Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My own personal Squanto

My blogger friend, SJ, has been dealing with a situation similar to one I dealt with about 3 years ago: the break-up of my marriage. Reading her posts and thinking about her has of course brought back memories of that time in my life when the rug was pulled out from under me. Below is a piece I wrote several months after my husband left me. I offer it to you now, gentle readers, in the spirit of Thanksgiving – believe it or not.

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It’s funny, I’m not sure how long it’s been since he walked out the door with his clothes in grocery bags. Was it July, or August? I’m really not sure. I could look at my checkbook and tell instantly, I guess. See where his writing stops and mine begins. See the last entry for gas bought with the ATM card at that station near his office, the last check written to the hardware store. Time passes differently for me now, and I feel differently about its passage. Days and night stretch out in front of me, as full or as empty of chores and errands as I wish them to be. If I do not wish them to be full, very little happens. The dogs need food, that needs to be done, and I must go to work every day, but very little else seems to depend on whether or not my old schedule is met. And so at times I test this premise, wrap myself up in a blanket and sit out in the back yard in the lounge chair, staring straight ahead. Go ahead and test me, Mr. Time, I can take it. I can sit like this for hours while dishes lie dirty and dry cleaning remains unclaimed and balls of dog fur and dust roll across the floor like tumbleweeds.

He would have been happy, probably, to see me surrender some rigidity. Funny then, that this surrender comes too late, that it was triggered by the event that also made it moot.

As I sit in my chair, I ask myself the same question that I imagine so many others in my situation ask: How Did I Not See It Coming?

A year ago, we were happy and normal, I thought. After ten years, we still had great times together. I could still absolutely break him up, put him on the floor, laughing, wiping his eyes. And he could still make my stomach feel funny and my hands tremble if he put his arms around me in that way he did sometimes. Sure, we struggled, over the years, with our sex life, with the boredom and the complacency, but we always managed to find a way back to each other, to connect again. People tell me that we were absolutely the very last people on earth that they thought would break up, get divorced. I remember, I thought so too. I would imagine sometimes, what medical infirmities would eventually plague us in our old age, and how we would cope with them. Would he need a colostomy bag someday, like that old guy next door? Or what if I needed one? Would he still want to have sex with me if I did? Is his forgetfulness a sign of future senility? Should I be buying him vitamins or an herbal supplement? Stuff like that. The kind of stuff you think about when you expect to spend the rest of your life with someone.

No, there was no shortage of accoutrement for a lifetime commitment: insurance policies, mortgages, major appliances, wills. Seven years my junior, he moved in with me almost immediately after we started dating, and a couple of years later, he proposed. Having suffered a brief and painful marriage in my twenties, I was content to remain unwed, but when he proposed, I realized I wanted it too. It felt good to say yes to this idea of permanence. He was twenty-five when we met, twenty-nine when we married, and thirty-five when he left.

One night, about a year ago, he announced that he was unhappy, and that he knew I was too. Why not just end it, he said.

I’m searching for a word to express the magnitude of the shock I felt upon this announcement. I remember, my jaw dropped open. I remember thinking as I watched his lips move, as he went on about our unhappiness, that there might be some misunderstanding, that I must be misunderstanding something. It felt unreal. Time slowed. My brain raced. I felt the sensation of walls tumbling down all around me. I was out of my mind, out of my body, cut loose from everything. It was the worst moment of my life, and it wouldn’t end. It just went on and on and on.

It came down to this: he couldn’t believe I wasn’t unhappy, and I couldn’t believe he thought I was.

I begged for couples therapy, for another shot, and he finally gave in. Our therapist pronounced a “profound lack of communication” at work.

Well, yeah.

Although until my spouse’s little eye opener, I would have said that we communicated just fine.

The therapist wanted individual sessions. He went twice, I think, and then he stopped. He would promise to go, and then not, or he would avoid calling the therapist, whose phone messages went from polite to stern to plaintive. Meanwhile, I would go every week, and say things like “he seems happier,” or “I’m trying to really listen to what he’s saying,” plus, I’m being REALLY POSITIVE about our future, and tiptoeing around his moods, and analyzing every word out of his mouth, and trying really hard to look sexy without looking like I’m trying to look sexy. Sometimes, when he left the house, I would sink to the floor and cry, out of exhaustion and despair.

Some weeks later, he pronounced himself “cured” and asked that we speak of it no more. I was relieved. Our counselor was troubled by this, and said that if he wouldn’t come to session, how could he expect to be helped? So when the therapist called a month later to see how we were doing, my statement that we were still together was met with surprise on his part. I was insulted, and still certain that we would survive. C’mon, it was us. We loved each other. This was the man who stood on stage at our wedding reception and sang “Thunder Road” to me as a wedding present. The whole song. Sang it to me while I laughed and cried simultaneously. Who else on earth could make me feel so goofy & gloriously alive? And who else could make him feel the same?

Months passed, and one day I got a replay of the “I’m not happy, I want out” speech, only this time, I saw it coming. I had gradually become aware that he was not cured, that he was miserable and conflicted, and it was then that I put together my meager scraps of understanding and realized why he never went to session: he didn’t want to sit and lie for an hour every week. He didn’t want to tell lies about trying to make it work. And he couldn’t tell the truth, apparently, either, because that was even worse.

