red-dressWe never fought. Voices never raised until the beginning of the end. My ex and I were laid back, easy going, unfazed. I now know it was denial, passive, naive.

We definitely annoyed, but we barely bickered. About what? I don’t even remember. Amazing how memories fade even as the emotions linger. But I do remember the last fight. The memory screams out loud in my head.

I stood there in the kitchen in my new red maxi dress, a gift to myself from a girls’ weekend in New York City. Retail therapy to make me feel like a woman again. Red to make me pop, to make myself seen. Maybe he’ll see how pretty I am. Remember when I was beautiful?

But I didn’t feel beautiful. All I felt were the stings. Stings from the words we were hurling at each other. I can’t live like this. It hurts too much. I can’t breathe. Get away from me. Decisions. Breaking points. Nausea. It’s over.

How soft that beautiful dress felt against my face as I slumped against the cabinet. How well it sopped up my tears.

Over the next couple months, I packed up. You want to throw it all away. Start over. I am, however, a writer. I can’t afford that. So I took the changing table from the nursery where we laughed so hard when Ethan farted poop all over me when I changed his diaper. I wrapped up the silverware that were perfectly weighted so Adam could twirl them in his hand like a good parlor trick. I tucked away ornaments we picked out for our first Christmas tree together. I grabbed the frames that once held photos of our life and our wedding invitation—a 1-year paper anniversary gift. There was the china from our wedding and the glasses from our registry. They went from one home to another. Packed and sealed away.

Ripping open those boxes felt like ripping off a band aid on a wound that hadn’t even started healing. You don’t know how far you’ve fallen until a stack of silver-lined plates and brown Pottery Barn towels make you weep.

But they went in my cabinets. The silverware in the drawers. The dresser in Ethan’s new room. The red dress into the closet. I used them every day. The plates became mainstays for my dinner parties with the new running group I had joined. The wine glasses saw nights full of lonely tears and raucous drunken escapades with friends. I handed the ornaments to my friend Lauren who was helping me trim my tree after an entire weekend of our usual marathon conversations about body image, writing and relationships. I slid in photos of my family in Puerto Rico and a blizzard with Ethan in Pennsylvania in the frames. Later they held images of two blond boys, Aaron and Avery, with Ethan on a soccer field.

I pulled the dress out. The deep red patches of tear-stained fabric had long dried and disappeared. It was a late spring night, and I was sitting on a blanket having a picnic with friends in the Sculpture Garden in D.C. I looked up and saw him, only a crush at this point. As Mark sat down, he said, “You look beautiful.” And in that red dress, I felt beautiful.