An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

“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.

  • anniavee

    I’m sorry. Please take care of yourself.

  • RDQueena

    So sorry…

    I couldn’t breathe when I read this. You’ve been making me laugh for years and now your pain feels personal to me somehow.

    Stay strong and visualize everyone out here holding your hand.

    Love…

  • greenplanner

    Oh.Fuck.No. life is not fair, that’s for sure.
    It hurts to even imagine what you’re going through right now. I’m sorry.
    I’ve been there.

    It gets better.
    I promise.

  • Not Marlo

    Deep breaths to you both.

    As someone who separated and worked it out, wanted to share yes that does happen, but these times oh they can be dark. However, without that darkness we would never have found the light. Really. And if you ever want to talk to someone who’s gone through it, you can always PM. We’re all real people here.

    Wishing you both all the best and mending to heavy hearts.

  • gretchie

    This summer, my best friend and her husband broke up. They are working towards a divorce. It’s been hard to watch. Their child is “one of ours” and my little girl’s BFF. When there is stress, we gladly take her in for a day or two and make sure she has a great time. I’m so glad you have such a healthy attitude towards your daughters’ feelings. Sometimes I wish my friend and her husband were as good you and John are. Neither of them have a day of counseling in them, and they have enough trouble honoring their own feelings, let alone each other’s, and their daughter’s. Although, I really feel my friend is truly doing the best she can, and loving her child the best way she knows how – I would never say she’s neglecting her!

    Just the same, I feel so sad, I’m in denial. I selfishly want you all to work it out, because if you do, maybe divorce won’t happen to me one day. Which tells you how closely I identify with you! Really though, as long as you continue to honor the girls’ feelings, and your own, I wish you whatever life arrangement brings you the most peace and oneness. To paraphrase a previous poster, you do not have to be the valedictorian of marriage or motherhood or blogging, you just have to be the valedictorian of being YOU.

    Whatever you difficulties, and I hope neither of you were being out-and-out cads (I can’t deal with that just yet), it is so so so true that you cannot know what happens behind closed doors. You spoke about your angry outbursts toward John at times, and I hoped that he would always be so forgiving. Maybe only had one side of the story, maybe I just wanted to believe your relationship would triumph. It may yet.

    And if it doesn’t, phooey. You are not your break-up.

    “Just when the caterpillar thought the world had come to an end, he became a butterfly.”

  • NoLongerEvil

    I’m so sorry.

  • filmlady11

    Many many hugs for you and the girls and Jon. Stay safe, stay strong, and keep using your words to help make sense of a senseless situation. Much love and support for you, beautiful lady.

  • Eleven

    We love you all, no matter what.

  • sarahfromthenorth

    Hmm .. don’t even know you personally and this has me tearing up :(. I hope you get to a place where it all makes sense again.

    Praying for all of you! It must be so scary for you and Jon .. sounds like you are doing the best from letting the kids get in the middle, good for you!!

    I sure hope you are back to your spunky self soon Heather. (((hugs))) to you sweetie!

    Jon .. hang in there, thinking of you too, this has got to be so so hard!

  • Sarina

    Like so many other readers, I am rooting for you and Jon to make it over this big-ass bump in the road. Thanks for sharing … you are continuing to help others through your awesome, natural gift of communication. Good luck.

  • sweetsalty kate

    Needless to say, I can relate. Lingering in it with you.

  • Lish

    I wish you peace and easier breathing.
    Whatever it takes to get you and your family to the other side, wherever the other side happens to be.

  • George

    Oh, I’m so, so sorry.
    Much love to you all.

  • twirlyShells

    Love, love, love is all I can think for you all right now. I know you’ll get through this, whatever the outcome. You’re one of the strongest people I know — stay strong for yourself and the girls!

  • beez27

    1- Thank you for writing about this and for allowing us to “see” your pain.

    2- It sucks .. big, giant, donkey balls.

    3- I hope that made you smile even ever so briefly.

    4- You are an inspiration to myself and so many others. We come here and you make us feel like we are close friends, so even though we’ve never met, I cried when I read this post. My own parents separated when I was in high school so I’ve always related to the kids who’ve been in the situation, but now I can relate to the adults. I can’t imagine what it must take to just get up and make breakfast and get through the entire day, but keep doing it. Leta and Marlo are blessed to have you as a mother.

  • DCruz

    I wish there were something I could do. You are so strong and so brave. Don’t give up. So much love to you!

  • raven1bandit

    I, too, understand. I am so so sorry for your pain. I wish the best for all of you. I struggled with believing it could all last forever. A child of divorce never really believes. I believe you know if you want to push through. If you do want to push through and if you do push with all you have, you will be glad you did. I am.

