Alone

I don’t believe my ex intended to leave the marriage via text.

In fact, what I think he had planned was much worse.

I was across the country when he packed his belongings into his car and drove away from his life. I was supposed to return to Atlanta six days later, where I was expecting my husband to pick me up from the airport.

I believe his original plan was to continue to play at normal on our daily phone calls so that I would arrive at the Atlanta airport to wait for a ride that would never come. And be left helpless and penniless with accounts that had already been drained.

It’s strange. Even though I never experienced abandonment that stranded me at Atlanta Hartsfield, a part of me experienced the trauma of being alone, marooned and confused as I waited expectantly for a husband that no longer existed.

And sometimes that trauma is triggered.

And my response is not rational.

My emotions greatly overshadow reality as part of my brain becomes that abandoned wife frantically awaiting a sign that everything is okay.

 

Last week, after a long Friday at work, I went to start my car only to discover it was flatlined. It was no cause for panic – I was parked safely in a well-known and well-lit parking lot. I had coworkers around who could help. Brock was in town and at home, just twenty miles away. My AAA card was in my purse and I still had one more free tow remaining. I had money in my account to pay for a cab, if it came to that.

In other words, I should have been calm.

I was anything but.

It’s like a breakdown of my car leads to a breakdown in me.

I didn’t take the time to lift my hood and fiddle with my battery. I didn’t ask if someone could jump my car. All I could think about was getting home.

Not being stranded.

I ran back into the building to locate a coworker who drives past my neighborhood on her way home. And I left my car behind.

Brock and I returned to the school a few hours later, where my car started up fine as soon as it felt the caress of the jumper cables. I drove home without incident.

But all week, my anxiety was present.

I didn’t trust my car.

It’s strange. The feeling I had mirrored the anxiety and helplessness I felt at the end of my marriage. Afraid of being abandoned, afraid of not having enough money to survive and yet also scared to look too closely at what may be under the hood.

I just wanted everything to be okay.

To keep on running.

The car obeyed until yesterday, when it again abruptly refused to start. And again, I left it in order to return to the security of home. A home with a husband who again helped me retrieve the car, this time putting a new battery under the hood before making sure I made it home safely.

 

And even though the car is securely tucked into the garage and I’m snuggled comfortably with my husband in front of the fire, a part of me is still scared.

Scared that my car will betray me again.

Scared that I’ll be stranded and helpless.

Scared that I’ll be abandoned and alone.

 

A huge hug of gratitude to the friends who drove me home:)

 

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The Day the Marriage Died

Up until now, everything I have posted has been recently written, almost 3 years since the end of my marriage.  I recently went back and visited some of my earlier writings, drafted in the weeks and months after he left.  I’ve decided to share some of that, to expose the raw underbelly of divorce.  Please be aware that this writing has a different tone.  The emotions and language are harsh as they capture my reaction on the day the marriage died.

Choosing: painting by first husband, George Fr...

Wellness is not measured by the amount of broccoli you eat or the number of miles you can run.  It is not found in the number of punches on your yoga membership card or the double digits of your sit-up count.  Wellness is not indicated by the reading of the blood pressure cuff or the size indicated on the label of your jeans.

I used to think I was well; I had all of the above mastered.  My lean, muscled body spoke of the intense workouts it was subjected to along with the strict vegetarian diet that was used to fuel the exercise sessions.  I awoke before dawn to ensure that I could fit a workout into my hectic schedule as a middle school teacher.  I fit long runs in on open evenings or on the weekends.  I watched everything I ate, avoiding meat and keeping a careful eye on the amount of fat consumed.  My favorite way to spend the weekends was working in my extensive garden or going on long hikes in the nearby North Georgia mountains.

I used to think I was well.  But, I wasn’t.  All it took to strip away all of physical manifestations of health was a few short sentences.  A text, sent across the country on a sunny Saturday afternoon, arriving unexpectedly on my phone.

July 11, 2009  12:38 p.m.

I’m sorry to be such a coward leaving you this way.  I am leaving. Please reach out to someone let the dogs out as I am leaving the state.  The code for the garage is 5914.  I’m truly sorry but I can’t do this anymore.   Please give me some time to come to terms with my decision.  I will call you in a few days.  I am sorry that I have failed you.

Lesson One

When two become ones, you are able to see yourself clearly.

Fear gripped.  Legs collapsed.  Brain stuttered.  Lungs heaved. Gut clenched. Body trembled.  World shattered.  Visceral.  Violent.

My father’s arms engulfed me as I lay shaking on the floor, my body and brain rebelling from my new reality.

“What can I do for you?  Do you want me to call mom?” my dad offered, seeking for a way to comfort his only child.

“Yes, please,” I responded, forcing the words out through my locked lungs.

He reluctantly left me in a heap on the hallway floor in my aunt and uncle’s house as he moved to the dining room to make the call to my mother in Texas, whom he had divorced decades earlier.

My brain barely registered his soft, yet strained voice in conversation several feet away from me.  My hands gripped my phone with urgency, willing it to send another message.  Wanting this to be a mistake.  A joke.  Anything but real.  A little anger pushed through the initial shock, enough for me to summon the courage to flip open the phone, using muscle memory trained over years to scroll down twelve names to Mr. T, the nickname he used to put himself in the phone he bought for me years before.

“Hello.  You’ve reached T of MMS.  I cannot come to the phone right now, but please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as possible.”

I took a deep breath and left a message, almost unintelligible through my tears, my shaking, and my heaving chest.

“T.  I don’t understand.  What is this?  A text message?  Sixteen years and a text message? Please don’t do this.  Not like this.  Call me.  Please.”

