Anyone who has been through a divorce knows the devastation of the initial split. First, one of you says the “D” word, and the pain of that yet undiscovered reality lures over you, threatening to dismantle your life. Finally, one or both of you take action, and the decision to separate is made. Many couples co-habitate for a while even though they are no longer together in any way except on paper. But eventually, someone moves out. A silence falls upon the house that was never there before, and you feel small in your big bed at night. There is an awkward period of transitioning into this new single existence. Emotionally and practically speaking, your house is not in order.
Feeling Like A Stranger in Your Own Living Room
I remember wandering the half-emptied rooms of our apartment after my ex moved out and wondering how I would put my life back together. He had taken the furniture from one room, and sounds reverberated off the bare walls inside the large, empty space. I left it free of furniture for a while, letting the room heal itself the way one might let a raw wound rest under the darkness of a bandage before exposing the skin to fresh air. I needed to let things settle. For many months, my apartment didn't feel like my own. It felt like a shell of what it had been before when we shared it, and I was a stranger in my own living room. But since I had chosen to stay, I would have to revitalize it into a space where I could again feel like I was home.
When I was married, I would have jumped at the chance to buy new things for our apartment. I remember how exciting it was when we chose a sofa together, browsing through endless fabric patterns until we agreed on the perfect one. I loved perusing the rooms of antique stores, searching for side tables and all the little odds and ends that make up a household of memories. But after the divorce, the idea of filling up my rooms felt burdensome, and sad. I put it off for as long as I could, perhaps because I knew that once the apartment was furnished again, the divorce would really feel final. I'd be a single woman in an apartment I'd decorated myself, and that was a very strange feeling. I used to wonder if he felt strange in his new home, and how he went about settling in to the new surroundings. I pictured him buying a kitchen table, building bookshelves and rearranging chairs. Was he glad he had been the one to go? Surely it must be easier to start over in a place that didn't hold the memory of me. It seemed so much harder to be the one who stayed.
Making a House a Home
One day, when the emptiness had gone on long enough, I decided to buy an armchair to fill the corner of my living room. I sat on a leather sofa in the same furniture store where my ex and I had once sat together, sorting through fabric swatches. From that same catalogue, I hesitantly chose a fabric, and ordered my chair. A few weeks later, it was delivered to my third floor apartment, bringing with it the smell of newness and possibility. It was the first piece of furniture I had ever bought on my own, and for a while it had the aura of being out of place, as though it was waiting to be moved somewhere else. It sounds funny, but the chair felt like a stranger. I would sit in it, then get back up again, taking refuge on the familiarity of the sofa. I know this is an insignificant detail in the grander scheme of things, but it was also the beginning of the next phase of my life after divorce. It was all a part of the transition, and transitions are always awkward.
It's the little things that make your home feel like your independent space
Over time, I gradually added more furniture, and unfamiliar items became familiar. The chair, the amber lamp, and the gold mirror each tell a story about my new life here. It's comforting somehow that these objects were never a part of my former married life. They have only known me as just me. It isn't the objects themselves that matter, but the new memories they represent. I now eat dinner on the handmade farm table a furniture maker built just for me, and light the lamp my best friend and I found at that antique shop last summer. Some dust has settled on its amber shade, which I notice as I sit reading in my favorite chair.
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