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.

  • bsnebold

    Such sadness. The words of you and Jon have traveled across countless hearts and minds. For years, we have been enriched by your stories. I would suggest that each of you go back to day one of your blog(s), read each word, day by day, week by week. Look at each photo as they appeared. See the “Big Picture” of your history. Witness the love that eventually blended into two perfect children. Soak in the world that you worked so hard to create. It is a rare treasure to have such a recorded history….use it. What follows will be based on that foundation of unconditional love that we have known your family to share for so many years. Remember how strong you are.

  • fishsticked

    I read this yesterday. Then I read Jon’s post. Then I read both again. I didn’t comment then but I feel like I need to now join everyone else and express my sadness. I don’t know you. I’ve never met you or Jon or anyone in your family, but I read this and I felt sad. Truly sad.

    It’s strange how much I feel like I know you both from reading both blogs. Stay strong, don’t lose sight of who you are and what you have. You will get through this and you will realize that it is better on the other side.

    I’m sorry.

  • melissaswims

    So, so sorry to hear, Heather. Lots of love to you, Jon, Leta and Marlo. Someone else said that they knew something was wrong, and I gotta say… I was sensing it, too. Take care of yourself. You are strong! You are!

  • monkey poo

    I haven’t posted to your site in such a long time I forgot my user name. Really? Is that my user name?! Jesus. I am sad for you and want you to know that you’re in mine and all these others’ hearts and prayers. Let it be some comfort, ‘kay? The universe needs you to keep writing about your feelings.

  • Jeni

    I am devastated for you, Heather. Lots of love and good thought and prayers coming your way for you and the girls; esp the girls. This just aint right…this just aint right. Praying for a positive outcome for you both. xo

  • mconnors

    First time ever commenting to a blog, but I’ve been a reader since you first left your job…

    Your post was so important for people who have been/are in such difficult situations.

    It was important for me.

    My thoughts are with you.

  • Tanis

    Sorry to hear, you will get through this and you have to know that your readers are not going anywhere.
    Love to you and the girls.

  • LUHarris719

    I felt like I had been gut-punched when I finished reading your post. I have come back to it time and again today, just to read it and think about you and Jon and your girls.

    I have been reading your blog since the early days, before Leta was born. I feel like I know you, although we are strangers and probably will remain so but for the occasional comment. For the first time in a long time, today, I felt I had to reach out to you. I have always felt a bit of a kinship with you.

    I share your birthday, although I’m a few years older than you. There is a history of depression and anxiety in my family – my paternal grandmother, my father, my three sisters and I have all been affected by mental illness. I have lived with a sister when she was suicidal and we are closer than ever because we made it through those dark days.

    My family was not Mormon, but I was raised with organized religion – it was one of the cornerstones of my childhood – and I, too, sought my own way and developed my own beliefs once I left my childhood behind.

    I feel like I’ve lived your life because you have always been so open with your blog and because much of what you talk about is so familiar…

    I am heartsick for you. I wish I could do something or say something to help. I just wanted you to know that I will be rooting for you and your family.

    xoxo

  • famisamis

    I cried for you.

    Some random single crazy cat lady from the Midwest you have never met cares enough about you and what you share with the rest of us to cry about what you’re going through.

    One day at a time. No matter what happens, just one day, one moment, one breath at a time…one, and then the next.

  • HeySweetie

    Best wishes for you and your family. I know this is something you’ve heard a zillion times before but your writing always delights me, makes me laugh, makes me think, makes me reflect. I enjoy every post no matter what so please don’t feel pressured to avoid certain topics or anything like that. Yes, pictures of Chuck are cute but if you are feeling sad, you can write about feeling sad – if anything that is what makes you such a wonderful writer – because you express the shared feelings of so many women in a way we could only hope to articulate so accurately and so eloquently.

  • momof8

    Oh, Heather. I’m sorry. You know we love you. Love to you all.

  • jan001

    Within one month my marriage and my career dissolved. I know the feeling of wanting to just get out — I didn’t so much want to be dead but it was the only way I could fathom to get away from the pain and getting away from it was what I did want.

    Fortunately a good friend was there when I picked up the phone because I was scaring the hell out of myself.

    This is a gold-plated double-barreled bitch but you will find your way through it to the other side. No one knows yet what that other side is, but you can get there and come out with each of you whole.

    Hope this isn’t too corny but I’m sending you strength and hugs.

  • TucsonPatty

    Please be well, Heather.

  • KolourfulKate

    I couldn’t believe how sad I was reading this post the other night. Like many have said before me – I don’t know you and I live in another country but I do feel like we could kick back and have a couple drinks and get along so well. I hope this time apart clarifies what you both want and helps you achieve it. I know you are so very strong and I am sending so many positive vibes your way. Myself, like the 400+ comments before me, wish you the very best for yourself and your lovely family. Hang in there.

