It was odd that my ex-husband and I dated after our divorce. Like my best friend said: “You didn’t divorce him by accident.”

True story. There were reasons our marriage crumbled. Namely, emotional abuse. That’s a marriage-ender. (Or, at least it should be.) But we were an odd couple (usually in a fun way), and he was a kind guy when he was in a good space, which wasn’t the majority of the time (thus the initial divorce). He was also a unique creature, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like people who can match my genre of quirky.

After our marriage, but before the last time I saw him, when I jumped out of his van at a Las Vegas stoplight, he got me a present. I can’t remember the occasion—maybe a belated birthday gift. Either way, part of the gift was a headlamp.

“So you can knit in the dark,” he reasoned.

I tend to think in metaphors. My ex thought in logistics and utility. Every friendship of his had to have a purpose, or why bother? Every act was always intentional, with a hidden agenda lingering behind it.

The headlamp gift was based on utility and purpose. I liked knitting and I usually stayed up late. A headlamp could come in handy, should one be in the dark and get a craving for knitting.

For me, though, the headlamp became a symbol for how I wanted to find my way through the darkness of our past marriage. As if I could look back and find where we took the wrong path, could backtrack in our new relationship and then forge ahead in the right direction.

The past is a map. It shows us where we’ve been. There isn’t a map for the present tense, though, so we are constantly in the process of navigating our lives.

Finding my way in the dark

My ex-husband’s ability to over-read into things was legendary. He knew how to turn every act into a purposeful power move. As if the coworker who asked him to throw something away did so to gain power over my ex—not because my ex was sitting right next to the trash can.

My ex-husband’s ability to over-read into things was legendary. He knew how to turn every act into a purposeful power move.

My insistence on buying dinner that night, when I would eventually hop out of his van—power move.

My mom’s boyfriend joking that my ex would study rocket science next, because he had such a stellar interest in technology-related things—power move.

My sister not returning his text when she was at work—power move.

Me reminding him to turn off the truck’s headlights—power move.

Or that time when I sent him a meme about narcissism, because it was just damn funny (“Why did the narcissist cross the road?” “Because he thought it was a boundary”), and he became offended because he thought the meme was about him, which, hi, irony.

With every action having a hidden purpose, I started to get exhausted by his constant suspicion.

And so, silently, I became curious about the headlamp. What was he hoping I would see with it? What kind of darkness did he think I lived in?

These are absurd questions. A headlamp is just a headlamp.

Honestly, I don’t think he meant anything by the headlamp, other than gifting me some utility. But this was the exact issue, the main problem in our marriage and his psyche—he never read into his own actions, but he influenced me to start questioning everything. Also, in his mind, he never had an ulterior motive—but everyone else did.

It’s hard enough to navigate unchartered territory. Add a paranoid hiking buddy to the mix, who makes you feel iffy about everything when you don’t need to be, but you become permanently apprehensive and weary to take any step because of his unnecessarily over-suspicious instincts.

You end up stuck in the middle of a thick darkness, not knowing where to go, wishing you had a guide, or heck, even just a headlamp that could help you see in any direction and move you from the suspicious stagnancy you have become cemented in.

I held onto the headlamp long after I jumped out of his van, on the night he said I treated him like he was my pet, because I had wanted to pay for dinner at the restaurant I picked that was twice as expensive as I had thought it was.

When we were at the Las Vegas stoplight at 10 p.m., and he said, “You know, I’m not your pet,” I just couldn’t take any more of his distrustful readings into every one of my actions. That night, I walked two miles in the dark to the nearest hotel, and stayed there for a few days until my flight home was scheduled. The headlamp would have been handy that night, but it was in my hardware cabinet, still in its packaging.

It’s been a year since my van-dismount and almost two years since the headlamp was gifted to me. I recently moved, changed living spaces as I continue to change my life post-divorce and post-dating-my-ex-husband-after-our-divorce.

I don’t know where the headlamp is right now, which is OK, because even though I’m taking steps at every moment in uncharted territory, at least they are assured steps. Give me the space for some self-confidence, and I’m fine with feeling my way around in the dark.

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