Tracey: my first love, our divorce, and our healing back into love

Me, Percival, and Tracey in 2022. We were celebrating the life of Kyle, our beloved Kyle.

I met Tracey at my high school graduation party in 1995. She arrived in the evening, at dusk. I didn’t know her at all because she was two years younger than me, a lifetime in the compressed timeline of high school. Since we had gone to a small high school, I had seen her in the halls and vaguely remembered her as having incredibly beautiful, long, wavy blonde hair, but that was it. I didn’t even know her name. She arrived with Stacy, a mutual friend of ours, and since it was graduation party season, they were making the rounds that day. My party was their last one of the day, which is why they arrived so late. I remember standing under my apple tree, and I remember the thick black silhouette of the tree branches against the cobalt blue sky when Stacy walked up the driveway and opened the gate with Tracey in tow. I remember being immediately stricken by how beautiful she was. I don’t use that term lightly: beauty is a word that carries weight, and it is a word that rarely applies to people in high school (much less sophomores). Tracey was (and still is) the kind of person that enters a space with a poetry of motion, a fluidity, and a presence that demands so much focus and attention that you have no choice but to stop what you’re doing, turn your head, close your mouth (or leave it hanging open stupidly like I did), and just wait for her to indicate in some way that your brain can turn back on. She is radiant. High school girls aren’t supposed to be radiant, but she was.

Of course, I fell immediately in love with her. It was impossible not to. It had been a volatile and frustrating time in my young love life that summer, and I had been lamenting “the one that got away” on top of mourning the gentle and slow but inevitable end of the sweet young love of mine that was a year older and had thus gone away to college the year before, and now suddenly there was an absolutely angelic girl standing in my yard. I was about to be 18 years old, I had a car, I had graduated, and I had all the cockiness of youth that led me to believe that I had everything under control, that I was going to be wild and free and that the whole world was ahead of me. But it all just evaporated when I saw her. It was like waking up from a dream. There I was, standing with my whole life figured out moments before—and now I had accidentally just run into the girl who would become the woman I would eventually plan on spending the rest of my life with.

Our young summer love blossomed into something very beautiful and very real over the next two years, and by 1997, our first child was born. Though we were so young (she was 18, I was 20), we had immediately taken on the role of responsible parents, and we took it very seriously. We got our lives together quickly. We had an apartment, we had a car, we had jobs, and most importantly we had love and determination to defy the stereotype that young parents couldn’t do well.

Tracey at 21

Percival is a manifestation of the love we had for each other, in every possible way. He was an absolutely perfect child. Healthy, happy, filled with excitement and endlessly curious. He was everything we could have ever hoped for and more. His existence defied imagination. Here we were, two children ourselves, and we had created this perfect human being. The love that blossomed between the three of us was incredible. It seems to be a known fact that the human brain doesn’t stop growing and developing until age 26, so the wisdom and emotion granted to us by this tremendous moment while our very own brains were still forming was like an injection of some kind of ethereal serum that gave us superhuman powers to put love into the world. And to each other.

I couldn’t imagine being any happier in life, until 18 months later when his brother Kyle was born, and it was even better the second time around. To have this perfect and loving family grow by one was an indescribable feeling. We had them so close apart that we knew Percival would never be able to remember a time before Kyle, that he would just assume Kyle was always there just like he was.

We were so young. Life was beautiful

Tracey has always been the most perfect mother I could ever imagine. Every day, as we raised our children, she created her own unique brand of fun, kindness, and empathy, and every day I fell in love with her more and more. Even back then, I couldn’t understand how two people so young, who had both come from average working-class families, could take to parenting so naturally and skillfully. We were excellent parents. She instilled a great lust for life into our boys and taught them to be free to find happiness in whichever way they wanted. It was a dream to raise our kids together because no matter what, we always fundamentally agreed on how we wanted to raise our kids, and we were always driven to eventually put two good men into this world.

