Tag Archives: divorce

The Next Woman

Dear A,

You don’t know me. I don’t know you. I’ve looked you up online, of course. Who wouldn’t in my position? I wondered what it was about you. Were you prettier? Smarter? Better in some way I couldn’t see? Or was it that you were available? I’m not. Not anymore.

I wonder if you’ve looked me up too. I would, in your position. I’d want to know the crazy I came after if I was you. But note, I’m not crazy. He just likes to think I am.

You’re not either.

I watched an episode of a tv show last week where a woman had to deal with the fact that her rapist raped another woman after she didn’t report him. Silence is more comfortable, sure, but it comes with its own set of ramifications and that is one. You don’t know who will come after you. You don’t know who else will get hurt.

I didn’t think about the possibility of you at all. Not until I saw you that day in Subway so many years ago, holding his hand, waiting in line to get a sandwich like it was any other day. I realized then what I had done. I’d spent my entire life thinking about others before myself, but I never thought about you. And I’m sorry.

I considered emailing you. It would have been easy, what with your contact info on the website, to send you a message and tell you to drop his hand. To run. Now. I never did. It’s a few years later now and I saw this tv show and watched this character cry for the thing she did that was both her fault and not at all her fault in the same breath. And I wanted to cry for you. But I didn’t, because secretly I’m glad it’s not me. And I’m sorry for that too.

See, I have power now. I didn’t want to give that up. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. I hope you understand. I didn’t set out to hurt you. I honestly just never considered you.

Stay safe. Watch for the ticks. When he pushes his glasses up his nose and turns away for a beat before suddenly turning back. When he sits back in his desk chair and crosses his arms over his chest by spinning around. When he leans against the doorframe/wall/counter just a hair too close to you so that you feel his breath on your neck. When he takes one too many beats to stare out the window. When you ask him a question and he closes his eyes before answering. Watch for these things. Watch for more things, because I’ve begun the process of forgetting and I know there are more.

If he ever brings you flowers, writes you a sappy love note in the most ridiculously cheesy romantic card ever, think twice about why.

And remember that this is him. Always him, and never you.

Never apologize.

And please tell him I’m still writing, and I’m coming for him.

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The Leaving

The night I left the husband, I sat in the Walmart parking lot, slid my ring off my left hand, and dropped it into the car cup holder that was slick with spilled energy drink. It was an act of freedom, in a way. I had been bound for years by something I didn’t understand. We didn’t care for each other. Not really. When we said our vows, we quoted the Bible verse about love being eternal. Love was not eternal. Love was not real. Love was a piece of shit.

The next day at work, I punched the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom so hard that it came off the wall and sliced my hand open from ring finger to wrist. I told my coworkers it had fallen and I’d tried to catch it; this seemed like the right thing to say. The cut was so deep I should have gotten stitches, but I didn’t. I wanted to see it, the blood. I wanted to see that reflection of my pain. I wanted to see that punishment, the sentence handed down by the universe for forgetting my vows and removing my wedding ring. I wondered if he’d taken his off yet. I wondered when he would.

I’ve worn no rings since on either hand. Some days, like today, I’ll be walking and the sun will catch the aged scar, a few inches long and curdled white, and I’ll remember how much it bled. How much paper towel it took to stop the bleeding. That was the real act of freedom. The bleeding. I’ll look at the scar and I’ll think about how much my heart bled. How much effort and work and writing and pushing myself it took to stop that bleeding. How he made me feel worthless. How I needed to let that go.

I’m glad to carry this scar. I pawned my ring the first year I was in the city to pay my rent. I wasn’t sad. My heart didn’t bleed. That wound was already scarred.

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Now You See Me

You are the faintest image on a backdrop of a million people. The man in the corner of the train car with headphones and a green hoodie (I used to wear your green hoodie so often just to breathe your cologne that you hid it from me); the man at the stoplight with spiky hair (you spent more time in the mirror perfecting yours than I ever did mine); the man on the bench in the station playing guitar (you loved that guitar more than you ever loved me). You are everywhere in every piece of everything. And some days I ignore it. But some days I don’t.

