The air in my upstairs bedroom was cold. In the rooms below me, my daughters and husband slept soundly beneath quilts and blankets. As I sat at my desk in an empty room, dark October branches brushed against the window, letting me know I was not alone.
Comforted, I wrapped my hands around my mug of tea, warming them while I waited eagerly to see what I was going to say.
My small desk was just big enough for a laptop, a bouquet of silk flowers, and a candle. It was positioned in a corner of the bedroom I shared with my husband just a few months prior, before we separated. The room was unusually large and resembled a dance studio with its vast space and wood floors.
From the moment I first walked through the door, I knew the house was meant for us and hoped it was a good omen for the future of our family. In the beginning, I kept it clean – carefully making the bed by day and lighting candles by night.
Months later, clothes and clutter lay scattered in disarray without care. Regardless of how hard I tried, all my efforts to fix the relationship from the outside could not heal the brokenness within. The awareness of this, along with the impending inevitable, left me scared and sad. But there at my desk, in the hours past bedtime, I found hope.
Throughout the course of a year, our marriage of fourteen years had gone from bad to worse, and was now unraveling in rapid acceleration. At eighteen, I married the only boyfriend I had ever had, saving myself and my first kiss for my wedding day. I was naïve and excited for my future – in love with a dream and the promise of security.
Our first year was rough and quickly set in motion a cycle of highs and lows, a pattern that would continue for the next thirteen years. In the beginning, I stood up for myself, expecting to be heard and validated.
It wasn’t long before his adept arguing left me confused and accepting blame, even when I was right. But, I continued to fight, drying tears when he told me not to cry and hiding anger when derided for being too hard. My weaknesses embarrassed him and my strengths threatened him; I moved accordingly, morphing like a chameleon to become whatever he needed.
When I tried to better myself, he took the credit or sabotaged my efforts. When I began dabbling in photography, I was not mothering enough. When I poured myself into my daughters, I was enabling them and not loving him enough. His angry outbursts were often followed by love notes and admonitions from the church pulpit for husbands to treat their wives like queens.
And, in doing so, I lost my voice.
I moved along robotically as long as I could, smiling and patching holes in a life of veneer as I tried to convince the world and myself that I was happy. As dreams of the family I had imagined began to blur, I held tightly to all I had known.
About a year before the marriage ended, we moved closer to his work – a last attempt to salvage what was left, or so I thought, though later events would reveal other reasons.
In a new town, I was stripped of the comforts of familiarity and forced to face the dysfunction I had been denying. I hated my life of dependence and at the same time, was paralyzed by the fear of anything other than what I knew.
Late one night, when all had gone to bed, I started to write. The next night, I returned. Like clockwork, as the last of my family fell asleep, I would prepare my tea, escape to the corner in my upstairs bedroom, and write.
And, in doing so, I found my voice.
As the exterior of my life began to erode, inside were seeds of hope. Words, once dormant, sprung to life as they found their way from my soul to the page, chasing away fear and sadness with their arrival.
The more I wrote, the more I found the courage to leave that life and begin another.
Just after Christmas that year, I filed for divorce and moved out six months later. Four years have passed since those chilly fall nights at my laptop, in the corner of my upstairs bedroom. There is much that differs from my old life, including a new desk in a downstairs bedroom. But there is much that remains, like writing in the hours past bedtime. And, as the dark branches of October brush against my window, I warm my hands around a mug of tea, and I wait eagerly to see what I am going to say.