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May 5th, 2012 - Lisa Allen

May 5, 2012 is a word problem.

I’ve been divorced 1,276 days (or 3 years, 5 months, and 29 days). We separated a full year before that, so add 365.

My kids were 15, 11, and 8. The oldest was prepping to go to college two years early; the middle was graduating from fifth grade; the youngest was finishing third. I still parented in the gender binary; it would be three years before one kid came out as queer, five years before that same kid came out as non-binary. In 2012, we went to Girl Scouts. In 2012, I said she.

I was about two months away from breaking up with the first man to whom I said I love you after my divorce. He was not the first man I’d dated. He wasn’t the first man I’d had sex with or the first man I ghosted. He wasn’t even the first man I’d loved, but he was the first man who made me feel safe. Safe is how he said other women described him when we first started messaging. Like vanilla ice cream, he’d said. Dependable. We’d been together about a year before we dissolved, and we dissolved the same way we began (via long emails). I blogged then, but not about him. That was an issue—not the blogging, but his absence from the blogs. Facebook was also a problem, for the same reason. So was Twitter.

My ex-husband lived two doors down the road. He was in arrears in child support. He may or may not have had a car. When he moved there, post separation, he said it was so the kids could spend as much time as they wanted to with him. It will be easier, he’d said. They can just walk down. In reality, the kids spent maybe two days with him a week. I can’t watch them. I work, you know. When they left I’d stare at the wall and drool for what felt like twenty-four hours but was probably more like two. If I left, he knew. If I had someone over, he knew. I felt like a fish in the clearest bowl.

May 5, 2012 was a Saturday. That didn’t mean much because I freelanced, so I worked every day. Felt like all day. I’d tried to work a “real job” after the divorce, but the paralegal gig was like an abusive marriage, and the corporate sales gig was painful in a different way, and the staffing agency—where I learned to drug test folks who thought hopping up and down while they downed a bottle of water would flush the coke from their system—closed up. Then there I was: a spotty job history, and three kids to watch on school holidays and when they were sick, and rent to pay to a landlord who once called and asked if I slept naked, then said if the kids aren’t home I can come over.

So, I hustled my way into freelancing. A chance at a local magazine led to another local magazine led to a kind woman who referred me to her boss at an online dating site where I was hired to write profiles for lonely souls looking for love (or something like it). This is part of the word problem: how many articles and profiles would I need to write to pay the bills/connect the dots/make it to tomorrow?

It sounds melodramatic to me, too. It does. But it wasn’t then. It was reality, and it was hard. I’ve read that memory is often sacrificed during trauma and it must be true because I’ve mostly lost the day to day. Skimming back through emails with a friend I find the same words, like skips on vinyl: empty/exhausted/overwhelmed/overdrawn/angry.

But there was joy, too. I remember. My oldest making coffee in the mornings and bringing it upstairs, where he’d sit on the edge of my bed and talk to me as I woke up. My middle guy making a bowl of spaghetti for me for lunch and bringing it to me at my desk, then leaving little notes that said I luv you mommy. My youngest concocting new cupcake recipes (maple bacon, ginger pear) and spending entire afternoons in the kitchen, a cute pink apron tied around their tiny waist, music on the boombox, them singing along. (I stop here to think about pronouns: do I say she because my youngest hadn’t yet told me, and that’s the language I knew? I can’t. Not now. Not knowing what I know, which is that it pains them in a visceral way to be misgendered. To not be seen).

I remember strawberry picking and making jam, picnics in the park and bedtime routines. A sticky summer trip to a tourist trap in Missouri. The four of us riding the wave pool, having ice cream for dinner. Kissing them goodnight damn near every night.

Add ten years. About forty pounds. School events and concerts and parent teacher conferences. A women’s march on an unspeakable day. Countless therapy sessions. A handful of cars, all beaters. Two bachelor’s degrees (my oldest), three master’s degrees (two for me, one for my oldest), a master’s in progress (my oldest), two bachelor’s degrees in progress (my middle guy, my youngest). Thousands of miles to move kids into and out of dorm rooms, to visit, to hug. Another stab at love. Four tattoos. Several botched haircuts. Wisdom teeth and high blood pressure. A real job I actually like. A pandemic and all its requisite lock down/virtual school/furlough days. Each of these their own essay, if only the equation allowed.

This word problem has no solution, because there’s nothing to be solved. But here’s the result: we survived. My kids are good humans. I tell them all the time that I have to love them but it’s a privilege to like them. And I do.


Lisa Allen’s work has appeared in Essay Daily, Lily Poetry Review, December, Midway Journal, Bacopa Literary Review, 3 Elements Review, and several anthologies. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and holds two MFAs, one in Creative Nonfiction and one in Poetry, from the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program. She is co-founder, with poet Rebecca Connors, of the virtual creative space The Notebooks Collective, and a founding co-editor of the anthology series Maximum Tilt. Lisa Lives in Kansas, where she works at a public library and is learning to empty nest. She love for your to learn more about The Trevor Project.


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