You are an ever present tape that plays on repeat inside my head, and I think you always will be. And I’m sad. And I’m sorry. About a lot of things. But not sorry about what you did to me, because that was all you. Rather than sorry, I find that I’m actually angry–and I’m strangely okay with that. I’m angry that you still have this power to put me in a funk, no matter how far or how long apart we are. I’m angry that I let you. I’m angry that I allow you to control me, still, after all this time, from wherever you sleep tonight when I don’t, from whoever you’re with now. I’m angry that you can’t take it back; I’m angry that you don’t want to. I’m angry that I still think about you sometimes, that I can’t forget you. I’m angry. With you.

Marriage doesn’t equal ownership, and all rights of any kind were dissolved when you forgot our vows to begin with. You had no right of any kind. I never said this to you, but I should have had to–silence is not consent. You had to know this. Your payment? It’s small, too small. Don’t tell me that you’re sorry, do not ever tell me that you’re sorry. Don’t say that you love me. You couldn’t possibly.

Yes, maybe you stripped me of something, but you also gave me something. I am strong, powerful. Connected. Brave. And this, this is what you are up against when you fight inside my head. And it’s time for you to lose.

So get out.

Get out of my head. Get out of the backdrop of my life. Stop talking to me. Stop saying that you love me. Take a second and actually see me. See what you’ve done. And then walk away.

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The Dog

We were a couple built on routine. We would go out to dinner and a movie, but always so punctual that we had a gap between the two. So we’d go to the mall. We’d go to Starbucks. That day, we went to Petland. I’d worked there, once upon a time (before I knew how awful they were about where they got dogs), so I knew that we could always go in and play with puppies. We met one, a husky. He was maybe 12 weeks old or so, a traditional black and white. I offered it a red plastic squeaky toy and it was like YES and exploded with puppy joy from corner to corner of the meeting room.

The ex got down on the floor and the puppy climbed on top of him, mouth open and grabbing anything it could. The ex laughed. I could see he loved the puppy. “We could get him?” I offered. I liked dogs.

“We can’t afford a puppy,” he replied.

The dog peed on the floor in response. I mean, it was true, in retrospect. We had barely been married a year. We were living largely off my salary. He was trying to start an audio business. But I wanted that dog, so much. I wanted someone to pay attention to me, to actual me.

I didn’t know then all that would come in the years after, how we would fight, almost break up, not break up, have sex in front of the living room tv with HGTV on so I could watch as he moved up on top of me, get pregnant. Get NOT pregnant 37 weeks later.

I was afraid to call him and tell him the baby was dead. I thought back through everything the past 37 weeks–the times I forgot my prenatal vitamins, the times I worked maybe a little too long, the times I ate the wrong thing or laid the wrong way in bed. The times we fought. I remembered cleaning out my car, remembered setting up the crib, remembered carrying all of the baby shower gifts up our flight of stairs to the condo by myself. Remembered falling at work. Remembered failing my glucose test. Twice. Everything flooded me, every single decision, good and bad. It had to have been on me, somehow, the terrible thing that happened. It was my body that hadn’t done its job. I know differently, now. I know so little about what happened, but I know I couldn’t have done anything.

Tell me, I wanted to say. Tell me that I am a failure. That I’m not a good Christian, that I’m a terrible wife, that my baggage and my damaged bruised body did this. Tell me that you’re leaving, tell me that you’re not, tell me that we’ll try again, that you’ll be gentler. Tell me that you forgive me. No, don’t tell me. Tell me that it’s my fault. No, don’t tell me. I already know. I know all of these things.

I was in labor, maybe hour nine or ten? It’s Me or the Dog was on tv. It was my favorite back then. I wanted to be a dog trainer even before I knew I did. And I watched the tiny hospital tv, and he watched, and he said “we should have gotten a dog. Even you could take care of a dog.”

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The Bite

I can still feel the dog’s teeth hooked into my calf, can still hear the sound of huffed breathing through his snout intermingled with the weirdest most inhuman growling I’d ever been privy too, can still smell blood. It doesn’t smell like you’d think. When I close my eyes, I remember what it felt like, that moment when I realized that he wasn’t letting go, when I realized that this job I had only just realized was so truly important to me could actually kill me.

