This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

“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.

  • KathyRo

    Someday you won’t wonder why you feel so dead inside when everything on the outside is “perfect”. Someday the inside will match the outside. Someday it won’t feel like such a struggle. I don’t know when that day will come but I know you have what it takes to make it until then because you, my dear, are the fucking Valedictorian of Delayed Gratification.

    How much longer did you wait for coffee?? Two years? On top of the original TWENTY?!? Mannnn… You got this!

    And we’ve got you.

    Be strong dear friend.

  • Ariel0717

    My heart is with you and the girls and John. I know that whatever you choose to do will be the right choice, whatever it takes will be the correct path. Sooo many hugs and much love to you. You don’t know me, but your words hit my soul.

  • marbenais

    I am so sorry for all y’all, for this time. I’m sending prayers/good wishes your way.

    And from an oldest child whose parents never quite got the hang of behaving like adults about their own relationship, let alone parenting, thank you for taking such care of your girls.
    I hope Chuck is keeping Coco from wreaking too much havoc — or that Marlo is distracting her, at least.

  • juliejackson

    I have no words.

  • sarahdoow

    It’s hard to know what to say, but I’ll be thinking of you and wishing you all a lot of strength. Take care.

  • megumphrey

    Shit.

    Sorry, Heather.

  • SueBHoney

    My thoughts and prayers are with you all. I too know how the girls feel.

  • TxSuzyQ

    My parents are divorced. I guess this is the reason I am not married. I have never understood how two people can create two children, a family that they belong to and then decide they “need a break” and walk away.

    I suppose we all “need a break” from various things from time to time. We all get overwhelmed. But walking away from something so important as my children, my spouse… my family, isn’t an option.

    When you “need a break”, take it. Take a break, as long as you’re committed to what is most important. Your family.

    There is nothing more important.
    Family is all we really have.
    Families are forever.
    Even divorced families are forever.

    So why put everyone through that?
    Just take a break.

  • Janice

    Sending love, prayers and hugs to all the Armstrongs during this difficult and painful time.

  • kathyc

    I had to go back not once, but a few times till this really sunk in. I don’t want to believe it…believe that you’ve hit this rough patch and that this could change the course of your life, your family. Please know that there are people out there that don’t even know you, but are in your corner, cheering your family on. Who am I to comment on your life? All I can say is I’ll be thinking about you and your family and will be sending you love.

  • Elwayeye

    I had to read this twice to fully understand. I am so sorry to hear what you’re going through. As always, I am floored by your honesty, and I hope that the love of your family and this Dooce community helps you through this time. *Hugs*

  • stephinboston

    I am so sorry that you even have to make your private life public. I hope that there was something in it that was cathartic. Wishing your family grace, peace and healing. And the very very best. Whatever that may be.

  • soba

    I am so sorry you are going through this tough time. Please remember you will not always feel this bad or this sad.

  • Kimberly A.

    Heather, you have been a source of strength, inspiration and entertainment for me for so long. I wish I could give you a fraction of the comfort that you have given me, though we are strangers.

    Yes, of course we’ll bear with you. Even if you take a break, we’ll be here when you get back. What matters most is that you bear with yourself and come out whole on the other side.

    Sending heartfelt prayers and warm hugs to you and your family.

  • KristenM

    Oh man, not good to hear. Very sorry. I hope things get better.

  • misslpp

    In a way I sensed something was not right. So sorry to hear you and your family are going through this. nothing but love, hugs and prayers to you all

  • TessAnn

    Heather, I’m so sorry. I’ve been reading you for *years*, and this one brought me out of my lurkdom. I needed to say that I’m sorry. I understand. I’ve been there. The only thing I can say is ‘Breath’. In and out. There’s nothing to do for this pain but to make it to the other side.

    My thoughts and good energy to all of you. Thank you for making my every day brighter with your words.

  • Norabloom

    I am so sorry to hear this. Please remember to take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Although it must feel at times like the weight of the world rests on your shoulders, I’m sure your family and friends would love to help ease that burden, if only for a little bit. Let them.

  • VirtualSprite

    I’m sorry. I’ve been there and it’s hard. Best wishes to you.

  • boldbright

    Like others I’ve been reading your blog for years and choked up when I read your news. I’m grateful you felt strong enough to walk away from the garage. I’m grateful that you have taken steps over the years to surround yourself with support and know what you need to be healthy. I’m grateful that you are there to love and guide your daughters through whatever comes next for your family. I’m grateful that you’ve decided to share not only your joys, but also your vulnerability and hurts with us.

    You’ve created a wonderful place here, full of your humor, beauty, and humanity. Your words have touched so many people. Please let us know if there is some way we can give back some of the kindness, joy and comfort you’ve so generously shared with us.

  • Interrobanged

    Heather, I just wanted to add to the chorus of support and wish you, Jon, Leta, Marlo and the dogs well during this gut-wrenching time. It’s heartbreaking to read this eloquent, devastating post.

