Before I walked through the doorway yesterday, I took a second to repeat the prayer that had become my mantra throughout this process.
God, help me fight for her best interests, and not my own.
Three hours later, I emerged with a signed and stapled document clutched in my left hand, seventeen double-spaced pages the last remnants of a life I once thought was mine to live. I had emerged victorious. I took a second to text the people who had been sending their best wishes and most fervent prayers to my phone since 9 am--"it's over. I'm happy."
And in that moment, I was. God had given me the strength to answer my own prayers.
It took about an hour before I lost my breath entirely, flipping through the pages over and over, as if I was going to find something in them that would change the outcome. I turned onto Merino, headed home, and pulled over to the side of the road, gasping.
Today I stand in my garage, middle of a work day, eyes swollen almost shut from the tears that won't stop flowing. I'm smoking a cigarette as if it's the last lifeline I have, sipping a chai latte from the mug that features her smiling two-year-old face, all chubby baby cheeks and windblown hair. Two neighbors drive past, stop, say hello and look like they want to say more. I have no doubt how I look and I don't really care. I'm surrounded, in the garage, by the jogging stroller I thought I would use, clothes from her first three years in bins and boxes, the tricycle she never quite got the hang of.
I'm only going to raise her for 7.5 of the next 15 years. She's only half mine.
She wasn't ever really fully mine to begin with. She's her own person, with a right to spend just as much time with her dad as with me. It was a no-brainer decision, one I accepted willingly.
I had prearranged to take the day off today, knowing that this was probably going to happen and that I was probably going to need the time to sit in my sadness. I was right. I keep thinking about calendars, fifteen more years of life in two- and five-day increments, the light days and the dark ones, the ones that I keep my wounds tightly bound and the ones that I unwind the dressing and let them breathe without worrying about her seeing them. I need to sit down with my own calendar and update the highlighted days when she'll be home, but I can't bring myself to think about it right now. All those numbered boxes with nothing in them.
Driving to her ballet class last night, she babbled on about her friends and her school day and then, out of nowhere, "Mommy, what are you going to be when you grow up?" She's very into this idea of growing up these days, of being grown up, peppering all her statements with the soul-crushingly adorable prefix, "when I was a little girl...." As if she's not a little girl right now, her tiny hand fitting perfectly into my palm, her body the exact right size to sit in my lap and read a book about happily ever after. I wasn't sure how to answer her question, so I asked her instead. And she said, "when I grow up I want to be a good mommy, just like you."
She's never said I was good before.
I have no idea how I'm going to go back to my regularly scheduled life tomorrow, posting debits and credits and reconciling bank statements without seeing this gaping maw of empty days in front of me, reminding me how deep the knife can go without causing permanent damage. But in a feat of liturgical brilliance, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance, fasting, and reconciliation in my faith tradition. And at lunchtime, I'll slip out of my office and down the street to a church where I'll kneel and say, "Have mercy on us, Lord" and let someone else's thumb mark my forehead with a cross.
Remember that you are dust.
And to dust, you shall return.