I was 6 years old when my parents separated. I was 9 when they divorced. I’m 35 now and for all intents and purposes, I am over it. I had years of counseling, two amazing parents who made sure every emotional and physical need was met, and two wonderful step parents and sisters that sweetened the deal. My parents’ separation was the best thing for them, I can see that now as a married woman myself and a mother of two. Marriage is hard and children, while pure miracles in their own right, add another level of challenge to the delicate web of marriage. I can understand how pressures of work, finances, household responsibilities, and hopes for the future can directly impact the health of a marriage. My brain can logically understand all of that, quite simply actually. But the heart, oh the delicate heart of our soul and being that rests deeply inside, that isn’t motivated or ruled by logic, sense, and reason. It feels what it will and the older and wiser I get, I try less to dominate these emotional waves and instead lean into them. Feel them. We are supposed to. The disintegration of a family is sad and tragic and it’s anyone involved’s right to process, heal and move on in their own time. There are wounds that heal quickly with thick layers of scarring and new skin grows over it, perhaps even more beautiful than what was originally there, but other wounds, some may never fully heal.
I’m 35 years old but my parents are still my parents and always will be. I will forever be their child. It sounds silly to describe it out loud, but I’ve always felt in some way my brother and I were orphaned. How dramatic to say such a thing when we had two devoted parents and two beautiful new homes. But there was no longer the one home we all shared. We didn’t have both sets of parents sitting together at our school performances and basketball game. There weren’t two sets of kisses goodnights. Instead, there were two new homes, two new step parents and a new step-sister and half-sister and that nagging feeling of always missing the other parent we weren’t with. We were two new beautifully blended families, arguably more special than the original for there was more love and less fighting and healthier models of love. And yet, where was our one true home where we belonged all the time? The original unit of the four of us was gone forever, and in our case, with the long separation, it was a bit of a slow and painful death. Although we were both in it together, my brother and I have very different ways in which our parents’ divorce impacted our lives and story. I obsessively treasure photos, mementos such as my mother’s wedding dress and their wedding album, items from our original home - so treasured and special to me not just because they were in our family home, but because surely there must have been a story behind it. I’ve hunted for and found many photos of my parents in the early years, snuggled together on a couch, holding hands on a walk, laughing together and holding each other. There in those old photos no one wanted is the proof that once upon a time there was love there. There was so much love in fact that they married and chose to have children. The immeasurable comfort I get from seeing these photos is in knowing that I was created in love.
My mother and I have had long and frequent conversations over the years about what life was like back when we were simply a family of four. Sometimes I can hear it in her voice, things may still be raw or tinged with resentment. But I can also hear the love and how it was a huge chapter of her life and story. She will always share children with a man she no longer loves and I can’t imagine how that would feel. There are rare instances in which my father and I are able to talk about our past, it’s not his favorite topic and I’m not one to push. This summer was a rare exception. The asked me to go for a walk with him and told me to ask him anything I wanted to know about him and my mother and the divorce. As we walked the length of my favorite beach I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face and the refrained sob in my throat. Why was I still so emotional? I really am ok in my life, why in the world was I so upset? I asked the scary questions that were still nagging deep in my heart and I wasn’t even sure I wanted the real answers for. Did having children ruin your marriage? Do you wish you could have done it differently? Did you ever truly love my mother? Were we not enough for you both to fight for? (Silly me, there are even tears running down my face as I type this. It just goes to show how raw these questions still are.) His answers were private and sacred between us and truly irrelevant to share here, but what is most important for me to express is how special it is for children to be able to talk to their parents, to ask them questions. As the children, it’s our history, our story too. Most of us were very young and saw things through the lens of children’s eyes, often thwarting truth and reality. New questions inevitably arise the older we get, as we too get married, have children, wade through our own strains in marriage. Having parents that acknowledge children may continue to have questions, sadness and concerns is truly a gift. I have friends who aren’t as fortunate as I am or as close to their parents that they feel comfortable asking questions and talking things through.
The two sides of the story never match perfectly and of course, they wouldn’t as we all have our own truths. But those photographic pictures, those sacred images of a time when your parents were hopelessly in love and devoted to each other, those are the relics that are more treasured and should always be saved. Even though the love faded, a family dissolved, homes were sold and new families were born, to know that the start of YOUR story did, in fact, begin with love, that's the most important piece of it all.
Britt Emmons Ricardo lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two young children. She graduated from Bates College with a degree in English and obtained an Elementary Education Teaching License from University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She currently works as a toddler preschool teacher.