    As someone else said above, you’ve built a whole community of friggin’ awesome folks here who would support you in a heartbeat via a thread or a PM. You’re definitely not alone in this struggle.

  • jlolb

    I am so sorry. I’ve been to the depths before, too. It’s a fucking lonely place to be and I wish I could say something that would make you feel better, but I can offer only this: You will absolutely get through this, Heather.

    Take care of yourself. Be strong.

  • leafgirl

    As a child of divorce I swore I would never get divorced. Because I would be smarter, I wouldn’t make the same mistake. Like you can foresee the future. And yet there I was, when my son was 3, the exact same age I was, asking for a divorce. I wish you guys the best to figure out what is the best, for you.

  • renata_armindo

    Just wanted to let you know that I’m very, very sorry and I hope you can figure this out.
    I worked with my husband for many years and I decided it wasn’t working and got another job, it was a frist step to work on our relationship, which wasn’t so good. It was the best decision ever!
    So maybe this will be the start of a new stage of your relationship and things will get better…
    Keep hanging in there!!!
    XOXOXO

  • meowlam

    Sending you love, (((((((Heather))))))). I understand, too.

    xoxoxoxoxo

  • dianerose

    Dear Heather,

    Yes, it will feel like you are teetering on the edge of an abyss. The pain completely unbearable at times. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage…just to be. Years ago when I had a bout with cancer, I latched on to the words of a Tom Petty song. ‘You can stand me up to the gates of hell, I will stand my ground, no I won’t back down’. It has become my mantra in a way, to stand up to all of lifes challanges and heartaches.

    When you give your heart,there is always a risk it will be broken. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but you will heal, and you will be stronger.

    You have always been the most sensitive of souls.

    I hope it is ok to say this. The part about your experience in the garage gave me pause. Your beautiful little girls will be your beacon of light. You must never take their wonderful, kind,loving,funny,irreplaceable mommy away from them.

    So very sorry Heather you are going through this. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and have been deeply touched by many of your posts over the years. It is a gift to us, that you share such intimate moments.

    Hugs and Comfort,

    dianerose

  • Pori

    I read your sad and beautiful words in the train home, deep in my own thoughts, and when I got of the train, I just stood on the platform for a long moment and thought of you and your family. Please just know that at any random time, somewhere in the world, half way across the globe, someone stops short and thinks of you and sends you only the best thoughts.

  • Barnmaven

    Thinking of all of you. This is a really difficult time, I know. I have been there too and for weeks and months I felt as if someone was slowly peeling my skin off, inch by inch. I felt like I was a porcelain vase with a million cracks and if anyone so much as looked at me I was going to crumble. Eventually the part that was good about being apart became stronger than the stuff that was hard about it.

    Hang in there.

  • zchamu

    Heather, my heart is aching for you. I am so sorry. I hope that you can navigate through all this to a place of peace and happiness again.

  • Em

    My heart breaks for you two. I hope good things come from this, eventually.

    I’m just so sorry.

  • jetblack615

    I am so sorry to hear that. You have my best wishes as you sort it all out and work toward brighter, happier days.

  • Mania

    I’m so sorry. My heart is aching for all of you.

  • TigerLily

    Heather, these are by far the most poignant, devastatingly honest, beautiful and painful words I’ve ever read. I had to go back and read Leta’s question about Dad not sleeping here anymore several times before the cold reality set in. I cannot even begin to tell you how sorry I am that you and Jon are facing this right now. More than anything, I want to tell you that your girls are not you. Their experience right now does not have to be what your experience was all those years ago when your parents separated. Please do not assume that because your years-long difficulty with your parents divorce automatically means your girls will feel the same way five, ten or twenty years from now. Every family deals with things differently, every parent deals with their marriage and parenting style differently, and every child handles the ups and downs of life differently. This does not have to be a carbon copy of your adolescence.

    Your love for your girls is palpable. Your love for Jon is, too. That you’re both open to therapy is HUGE — if you’re both willing to do the work it’s altogether possible that you can come through this together, stronger for the experience, and more committed than ever to your family. But even if that does not happen, you have to know that you are EVERYTHING to those girls. EVERYTHING. Your daughters cherish you, need you, depend on you. Please do not ever doubt that for a minute, or believe that your only way “out” of this pain is to completely and forever remove yourself from it. The devastation that would create for Leta and Marlo far surpasses anything you may still feel about your own parents’ divorce. You cannot do that to them.

    As someone else posted earlier, please know that every minute of every day one of your many, many readers is thinking about you and sending you love, wishes for strength, and prayers that you and Jon can find your way through this darkness. Don’t ever forget that. You are not alone.

  • tanya

    This is a bad time. It will pass. Then it will be better. You just have to get through the bad time. Keep your head above water. Lots of love.

  • cassidy.stockton

    For lack of a better way to express myself: *HUGS* Everyone has said very nice things and you know you have so many of us thinking of you and hoping that you two crazy kids sort out yourselves. There’s no right answer and I know you both will work to figure out what is the best thing for you two. Lots of love and support coming your way, no matter how the dice land. Good luck and know you are not alone, no matter how lonely you might feel.