Every day of our young lives as parents was filled with this kind of joy. It truly was idyllic. Tracey was only 23 in this photo

We moved on with our young lives as we grew older, and the sunny years of our youth began to wither under the pressures of life in this unsupportive and oppressive system we all inhabit. The recession hit, the financial pressure mounted, and as young couples often do, we started to see our differences as adulthood carried on. Things fell apart in 2005, and by 2007, we had divorced. The love we had nurtured turned into resentment and anger.

Things between us got bad, but throughout all the turbulence, we were always united in at least one thing: devoted love for our children. Even at our worst moments—where we could barely stand the sight of each other, and we had to force ourselves to communicate via text messages instead of speaking because we couldn’t stand the sound of each other’s voices—there was always the baseline sacred understanding that the kids were not a part of this darkness.

Tracey, ever the best kind of mom, seeing Kyle off to his first day of Kindergarten

There is an extraordinarily thin line between love and hate, and the ease of crossing that line from the former to the latter is breathtaking and shocking.

Tracey and I went our own ways, and each of us started our own healing journeys. We grew, we matured, and we kept our distance, licking our wounds individually over many years. Eventually, as our boys got older, we decided to put effort and intention into healing our relationship so that they at the very least knew that the love that brought them into this world always was and would continue to be beautiful and valid.

We healed, and the resentment we had fostered faded away in our united vision of being present, kind, and happy for our kids. We slowly became friends again, and the love that was always there under the surface like a neglected seedling—buried under years of bitterness—once again got water and sunlight and began to blossom. Ever so slowly, it turned back into respect and eventually a second season of love.

Neither of us could have ever predicted how critically important that work would become. By 2019, we were friends again. We could laugh and joke about our lives, about our past, and I had become a part of her other children’s lives. I formed a wonderful relationship with her daughter. We had gotten so close that at age five, her daughter asked if I was also her dad and why couldn’t she have two dads and a mom anyway?

In September of that year, our 20 year old son was murdered. Our beautiful baby was taken from this world. Tracey and I, alone in that hospital room, held each other and cried together just like we did when he was born.

The next year of our lives was a living hell. Lawyers, courts, covid, delays, endless legal proceedings, lawsuits, insurance fights, letters, death certificates, and constant bureaucracy plagued us.

I cannot comprehend how much more difficult that process would have been if Tracey and I had not already done the work to heal our relationship. It seems impossible.

The first time we met with a lawyer, I arrived first. The lawyer proceeded to shake my hand and then showed me where to sit and began explaining in great detail how this meeting would go. “Tracey will arrive, and I will seat her on the other end of the table. You are under no obligation to speak directly to her. You may speak through me. Just remember that I am here to help you both, and that if you can find a way to work together this will make things less painful for everybody. I need to tell you that her husband will be here as well…” and I stopped him, because I saw what was happening. I told him that her and I were friends, that it was okay, and he relaxed a bit and looked relieved.

When Tracey walked in, we hugged and said “I love you” to each other, and then her husband came in and we hugged. I caught a glimpse of our attorney’s face and he looked, frankly, shocked.

He said “Okay, this is really unusual. This is going to be really helpful. I’m not generally used to this level of cooperation…” and we got to work.

The intertwining of my life with Tracey’s is extraordinary. The heights of love, the depths of resentment, the gentle lilt of rekindled friendship and peace, and the egregious despair that we have experienced together are an inextricable part of who I am, and I suspect it is the same for her. If I believed in past and future lives or destiny, I would almost certainly believe that we have done this before and we will do it again. I have always loved this woman. We are two separate oceans and the beautiful, chaotic line where they meet.

When you pare it all away, and take away the drama and the winding tale, there is a simple and steadfast thread that weaves throughout: Our love raised two extraordinary humans. We did that.

Tracey took 4-year-old Kyle to glassblowing lessons because she never wanted to keep our kids from living a full life

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