The sun begins its slow ascent above the horizon. Just the barest whisper of light. A rooster next door crows.
“Uggggghhh. It’s too early. It’s so dark, how does he even know it’s morning?” I think as I roll over, adjusting my pillow in a feeble attempt to block the noise.
Unsuccessful and awake, I lay in bed, wondering why God wired roosters to crow at such an ungodly hour. At times he sounds like a sick dog. Or maybe, I realize, this is just what a sick rooster sounds like.
I crack an eye open. The room is pitch black with the exception of the faintest of glows from the skylight in the adjoining bathroom. I could almost make it to the toilet without a flashlight. But it feels far away this early in the morning. I close my eye again, focus on the sounds around me. I can no longer hear the squeak of bats from the earlier hours. I imagine they’ve tucked in for the day, though how they can sleep through the rooster’s incessant howling is beyond me.
I hear the quiet breath of my fiancé sleeping beside me. Later today he will become my husband. I can hardly believe it. Most days it feels like an impossible dream. Listening to his steady breathing, my mind drifts, tracing the road I traveled to get to this day. The rooster provides an odd soundtrack, cock-a-doodle-doo-ing exclamation marks and commentary as my mind winds its way through the twists, turns, peaks, and valleys of the last six years. Memory upon memory. Some good, many challenging, and a select few I’ve shoved into hidden places deep inside.
I let them come now and find that the most painful don’t sting as they once did. Instead, I feel as though I’m wandering through an art gallery of my life, stopping at each memory captured in time, experiencing the lingering feeling attached to it, marveling that the feelings have both dimmed and remained vivid.
I play back the nights I sobbed on the floor in the midst of my separation, curled around my faithful dog, certain I would never feel worthy of love again. The recollection is so real I reach my hand to my cheek, surprised to find it smooth instead of imprinted with tears and the pattern of my carpet.
I replay the day my finalized divorce decree blindsided me in the mail, picturing the envelope sliding to the kitchen floor while I stand staring at the judge’s seal wondering if I am supposed to nestle this document next to my marriage license in a safe place or shove it into the darkest cupboard and slam the door.
I relive the time I was here in Mexico with another man; remembering how I picked up the tab for a week of lousy treatment, lies, and sleepless nights. I recall how I added to my own misery by endlessly berating myself for being so stupid, chasing each negative thought with a drink to numb the pain.
I remember them all, dragging each hidden moment into the pale light of dawn, a gentle time of day when they are easiest to bare.
While not the first time I’ve relived them, it is the first time I’m able to move past the negative thoughts that accompany them and clearly see each memory’s influence on who I am today.
As a neighborhood dog begins barking with the rooster, I realize the nights on the floor wrestling with my self-worth brought clarity that it didn’t matter what others thought of me, only what I believed about myself. And I was worth something better.
And while shocking in its stealthy arrival, my divorce decree closed a door firmly behind me, one I had stubbornly kept cracked. A door that had to close so I could look forward rather than back. And once I did, I took the first tender step towards this new life.
That miserable week in Mexico became my painful rock bottom, a jarring turning point. Without its brutal lesson, I would have chosen similar men for years, hanging on to the illusion I could love the broken to wholeness. After all, that’s what every Disney movie had promised me. Instead, fed up and angry, I looked for something new and was now lying next to my own Prince Charming.
As individual challenging moments rearrange themselves, my journey down memory lane turns peaceful. A beautiful mosaic emerges. A portrait of a new me. A stronger me. A better me.
A version of me who exists not in spite of but because of those painful moments.
A door slams suddenly on the street outside, breaking my reverie. My man stirs beside me. I’m aware of more sounds on the street. A truck rumbling by, the scrape of a gate opening. Two women call to one another, the neighboring property so close I swear they are in our room. The first ray of direct sun finally cracks through the curtain, beaming across the tile floor, tracing a path across the bed.
My fiancé’s eyes open. He sees me looking at him. Smiles. Reaches for me as he often does. Squeezes my hand.
“You ready for today?” he asks.
“Absolutely,” I answer.
“Me too,” he responds.
I stare at him, tracing my hand down his cheek. Catching my reflective mood, he whispers, “I love you, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” I answer, “I finally do too.”