Finding My Way to Trust

Grownup lessons from a classic children’s book.

by Amy Wallace
Photograph: Illustration by David Cowles

"And there wasn’t any other side of the mountain. He was falling, in thin air."
Reading those lines today summons the moment, 11 years ago, when I realized I was about to get a divorce
The arc leading up to Harold’s fall is the same as what precipitated mine: the desire to fix things, the hope that through hard work I could fix things, and the heartbreaking understanding that I couldn’t. Watching my marriage end was like falling on my head.
What to say about the things that drove us apart? Lack of communication, professional competition and the refusal to get help were only some of the factors. I’m not the first, I know, to subconsciously seek to address the problems of my childhood in my marriage. Looking back, I see how I strived to create a relationship for which I had no real model. That my divorce came right after the birth of our son, Jack—the most important thing either of us will ever have a part in—was especially crushing. After a lifetime built on an unspoken but fierce vow that I would never repeat the cycle of a child torn between two divorced parents, I was doing just that.
My devastation wasn’t pretty. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t listen to music. I set out to cut off all my hair but then, after a friend gently counseled restraint, decided to color it platinum blond instead. There is a photo of me, taken during my first year as a divorced woman, which I find every now and then in the back of a drawer. In it, my hair is metallic, my skin is gray, and my smile looks like a bruise. I’m thin, but not in a good way.
“This is temporary,” read the Post-it note that was stuck for months to my computer during this period. My friend JR had dictated it to me one day as I wept over my desk, whispering to him into the phone. He was right. Over time, if we let them, old habits wear out, and we replace them with new ones. As if our psyches were banjos and we were restringing them. But for me, that process seemed to take forever.
JR helped me turn the corner by giving me faith—not religious faith, exactly, but a resolve to believe that things would get better. “Happiness is a choice,” he told me, about 5,000 times. At first, I mocked him as a spouter of New Age pap. When that didn’t make him agree that I should continue my self-destructive (but self-sufficient!) behavior (wearing a rut in my brain by repeating all the things that had hurt me), I whimpered and cried and told him it was just too hard. But slowly, his words seeped in. And the more I thought about it, the more he made sense. You’re not in charge, he kept saying. It’s not your job to fix it. It’s your job to choose not to fix it, to trust in the future, to let things come.
I thought about Harold—about how he appears to be alone in the world, but really isn’t. You know about the crayon. But there’s also the crescent moon he draws early in the book. Everywhere Harold goes, every page he walks across, the moon goes with him.
Harold was not alone. Maybe I wasn’t either.

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