Here Are 13 Things I Have Learned During My Separation

My savior

Obviously, a time of separation gives you reasons to reflect on your life and relationship. Not all lessons are about the relationship itself. Some are useful in other situations. All have come with a lot of sadness, pain, and struggle. But good things, too. Some of you are on the run, to escape a real threat to your welfare. Others don’t have that layer of fear, but are still struggling with significant challenges including financial.

  1. There is such a thing as remote control memory. At home, we have the same remote upstairs and downstairs, one I’ve used for over a decade. Here, the remote is quite different. My fingers don’t naturally know the order of the buttons so I’m constantly opening the wrong screen, hitting the main menu button, and squinting at the remote to figure out where I did wrong. Don’t get me started on turning on and off close captions. E and I have an agreement that he’s in charge of the remote. This reduces my utterances of “Oh Fuck” when the telly is on.
  2. When you stay in a friend’s home for months, you pick up on things like how to use the washer, where the packages are delivered, which food is up for grabs. But what never changes in waking in the middle of the night and thinking, for just a brief second, that you are home. I still expect the dresser to be in a certain space. I expect to hear someone breathing. Then it comes rushing back and you simply shut it off so you can pee and return to your new bed without stubbing your toe.
  3. Lawyers can be compassionate and supportive, but damn – paying for anything by increments of 2.4 minutes is awful. Also, get a lawyer. You will need $3000-5000 for a retainer. That seems impossible for a lot of us. But it is absolutely essential. If you know someone who needs a lawyer, give what you can. Separation isn’t cheap, either.
  4. I wanted the cats of my friends to visit me, so I put catnip on a cat bed on my bed. They love me. Truly.
  5. Living in a house with two teenagers is wondrous. Also, loud.
  6. Taking things one day, hour, or moment at a time can work. You can lie down on Day 2 wondering WTF just happened to your life and wake up on Day 140 still determined to do everything and anything to have your rights respected. You may not succeed because the legal system isn’t fair, but you can keep trying. And the one day/hour/moment mindset keeps you from being overwhelmed. Separation from all that you know sucks.
  7. Ask for help to save yourself. Tell the true unadulterated story about your situation and ask for help. Accept the help. Keep asking. Keep accepting. One day, you’ll be the helper. But not today. And that’s just fine.
  8. Always have your documents ready to go – state ID, birth certificate, passport, etc. Put in an envelope and make sure someone knows where it is located. Give a set of copies to a trusted friend.
  9. Memorize at least three phone numbers of folx who will always answer their phone. My friend Sarah H. always answers her phone. This is good for most crisis situations. If I can reach her, she can reach other people for me. Separation from my cell phone doesn’t mean I’m disconnected.
  10. Learn your legal rights and fight like hell for them. It might take months. It is essential you don’t give up. Also, a tactical retreat is not the same thing as giving up. There’s no such thing as common law marriage in Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth still has an anti-LGBTQ marriage law on the books. Pennsylvania does not have a legal status of separation, but it does use the term in Family Court. Learn these things. Don’t assume. It isn’t fair and it isn’t always just. But it IS happening and you need to wrap your mind around it.
  11. Get paper copies of everything -legal documents, medical paperwork, everything. If you can scan into the cloud, great.
  12. People will inundate you with advice, especially the “programs” they’ve heard about where you get a pro bono lawyer, cheap housing, lots of food, and the ongoing chance to grovel. Don’t listen to them. Call the programs – 211, Just Harvest, ACTION Housing, Pgh Food Bank, etc. Get on Facebook and post in the mutual-aid groups. There are sources of help, but poverty survival tactics and trauma survival tactics are not intuitive. Find people who know what they are talking about, not someone with a perception of what they should be. When I went the pro bono legal clinic, I knew that they had limited jurisdiction. The lawyer who took my PFA case was great, but blunt – get a lawyer she said. People who have direct experience, know. People who think they know, probably don’t.
  13. There is no gesture so humbling as a 12 year old giving you his bunk bed and sleeping on the living room floor, without complaint, for months. It changes your heart. It changes you.

Learning moment to moment has been helpful. Stopping to think about it at this point in time is comforting and frightening. We never talk about these things. We keep them tightly bound to protect ourselves, but really to avoid facing hard truths.

My journey since August has been bumpy. Each time things go down, I breathe deeply until they go up again. I try not to succumb to the fear, sadness, and grief but I don’t ignore them.

I cry. Alone at night in bed. Weep is perhaps a better term.

My goal right now is to get back to my home and care for my cats. Whatever comes next will have to wait until I accomplish this. So I don’t worry about it.

You may be separated in time and distance from your family, your home, and what seems like your whole life. As you knew it. But you are strong, the CEO of your life so to speak. You got yourself to this point. You’ve got this.


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