I walked across the street to the only tall building on campus. Every week I go the the fifth floor of the tall building to talk to my therapist. Most days there are groups of college students gathered at tables just outside the entrance, enjoying the sunny southern California weather. Today there was only one woman reading something on a Kindle. And then a man running toward me. He jogged by me so quickly that a gust of wind followed his body. Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio filled my nostrils. Immediately my mood soured. He smelled exactly like my ex.
Recently, a lot of days that I go to therapy, I’m not struggling with depression. So during those visits, my therapist and I discuss job prospects, my relationship with my boyfriend, or our cats — we both have Siamese mixes that we adopted and love dearly. If I feel like talking about my ex, I do. If I don’t, I steer the conversation to other things for that week. It ebbs and flows. Some people may see this as a waste of money. I see it as an opportunity to build my life around something other than the man represented by my clouded memories. They create a caricature of the person he was. They don’t tell me who he is now. Because now, he isn’t in my life any more than meager interaction through surprisingly emotionally-draining texts.
“Any news on the divorce papers?” She asks me, cradling her arm. She broke it playing tennis, and this week, it’s just come out of the cast. It still looks extremely swollen and painful.
“No,” I reply. I sniffle. How the hell I managed to come down with a cold when it’s ninety degrees outside, I don’t know.
“Do you think he’s dodging you? Avoiding responsibility?”
“I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised. But I have texts from the day he received the papers, and I let him know explicitly that he only had twenty-one days to sign and return copies to me.” My therapist smiled.
“Look at you,” she said. “You’re keeping track of everything. You’re organized. And best of all, you’re almost finished with this.”
Yes, she’s right. I’m almost finished with this. Should I feel more satisfied with my life now? Should I feel triumphant? I’m not sure how to respond.
“Yeah,” I say weakly. My head is still swimming with dredged-up memories from smelling that man’s cologne. Some of the memories are pleasant. I remember buying that cologne as a gift for him. I remember smelling it on him while I snuggled with him, or whenever he walked by my desk at work. Others are not pleasant. It reminds me of arguing with him while he told me he’d fuck my best friend in front of me if she walked through the door that very moment. Or when he sneered in my face as I told him he’d better help clean up the window he’d broken while wrestling with another one of our friends. He ended up doing nothing. I paid to replace the window, and told the rental office some lie about how my nephew was over and roughhoused too much. I don’t have a nephew. But I apparently had a child for a husband. Close enough?
My therapist continued to talk about how glad I’ll be when this is all over. And I agree, I will be glad when the papers are signed and I can begin to heal without worrying about legal paperwork. But there is a part of me knows that memories are unburied at the most unexpected times. Like when a man rushes by you and inadvertently forces you to smell the cologne your ex wore. Other times, you hear a laugh that sounds like his, or you see a picture of him on Facebook. Fragments of the person you used to know — these memories — will never combine to create an accurate picture of who the person was then, and most certainly not who the person is today. I can’t base anything off those feelings. But they do evoke powerful emotions while you’re healing. This is the hardest part for me. It is beyond my control and it is completely unavoidable. And to think that something as small as a smell can incite anger in me is frightening.
When my paperwork is done, it will be a symbolic moment for me. My marriage will be legally over, although emotionally it was over nearly a year ago. But the legal documents will not erase memories I have, good or bad. I don’t even think time will erase many of these memories. I just hope that someday, I can have these memories unburied and think to myself, “Oh yeah. That happened,” and move on with my day, rather than dwell on the emotions that accompany them.
“How’s Steven?” Asks my therapist. I smile. Much more pleasant memories fill my head as I think about the man who truly loves me.