October 8th, 2010 - Nina B. Lichtenstein
My three sons were at their dad’s down the street, sleeping in their childhood rooms whose walls I had painted and curtains I had sewn and posters I had framed. I didn't miss the gigantic old house with crooked kitchen drawers and yard so expansive it needed a gardener we couldn’t afford, but I yearned to cuddle with the boys in the spaces where memories filled each room. “Pick some of your favorite toys and games to bring to mamma’s place,” I told them in a strained, cheerful voice when I packed to move out. We had shared custody which I was happy about, since their dad was a loving father.
I woke up with a headache, as I did most mornings the year I divorced. I opened my eyes and took in my new, still unfamiliar bedroom, and a glass sitting empty on my nightstand, next to my iPhone facing down. A tiny golden-brown puddle lingered in the bottom of the tumbler, reminding me of the bourbon I drank the night before. Oh God, what and whom did I text last night? Combined with the Ambien, the alcohol gave me what I craved: oblivion, the kind that holds no room for pain, except for the hangover and anxiety the next day. And I had Xanax and Tylenol for that. Twenty-three years of marriage was over.
It’s Friday, and the boys are coming to me for the next four days. I can’t wait to wrap my arms around them, feed them, and feel buoyed by their energy. I put the half empty bottle of booze back on the top shelf of the pantry, scroll through my phone and wince. The last text to my ex is laced with swearwords I don’t remember writing.
At the super market, I run into several friends, and one after the other exclaims, “Wow, Nina, you look great!” for I am the slimmest I have been since I was twenty-three, when I got married. Their positive reactions to my svelte appearance give me affirmation that feels good, but I’ve never been more miserable, forgetting to eat for the first time in my life. I buy a bouquet of orange, long-stemmed roses and a bunch of purple Alstroemeria, and although the roses barely have a scent, their vibrant colors lift my spirits.
In the months before I moved out in May 2010, I’d fantasize at night when I couldn’t sleep about how to reimagine a life that had seemed so cemented, so safe. Should I move back to Norway, to my family? Or to Israel, and finally learn Hebrew? Maybe I would meet a man who could be a more engaging partner in the Jewish life I had adopted when I converted before marrying my Jewish-born husband? Ever since my youth, when I worked summers at a family resort by the ocean in southern Norway, I saw myself running a bed and breakfast later in life. I also dreamt of being a writer, not just a girl who scribbled in her journal and sent the occasional anonymous letter to the editor of the teen magazine Det Nye.
And here I am in Maine, ten years later, a place that with its real winters, rugged coast line, and majestic pine trees that release the scent of sap into the air, reminds me of home. Every Shabbat dinner, my partner sings, “A woman of valor, far beyond pearls is her value,” to me in Hebrew. He is also a convert to Judaism, and around town we use Hebrew as our “secret language,” because after living in Israel, I can kind of hold my own in this unique tongue. I pick Zinnias from our garden for the arrival of our next AirBnB guests, and I open a lot of emails with rejections from editors, but also rejoice when, occasionally, a dream publication finally says “yes.”
In the fall of 2010 I drank too much, ate too little, and cried a lot. It took time to heal and to find the courage to begin again. One by one, the reveries from sleepless nights in 2010 came true. Now, in the fall of 2020, I close my eyes and visualize what it will be like the next time my grown boys sit around our dinner table, once the pandemic makes travelling and visiting okay again. I’ll make their favorite dinner, teriyaki salmon and garlic green beans; I’ll shower them with hugs and kisses, and bless them all in Hebrew.
Nina is a native of Oslo, Norway who lives in Maine. She holds a PhD in French literature and an MFA from University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program. Her writing has appeared in Brevity, Tablet, Lilith, The Washington Post and Hippocampus (forthcoming), among other places. She is currently working on a memoir titled 'Body: A Life in Parts' and editing an anthology of personal essays by converts to Judaism.
Nina encourage folks to support: Chapman Partnership, a Florida organization that empowers the homeless. Visit chapmanpartnership.org.