  • marigoldy

    Oh, fuck. So sorry to hear this. I’ve always held your family in such high regard, Nd will continue to do so through all of this. I’m going through the same thing, though I only have dogs, not girls, and I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to explain it to human beings.
    So much love.

  • Mrs.Ambrose

    you are so loved

  • Nuffie

    Oh my… my heart squeezed together when I read this. I don’t really comment normally, but I just wanted to let you know that I hope that no matter what the outcome of this is, you will feel happy again. In the meantime, sending you love, strenght and positive thoughts.

  • dawnatsensor

    I’m so, so sorry that you’re all having to go thru this. It’s so very hard, for all. My prayer is that you find peace, because peace begets clarity. When it becomes clear, your decision will have been made.

  • ccoccoli

    I really have no words. I am just so incredibly sad for you and the family. I’ve followed your life so closely for so many years and you have inspired me and helped me through so many of my own struggles that I wish there was something, anything, I could do to help you. But besides reminding you how many people care about you and are thinking positive thoughts for you and support you in however this all turns out, there isn’t anything else I can do. Linger under water as long as you need to, we’ll all still be here waiting for you whenever you’re ready to come back up to the surface.
    You are a strong, brave, beautiful woman and you will find your way back to the sunshine. Much love and < <<>>>.
    ~ Christine

  • newburycottage

    Very sorry you are all going through this. I have been there. It is heart wrenching.

    #1 is to take care of yourself and be strong for your kids.

  • gcostaki

    Are your page hits not totally going through the roof?

  • papolskis

    Never underestimate the power and importance of an apology.

  • Angeerah

    I dug out my username yesterday to leave you some thoughts over at DoCo but I just wanted to add it here too. I want you to fight hard. Not for your marriage, necessarily, but for you. You have helped sooooooooooo many people with your honest expression about your mental health. It made me and so many others say, hey! I went through that too! And that is a big fecking deal, my friend. Do what you need to make YOU better. You have a lot going for you: the girls, the dogs, and you being the valedictorian of awesome.

    I wish the Armstrong Clan peace, love,and grace during this very difficult time.

  • deedle2038

    I’m so sorry, and I know you have the strength to get through this and find happiness, whatever the future holds. not knowing is very hard, I understand.

  • jrenee

    Heather,
    I’ve been thinking of you and Jon and the girls since the moment I read this yesterday morning. I’m very worried about you… I wish I could give you a hug. I’m sending positive thoughts your way.

  • oatcake

    Much love to you four. Sending you peace.

  • Sarah Arntson

    Adding my name to the numbers of support. Wishing for the best for the four of you, whatever you decide that may be. You are an amazing person Heather, and a huge inspiration for me.

  • chels-see-ya

    I hope you’re family finds peace, I really do.

    However, the only thing that resonates with me and this post is the image of you and that leash in the garage. I am ecstatic that you made the choice you did and walked away. Bravo. Remember that strength the next time you need it.

    My mom took her own life 2 years ago. It still haunts me. every. day. As a mother you signed an intangible contract; they come first. I’m sorry, it’s just the way it is. You may think taking your “kraykray” (can’t believe I just said that) out of the equation is better for them. I can absolutely, 100% promise you, this is not true. Not. True. No matter what your state of mind, your girls want whatever they can get, however they can get it. This doesn’t mean you can’t sacrifice some of their time to get yourself well, quite the contrary. (Don’t we alllll love mommy guilt??)

    Do you want to leave them wondering what they could have done differently to save you, for the rest of their lives? How they weren’t enough? Thinking that that is a viable option for them too?

    Now. Now, that you’ve taken that option off of the table forever, just breath. Do the best you can. I promise you, it IS enough.

    All the best, Heather.

  • Owlette

    Thinking of all four of you. You and Jon have the strength and dignity to find the right way for yourselves and your girls. xo

  • takeadeepbreath

    I’m pregnant and “underwater” too. I will keep reading and commenting to help each other through – my wishes to all of you for serenity and a bit of luck!

  • susanruffin

    I’m so used to living vicariously through you, I’m just devastated. I want your life…well not today or yesterday or maybe even the days before. I will be saying prayers for you

  • nina-dsd

    So sorry to hear this. It will work out the way you both need it too. Until then, sending light through the ether to all of you.

  • what_a_difference_a_day_makes

    Please recognize that you have a personality that is prone to going down the rabbit hole. And children. And the need for an in-home support system. And this does not make you weak. We need to know our own limits. And live within them. That you even had pipe/leash ideas does not bode well for the little ones. And I am hopeful you have family/friends that are doing a big old slumber party with you as you work through this new normal.

