Tag Archives: divorce

The Story I Never Told

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.

Veronica

Sometimes when you leave the house in a hurry, you forget something really important – like your bowling ball. This is the story of Veronica.

In 1993, I made a bold move that would change the trajectory of my life forever.  Young, inexperienced and in love, I packed up my bags, left the Twin Cities, and moved to Milwaukee.  When people today ask how I ended up in Milwaukee, I always explain: “I moved here for love that has long since passed.”  At the time, the plan was to move here for a year – maybe two – and then head back to the Twin Cities.  Twenty-one years later, I am pretty sure Milwaukee is home.  Today, there is a finite list of reasons I would consider moving:  1) Scott Walker is elected President (in which case it is compulsory that I move to Canada); 2)  I am inspired and propelled by love again; or 3)  Milwaukee is destroyed by a zombie apocalypse.

Anyway, if you have ever moved to a new city, you are probably aware as I was that it is really hard to make new friends.  It can take seemingly forever.  I am so lucky now to have an incredible group of friends, but I am very aware that this has required over 20 years of interviewing, nurturing, harvesting and weeding out a few clunkers.  Good friends are worth their weight in gold.  Once you have them, you should never let them go.  I’m not sure if I would have the wisdom to value friends the way I do now, had I not had a period of time where I didn’t really have any nearby.

But when you are in a new city and devoid of any meaningful friendships, you have to find things to do that don’t require friends.  There are only so many movies you can see or festivals you can attend.  In my case, I decided to engage in something fun that I could add as a skill.  For the first two years I was in Milwaukee, Mr. Jennifer Wittwer and I went bowling on a weekly basis, sometimes twice a week.  I actually got pretty good over time, and could consistently bowl an average of 200 or higher. I really grew to love it.

One day, Mr. Jennifer Wittwer came home and said he had been at the closing-out sale of a local sporting goods store.  While there, he found a bowling ball that was the right weight, had finger holes exactly the right size, and – get this – already had his name engraved on it.  He had invested a grand total of $5.00 on this purchase, and was beaming with pride at this almost unbelievable turn of events.

At the insistence of Mr. Jennifer Wittwer, I too went to the sporting goods store to see if I could find a bowling ball.  The store was in its final close-out, so it was dirty and disheveled.  People were everywhere, frantically trying to get the deal of a lifetime.  I made my way to the bowling ball section and took a quick inventory:  the pickins’, as they say, were slim. But then, tucked away in the back of the shelf, I caught a glimpse of her – the bowling ball of my dreams.  Perfectly marbled in an array of purple tones, she was eleven pounds of pure beauty.  I picked her up and felt her smooth surface in my hands.  I held her up to my face and instantly fell in love.  I tried the finger holes and they were a perfect fit.  “I’ve found her!” I exclaimed.  I then looked at the name on the ball, and had a good, hearty laugh.  Engraved on the ball was the name “Veronica.”

From that day forward, my bowling alter-ego became Veronica.  I embodied the cool, casual spunk of a Veronica the minute I would step foot into a bowling alley.  While Jen is fun and sassy in her own right, Veronica had a little spring in her step that let the world know she was in charge.  Veronica was also fiercely competitive and could have a little temper flare if things weren’t going so hot.  The bottom line is this: Veronica was the kind of girl everyone wants to befriend, but nobody dares to mess with.  Veronica meant business.

Years later, when Mr. Jennifer Wittwer and I ended our relationship , I left the house in a hurry. After 12 years together, my sister and brother-in-law helped me pack up and move out of the house in about a 3 hour period of time.  The circumstances necessitated my haste.  It was the most emotionally tumultuous and difficult time of my life, a time I don’t care to re-live or ever repeat.  Somehow, someway, I made it through. As I settled into my new life, and then into my new home, my stomach dropped when I one day suddenly realized: Oh my God, I forgot Veronica.  In the midst of all of the chaos and the sudden, abrupt changes, Veronica got left behind.

I try not to think about it too much and I push it to the recesses of my mind.  I don’t know where Veronica is today.  For all I know, she is in a landfill.  Maybe she got donated somewhere and a young girl in a junior bowling league has taken to her.  I shudder at the thought, but it is possible that the new wife of the former Mr. Jennifer Wittwer is using Veronica on a regular basis.  I simply don’t know where Veronica is, what she is doing, and who is loving her.  It breaks my heart.

Is it normal to have regrets in life?  I think so.  I certainly have a few.  It has become a joke, a metaphor of sorts, when I reflect on my broken marriage.  “I want my damn bowling ball back!”  And I say it in jest, but truly, I do.  I’ve offered $100 to the person who is brave enough to go ring the doorbell of the former Mr. Jennifer Wittwer and demand Veronica back.  So far, no one has taken me up on it.  Until then, I will patiently wait.  Someday, maybe someday, we will be reunited.  Until then, I will just continue being Jen – the best Jen I know how to be.  Even when I go bowling.