My parents have significant others who are not each other: a 10-word sentence that took me more than four years to vocalize, let alone type out.
I grew up in a quiet suburb nestled into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Every Sunday, my dad and I would go to the farmers’ market and pick out vibrant vegetables and oily pita chips to haul home for dinner. On Saturdays, my mom would typically extend the offer to bike through the golden grass hills of the South Bay.
On the outside, our life presented as a Nissan car commercial: a small family loading into an SUV getting excited for another youth soccer game or off-key production of Annie.
As I grew older, I started to see visible cracks form in this facade. These cracks eventually became enough to shatter my nuclear family during my freshman year of high school. I was met with the news that my parents would be filing for divorce.
While navigating a broken home became a full-time job, I also added therapy to my weekly routine. I spent every Tuesday evening in a chilled third-floor office pouring out my emotions on a large gray couch.
After speeding through a lackluster recount of my 15 years of life for the first few sessions, I was introduced to something known as Kübler-Ross’ cycle of grief. While this cycle is most commonly reserved for those dealing with the death of a loved one, my therapist explained that I experienced a death the day my parents broke the news of their separation to me: the death of a family.
My dad was most likely calling me from Chelmsford, Massachusetts. He would be back in a week with a clay magnet featuring a red lobster to add to my growing refrigerator collection.
The packed bags brimming with stuffed animals were not meant for a new house, just for a weekend trip away. We will be back soon.
Christmases with two plates for German stollen bread instead of three. Trips to New Jersey with a hole in the middle seat of the plane. Metrics such as plates and plane seats became physical manifestations of a loss I could no longer ignore.
I haven’t texted the family group chat in months. I wonder if they’ve noticed. I hope they have.
You expect me to attend a wedding and pretend that everything in my life is okay? The thought of celebrating the creation of a family while mine is breaking before my eyes has got to be some cruel joke.
Underneath this anger was raw pain no one seemed to notice. I wanted people to share in that pain, and take some of the burden I bore from the divorce off of my back.
What if I went back in time and recognized awkward silences at the dinner table? What if I went back in time and didn’t fan the flames of fighting during long car rides through California highways?
When I was little, my parents used to lightheartedly prod me about my obsession with hyperbolic hypotheticals. Little did either of them know, these hypotheticals shifted from imaginative falsehoods to self-pitying sentiments.
I could have done something, anything. I didn’t.
I failed. I failed in fixing something so integral to my life.
I no longer have energy to ask myself how to move forward. I became content with my fixed state of sarcasm. People often complimented my ability to cope with trauma via humor, but never complimented me on my ability to tuck my mess of emotions away in a neat little box under my bed.
I later realized that compartmentalizing was not a compliment-worthy method of coping. I started to cry more, but also started to smile more. The sinking into great sadness allowed me to understand that a healthier life existed on the horizon.
Arriving at UC Berkeley for my move into Putnam Hall was the first time I saw my parents in the same room since the day their impending divorce was announced to me.
While my knees went weak walking into the courtyard for the great reunion, my stomach somehow stopped turning after pleasantries were exchanged. In the place of my former family, I saw two people who had outgrown a relationship. But they had not outgrown me.
As children, we are often raised to look at our parents as beings who transcend humanity. While this certainly allows a culture of respect to be created within a household, we are unable to create a lens where parents are seen as people.
Leaving my childhood home behind allowed me to look at my parents as two individuals leading lives outside of a setting that I often used to merge their identities into one idealistic unit.
Divorce usually carries such a negative connotation, which is why I continuously allowed grief to follow each step I took throughout my high school years. I frequently forced myself to explore hurt and ignore the reality of growing pains that led all three of us into healthier directions.
We never fully overcome a loss, but we evolve to accept that loss.
My parents have significant others who are not each other, and I am happy for them.