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Celebrating Second Chances

Nicole and I met as I crawled out of one of the darkest times in my life. Today we celebrate 16 years of a second chance at wedded bliss.

By Carl J. PetersenPublished 2 months ago 5 min read
Still Smiling

I’m Broken

– Pantera

Days before my 39th birthday we walked into the Back to School night as a family with the truth buried in a shallow grave. This was the first time we were trying to do something together since my wife had moved out of the house a few weeks before that night. The wounds created by our rapidly deteriorating relationship were still raw and open, but we had agreed to try and put the anger and pain aside to provide a sense of normalcy for my daughter.

As good as being together felt, the normalcy of the night began to hurt. Like the eye of a hurricane, the event was a refreshing breather from the chaos that had been enveloping our lives for months. It was a reminder that times had once been good. But the storm was not over.

My mind began to wander from the past to the future. While the memories felt good, this was not our future. This realization washed over me with waves of sadness that became harder and harder to tolerate. I eventually retreated from the event and then to my bed enveloped in a black hole that seemed infinite.

Not long after that night my daughter approached me and expressed that she was worried about me. This was an eye-opening moment. My job in life was to take care of her and her brother. The fear of becoming the dad from Pretty in Pink washed over me; my self-pity was not going to stand in the way of my children.

It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

– R.E.M.

The Saturday my ex moved out I took the kids to work with me as she packed up her stuff. In the car, I played R.E.M. on repeat. However, at that point, the message was just aspirational. It was the end of the world as I knew it, but I was far from fine.

The wake-up call from my daughter signaled that it was time to turn those aspirations into reality. I started focusing beyond the storm enveloping my life and planning for the blue skies that would eventually return. This shift in perspective lifted a weight that had dramatic effects. In the time before Obamacare, my insurance company had authorized six whole sessions with a therapist to work through my separation. At our last appointment, she remarked that I carried myself like an old man the first time we had met but a few weeks later I was exhibiting an air of confidence.

I was on the road to recovery after taking a hard fall off the marriage horse, but was I ready to get back on? My first stab at dating was timid and awkward, which is definitely better than disastrous. And then I met Nicole.

'Cause with you I'm not broken anymore

- Blue October

My first date with Nicole was a week before what was supposed to be my 17th wedding anniversary. A few days later I shared Thanksgiving with her family as my kids spent the holiday with their mother. As we cleaned up in the kitchen I expressed my trepidation about the approaching anniversary date. She responded with a simple “We’ll get through it.”

True to her word, Nicole planned an evening focused on creating memories for the future instead of wallowing in the past. I could feel the bond between us cement as we sat in the theater watching the movie. As we sat and watched Borat’s escapades I could feel the laughter bubbling up. It suddenly escaped but the thought that I had just made a fool of myself never crossed my mind. I had let myself be completely vulnerable and it felt great.

Nicole’s moment of vulnerability came a few days later in a phone call where we stumbled into coordinating our calendars. She paused the conversation, awkwardly saying that there was something she had to tell me. In the few seconds it took her to collect her thoughts a million possibilities popped into my mind before she could tell me about her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. I did not know what that meant or what hardships it would entail but was sure it did not change the feelings that I had for her. We continued to make plans for the upcoming holidays.

The real world came crashing in on me the next month. Lawyers were now fully involved in my divorce and it was getting nasty. At a court hearing my ex’s lawyer announced that the child custody arrangements we had negotiated between us were no longer acceptable to her. The result was a court-ordered schedule that would require me to pick up the kids at the end of their after-school programs, something that was not compatible with my work schedule. When Nicole heard what had happened she immediately offered to take on the responsibility without even being asked.

Nicole’s act of selflessness was the driving spark to jump-start the blending of our families. Even on days when the kids did not have to be picked up, the dog ended up at her house; she had told Nicole that she was lonely.

By the following summer, the kids and I (and the dog) moved into Nicole’s house. We were already spending most of our time there and so it seemed like the most logical step. Two months after my divorce was finally finalized we headed to Disneyland to get married in a clandestine wedding on Tom Sawyer’s island. That was 16 years ago today.

It is hard to believe that so much time has passed since Nicole entered my life. We have weathered some pretty severe storms, especially in the past years as her MS has progressed significantly, but we have faced all of them together. And those times are eclipsed easily by the times when I laugh as hard as I did at Borat on that date so many Novembers ago.

The thing about a bad first marriage is that it helps you appreciate what you have when you are in a good one. It also provides a roadmap when you encounter a minefield. If I had to go through all that pain to get where I am now, it was worth it.


Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for public education, particularly for students with special education needs, who serves as the Education Chair for the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Dr. Diane Ravitch has called him “a valiant fighter for public schools in Los Angeles.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.


About the Creator

Carl J. Petersen

Carl Petersen is a parent advocate for students with SpEd needs and public education. As a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action. Opinions are his own.

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  • Andrea Corwin 2 months ago

    Congratulations on finding a new and better-for-you life!

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