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I take a deep breath and try not to cry. I bite the inside of my cheek to keep my lips from trembling, then turn around to greet the person standing at my office door, smile firmly etched onto my face, concealing the pain and fear.

I’m usually so good at looking at the bright side of things, so capable of letting go of the negative stuff. Feeling like this is not alien to me, however. I have felt frustration, fear and anger before. It’s just that I had chosen to walk away from that life, and I hate when those tattered remnants intrude.

I walked out of an unhappy marriage; I walked away from a controlling and emotionally manipulative man whom I called “husband.” The divorce should have been easy. It should have been simple. Instead, he has turned it into a nightmare of paperwork, attorney’s fees and court dates.

Nothing is as simple, or as easy as it should be; even when we agree on a point, he has to drag it out, argue over it, get attorneys involved, push it right up to the court date before finally agreeing to the very same points that were offered weeks, even months before.

I know why he does it this way, after 13 years, I understand him. It’s his method of attempting to be in control, it’s his passive-aggressive way of making things tough. Done this way, he can’t be accused of actually doing anything wrong; he can plead innocence. It’s not his fault. It never is. It never has been and it never will be.

I have held my head high, I have taken the “adult” route, I have refused to stoop to his petty level. I have given him more than I should have, I have given up more than I wanted. All because I just wanted to be free. All because I knew that to do otherwise would just make him dig in deeper, plant his stubborn heels harder and still not change a thing.

And now, finally, it seems to be drawing to a close. At least, I hope it is. But there is always that final fly in the ointment, that unexpected snag. You see, he says he has signed the final agreement, but no one has seen it. He says he gave it to his attorney, but his attorney isn’t returning phone calls and hasn’t passed it on yet. And still our next court date looms ever closer. And still, my attorney’s fees are mounting. With each new phone call, with each new petition, it adds up.

Now, at a time when I should be able to start rejoicing, the end is near, I am instead tied up in knots. The deadline for the court date is here, which means still more attorney’s fees; money I don’t have. With the end so close as to be almost in my grasp, I fear losing this whole thing; I fear it all falling apart and crumbling down around me, leaving me still legally tied to the man I now hate and with no money to mount a new case.

This long process has been hard; divorce is never truly easy. These last few months tried my patience, tested my resolve; I thought the worst was over. I was wrong. The last few weeks have been still worse. As yet another day goes by when my only answer is no answer, when the only “progress” made in the case is the mounting bills, my smile fades, my patience reaches an end, but my resolve, my will to see this through to the end does not. This has turned my will to steel; it has taken what was soft and turned it to stone.

I have sat at my desk and cried bitter tears. I have had to pull over on the way home to wipe the tears from my eyes so I could see clearly. I have remained strong for my kids. I have not let them see the tears. I never did. To them, Mom has always been a loving comfort, a rock, stable and secure, never wavering. And I will do my best to always be that for them, even if it means swallowing everything that hurts.

I told my mom I’m happy this is nearly over, that we are finally near the end. Mom, in her wisdom, laughed and said the words that gave me hope and strength, “It’s not an end; it’s a beginning.”

And so it is. The pain may come; fear may rage and tears may flow. But out of the tattered remnants, from this pile of rubble that was my life, I will stand tall. I will bear the scars of a life lived; I will bear the pain of choices made and I will be stronger and better for it. This is not an end. Like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, this is the beginning.

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