    I do relate. And say this out of concern. You are a gifted writer, a feeler, and those raw nerves can be beautiful and binding. And children rarely have the capacity to understand the peaks and valleys that come with what you are enduring right now.

  • shestumbledin

    I got all teary when I read this. I’m so sad for all of you. Sending good vibes and warm thoughts your way.

  • Tanzie F. Nielsen

    I kept wondering why your header hadn’t changed for January. I figured you were busy living your life and you would get around to it sooner or later. You obviously have other much more important stuff going on. Learning about your separation is sitting heavy, and I don’t even know you guys. I wish you, Jon, and the girls all the best during this difficult time.

  • Cornelia

    Heather, I’m so incredibly sorry. Like your other readers I felt like I’ve been punched in the stomach. I’ve been reading on and off since before Leta was born (I have her birthday). I know this is a really hard time for you, Jon, the kids and the dogs. I wish I could hug you over the internet and make it all better.

  • rosane

    I got so sad when I read this. I hope you and Jon can work out the best solution for you and your family. So many people have commented already, but I wanted to add my good vibes to the pile. Love you and your work. Please hang in there.

  • quiet june

    I am so, so sorry you guys are going through this. I hope that everything works out in the way that is best for everyone, whatever way that might be. Take care of yourself!

  • DeeDubs

    For every comment here wishing you strength and peace please know that there are at least 20 more just like them from people who do not have the fortitude to complete the multi-step password recovery routine that I just went through just to say: Hang in there, Heather. We are all rooting for you. Take all the time you need. We’ll still be here.

  • Jodie

    I am a relative necomer to your blog – I’ve been following it for about 12 months now. But when I read your post yesterday I was really moved. Moved to the point where I bothered to (a) join the Dooce community so that I could (b) leave a message to say that I hope your family can get through this really tough time and come out stronger and happier and bigger and better.

  • Debbie7

    I just want to share how sorry I am that things are so difficult for your family right now. I’m rooting for you and Jon, I hope that everything works out for you guys. Even if it doesn’t, you will both be okay.

    Take care of yourself, don’t feel like you have to perform for all of us here while you’re struggling.

    Lots of love.

  • maeghan

    Oh Heather, I’m so sorry to hear this. It’s strange, I read your blog every day and feel like I know you and your family. Then something like this comes out of the blue and it just makes me take a step back and realise that I really DON’T know you. I’m sure I’m not the first person who had posted something along these lines.

    This too shall pass. Stay strong in the support of your readers, your family and your friends. I’m thinking of you, Jon and your girls at this difficult and confusing time. However, I know that, whatever the outcome, you’ll all emerge on the other side stronger, happier and healthier. Love and light to you all.

  • CMamaBear

    I just hate this for you. But you are such a sensible person, I know whatever you end up deciding will be the right choice. (((hugs)))

  • MichelleBarra

    After a 6 month separation from my husband and 10 years walking around with a clenched jaw and clenched fists, I finally let it all go in one giant, tissue-filled sob-fest and, after crying for Australia, I felt the anger and disappointment drain away and realised I had to make like Bryan Ferry and say to my husband “Let’s Stick Together”.

    Heather, I hope with all my heart that you find the same way forward, if that is what is meant to be. Whatever you find, I hope it is peace and contentment and, dare I say it, happiness! (You’ll always have love :)) xoxo

  • KBSunshine

    I read your post this morning and it took my breath away. The tears snuck up on me hours later as “I’m All Out Of Love” kept running through my head. I can’t help but hope you find your way back to each other. No matter what I know you will put the girls first.

  • juliannah

    Take care. I know how it is. Sending love your way.

  • squyks

    I wish I could write as well as you, so you could feel the love, hope, and support I want to give you. This piece you wrote here is an amazing glimpse into your soul, thank you. I hope with all my heart that you and Jon will make it through, somehow.

    As many above have said, I am thinking of you. Know that you are truly never alone, one of us always has you in our thoughts. I fell asleep last night saying a prayer for you.

  • lisaann

    This, love, is part of your healing process…
    and the hardest race you’ll ever run.
    Blessings in your journey toward the Light.

    You are NOT alone.

  • big red

    Oh shit, shit, shit.
    Take all the time you need matey, all the time you need.
    xxx

  • greenkat

    Love your whole family, who is only known to me through your excellent blog. Keep being yourself, talented and unique. I did feel a blow to the gut when I read about your separation, but I am a divorced grandma and have definitely learned and thrived through it all,so I have no doubt you will as well. Kathie