  • annecat

    Oh God, Heather. I was afraid something like this was what was happening, largely based on one of Jon’s recent posts. All my most positive thoughts to you.

  • Mini Purl

    you just keep breathing

    it gets better, i promise

  • kmpinkel

    God, been there as a kid and as an adult. You hit the nail on the head, dear one. This kind of thing can only be described as gross. To go through it-its just gross. My heart aches for you both, all of you. In the chaos of the tunnel of conflict there is always a light at the end. Keep looking for the light and it will eventually embrace you with all its warmth and love. Praying for you all.

  • vanvactorm

    So hard to read the pain seeping through your words. Seeping sounds so 8th-grade essayish, but I wish you, Jon, Leta and Marlo comfort through this next stage. Take comfort in the little joys of your girls and know that you and Jon, by keeping their lives happy, will be letting your love live on through them, every single day. No matter what tomorrow holds.

  • wicked opinion

    I’m sorry you and your family are going through a hard time. You are in my prayers and thoughts. Love and hugs.

  • JessicaM

    Well, this sucks. I am so sorry that you, Jon, Leta and Marlo are going through a rough patch in your family. I hope that you can find ways to be kind and gentle with each other, and re-discover the joy and hope that you had in your lives together. Marriages do have their ups and downs…and sometimes you do need a break to find your footing again.

    If not, I hope that you can find ways to be kind and gentle with each other, and grow stronger individually.

    Love to you all.

  • auntstacey

    I’m so so sorry – I hope it gets better soon.

  • Karoons

    I’ve been reading your blog since 2003 and have very rarely commented. But I wanted to say I’m thinking of you.

    I know from what you’ve written that your parents divorce had a negative impact on you. My parents teetered on the edge of divorce for years before finally taking the plunge when I was 16 and it was the best decision they could have made for my sister and I. It would have been far, far easier on us if they had done it much earlier, before we had not just seen and heard, but also picked up on all sorts of things going on in our home. What I’m trying to say is that if this ends up being permanent, it’s not automatically the worst outcome as far as your girls are concerned. In the long term, the happier you are, the happier they will be. I promise.

    And oh, how so many people who only met you through your writing wish you every happiness, in whichever way you find it.

  • Anu

    I’m often struck by how similar I am to my parents. But just because I look like them and act like them doesn’t mean I have to live like them. You both can make this marriage work! You guys have been wonderful lovers and parents so it must mean something that the universe brought you both together and produced such a wonderful family. Hang in there you both. This too shall pass.

  • ladygray

    i can’t find any words that don’t feel woefully inadequate. so i just want to say: i am sending you and your family so much love.

  • Vikiroo

    Sending lots of positive energy your way. You have helped me through some tough days and never even knew it. I’m wishing I could do the same.

  • katielynnebloom

    Your honesty on here through your trials has helped so many before (myself included) and it will help many again (yourself included). You’re in my prayers.

  • Cool_Mable

    So very sorry for what you are going through. May you, Jon and your children find moments of clarity and peace as you maneuver through this time. I send your family love.

  • pyjamasandtea

    Oh poor you, poor Jon… I’ve been there. Its the hardest thing. But because its so hard– rock bottom… you will climb back out. I’m sure you know this already… but it bears hearing again. There are all kinds of families, and you will find a way to make yours work, however it is assembled. You both seem so strong and talented, funny and smart, and obviously dedicated to your kids. I look forward to hearing how you move forward, because you surely will.

  • loisopal

    You’ll get a billion of these, but as a several year reader, I can’t help but say something in hopes that just seeing how many people care about you will help, somehow.

    I guess you don’t realize how much you care about the bloggers who put it all out there every day for you to read until they are forced to lay it out like this. Suddenly you realize what tremendous courage it takes to write, what that writing means to all of us.

    I hope you can stay in that stable healthy place, that you get through this knowing the truth (you ARE strong, you CAN do this.)And I hope the best for you and Jon and the girls. We’ll still be here when you get back, Lady Dooce.

  • azonicbruce

    Wow. Just wow. I don’t usually comment. In fact I don’t think I ever have, but have been following for years. Truly, I’ve never felt more insight and help than reading about your life experience, your struggles, and how you’ve tried your best to deal with them. I truly feel for you and your family, and hope that you’ll be able to work things out. Hang in there Heather, don’t give up. You’ve helped so many people, especially me and my family, in ways you just don’t realize. I’m sure there are many who feel the same way. Hang in there.