I remember the sound his head made when I hit it with the fridge door, the clunk of skull against metal as he reset and grabbed my boot. I remember the blood that trickled down, that still stains my right boot two months later, remember the rip up the jeans leg of the pants I had just purchased two days before.

I remember going back in, after, to see the dog’s tail wagging, but the instant I moved, his eyes regressed back into whatever aggressive mode had overtaken him. He’d forgotten me. I slammed the door on him; I tried to forget him.

I can’t.

He has left me afraid.

I remember thinking why me, back then. I think it now. Why did I move across the country, why did I come all this way into this job that I loved only to be scared of it? And I can talk about it until I’m blue in the face, for lack of a more creative expression, but people don’t get what it’s like to default to a state of fear. To see a dog running at me with its teeth out and automatically assume it’s going to eat my face. I would have been different, before. I would have turned my back, dropped into a neutral position, taken that possible nip on my fingers when I offered my hand. But everything is different now. I am different now. Now? I freeze. And dogs sense that. They seize on it. I’ve had more bites in the last two months than I have had in nearly four years.

I can clearly label them, the squares that make up the quilt that is my fear, and I use them to hide behind so I don’t have to make myself be better.

I see a knife against my throat in the backseat of a car, feel a seatbelt in my back, smell the scent of garlic, feel the winter cold on my naked lower half as this man I hate presses hard against me; this is every time a man gets too close on the sidewalk, on the train, every time a man even looks at me strangely. I feel less than for being afraid.

I see my dead son, any time I try to get close to someone, because I know that eventually everything ends. Everyone dies, and we go in a fridge, and that is the end of that. I fear relationships, so I treasure the ones I do have.

And I see this dog, this damn stupid dog, at a time in my life when I thought I conquered all the things. When I thought I was not afraid.

I’ve been challenged to publicly demolish my fears, to tell myself that one bad event doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, doesn’t mean I deserved all the events, doesn’t mean I should be afraid. I think I owe this dog a thank you, honestly, that I need to look at what happened as a reminder that I can actually handle a lot of bullshit. Because name a major traumatic event, and I’ve probably survived it. And I can survive more. I can survive divorce and child death and abuse and rape and I can survive being mauled by a dog because I am absolutely more than all of these things.

So the next time a dog runs at me, or a man sits weirdly close to me and leers creepily, or someone I know has a baby, I will make a choice–a choice to not be afraid, a choice to remember that my personal quilt actually makes me better, stronger. I know I won’t always be successful at this. But I will try. And that’s enough.

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Rationalization

When I was a kid, I was attacked by a dog. Nothing terrible or bad or newsworthy. I mean, he bit me in the ass, so that was a thing. Adult-me would have been horribly embarrassed; child-me just screamed really loud. I was nine, maybe ten? I was a good screamer then. I can’t remember the dog’s name, but I remember it started with an L, and I remember he was a retired police dog, the faithful friend of my childhood friend’s next door neighbor. I did nothing to the dog; I had never even interacted with the dog. I was standing in my friend’s yard, doing whatever it is nine or ten year old kids did in yards–playing ball, picking clovers, catching bugs??–small town shenanigans. The dog crossed my friend’s driveway and plowed into my ass, teeth first. My friend’s dad kicked it, and it went back to its own yard, I think. That part’s foggy. I didn’t bleed that much–a simple jumbo bandaid covered the incident.

I remember the lame pink fannypack I was wearing more than anything else about that day. It had three pockets. The front one held my strawberry Lip Smacker, the middle held 63 cents–which was what it cost back then to get a Hershey bar from the store across the street (milk chocolate only, no dark, no nuts)–and the big back pocket held nothing because I had nothing to hide there. It had a black strap that I had to tighten all the way down because the pack was made for an adult, so a long strip of inch-wide black fabric dangled all the way down my backside past my knees.

