I remember it now as vividly as if it only happened yesterday. It was a sunny, brisk April morning eleven long and short years ago. I woke up at my usual time and immediately thought something was off – my then-husband was already up and out of the house. I didn’t recall him saying he had an early morning meeting, but I quickly shook it off and got ready for work in my usual way. On the way out the door, I shooed the cat out of the way and patted the dog on the head. I went out to the garage, got in my car and saw a gold manila envelope on the car seat. When I opened up the envelope and looked at the contents, everything changed in the flash of a single moment – life as I knew it would never be the same.
Without a single utterance or warning of any sort, my husband had left divorce papers on my car seat.
I really don’t even have words to describe the moments that followed. Shock, disbelief, panic, and rage were all hurling at me with the force of a Mac truck. I felt a hurt so deep, so searing, that I thought I might not make it through the day. Truthfully, I’m still not sure how I did. I ran inside to try calling him at work. Of course he did not pick up. I paced and I sobbed and I screamed. I had no recourse, and in that moment, no way to know what was happening. I have had some days in my life, days that were truly, deeply terrible. Days of loss and grief, of confusion and pain. But I’ve never had a day, before or since, that shook me to the core like this fateful day.
In the days that followed, I searched for answers but got very few. After thirteen years in a relationship that was almost entirely devoid of conflict, it appeared that my cool, calm and usually collected husband had gone off the deep end. There was an evening about ten days after the divorce-papers-on-the-car-seat incident when he really lost his mind. One sassy question from me along the lines of, “Why do you have to be like that?” unleashed thirteen years of suppressed rage. After a massive blow up, the likes I had never seen in this otherwise almost passionless relationship, the evening ended with him laying on the bed in our spare bedroom sobbing a deep, guttural sob – a sob I could not in good conscience ignore. Balancing my own sense of safety with all of my other sensibilities, I went upstairs and laid on the bed with him – consoling him, crying with him, caressing his hair – and promising him that even though we were in the middle of a mess right now, we would both be okay on the other side of it. It was my last act of affection toward him, and it came from a genuine place. It was also the last night I ever spent in that house.
If there was a victim in this story, it would make sense to conclude it was me. He made it so easy – too easy – so I let him take the blame. Friends and family stood by my side and made speculations about the how and the why of it all, none of which put him in a favorable light. A few months after our divorce was final, he was engaged to a co-worker of his and all of the unanswered questions seemed to have answers. It was easy and convenient to end the story there, so I did just that.
But time has a way of simultaneously gnawing away at the hard exterior shell and softening the edges to reveal the truth. What I didn’t say at the time, and really haven’t said to many until this very moment, is that I hold myself 100% responsible for the demise of my marriage. I’m not letting him off the hook entirely, because I actually believe that both people in a relationship have 100% of the responsibility for it. But this is the story I never told.
When I was 22 years old, I met a perfectly lovely man and willed myself to love him. Because he met everyone else’s approval, I fell deeply in love with the idea of being in love with him. The deeper I got into the relationship, the more unstable my state of mental health became. Over time, I developed a full-blown panic disorder, with my body protesting (sometimes violently so) the choices I was making. I ignored all of this and did what I “wanted” anyway. Now this is not to say that he was a bad guy – quite the contrary, actually. He is a good man, with a good heart. For a variety of reasons, though, he just wasn’t good for me. I knew it, and I married him anyway. Thereafter I invested myself in every part of my life except my marriage. I distracted myself with work and school and social opportunities. I gave the best and most important parts of me to everyone else. In the context of our relationship, I was moody and demanding and kind of lazy – all the while being funny and charismatic and hard-working in every other aspect of my life. He desperately wanted children and I held back, knowing the relationship was not strong enough to handle it. Over time, I became little more than a roommate – and kind of a pain in the ass roommate at that. It eventually got to a point where even I really didn’t like me. The long and the short of it is, he got the worst of me. And he got it for thirteen long years.
So the bottom line and the story I’ve never told is this: he did what I never would have had the courage to do. He examined what really had become of our relationship – not what we portrayed to the outside world – and recognized that not only was it not working, it really wasn’t even salvageable. He may not have chosen the most compassionate way to end the relationship, but he ended it with good reason and the only way he knew how. In the end, he gave us both a chance at happiness. And while he left me with many gifts in all our years together, that was the most loving gift of all. Today, almost exactly eleven years later, my heart is grateful and my life is full. I hope the same is true for him.