  • courtneylyn76

    Over the years, I have seen so many parallels in my life to yours (2 amazing little girls [one with constipation issues], depression), but this path is one I wouldn’t want to share with anyone. I audibly gasped when I read this post because it’s like you’d been in my brain. I get out of bed every single day only for my daughters – if I didn’t have them to live for, I would have let the depression overwhelm me long ago.

    I’m sending my thoughts and love to you, and I think mine count double because they don’t have to travel as far (I’m in the Ogden area). ♥♥♥

  • poohbeargs

    As someone who is currently working to find the courage to leave my marriage and start over on my own, I really felt this post resonating with me. I am so sorry that you are going through something like this, and I will be thinking about you and wishing you strength and peace. Your girls are so lucky to have you.

  • HiImChloe

    No words. Just another comment to let you know you’re not alone. Sending love from Canada.

  • dessessopsid

    “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies” – Mother Teresa.

  • Ames422

    My thoughts keep coming back to you, Jon, Marlo, and Leta. I am so sorry for what you are going through.
    Sending prayers your way.

  • CataclysmicStar

    I wish I had words. I’m not sure I do because I’ve never been through anything like this on such a deep level; we’ve argued and we’ve threatened and we’ve claimed needs of space but in the end something else always happened. I don’t know why.
    The point being that I wish I could say, I understand, I get it, I totally see where you’re at right now and I commiserate because I know that place. I can sympathize but I can’t begin to process it.
    I do know what it feels like to put things off and let them boil. I know what it’s like to avoid situations and people and ignore feelings and problems until someone else shoves them in my face and shows the world just how immature and irresponsible I actually am. I have two kids – two beautiful boys, a four year old and two and a half year old who is a month younger than Marlo – and a husband and a car and bills and shouldn’t I be able to handle all that? Shouldn’t I be able to just.. Take care of things?
    At what point in time did I lose control so horribly that the pot boiled over and started a fire? Because yeah, maybe I wasn’t stirring it or paying attention as well as I should have but damn, nothing can possibly explode that badly, can it?
    And the answer is always a resounding, “Yes, of course it can.” Everything can and will self-destruct far too easily. I may not understand exactly how your situation feels but I completely get what leads up to it. I have anxiety, depression, a veritable cocktail of problems that in the end aren’t the real issues that need to be dealt with.
    Heather, I am so sorry. Please know that I may be a stranger but I wish I could give you a huge hug. I’m one voice among many but I send my love to you and your amazing daughters.
    Everything will be okay in the end. If it isn’t okay, it isn’t the end.

  • ChiHoosier

    I’ve been reading your blog for years and signed up for an account just so I could leave you a note to say that I’m thinking of you & your family. I can only imagine what you are going through and even that probably doesn’t amount to the tip of the iceberg. There’s not much I can do from Chicago but offer you love. So here it is, in abundance. Many, many hugs.

  • EliBailey

    I’m so sorry; you are all in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Mezza

    I’m also so sorry to hear this. As someone in the middle of divorce, I acutely felt your pain in these words–I wouldn’t wish how I’ve felt on my worst enemy. I wish for all the strength and sunshine in the world for you, and for Jon. I hope the two of you are able to get through this quickly, and be happy, together or apart. Sending lots of positive thoughts your way!

  • valvalerie

    I am so sorry. I hold you all in my thoughts. I hope that both you and Jon have the support necessary to get through this. Take all the time you need, we aren’t going anywhere. Love to you, Jon, Leta, and Marlo.

  • jegm1234

    I have been reading your blog for the last few years, and so love coming here.
    I am so sorry you are sad, and your family is going through this. Coming to crossroads in relationships just plain suck! I am thinking you tonight.

  • ebee

    Sending love, love, and more love to you all.

  • hereslucy

    Oh Heather. I’m at work and just feel so heavy for you. Fuckitalltohell. So so sorry you’re going through this. You’re not alone. I know it feels like it–but you will rise above this. Hold those girls tight keep doing what you’re doing and be so so so kind and gentle with yourself. Try to listen to Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart. It might give you the courage and wisdom you need right now.
    Sending loads of love and understanding to you and your family. HOLD TIGHT.

  • SarahBeth5

    My heart is aching for you, Heather. Sending you lots of love and support from afar.

  • CARRIES

    I was so sorry to hear about this. I keep thinking about you and what you’re going through. Just know you will get through this. Your family seems so wonderful and I have loved getting to know you. Take care of yourselves. Much love.

  • Brookelyn Bridge

    So sorry… Much love to all of you and I know things will work out for the best.

  • Lex Lemon

    I’m so sorry. Wishing peace to you and Jon and the girls.

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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