  • rachael1013

    I’m so, so sorry. We never got to one of us leaving… but it was really, really close over the summer. As in, a bag packed close. I was depressed, and it’s weird isn’t it? It’s completely different than the depression my meds treat. It was for a reason, it was valid, and it sucked so much. My oldest is five years old, the same age that I was when my parents divorced. I hope that it ends up being just a break, that you’re both able to find what you need in each other. If you’re not, it’s obvious that your girls will be well taken care of by both of you. Eventually it will be okay.

  • sonjabean

    I’m so sorry to hear about this. Time is going to make it better. I know that’s a bunch of bullshit that you don’t want to hear right now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

  • Bea_OT

    Dear Heather…a poem for you…written hurriedly…but with heart.

    teardrops fell upon my soul
    but i could not wipe them away
    they dropped in a pool of pain
    one that gathered long ago

    i asked it to go away
    but it laughed at me so
    “you’ll die without me”
    it jeered from below

    i must let you go
    the pain overflows
    your poison burned a hole
    in my basket full of hope

    long I have traveled
    in this journey of despair
    long I have tried
    to gather
    a fortitude of might

    I don’t need you anymore
    I will not let you eat my soul
    I will not let you eat my fire
    I will not let me expire

  • soojeegirl

    My heart aches for you and your family.
    Thank you for being so open about your life. Your ups and downs. You have made me laugh and cry so many times. The experiences you share have such an effect on people. When I first discovered your blog, I read it like a novel. It was incredibly helpful at a time in my life when the darkness was suffocating. May you have clarity and strength and find the happiest place possible for you and your family.

  • Prettyface6

    Heather, I want you to know how much I’m thinking of you. I read your post and my stomach dropped. I’m not going to pretend to know the specifics of what is going on in your marriage. I do know that I’ve seen you growing & changing over the past year and that isn’t always easy in a marriage.

    I do want you to know that I’ve been to the pit you’re in right now. I was trapped in a marriage that was dying. I was trapped by my vows, my religion, my husband’s job (He’s a Lutheran pastor. Divorce is frowned upon–you know that type of pressure), the kids etc…Throw in some depression to keep things chaotic and that’s where we were.

    Here’s the light at the end. We are better now than we ever were. I was contemplating an affair to give him a reason to divorce me so he wouldn’t lose his job. Now things are so good. We’ve never been so close, even on our honeymoon. We both worked really hard at counseling, trying to revive a marriage that was pretty far gone. It wasn’t looking good. And then one day it was. It was a shocker to all involved.

    I’d never presume to say everything will be OK. But you won’t always feel this bad. When I was at my worst, I never thought what we have now is possible–and I was the one who wanted to be gone. Hang onto the knowledge that it could happen and it’s sweeter than ever. And if it doesn’t you’ll be OK. You are a strong woman. You’re in my thoughts.

  • SharonP

    Dear Heather:
    Please accept this hug from afar.

  • JulieG

    Sending so much love to you. You just stay underwater as long as you need to — we’ll be here.

    Thank you for giving so much of yourself every day. Your bravery is so inspiring to me, in so many ways.

  • MM3

    Oh Heather, I am so sorry you all are going through this. It took tremendous courage to write this post and be so candid and honest. Wishing the best for your whole family.

  • KatePell

    I’m so sorry. Make sure to take care of yourself while you find your footing.

  • erinc

    Wow. I am f’ing surprised by this turn of events in your life. And very sorry to see it. Separation is difficult but I do agree that it does give a much needed space for each individual to breathe and think. It sounds like you have been going through this for awhile now and I hope the time apart is helping to lead you in a healing direction. I know you love your husband and I know he loves you. That’s the main thing I think.

    You love.

    xo, e

  • Becky Cochrane

    I’m very sorry and wishing the best for your entire family.

  • bawb23

    Back when you shared your “Top Ten Tracks”, doocecom.uoycbnb4-liquidwebsites.com/2011/12/14/top-ten-tracks-2011 I thought: “Geez, these choices just scream ‘depressed and confrontational’. I hope she’s OK.”

    Now, WTF? I guess I should be sad, but your photography is so much better – I’m sure that was the issue. Maybe get Jon some photography lessons? That could help….

  • Funnygirl78

    Words are so coarse and lame in these situations to fully express a sense of support and sadness at hearing this news. Much love and well wishes to you all on this part of your journey.

  • lauracapello

    my mom died of leukemia when i was four.

    not battle-for-my-life-leukemia. it was get-the-diagnosis-and-do-nothing-for-a-year-and-then-tell-everyone-god-needs-me-more-in-heaven-than-i’m-needed-on-earth-leukemia. there are no words to describe how fucked in the head this made me.

    regardless of what happens between you and jon (and i do sincerely wish nothing but the best for both of you), thank you for walking away from the garage that day. thank you.

  • sarashous

    Much love to you, Leta, Marlo, Jon, Chuck and Coco.