The dog was a german shepherd, a beautiful long-haired black and tan boy who had apparently never committed such an atrocity in his existence as to bite the left butt cheek of a nine or ten year old. The man said the dog thought I was a cat; that the long black tail hanging down my butt was too much temptation and he wasn’t going for me, but rather, that damn tail.

I do not recall ever wearing that fannypack to my friends house again. Child-me accepted that the dog didn’t like the fannypack and could be provoked just by the mere presence of a simulated tail. Adult-me is much more educated and realizes that if the dog jumped me, teeth first, unprovoked, it had not only done it before, but probably did it again to someone else after me, and that it wasn’t because I was wearing a fannypack, but rather because of something instinctual that the owner had honed within that dog. It wasn’t the fault of the dog, because the dog never learned to behave any better.

I forgave that dog, and I love dogs more now, twenty plus years later, than I ever have before. I can rationalize it, yet, I cannot rationalize my ex and his behavior. What makes abuse of any kind okay? Is it a behavior that’s honed from birth? Is it instinct? Is it learned? Was it not his fault because he never learned to behave any better? Child-me says it’s my fault. Adult-me knows that’s absolutely not the case. And if it’s not my fault, and it’s not his fault, then where exactly DOES that fault lie?

Give me the choice, and I would take dogs any day. Dogs I can rationalize. Dogs I can understand. People, I never will.

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On Hand Holding and Being a Proper Adult

He told me once that he wanted to leave me.

I don’t remember the conversation with him itself, but I remember the aftermath, the driving down the highway doing sixty and talking on the phone to the one person I trusted to dole out Christian-ly relationship advice.

“He wants to go on tour with this guy, this singer. Run sound for him and his band. He’d be gone for at least a year, and he’s not sure he would come back.”

And I’m not sure I want him back, I thought, but did not say.

She told me to be strong for him, to be supportive, that things would work themselves out because we had a good marriage. I was afraid; who was I as a Christian wife if I did not have my Christian husband? Would that even make me a Christian at all? Or would it make me a nobody? Didn’t I need him in order to be somebody, in order to be a proper Christian and fulfill all the duties that had been placed upon me? Wasn’t I failing if he left?

She was sort of right; things didn’t suck then, but they were not great either. They were a state of neutral that had taken a lifetime to perfect, an average of the high of the marriage ceremony itself and the day he told me I could only have a dollar a day to eat on, of getting to control the remote control each night with the inference that I was a stupid idiot who would never be a good Christian adult.

I didn’t get it then. How was I supposed to be supportive when he clearly wanted to go, wanted to leave me behind in our dreary small town and live out his own dreams and desires while I wallowed as a retail manager? Why were his wants more important than mine, and why was I supposed to promote them OVER mine? We had barely been married a year at that point, and he was already giving up.

I look back on our debacle of a marriage and I want to remember the good things, because a book that is written of all the bad things will never sell. Because I beat up my readers and I give them nothing back. But I don’t remember many good things. Well, honestly, any. It is easier to remember bad things than good.

It took stepping back from Christianity, leaving organized religion completely behind, for me to realize that my wants and needs are important too. Not necessarily more important than anyone else’s. But equal. I don’t miss him. I don’t miss him telling me what to do, and I don’t miss having to DO those things. But I do miss the sense that I was a “proper” adult, a feeling I blame solely on the base Christianity sewed within me. That I’m not right if I’m not married, if I’m not serving, if I’m not under someone else. “Proper” adults are married and have kids and do not live paycheck to paycheck while they struggle to actually finish the things they have started. Quite honestly, I no longer want to be that kind of “proper,” but I have to CONSTANTLY remind myself that I am good the way I am, because the opposite is just so ingrained within me. And that scares me most of all, the fact that I actually know I can do anything. I can BE anything. I don’t need anyone else to tell me how or to hold my hand. I will hold my own hand, and I’m okay with that—and pity the person who doesn’t understand this.

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The Rainbow

The most popular girl in our seventh grade class was Lissa. She wasn’t all that
pretty, at least I didn’t think so. But I wasn’t one to talk. The special thing about her was that she was just incredibly engaging. Everyone wanted to be around
her, to have her sit at their table during lunch. 

