It was in a box of things from our old house. William found it in the back of his closet. "Mom..." he startled me. I was in the kitchen, searching high and low for something gluten free that would taste just like spongy warm French bread (and having zero luck).
"Mom. I found this in my closet. What is it?" He held out a notebook, one of those report cover things, with the clear plastic pages you fill with papers. This one had a picture in the front pocket, a generic floral picture with the word MEMORIES handwritten across the front.
Ahh. I knew what that was. It was a family history that was written up by my ex-husband's grandmother. It told the tale of his long-ago ancestors and their journey from Norway to the United States. A really cool thing, actually, with lots of old family photos, too. For a second I thought we should maybe give it to Big Daddy, and then I thought, no. This is my children's history. They can keep it.
William began looking through it, turning the pages slowly, seeing black and white faces of long-ago children who shared some of his same DNA. He paused at one page, and pulled something out.
"Uh, Mom...I think this is yours..." he said, and passed me a piece of paper.
Oh my. I recalled folding that piece of paper and slipping it behind the picture, a lifetime ago. Or maybe it was only 7 years ago.
It was an email. I had printed it, and stuck it behind a picture of three chubby-faced Norwegian toddlers and then forgotten about it. Well, maybe "forgotten" is the wrong word. Like the sheet of paper it was printed on, I'd tucked the memory of this particular email behind other things in my mind. And there it had slept until William found it. Woke it up.
It was an email from my ex-husband, composed just six months before the divorce was finalized. He'd written it after we'd attended a wedding, arriving apart but spending a good deal of the evening together, with all four of the kids. Apparently, it had triggered some feelings in his heart, which prompted him to write this brief but telling note to me on a Monday night in June 2006.
It was an apology. The only apology he's ever offered. And reading it brought tears to my eyes, just as it did when I read it all those years ago, in a different house, in a different life.
I'm not current on the laws about emails and blogs, and I do have a sense of decency, so I won't share the actual email. I'll give him that much because I may be a lot of things, but a monster I'm not. But I will share this: it's the kind of email that revealed things, exposed the regret and doubt and ultimately, the resignation that things were damaged beyond repair. The kind of email that would have probably scared the bejeezus out of his then-girlfriend, now-wife. I know it would scare me to discover my significant other had these kinds of thoughts...not only had them but expressed them, in writing, to the person he'd once shared a life with.
It was painful to read. It hurt when I'd read it back then, and it hurt reading it in 2014.
But this time, it also made me feel something better than hurt. Something positive, and ultimately, something healing.
Because in this email, my ex-husband was giving me validation. He confirmed what I'd known all along: I was the brave one in our marriage. I was the one who fought for it. I was the one who had done the right thing.
Some days, that's all it takes to make you feel better. To allow you to keep going, to give you that push, that nudge, to carry on despite bumps in the road.
I needed to read that email, needed to see it again. I needed to be reminded of my strength and what I've overcome and how much courage I had. Courage I still have.
It was one line in that email that did it for me. No, it wasn't the number of times he said "sorry" (five). It wasn't his admission that he'd turned to the wrong person when he first started having doubts about our marriage. It wasn't even the part where he said that as he watched me, smiling and talking to his family at the wedding, he realized how much he'd messed things up.
It was six words. Six little words...
"I chickened out-- you never did."
I'm glad William found that book in the back of his closet. I needed reminding. With the stress and worry and anxiety that's once again infiltrated my life, it was important for me to see those words, no matter that they were written by my ex-husband several years ago.
I'd like to think that I slipped that folded note into that book, that particular book, for a reason. Maybe I knew I'd need to read it again, some day in the future. Maybe it was because I needed a physical, touchable piece of my own history, something I could hold in my hands and read with my eyes instead of just feeling it in my heart or reliving it in my mind.
I put it in a book titled "Memories". Because that's what it is now.