On Wednesday, my friends Jess and Mia meet me at the courthouse where each swears an affidavit they’ve known me over a year and I am a good person. They each answer in a clear, solemn voice. What seemed like a mere procedural pain in the ass turns into something more with my friends present to support me; I am incredibly moved. I show my birth certificate and fill out a stack of papers. There’s a question about why I’m changing my name; I respond that I no longer want the name of my estranged abusive spouse–I want my own name. Mia and I sit together afterward a long while and talk.
On Thursday I stop at the courthouse again to retrieve an envelope marked “Laura Phoenix name change,” which contains the court order that makes it official. I beam when I see it and practically fly out of the building into the sunshine.
On Friday I stay away from the courthouse, but it’s the date of my divorce hearing. I think pleasant thoughts about another court order and joke to friends about the trash taking itself out.
On Saturday morning I meet someone new at Al Buehler. We run a lap together and walk around a while talking. He asks my permission before hugging me goodbye, which I happily give. As he gets in his car, I take off to run another loop by myself.
In case I wasn’t sure, I know I’m interested in him because I barely notice the sunshine, the hills, the humidity or the sensations of my body running. Instead I compulsively turn over and over every piece of our conversation, every hint about his attachment style, everything he said about his history. Did he reciprocate sharing appropriately? Was there any point at which I didn’t believe him entirely? Did he push any boundaries?
I realize that during our time together my attention shifted nearly entirely from myself to him. Calmly, kindly I return my awareness to me. I’m running easily, grinning at every dog and small child–and then I’m thinking about something else he said. I deepen my breathing.
I refocus again. Then I’m comparing him to Kevin, to Scott, to my abuser, to my father. Eventually I acknowledge how my nervous system is bound to do this given my painful history. I observe with all my compassion the frenzied poker match in my brain. My amygdala, hypothalamus and caudate nucleus throw down cards furiously–and I’m unsure who’s winning. I like to imagine my pre-frontal cortex is playing too.
When I finish running and go back to the car there’s a message from him asking to see me again this weekend. I smile and feel how badly I want to say yes. I almost do; the old hopeful ache that someone might want me close to him bubbles up in me like eagerly poured champagne.
Setting the phone aside, I recall how quickly my relationship with Kevin developed. I happily consented to see him every chance I got. In so doing, I remained entirely at the mercy of my attraction to him. My mistake cost me clarity; I missed what should have been obvious red flags about how he’d respond to conflict.
I grieve how attraction to a man feels dangerous to me; a threat that demands exceeding caution and clear-headedness. I feel sorrow that my experiences of love have ended in profound, painful, devastating wounds. I weep for all my pain, not turning away. I let the tears fall, calm with certainty that I am healing. I am resurrecting myself into someone powerful.
Later I reply that I’ll be happy to see him again next weekend and then set to packing; I am moving again today. This time feels very different; this time I am not afraid. As I gather my things, carry them to my car, and drive to my new home with Kira’s ashes in my lap I don’t shed a single tear.