I was running to the tune of Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," slipping on giant playing cards — aces, spades, diamonds, hearts, slick and flat like bodyboards — running faster and faster as the music grew louder. There was joy in this running, such abandon; the cards flying behind me in white, red, and black, my feet flying too. I was going to win this race, whatever this race was, and then I heard the gentle plink-plonking of the "crystal drops" setting of my iPhone alarm clock, and grief punched me right between the eyes: I was back in my real life. I was on my sister's couch, not in my bed, and I had 20 minutes to get home to have breakfast with my son.
My ex and I are separating, and we're sleeping on people's couches as we try to decide what to do with the househome that was ours for the past six years.
"Where were you, Mommy?" says my son.
"Just at my sister's. I'm here now." The hurt is a vise around my throat, though tears never materialize because I'm a big girl and he's just a small boy.
One day I won't be here at breakfast, I want to say to him. I don't say that to him, not yet. But now, when I look at him, I often feel sorrow and guilt. He's six, and he has no idea how much his life is about to change. And there's nothing I can do about it.
When I was trying to figure out why I remained in my marriage, I would turn to the Internet to tell me why I should stay. I read silly articles about relationships: "Ten Signs You Should Break Up," "Five Secrets to Long-term Coupledom," "How to Fall in Love Again."
I took quizzes: "Does Your Main Squeeze Truly Get You?" "Are You Happy in Your Love Life?"
I kept staying mainly because I couldn't imagine not being around my son full-time. My ex and I were good parents, but not good partners. The Internet just spewed bullshit at me; it told me nothing about how to make things work.
Yet today, I still turn to the Internet, like it's God, to tell me how to cope.
I type "dealing with split custody," and I get a blog by a single mom who talks about winning sole custody (not that useful) and lots of other legal information, but that's not what I'm asking the Internet. I'm asking about what to do with my aching love, what to do with cuddles that will itch to come out and there's no warm, sticky boy body to receive them?
Finally, I find a forum for moms talking about the emotional aspects of shared custody, and it gives me very little hope. "Sometimes I just want to curl up in a ball and die because it hurts so bad," one commenter wrote about her child. "I stare at her picture and I am overcome with terrible feelings of remorse and sadness."
The other night, my son and I lay curled up on the couch, watching Myth Busters. He was eating slices of apples and pears, and I was falling asleep. I had a dream where my ex cut my son's long, golden hair when I wasn't around. My son's hair is like Samson's hair — he is proud of it, of his determination to not cut it. Despite being teased about it in school, despite the hair always falling into his eyes, it is his strength. It is part of his identity.