Lissa’s birthday party was the talk of the cafeteria on this particular day. I heard that the invitations were selective, not like the normal “everyone in the class gets one” invites that we had grown up with. I heard she was handing them out herself. I also heard that they were on glittery Lisa Frank stationary, with cute, brightly colored animals all over them. God, I wanted that invitation. I viewed it as a ticket to…something. I wasn’t sure what exactly. Fitting in? Knowing that I really had friends? I was always trying to figure out what I was missing and how to make up for it rather than trying to fit where I actually fit as I was. 

I stared at my red segmented lunch tray as Lissa passed the invitations out at our table. She gave one to everyone—everyone that is except for me. I stared at my gloppy middle school cafeteria slop and tried to figure out what I’d done to not be the recipient of the rainbow colored door to the rest of my life. 
I rarely ate lunch in the cafeteria after that day; I hid in the bathrooms or in a teacher’s classroom whenever I could get away with it. Alone. That day with Lissa was the day where I stopped really trying to connect with my friends on a genuine level. Where I let myself drift away from the herd because I realized I’d never be like them; where I stopped being seen. 

The thing about B is that he saw me. I think that’s what drew me to him really. He had this power in the beginning to make me the center of his everything, and his gaze was that rainbow I had been missing. At least I thought that he saw me. His rainbow held all the things I thought I had to be. Girlfriend, wife. Mother. Perfect. Beautiful. 

One of the last times I saw him before he went away, in a crowded aisle in the local Target a month or two after we filed for divorce, I found myself remembering my first kiss. Not with him. It was a boy named Adam, in the local teen coffeehouse in front of the Coke machine. Adam was running down the steps wearing a green puffer jacket that smelled like pot, intent on getting to the sofas where his friends were. I don’t know why I did it, but I reached out and grabbed him by the collar and laid one on him. “Wow,” was all he said. I felt nothing, but Adam told me later he felt everything. 

I realized in Target that I couldn’t remember a single kiss with B in any clarity, while my three second Coke machine relationship has a lasting mark. My first memory on that vein of myself with B is his hand down my pants on the local baseball diamond. There was only me and him, a possession, an ownership. He saw me as a thing. I desperately wanted to see him as that rainbow. 

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Death

Our marriage began with a death.

Sunday night, a lot of years ago. October, maybe? I was on my way back to Wisconsin from Indiana, where I had been helping chaperone a herd of teenagers at a Christian youth event in the Thunderdome, when his mother told me he had a surprise waiting at my apartment. My apartment where he was not allowed to be.

“Did you give him my key?” I couldn’t keep the scorn out of my voice. “I don’t want him in my house.” There was a lot I didn’t say. Were there blankets on the couch. I’m pretty sure I left blankets on the couch. You know he’s going to want to do things, right? That he won’t want to hear no? You know there’s a reason I took his key away? I blinked without continuing out loud.

Her reply seemed strange at the time. “You seem ungrateful. You should be grateful. You will be.”

I arrived home to baked chicken, handmade potatoes, and cheese covered broccoli, one of the only veggies I actually enjoyed eating. He had cooked me all of my favorite things, covered my cheap gray card table in a fancy red table cloth adorned with two silver candle holders with pine green candles. We watched Amityville Horror on the couch, under the blanket of course even though the apartment was easily in the 70s, and then he proposed to me with very little fanfare. I said yes with equally little fanfare. The proposal was nothing like the movies. After he left, I went to feed my betta fish, Bob, and found him belly up in his tank. Dead.

Five years later, I was in my OBs office for my 37 week pregnancy appointment, without him, making small talk with a nervous handed nurse with hints of lemon on her breath about a mission trip I’d been on at seventeen to build houses in Jamaica. Her hands shook because of the things they wouldn’t show me on the backward facing monitors, the test results that told them my son was dead, the results that, once confirmed, I could trace back to near precisely the minute it had happened–me sitting at my desk on my last day of work as a merchandising manager, eating cheese poppers from Pizza Hut and entering theft numbers into the computer while giving zero fucks about accuracy because I knew I would never return.

