archives, you & me

Dichotomies: Every Piece of Discontent in a Relationship Is the Contribution of the Two.

{Leslie and Kelli Hansel}


The cool of the spring afternoon begged me to leave the door open. My three daughters played outside, so the house was quiet.

The fog in my head made my movements more difficult than they should have been. I sliced zucchini and summer squash thin, placing them strategically on my olive-oil-covered baking sheet. Squash pizza. It’s what I ate when I realized I hadn’t had a proper meal in too many days. It’s what I ate when my body called out for flavor and I’d be eating alone.

My brain felt exhausted — heavy and hollow. I was speeding on endless cups of coffee. My heart raced and sweat beaded beneath my shirt. My breath was shallow and quick. My hands shook. This dichotomy was normal for me now. The coffee was to fight the fatigue I felt in the day.

The nausea caused by my nervousness and worry kept me awake at night when all I could hear was the flowing of the creek and the sounds of animals nocturnal by nature, not as I was, by default. I had trouble listening to my daughters when they spoke to me beyond a sentence or two. I had forced myself to garden, hike, paint, and read to the girls.

I followed my mind into rabbit holes of endless possible solutions, analyzing into illogic the discontent.

I could hear the faint laughter of my daughters in the yard. The older two were in the same age range that I was when my parents parted ways. I had been eight when they divorced. My oldest daughter was nine and my middle seven. My baby girl was two. Gweneth had made her entrance into the family without an invitation after I thought I was long done with pregnancy and birthing.

I bent with a sore back to put my pizza in the old, grimy gas oven. The heat singed the hair on my face as I opened the door — my eyelashes, eyebrows, the tiny hairs on my cheeks and arms.  There, it washed over me, eroding my chiseled edges like the flooded creek washes away the banks, changing course. I shut the door and braced myself against the edge of the oven to keep from falling to my knees.

It takes two. Every piece of discontent in a relationship is the contribution of the two. This realization was known and placed somewhere in my being, but I had never had the emotional capacity to apply it to my own life, or the lives of those who surrounded me like a loosely fastened picture frame.

Dad had always grieved my mother’s role in ending their relationship through her disconnecting from all of us and giving herself to others. Mom had always said that my dad couldn’t listen to her goals for the family and she didn’t feel respected.

I had sided with my dad because it was him who took care of me. I knew he was proud of me and liked to make me smile. Made me French toast and bubbles in my bath so high that my tiny body was buried in them. I couldn’t imagine what my dad had done to make my mother want to fall in love with someone else. To make my dad, heartbroken and in tears, leave us.

There’s no way a child can understand the inner workings of their parents’ relationship. The words said in whispers. The needs unmet. When was the last time you did something together? When was the last time you wanted to?

I was never with a private moment, yet alone. Lonesome. I was married, but without a companion to discuss the comings and goings of me and our children.

By 10 every morning, he left us to our day, giving himself over fully to his work. He came in at night from work and social obligations long after I turned in, crawling into bed and brushing my legs just enough to alert me that I could no longer stretch my body crossway on the bed.

I imagined what my grandmothers felt as military wives — married but alone. My only letters written home were breakfast conversations interrupted by cooking and children. Things of substance squeezed in between bites of food and squealing little girls.

As I cried there in the kitchen, the heat became too much. Garlic and onion melded with basil and melting cheese, wafting up from the cracks around the oven door. I propped myself against my sink. I had to pull it together before my girls came running through the door.

My behavior resembled my mother’s. My earliest memories of her, when she was still married to my dad, were of her image in shadows. My awareness of her presence was just behind her bedroom door.

I remembered very few interactions between us before my dad left. She made sure my hair and clothes always looked nice, placing pink sponge rollers in my wet hair to create a morning cascade of curls. Reality is that which appears to be. It’s been said often enough, seeing is believing. If we can make it look okay, is it okay?

After we moved in with my grandmother, it was she who cooked for us and often got me ready for school. It was my dad who played with us, took us fishing, flying model airplanes, hikes in the woods, and trips to Mamaw’s. Like her, I was a living shadow. The dream of being a writer I once held for myself was like a fire left to ash and embers.

I sank to my knees, drew them into my chest, and leaned my back against the cabinet doors. I ached to be held and hugged my legs tighter. My head rested against my knees. There I remained until the oven smells was more of melted cheese than warm garlic and onion.

My responsibility to my food drew me out of the floor to open the oven door. I stood up straight, wiping the tears from my face with my shirttail. I gave my face a vigorous rub as I tend to do when needing a transition. I took a deep breath. My mother wasn’t to blame for the divorce. She had merely taken the action that had ended a broken relationship. Whether her actions were right or wrong didn’t matter.

My mother sought a life to redeem herself from heartache. She had ached with loneliness just as I was doing now.

I heard the girls getting closer to the house with their play. I took another long, slow breath. My stomach settled. Somehow, I felt stronger. I needed to say things to my husband that I should have shared years ago. No matter the result, I’d be fine. I’d be fine because I am relevant.

I took the pizza out of the oven.

I texted my mom, “I love you, and I am so glad you are my mother.”

She responded, “That is the best thing you have ever said to me. It made me cry.”


Kelli Hansel finds safe and productive places for darkness amidst a spiritual world feigning over white lights and positivity. She is a writer, shadow guide, pendulum and oracle reader, and avid yoga witch. Making her home in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, her witchery and approach is steeped in the mountain traditions. As a 200-hr RYT and 15+ year yogini and instructor, yoga and yogic philosophy deeply informs her magick. Connect with her and her online services of divination and course work on FacebookInstagram, and her website.


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