I went on a personal archaeology expedition last week and got choked up on a little gold bug. A yellow plastic beetle, to be exact.
Ever since I read that journal that I wrote while my marriage to Fartbuster was ending–“Bless My Stupid Heart”–I’ve been trying to recall more about that time of my life. After 15 years, the big events stand out, but the minutiae of our ordinary life together has begun to fade. I started keeping gratitude journals about a year before our marriage went up in flames, so I pulled out the really old ones, the dusty ones in the bottom drawer of the nightstand and I began to read.
I spent 3 hours reading through 2 years worth of gratitude journals–a tough two years. I was prepared for the awful days, those days when I wrote terse little entries like, “Well, at least I have myself” or “Now I know the truth” and “my neighbor came over to check on me when she noticed I was parking in the middle of the garage.” I turned the corner down on those pages so I could come back to them when I need to.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the days just before those awful ones. It’s so had to look back and see what I was genuinely grateful for the day before my whole life blew up.
In the detail of thousands of entries, my old life assembled itself again. The hollyhocks that grew higher than the windows in the sunroom. The way my dog, Zoe, shivered after her bath. Margaritas at his grandmother’s house on Christmas night. The lazy Sunday mornings when I woke up with my feet entwined with my husband’s. A new Judybats CD coming in the mail. Reading Oxford American magazine. Pecan rice with a roasted pork tenderloin. That time we installed the dog door without arguing. Painting the bathroom a terra cotta color and talking about going to Rome someday. Walking the dogs in the evening when the whole neighborhood smelled like dryer sheets. Dusting bookshelves then finding myself rereading a favorite book. Valentines. Nicknames we gave each other.
About every 20 minutes of that 3 hour journey through my grateful past, I had to stop to cry. Once, I got so sad for my younger self that I tiptoed into Carlos’ room to listen to him breathe those deep little boy sleepy breaths.
It wasn’t all bad, that life.
It ended so badly that I have trouble remembering that it wasn’t all bad. I wasn’t stupid to love Fartbuster. Most days, we were doing our best.
That came clear for me when I read one little line in a journal that brought a dear memory back through all the pain:
“a little gold beetle in my drink at dinner.”
I don’t remember how I ended up with a yellow plastic beetle–it doesn’t matter. One night, I tucked it under the covers on Fartbuster’s side of the bed. He saw it and jumped. We laughed. The next day, I picked up my drink at dinner and there sat the little gold beetle on the bottom of the glass. A few days later, he found the beetle in the toe of his shoe. For weeks, we traded the gold beetle back and forth in pockets, the sun visor, on the towel bar, in the cereal box.
It was fun. We had fun.
When your heart is broken by someone you trusted, it’s so hard to remember the good times. It’s hard to accept that those days were just as real as the months I spent in that middle place of fear and pain.
The muddle of it all reminds me of an idea from Hermann Hesse, one of Fartbuster’s favorite writers: “Oh, love isn’t there to make us happy. I believe it exists to show us how much we can endure.”