Our marriage ended with a death. But had it ever been living?

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The Beginning

 

We met when I was nineteen or so. His fingers stretched over the strings of his guitar like no musician I had ever seen; his tongue glanced across his lips as he concentrated on the beat. I didn’t notice him, not at first. A bit of a diva, I was more interested in holding a microphone and singing with the church band than I was in looking for a relationship. He gave the appearance of caring more about his music than the people around him, just like his mother who played piano beside him. I’m not sure he ever looked my way. I only looked his way because his mother was our leader.

Actually, it was his sister who noticed me first. She was desperate for a best friend, and I was just lonely because I never really hung out with people. One night after rehearsal I went over to her house for dinner with her and her family. He was there, of course, with his mother and father and brother. His mother suggested that we rent a movie, and he drove us to the video store on the corner between the Shell gas station and the liquor store. I wandered the aisles as he laughed and horsed around with his siblings. They wanted me to pick something to watch, but my only real knowledge of them was that they were deeply religious. We rented something silly, something from the line of Beethoven movies with the giant St. Bernard.

It was more fun to hang out at his house than mine; I was renting a small room from a coworker at that point with a closet and a computer desk and a murphy bed that folded up into the wall during the day. It was so much fun, in fact, that when his sister invited me to move in with them while we saved to get our own apartment together, I said yes. I don’t remember how it happened, whether it was before or after I moved in, but he asked his sister for permission to take me out on a date. It was very important, he told me later, to ask for her permission, because she had claimed me first. I remember thinking that was an odd choice of phrase–“Claimed me”–but it made sense. She and I were friends before he even knew me, and if things didn’t work out between us, she would lose a friend. I remember that she was like me. Different. A little off the beaten path. A little lacking in friends. But at the time when he asked me to dinner just the two of us, she didn’t matter. I said yes. I wanted more than anything to be a part of their idyllic Christian family.

Our after dinner first date activity was going to see “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” He didn’t tell me then, but he had never read the books or seen the previous movies and picked it for our date because he knew I would like it. I, who had never had a real dating relationship or any kind, automatically assumed that meant he loved me. One more dinner and a movie, and I agreed to go steady. At nineteen, I’m not sure I knew what that meant, the level of commitment I was making. I was certain no other boy would ever love me, and I knew that I was supposed to get married, so I made a commitment for the first boy who asked.

No normal boy my age had ever looked at me. The only date I ever went on was during high school, to the junior prom, and it was the worst night I’d ever had in school. When he looked at me at dinner that night, long strands of spaghetti twirling around his fork and a smudge of marinara sauce on his right cheek, it was like I was being seen, really, seen, for the first time. His gaze was flooded with the possibility of a future that as a young child I had never imagined I would have–a boyfriend, marriage, babies, true love. It is hard now to remember the good times, much easier to remember the bad; the bad is what sticks the most, what hurts the most. I think I thought that because he paid attention to me and wanted to spend time with me that he loved me. I must have believed he was the only one who would ever want to be with me; I must have stayed because I was certain there was no other man who would love me.

His sister got engaged and married shortly after, so it was natural for us to get married too. It all seemed so ordinary, a natural progression of events. At J.C. Penney’s, where we had our wedding registry, there were scanner guns for couples to tour the store and capture the barcodes of merchandise for their lists. He wanted expensive things–the best couch, the biggest television, the softest bed. I was more interested in the smaller things–a matching set of dishes, a blender, towels for the bathroom. Big, loud, and perfect, versus small, quiet, and necessary were our personalities in a nutshell. We were nothing alike.

He was not quite six feet tall, the perfect height for my five and a half foot self to rest my head on his shoulder. He didn’t have an ounce of fat on him, and his lanky body was capped off with a spiky head of hair two shades lighter than mine in its natural state. He was always a pretty boy; he spent more time in the bathroom each day getting ready than I spent in front of the mirror all week and was always encouraging me to do more for my looks–curl my hair, put on makeup. I did what he wanted because I wanted him to love me back as much as I thought I loved him.

The thing is, I never knew what love was.

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