The truth: He wanted out. He just did. He wanted off the hook. He just did. I don’t know why, I don’t know why. He just did. Whatever it was he got from me, it meant less than his freedom, less than the weight of permanence being lifted from his head, less than being able to walk out the door with those grocery bags full of clothes.

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I came across this piece about a week ago, and after re-reading it, my first reaction was to wince at the amount of pain fairly dripping off the page. My second reaction was to recognize that my understanding of the events has increased over the last 3 years in inverse proportion to the degree to which I give a shit about the events. Isn’t that always the way?

Thirdly, I really can’t believe how much happier I am now. And I think that’s because I’m a strong person, and I have great friends and family to rely upon as well, and I’m really pretty good at finding a way to be happy. But I got to give no small measure of credit for my happiness to my man Spooney, because he is wicked awesome, and because he makes me laugh at things I had forgotten to notice years ago, and because he loves me with his heart wide open, and I marvel at that.

So, thanks.

17 comments:

Jess said...

You made me cry! (OK, so I just got my period... but still!)

I want to hug you.

Spooney IS an awesome awesome guy. He's sweet, funny, smart, and above all HONEST and upfront! You don't have to worry about something coming out of left field with him. You got a good one. I can't tell you how happy I am that you guys found each other.

Megan said...

Thanks for laying yourself bare to share that with us, Vikki.

I still have trouble talking about the break-up of my almost-marriage (not that it is anywhere near the same thing). It's not so much that I'm still hurt by all that, but that thinking about how painful the experience was makes me sad for the girl I was back then.

So I bet it took a lot to revisit what you'd written and re-experience that pain, and even more to post it for all the world to see.

Thanks. Glad you finally found a keeper!

SJ said...

Dear Christ! Thank you for posting this. Thank you for speaking the words in my head pretty much fucking exactly as they appear and have appeared in my head. I had a cheater to boot, a coward who did that to 'get out,' but thank you. Just thank you.

Spooney said...

Ok, aside from the fact that the first comment on here was from my ex-wife, which is weird, yet somehow fitting (thanks for the kind words Jess) That whole blog entry was heart-wrenching and beautiful. I do love you Victoria, with all my heart, and I always will. I feel like the luckiest fucker in the world to have met you!

Grant Miller said...

That was some post.

Don't much to say except,

"My second reaction was to recognize that my understanding of the events has increased over the last 3 years in inverse proportion to the degree to which I give a shit about the events. Isn’t that always the way?"

Was a well timed and funny line.

Johnny Yen said...

Wow-- it's funny how it can all become clearer a few years later. I was just writing about a moment of catharsis I had while passing the dance studio my ex-wife and I opened up at the beginning of our marriage- how it outlasted the marriage (it's still open) Funny-- it also involved a Springsteen song. I'm glad you've found healing and have found love again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. You write beautifully. I get the pain, too. Not the same story, not even similar, just the pain... and the healing. Ah yes, the healing. Time heals wounds. It is like magic. The wise and strong come out the other side wiser, stronger, and better for having survived it.

Looking back, would you wish you had not suffered through the transition from then to now? Based on the tone of your post, I'll bet not. I respect your courage to look back, see that, and share.

Happy Thanksgiving, and best wishes to you, Spooney, Kristi, and the others in your circle.

Respectfully,
Anon

Chris said...

Vikki- Fuckin' wow!! I am literally without speech.

I'm glad to know someone who would write something like that...

Larry Jones said...

This was hard to read, which I guess is my way of saying that you told it well. I'm glad for the epilogue, or I might have become terminally sad. Your story (and SJ's) makes me wonder how this can happen -- how can we not know the one we are in love with?

'Scuse me - I have to go talk to my wife...

CiscoKid said...

Thank you for sharing. It is sad that love stories end but sometimes it is for the best.
As you have discovered
Happy Thanksgiving to you..

RandyLuvsPaiste said...

Aint nobody who don't love the Spooney!

s@bd said...

wow.

(not much else to say except that I'm glad it's behind you)

david said...

Yay.

And beautifully written.

Alana said...

I miss you.

kiki said...

that was really good. made me feel all sad, then upbeat at the end.

wow

vikkitikkitavi said...

Jess: That is so sweet of you. You are the best boyfriend's ex-wife EVER!

Megan: I know what you mean. Thinking about my first marriage makes me very sad for the girl I was then.

SJ: I'm glad you liked it. Really. I've been thinking about it so much it just had to come out.

Spooney: Sure, you say that now...

Grant: Thank you for recognizing. It was not an easy line to get out.

JohnnyY: All breakups invoke memories of Springsteen songs. If they do not, they should.

Anon: Thanks, anon, and no, I'm not sorry for stuff like that. In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester says that remorse is the poison of life, and I think that's on the money.

Chris: Hey, thanks. Thanks for stopping in during your vacation to read and be sweet.

Larry: Yeah, talking. Who knew?

CiscoK: Thanks, baby. Of course my line is that every love affair I've ever had has ended. So far.

Randy: Really? That's not what he says about you.

s@bd: Hey welcome. See you at SJ's all the time. Thanks for the comment.

David: Thanks. That makes me happy.

Alana: I miss you too! You were so great to me during all that time!

Kiki: Thanks, I got to watch the holiday mood swings, though. Dangerous.

Ms. Florida Transplant said...

Thanks for sharing this. I'm going through something similar. I'm encouraged to see you got through it just fine. =)