despite whatever personal issues need to be addressed (trust me…I know all about the list of buried bullshit that needs to be worked through to become whole again…or whole for the first time ever), you & Jon have built a true partnership based on trust – something I realized my future ex-husband & I didn’t nurture, and is now one of the (many) reasons for our pending divorce.

    Many, MANY hugs to the Armstrong family.

    xoxo
    @mamacreates

  • mommica

    You all have been through so much together. You’ll get through this, too. Love to the whole fam.

  • Sarasnee

    This makes my heart ache for you all. I hope that this is something resolvable, much like going up to your room to get some space from Marlo. I hope that’s exactly what you need.

    All my hugs. I’m so sorry.

  • Scott-5×5

    Of all the things you said in this post, “standing up to that hopelessness” is the heaviest, most significant. If you have done that, you have done the hardest part. Love to all of you.

  • sweetpotatopie

    Oh Heather. I’m so sorry. You know what they say: If you find yourself going through hell, keep going.

    Whatever happens, you will be ok. Just please, please do whatever you have to do to stay away from the dog leashes; that is the one thing your daughters could NEVER recover from. (My husband was 5 years old when he found his father, laying underneath the exhaust pipe of the family car inside the garage. He spent the next 40 years believing he should have been able to save his father.)

    Hugs to you and Jon and the girls. Your readers and friends and family are here for you.

  • ejmccartin

    so sorry to hear about this rough patch. may all of you find the peace you are looking for together or apart.

    (am I allowed to root for the together?)

  • Paddle Board Girl

    Remember to breathe…I have been in your shoes, and it’s hard to remember that sometimes. Amazing things happen when everything falls apart. My husband and I even bought a second house down the street a few years ago, in the throes of our marriage ending, so that our kids could walk between the houses. We are back together and our marriage is stronger than before, having survived the hell of separation and very good therapy, separately and together. I wish you peace.

  • greeblemonkey

    I am sending hugs to you all. Whatever happens, you are strong, wonderful people and you will find the best way for your family.

  • melanie

    really, truly hate to hear this. much love to you all. you have so many people out there rooting for the very best for you, whatever that may be.

  • Kelly_09

    Wow. As a child of divorce, I want to offer this advice regarding the girls:when it comes time to tell Leta what is really going on(that time WILL come eventually), be prepared for some really intense moments. I’d also have a child therapist’s number on hand in case the anger manifests itself in a really bad way(my sister wound up in therapy after my parents split last year).

    It gets better. Sending hugs your way. Just remember that when you decide to surface, there will a ton of people here to stand behind you and help dry you off with the softest towels in the world

  • sleighly

    Sending all my good thoughts your way. Truly.

  • afrazier

    Peace, Heather. You are loved by so many, and we’re here for you during this difficult time. You brought so many of us through our own difficult times because of your words and stories (and pictures of Chuck), and I hope that our words, at least in part, will do the same for you. You are a beautiful, strong woman and mother, and I have faith in you. My love goes out to you, Jon, Leta, and Marlo. Again, peace, Heather.

  • carrieb

    Heather, have you read this letter that Stephen Fry wrote to a girl who was suffering from depression? He suffers from bipolar disorder. I find his words very true and very comforting:

    http://dot-dot-dot.tumblr.com/post/15791808428/i-didnt-think-i-could-love-stephen-fry-more

    Best to you!

  • Palesa

    Oh, how very sad. I am so sorry 🙁

    My thoughts are with you all. I think it is wonderful that you are taking so much care to make this easier on the girls. But as other commenters have said, don’t forget to prioritise yourself. Be kind to yourself, and let others be kind to you and do things for you while things are hard like this. Sending you love and big hugs over the Internet, and I hope you find a path through this in the days and weeks that come. You take care, Heather, you are in our thoughts, take the space and the pause that you need to heal yourself

    xx

  • laura.elaine

    heather,

    i’ve not been gifted with eloquent speech, but please know my heart is with each of you today. i’m so sorry. i hope you feel the warmth of all of us. thank you for letting us into your heart, and for accepting the love and support of so many “strangers”.

    you are beautiful, lovable, and deserving. you are a role model for me and others, i’m sure. your transparency and honesty is refreshing. sending you and all involved an abundance of love and light. (“oodles of love and light” is what I wanted to write — so that too.)

    xoxo
    laura in texas

  • jennytalia

    Wow, I’ve got nothing…except f*** that sucks.
    One day, your girls will thank you for how you guys are choosing to handle this. Good for you for putting them first. x

  • Janet Payton

    I knew when I read the Air Supply lyrics in your title that we were in for a heart breaker. Wishing you and your family peace and healing as the sadness moves through you.

  • Celeste24

    Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Divorce doesn’t solve anything it just give you a new set of problems to deal with.
    I am so sorry to hear you and the kids are going through this. Stay strong.

  • lucidlotus

    I’m so sorry.

  • calvy78

    You’ll get through this. Keep writing. Thanks for sharing your life with us. No one expects it to be perfect. Hugs.

  • TheMeg

    I’m so glad you didn’t hurt yourself. Gosh, reading that really scared me.

  • Regency Romantic

    Oh, darlin’, I am so sorry. Your brave, honest writing has helped me shoulder so much; I wish I could help you shoulder some of this somehow. All my best thoughts for healing and peace for y’all. Take care of yourself. Be well.

