If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.

15 Jun

“Mommy, why doesn’t Daddy live with us anymore?”

I’m busy unravelling bacon into a pan when she asks, casually holding Mao-Mao in her arms, thumb ajar from her mouth. The glitter on her new Hello Kitty shirt catches the random sunlight in the room, her eyes wide and sad.

I stumble, the words in my head (cause he’s a jerk/cause I’m a bad wife/cause he was a bad husband/we were too young/we gave up/cause it’s the right thing) and spit out the old line.

“Because sometimes Mommy’s and Daddy’s can’t live together.”

She stares into my heart, and knows it’s bigger, and yet simpler than this. She senses the pause before I talk, the catch in my breath, the worry.

“But why can’t he wrestle in your bedroom with us anymore?”

I stifle the heave in my chest, months later, still hidden deep inside, and just shake my head.

“You can do that at his house Honey Bear.”

“But I want to do it here.”

What to say? How do I make this better, this hurt I cannot control, cannot change, and am at a helpless mercy to? How can I soothe a 5-year-old who only knows that Daddy isn’t here, and hasn’t been for a while?

“Do you miss Daddy?” I ask softly

Her eyes grow wider. “Yes Mummy.” The thumb pops back into her mouth, and she grows quiet again.

The hurts I cannot solve, or salve. The ache of something broken, something lost. In my head I’m screaming “It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” but find myself helpless, torn between modelling calm acceptance or just sitting down on the floor with her and agreeing that yes, I hate this too. I don’t miss the fights. But I miss my family, as fractured as it was.

Like a fluttering curtain in the breeze, my heart wavers on her gaze, settles as the wind calms, hangs slack. There was a life before, and a life now, and the in between where my daughter still lives, emerges from slowly. The bareness of our life now, the aching hole.

I recognize it, its burn and sting. The empty seat in the picture. The word missing, the shuffle of houses, the irrevocable destruction wreaked upon my children. I have tasted this, in different ways but still, the nectar is close enough to dose my heart and chest in the shuttering stop.


There are things I know as true. That life isn’t fair, never will be. That I can control myself, and on a basic level, nothing more. That love and hate are more than two sides of the same coin, ofttimes muddled together like a trifle, sweet and cool on the lips, glittering in the light.

I know it’s true that you can mend a heart. But I also know it’s never quite the same.


I finish a book that leaves me breathless, and aware of myself. I can feel my nerves alive from words, the tears which come unbidden as I read on the bus, a patio. How the tentacles of the story stretch out and slither into my body, connections gloriously made. I smile into the clouds and realize, for the first time in years, I am truly and utterly moved. I see myself hovering briefly, reaching out to meet skin, and feel silenced by awe.

I am returning, me who has been lost. Dusty and worn, but aching to feel more than the numbness of these years.

The book speaks of love, loss, and love yet again. I swell with hope.


I don’t have an easy answer for Rosalyn, or Vivian, or hell, even myself. There’s 101 reasons why their parents can’t be together, even if I don’t want to admit them, bound by pride and a sense of duty. We’re both happier, the kids are happier. But they know. They recognize that something has shifted, a new normal descended. Soon, they won’t remember when we were a family together, and perhaps he’ll take a wife or I’ll find a lover who will turn into a partner and life will move on.

But memory isn’t a fair judge or jury. And hearts carry their scars like flags into the future.


Ros curls into me in the morning sun, pressing against my body as I wake slowly, as she does every morning, thumb in mouth, head boring into my arm. We rest for minutes, before the alarm, before the day begins running, snapping orders, hugs, the detritus of day-to-day life.

There was never enough room in the bed before for her tiny body.


11 Responses to “If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.”

  1. sweetsalty kate June 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    You’re such a good writer.

  2. Bon June 15, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    yes. yes you are.

    someday, when they are almost women and they ask, you can show them this. and they will know how much they were loved and supported through this, and that, i think, will mean a great deal in the healing.

  3. hodgepodgeandstrawberries June 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    It amazes me that you can take something so sad and turn it into something beautiful. Your skill as a writer humbles me.

    As a survivor of two divorces, I can tell you that giving her a hug and saying “yes honey, it is sad, and I sometimes wish things could be the way they used to be” is immeasurably comforting.

    • hodgepodgeandstrawberries June 15, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

      And by survivor I meant my mom was divorced twice, not me. Seesh. Bad grammar after a day talking to preschoolers.

  4. Quadelle June 15, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    It’s a hard road, but you’re travelling it well. The girls are blessed to have you so aware and attuned to them and their needs.

  5. Trusturgut June 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    That was very well said and well written. How long has it been now? Since he’s moved… Gosh as I was reading I’ve been all the pieces in tht puzzle, Ros, u and as of late even him on some level. When u spoke about her not remembering all of you once living together as a family sadly you are probably correct about that. But I guess we all learn to create a
    new normal. I remember a very looonnnggg time ago at my college graduation watching both my parents speaking to each other. It was the oddest image to me. I even said to my mother later, I don’t think Ive ever seen you two have a conversation. My mother being ever the wise ass said well we obviously spoke sometimes, you’re here. They didn’t end badly just ‘youngly’ but I too was 4 going on 5. Now in the last month I have had to leave my partner and her 5 year old I have sobbed my guts up over missing her and now not getting to watch her grow
    up. But my partner has Bp(diagnosed) and also PTSD(also diagnosed) and I’m getting more convinced that she also struggles w severe
    borderline pers disorder. Truly I’m still grieving all this mess. Not much else to say right now but thank you for writing what you did

  6. Marcy June 16, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    The thumb popping back in the mouth speaks loudly to me: “Good, mama, you understand; I feel heard and that’s a comfort.”

    That, and, how apt is “unraveling bacon” — love it!

  7. thordora June 16, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    You all make me feel smart, and like I know what I’m doing. 😀

    Thank you.

  8. Holly June 16, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    ‘If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies’

    What a perfect, perfect statement. Your gift in writing so thoughtfully and reflectively about these changes — in you, in your family — rises impressively out of a situation viewed as a nightmare of stress and strain. You are amazing, and how lucky everyone is to have you!

  9. Jason Dufair June 17, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    The first noble truth – all life is suffering. Coming to some understanding of that suffering is our goal. I think you are doing a good job of imparting that understanding to your babies. I was Rosalyn’s age when my folks split. They never helped me understand it. I understand it now, through sheer force of will. And I’m okay with it now. I’d have been more okay with it then too, probably, with more understanding.


  1. Tweets that mention If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies. « Spin Me I Pulsate -- Topsy.com - June 15, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bipolar Blogs, Shellie Williams. Shellie Williams said: RT @Bipolar_Blogs: If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies. http://is.gd/cQBpJ […]

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