Dear Ex # 1,
You probably think I hate you, but you’d be surprised. Even though you slept with half the women in our small town, abandoned me for months at a time, and squandered every penny and job opportunity that came your way, I’m more grateful than you might imagine. After all, between us we created the daughter you left me to raise alone. Her inquisitive mind, wicked sense of humor, and boundless heart were my lodestar. Your loss, my gain.
I was eighteen years old and you were twenty-three when you introduced me to your homeland in the Ozarks. My first foreign country and we were still in America.
You gave me your family, the first one you had abandoned. One I would keep and you would leave again.
You introduced me to bluegrass music. It still makes me cry.
You taught me to swear like a sailor because you’d been one. It’s a shame we didn’t know about PTSD back then.
Once you pawned your guitar for a sofa. I shouldn’t have asked.
Once the three of us ran barefoot through puddles in the rain.
I was twenty-two when you transported us to Texas in a borrowed 1 ½ ton pickup truck with cattle guards. To Houston, where I would stay for twenty-five years and try on several more lives. Where I would make a family out of friends and find my calling as a teacher. Where I would find the courage to leave you.
You gave me the South where my heart would crack open, so my life could begin again. And again.
I’m never sure if forgiveness and gratitude are on speaking terms, but I see now that some people come along to shoulder open doors, to ferry us across. We often have to pay dearly and the danger of drowning or turning back is real. From here, from the high-dry vantage point of now, I thank you for being the escort, the ferryman, for stepping out of the way once I reached the other side.
Your first ex
p.s. My kicker bonus: Your lies taught me the art of storytelling and the value of research. I will be using it all as fodder.
p.s.s. Free extra: You looked damn good in that black Stetson.
Dear Ex #2,
You probably hate me, and I’m pretty sure you see me as ungrateful. After all, I did the leaving and made quite a mess out of that. The truth is that I am grateful, and not just in an I owe you sort of way. What does that mean, anyway? To owe thanks makes it sound like a business deal, and how I feel is far from that.
You were my professor first, and I was in awe of your knowledge. Although now I cringe at the implications of being in an unequal relationship, I got the gift of ten years of private tutoring. It was like getting to live in the Library of Congress. With a guide no less. I used to joke to my girlfriends that my erogenous zones were between my ears. When you chose me, you made me feel smart. I needed that.
You got me back from Mexico after I ate a seafood cocktail that did me in for three days. All I remember is throwing up in the airport in Monterey.
You married me even though you never wanted to get married at all. That is why you were standing alone in the dark the day of the ceremony.
You read to me from books you liked, and we fought about that, but no one had read to me since I was little, and no one has read to me since.
You rubbed my feet.
We watched documentaries together.
You took me along on your fieldwork and introduced me to your friends. They love you and don’t talk to me anymore. I understand.
You accepted my seventeen-year-old daughter who didn’t always accept you. You were philosophical about her when I was hysterical. You paid her college fees even though we couldn’t afford it. When she failed and then dropped out, you didn’t call her ungrateful even though she was. I know you were afraid to speak, but I appreciate the space you gave me to come to terms.
You let me handle the money. That was probably a mistake.
You let me buy a house in a neighborhood that you thought was pretentious. You let me have the house in our divorce which gave me a leg up on my next life.
You held me so loosely that I was lifted out of your hands and our house like a balloon on a breeze. You stopped answering my emails after I moved on, when I still wanted you to hold my hand. I hated that, and now I am grateful that you let me go.
I was shattered when I came to you. Tired. If my gratitude sounds like an apology for my ingratitude, so be it. Thank you for the space to heal and the distance to leave when it was time. For taking me in and letting me go when you wanted neither. I see now that some relationships are like way stations on a pilgrimage. One day we must shoulder our packs because we still have many miles to go. Leave a small offering if we can.
Your one and only ex
p.s. When I get nostalgic, I cook gumbo.
p.s.s. I’m sorry my cats shredded your albums and that I hated your dog.