48: Doors Wide Open

48: Doors Wide Open

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Doors Wide Open

Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the common sense.

~Helen Rowland

I could see the white sedan pulling into the driveway through the half-open blinds of my home office. My first instinct was to scream. I felt like a giddy sixteen-year-old schoolgirl instead of a forty-two-year-old mother of three going on a blind date.

I had agreed a few nights before at a moms’ night out, glass of chardonnay in hand, to go out with Rob, the best friend of my friend Florence’s husband. She passed along my number, and he called the next night. It was a surprisingly easy conversation. My children, ages ten, eight, and six, had just vacated for the weekend with their dad, and Rob was dead-on when he asked, “What did you do first? Clean up or catch your breath and relax?” From there we shared lighthearted stories about our kids (he had two, ages seven and five) and dangled tidbits about our failed marriages — enough that I was curious about how a man could be as relieved and positive about his divorce as I was.

It had taken me almost a year to get to this optimistic place. At first, when my husband moved out on the notion that he needed “a break,” I felt defeated. I’d already gone through the pain of caring for and losing both of my parents within eighteen months, and now my husband was leaving me alone with three young kids.

I couldn’t help feeling punished — like everyone except me deserved loving husbands and nearby extended families. At Back-to-School Night and on the soccer fields, I felt my singleness the most. And then right before the holidays, we got hit with lice (yes, all four of us had live bugs). As I picked nits out of hair for hours every night and waded through piles of laundry, I wondered if for the rest of my life I would have to tackle every obstacle alone. That included the thirty-six inches of snow that was dumped a few days later, the day after Christmas. I had to climb out my kitchen window to attempt to shovel, only to realize my kids had played with the shovels the night before and they were all buried. It was all too much, and I found myself paralyzed on the couch. (Later, I would say: “My mom died, my dad died, and my husband left, and I survived. It was the lice and snow that nearly killed me.”)

So what changed? In February, as I approached my forty-second birthday, I went to one of those women’s “change your life for the better” workshops, led by a woman I knew who had also gone through a divorce. I learned some important lessons that night from women who had come through way worse than I had, including breast cancer and abusive marriages.

I, Jennifer Chauhan, was the only person responsible for my happiness. Not my ex-husband. Not my children. Not my mom’s six surviving siblings or my brothers who lived on the other side of the country. Not my friends.

Nobody owed me anything.

If I believed in my heart that my life could change for the better, it would.

Shedding my victim skin, I began reciting very Zen-like (slightly scaring all those around me), “I choose not to suffer. I choose to be happy.”

I wrote down in my journal everything I wanted in my life: to sell my house for the asking price; for my divorce to go amicably and for me to get what I needed; to be successful professionally and do well financially.

I paused a moment before writing, “to find a true partner who loves me for me.” Could this really happen?

The night Rob and I met was my thirteen-year wedding anniversary. Exactly one year prior I had slid off my wedding rings and asked for a divorce (just one week after my husband had moved out).

So much had changed in a year.

Coincidentally (or not, as I’m more and more inclined to believe) Rob had moved out the same weekend Chris had. He’d been married just about the same length — twelve years.

We were traveling on paths winding toward one another.

We spent that first night together at an outside bar overlooking the ocean, talking and laughing as we shared stories about our kids and opened up about our marriages. We laughed until we cried as I realized my six-year-old son was obsessed with all-boy bands, namely Big Time Rush, and how I told my friends the best way for them to be my friend was to stop giving advice and “hold my hand and shut up.”

Rob’s given me a fairytale romance — strolling through Washington Square Park and kissing for hours on a park bench (serenaded by an NYU violin student), taking me to the ballet, sending me late-night love texts — that is still as passionate and romantic and real nearly three years later.

At times, I’ve been guarded. Having lost so much in such a short time, I have a fear of abandonment — I’m wired to expect people to leave me. But Rob shows over and over again that I can trust him. He wants me to open up and be real, share my fears, my concerns. He wants me to cry when I miss my mom and tell him when I think he’s not doing enough.

There are no games. No lies.

Our kids have met, get along wonderfully, and even though we live an hour apart and are not sure how logistically we can get married anytime soon (there’s alimony, I don’t want to uproot my kids, etc.) we know we will always be together.

And because he believes in me and in us, I have gone on to do braver things than open my front door to a blind date in a white sedan. I’ve sold my marital home and discarded the belongings of my former life, including my favorite white everyday Williams-Sonoma dishes, the brand-new king-sized bed that was never shared, even my still-sealed-in-plastic framed wedding photo.

I’ve opened my own business, a writing studio, and offer creative writing workshops for teenagers and adults. And now I’m starting a nonprofit to help disadvantaged kids achieve academic success and personal growth through writing.

Most of the time, I have no idea what I’m doing and just plunge ahead, figuring it out as I go. Having been thrown too many curve balls, I know this is the better approach.

Life is messy; it’s unpredictable. The only known is that we get to choose how we want to experience it. And I want live mine with doors wide open and believing that anything is possible.

~Jennifer Chauhan

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