  • i.delia

    My parents have been married since 1968, except for that one year that they separated. My parents did not involve me in the reasons (infidelity?)other than to say it was what was for the best. I didn’t agree of course, but what say does a child have?

    A year or so transpired, they never spoke a disparaging word about each other and still spent quality time with me. I was hollow inside, but what child isn’t when they don’t have two happy parents?

    When they eventually got back together I harbored no resentment because they never burdened me with things a child shouldn’t worry about. that was business between two adults, but not their only child.

    The thing I remember most about that time is the inordinate amount of mac and cheese my mother & I had to eat because my parents were paying for my dad’s apartment and money was very tight.

    I hope the same can happen for you guys.

  • MaLo

    Hugs to you. I’m honored that you’ve shared this with us.

    Mirror to what I’m feeling right now. Unsure of the future. Still caring deeply. Wanting to do what’s best for all.

    Hang in there. You have a world supporting you right now.

  • mightymarce

    My heart breaks for you while reading this. It feels odd to say this to someone I don’t even know but lots of love to you both (to ALL of you) and best of luck in navigating this difficult time.

  • kartasi

    It’s hard to believe I can feel so sad for a stranger, but I do, so know that there’s a stranger in DC sending you and your girls good thoughts, positivity, and hope. I’ve been reading long enough to know that you are an impossibly strong woman and you will make it through this.

  • evergrey

    Thinking of you and your family and wishing for good to come from this. Hugs and much love.

  • petit hiboux

    Heather, I am so sorry to hear this – it’s absolutely true how one commenter put it, which is that we feel as though we’ve been guests in your home for these past ten years, and as such we’ve become so close to your family and invested in your happiness. For as much as the web can seem like an echo chamber, it is also this very intimate place, and we have been lucky to be along for the ride with you and your family.

    So I wish for you that whatever path your marriage takes, it brings you both peace and resolution, and I am sure you two will take it with the same grace and strength, determination and humor that you have both exhibited to us, your online community and virtual friends and family.

  • Ralemap

    Sweet Heather, I am thinking of you, Jon, and your girls. You are an amazing woman. Add me to the list of people who are rooting for you.

  • malisams

    Dammit all. I’m so sorry. Rousting every bit of good karma I may have accrued and sending it all your family’s way.

  • wordsbecomeone

    I am so shocked, and so sorry, and so honored that you would be so honest. You hate to hear this, but Jesus loves you and is there if you need Him.

  • christinenicole1

    Oh wow. I knew something was up. First…be safe and well, YOU come first. Second, the web will wait. We all love you and support you. Third, and final, remember you are amazing and you love those girls with every little piece of your being, and that alone is ENOUGH. IT. IS. ENOUGH. everything else can wait right now. Trust yourself.

    love to you and your family.

    **As an aside…i made the decision after at least 5 years of thinking, wondering, second guessing and feeling guilty to divorce. i have a 13 year old stepson (whom i have had in my life 50% of the time since he was born and consider my SON) and a beautiful, precious, breathtaking six year old girl. it was the HARDEST decision of my life. Six months after i can say i still have those moments of ‘wtf, was it really that bad, am i permanently damaging my kids, couldn’t i suck it up ten more years?’…but those moments are now, after six months, far and few between…almost fully masked by the feeling of wonder and awe at the strength and beauty which is ME. and i’m a better mother for it. period.

  • GlassofWin

    Oh, wow, this was the last thing I expected. =( Oh, Heather, I hope you and Jon are able to work through it all. Much love to all six of you (because of course the mutts must be included in said love!) Been reading your blog since 2003 and this is definitely the biggest shocker of them all.
    *super tight Internet hugs of love & fan support*

  • Sabine

    So sorry to read this, Heather. Love love love to all of you.

  • knittygrrrl

    sweet heather. i am so sorry. i have been there. huge hugs from massachusetts. love to all of you.

  • lcarilo

    So hard, right? I don’t know how to do it. I feel bad about it for my own kids; dad & I separated, living under same roof. Internal apologies to my kids eating me alive. Having “experience” doesn’t make it easier, does it? Sorry.

  • LesleyG

    When I was finally old enough to talk with my mother about my parents’ split I had some sense to ask her what it felt like, to be a “single mother” suddenly. And she said what I’ll never forget, that she had been practicing it so long already in her mind and in her actions at home with my father that it wasn’t the blow she thought. Sure, there were other blows, but that somehow reassured her that she was still sane enough to piece together in her mind what a different life could look like. We always have that ability in us, I think.
    Sending much love and prayers to all of you.

  • jclarenbach

    I made a login just so I could leave you a wee note saying that I’m so sorry you’re in this place. Whatever happens next, you’re all such strong and loving people that it will be okay. Whatever it looks like.

  • Yolanda

    Oh this made me weep. For you. For Jon. For the girls. For my own love affair with this family and the story I’ve followed for almost a decade on this blog.

    And I’m crying for me. Because my marriage is in deep shit right now. And this didn’t give me any hope that we’re going to come out of this okay.

    I’m so, so sorry that you’re in this place right now. And I’m so glad you walked out of that garage. Alive.