Congratulations! I love you.

The first time we signed the papers, we got two keys and there were two dozen roses waiting for me at our new house big enough for six. “Congratulations! I love you.” was on the card.

A few months later more papers, more flowers, a set of wedding bands, a trip to the beach without our kids.

I anticipated that would be the end of requisite paperwork, but 2012 came and brought with it a refinance, a week long stay in the ICU, devastating news, a move back home, two keys belonging now to one key holder, a house for six now only housing two, rings going back into their boxes for good, more paperwork.

And last week, the finale to all of it. The house, completely empty. A new deck and paint on the doors and shutters. My peonies gone, but the hydrangea I planted the summer we left still thriving. No trampoline in the backyard, no chicken coop. A new tree growing from the one he chopped down when he got an RC helicopter stuck in it. Trails in the backyard grown back over. It’s like none of us was ever there. Paperwork, new buyers, a five-year period waiting for closure.

And it’s come. The final bond finally severed. “Congratulations! I don’t love you.” No flowers, just amiable small talk with the realtor as the streets flooded outside. The same t-shirt he’s worn since before we started dating a decade ago. Feeling like forever and no time at the same time, but five years nonetheless.

When you’re dealt the devastating blow of “I’m not happy,” it’s difficult to know what to expect as you learn to navigate an unexpected life course. It’s overwhelming, but fun; stressful, but peaceful. It’s learning to rebuild, re-evaluate, survive. It’s learning to be strong enough to believe in yourself and working hard to heal your broken heart.

And five years later, when you can laugh instead of cry as you turn over the place where you began and ended your married life, the “Congratulations! I love you.” comes from the person in the mirror instead of someone who long ago gave up trying.