I’m 26 and divorced. There, I said it. In a strange way this weighs more heavily on my identity now than any other part of me. Forget the fact that I relish my Amazonian height or that I’m a master chef (in my head). I also travel a lot and play outside enough to be covered in a golden glow and endless freckles. These things do not make me, though. Because when I look in the mirror all I can hear in my head, as if the very sound is bouncing off the pristine white tiles of my chilling bathroom walls, is “I’m 26 and I’m divorced.”

One year ago, I wasn’t quite sure if I believed in marriage and I certainly didn’t believe in marrying young, but I was in love and the love of my life had proposed to me. He convinced me that he couldn’t live without me, even for one second. So I said yes and jumped into the wedding whirlwind that so many young women find themselves in. Normally I would cringe at this whirlwind, scoffing at the idea that a wedding and a marriage could mean anything more than the simple security that a strong relationship would otherwise provide. Thousands of dollars wasted on a single day seemed like possibly the most ill-advised thing a young woman could invest in, let alone the spectacle that is sure to be drawn with all the hoopla. Yet there I was just months later, in a fancy barn with a fancy dress and flowers coming out of my ears. My husband looked at me for the first time that day and he gasped. It was a gasp so beautiful that I gasped, too, at the sight of him. My husband covered his mouth with his hand and tears began flowing from his eyes. Those eyes, the golden brown eyes that could freeze everything around me yet make me melt by the very heat that they emanated, looked at me with such a sweet intensity that I began to cry, too.

“Holy shit .. mama, you look great.” The words could barely escape his mouth but they reached my ears anyway. I reached up and put my hands on my favorite part of his face. His warm hands reached up and squeezed mine. He pulled them down to his waist and then he kissed me, hard. He put his forehead on my forehead and we looked at each other. The photographer stood back, snapping pictures of me in my wedding dress, the giant oak tree behind us, and the tears on my husband’s face. We stood there, seemingly alone, for just enough time to melt into each other one last time. And then just like that we were whisked off to be married, a marriage that would last only 9 months.

Shortly after the wedding my husband began to unravel, his mind flooded with obsessions on commitment and doubt. Within months he experienced his very first panic attack, the first of many, harrowing attacks that would eventually claim his sanity. He panicked that he had made a mistake and that I was too non-traditional for him. He panicked that I’d ruin his life and that he’d never have children. He panicked his way right out of our home and into his mother’s arms, where he still rests, though (ironically) unrestfully. Within months he filed for divorce and I moved into my own place, never to hear from him again.

And just like that, I’m divorced. In those first few months that I spent alone—because I had to also divorce our friends and his family since I had moved across the country to be with him—I remember thinking that I might never stop crying, that the pain might never go away. It hurt so unbelievably bad, in a physical way that even my greatest injuries couldn’t compare to. Every night for three months straight I spent on my knees in a ball, clutching my stomach as my body expelled painful sobs probably in hopes of expelling the entire marriage, with it. I’d like to think that it worked, that the marriage has been purged from me, because one day (and, really, that’s all it took) I woke up feeling okay and I went to bed with dry eyes. I survived and for the first time since the nightmare began I really believe that anyone could survive this, too. My identity has shifted to include this horror story but it also includes the beautiful moments in which I found myself—really found myself—and began the greater process of healing.

So for now, I’m 26 and divorced.

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