I closed the phone, severing the connection.

It sat there silent.  Taunting me.  I opened it again, this time to send a text message.

What about the dogs?  Are the dogs okay?  Call me.

It remained silent, the screen dark.

I’ve Buried the Hatchet, but I’ve Marked its Location

Making a hatchet sheath, step 2: flip the hatc...

Forgiveness is such a loaded word.

It requires an acceptance of someone’s actions.  Actions that may be horrific, born from unknown motivations.

Forgiveness was on my mind soon after I received the text that ended my marriage.  According to the platitudes I had always heard, I needed to forgive him.  It was the right thing to do.

It was an unfathomable thing to do.  I viewed forgiveness as a selfless act, and I had a self that was way too hurt to pardon its executioner.  I couldn’t begin to even understand what he did, much less WHY he did.  And, now, I was supposed to exonerate him for those same things?  It just seemed like one more way that he would be getting away with his choices and actions.  I refused to endorse his behavior with my stamp of approval.

Time passed.  He remained unforgiven.  I thought I could attend to my anger without addressing that little matter of absolution.  I was wrong.  I held on to an ember of hate, fueled by my refusal to accept his choices.

I grew to see forgiveness in a different light.  It was actually a selfish act for me.  After all, I do not expect to ever have any contact with him again.  He will never know if I am his pardoner or if I hunt for vengeance.  I forgave him for me.  It helped to extinguish the fire of anger.  It brought peace to my days and kept him out of my dreams at night.

In order to find forgiveness, I had to shift my view of him.  I had to see him as sick, confused, desperate.  I do not know how true any or all of those labels are, but they are true to me, as they helped me to feel compassion for him.  They let me accept that my greatest love sought to destroy me, regardless of intent.  I cling to those labels when I feel the anger spark.  I cover the ember with thoughts of mental illness and a frantic push to survive. I chose to see him as weak and frightened, acting in his own twisted version of self defense, rather than as some evil puppetmaster, cruelly controlling my life.

I do not endorse his choices.  Regardless of his mental state, he lied and manipulated for years, he committed bigamy and fraud, and he ran and hid like a frightened coward.  I still believe that he belongs in prison for his actions.  I still would feel no sadness if I heard of his demise.  I have simply found a way let go in my mind so that I could find peace.

I have forgiven him, but I will never forget the pain.  I’ve buried the hatchet, but I’ve marked its location.

Marital Treason

Caution: Rant ahead.  Proceed with care.

An yellow orange warning sign with an ! . Re-u...
An yellow orange warning sign with an ! . Re-uploaded because someone on the English Wikipedia wanted it again. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is so much about the legal process of divorce that is just not fair.  I’m feeling that very acutely right now, as I received an email from someone in my life who is now in the same no-win property situation I found myself in.  In both cases, the spouse was dishonest and actively hiding information.  In both cases, the judge awarded the marital home to the partner with the agreement that they would assume the full note and make payments.  In both cases, that failed to happen.  This puts us in the position of owing money on a home we do not own and cannot sell.  Speaking for my case, I truly felt as though I had no option other than foreclosure.  My ex had disappeared again, I could not afford to pay lawyers any more, and the courts could only change the ownership of the house, not the names on the loan.

I am disgusted by the fact that actions that would be deemed illegal against a stranger are allowed against a spouse.  It is not unlike the way it was (and still is in some cultures) where a husband could forcefully take his wife without it being termed rape because of the legal contract between them.  Why is it that a marriage contract makes despicable behavior tolerable in the eyes of the law?  Why is it that just because I called him,” husband,” he could embezzle my money, steal my files, and abandon joint responsibilities without more than a slight slap on the wrist?  If someone came into my home and did the same, they would be sitting in a jail cell, learning how to do pull-ups on a bunk bed.

I propose we need a new law: marital treason, the act of betraying one’s marriage (there used to be a similar law called petty treason).  This would include adultery, deception (financial and otherwise), and acting in a way that is in opposition to a marriage.  Once convicted, the treasonous spouse would be required to pay restitution (enforced by payroll deduction) and forced to serve community service in a cause chosen by the spouse.  For those, like mine, who like to run, their passports would be confiscated until the requirements of their conviction had been met.  It seems as though the only time the law takes divorce seriously is in the case of child support (don’t get me wrong here, I strongly support hunting down deadbeat parents).  Also, please understand I’m not whining for alimony or excess; I just want what was stolen from me.  The marital treason law would seek to identify and hold responsibility to those who chose to betray their marriage through deception.  It’s only fair.

Okay, I feel a little better now.  Just had to get that off my chest.

Clean Up, Aisle 5

I received a notice in the mail yesterday that I have to report to court to settle one of the financial messes that my ex left behind. I have known that this was coming, but that does not make its arrival any easier.

I’m angry. Angry that he continues to dodge his responsibilities while I, as a tax-paying citizen who holds a job and a valid driver’s license, gets to deal with the mess he so casually left behind.

I’m anxious. Even now, almost three years out from the initial blow, I’m still half-waiting for another explosion.

But, most of all, I feel ashamed. I don’t know why, but this is my response when I feel like people are judging me, even when their assumptions are untrue. These people don’t know anything of my story, nor do they care. I want to walk in there, head held high, with the “innocent spouse” letter from the IRS fastened to my collar, an anti-scarlet letter. I want them to know that I am the one cleaning up the mess, not the one who left it there in the first place.

But, I guess it doesn’t matter. Part of marriage is cleaning up after your spouse. My clean-up duties just happen to extend beyond the matrimony. I’ll walk in there, keep my story to myself, and take care of business, leaving me with one less of his messes to clean up.