I don’t have dirty relationship details to dish out. The five years we were married weren’t terrible. There were difficult times, of course. We had a life together and there were parts that we made work, there were parts that just worked, and there were parts we left alone most of the time. No, it wasn’t terrible at all. But now, finding myself at the frayed end of a string unraveled, I can see the worst part of it all. I knew I shouldn’t marry him, felt it like a brick in my stomach, and I did it anyway.
I was twenty years old, attending a small school in a small town, when we met. It wasn’t love at first sight, but he swept me off my feet all the same. I mentioned J.D. Salinger; he said he had just been to the Library of Congress looking for Salinger’s last published book. I mentioned Bright Eyes; it was his favorite band. I talked about obscure artsy films (I was in college you know) and he had seen them all. He was funny, he was witty, he was thoughtful. He washed my roommates’ dishes. He brought me beautiful old copies of books with perfect inscriptions. Everyone liked him. I fell head over heels. He proposed to me in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and I said yes.
Two weeks later he broke up with me. Over the phone. I didn’t see it coming at all and it brought me to my knees. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t even know what had happened. There were some muttered words about lies, infidelities – over the phone, through a friend. It was just over and then he disappeared. Even now it is difficult remembering the weight of that crushing anguish. In my grief, I took a semester off and flew home. But instead of moving on, I made my first huge mistake: I made it mean something about me.
Maybe I was just young. Maybe my self-confidence wasn’t fully developed. Maybe it just happened. I’d like to stick a pin in a reason for everything that happened next, for all the bad decisions I made, but maybe it’s enough just to own it no matter why it happened. These days I have Byron Katie on repeat in my head most of the time and I can hear her saying, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Back then I decided it was all my fault. He didn’t love me. He didn’t tell me the truth. He didn’t want to be with me. And I thought it must have something to do with me. If I had been more accepting, less opinionated, more, less, more, less . . . I felt like I had failed, miserably. I got a job, started dating again, did yoga, took a kick boxing class. But I carried the weight of his rejection everywhere I went.
I didn’t have any contact with him for eight months. Then he called me.
This is the part where I should have hung up the phone. I should have told him about the really great guy I was dating (because the guy I was dating really was a great guy). I should have told him that he’d had his chance, that I deserved someone who could make a real commitment and be honest, that I wanted someone who could appreciate all of me, all of the time. I should have . . .
Instead, I agreed to meet him, and it started all over again. Except the second time around was different. This time I was more aware that everything was conditional, that failure was a possibility, that I must try really hard. I kept my mouth shut more. I said yes when I meant no. I betrayed myself, my conscience, my values over and over again. I just wanted to be loved. And because I thought I needed him for that, we got married.
I know how this all sounds. Pathetic comes to my mind. Believe me, I have gone over this in my mind again and again. Yes, I was young, but does young have to be synonymous with stupid? And if any sympathetic readers are still generous enough to think that maybe I am being too harsh, well, I didn’t tell you that during the eight months we were separated, he was engaged to someone else, or that I financed my own engagement ring because he was broke and when he split, I was stuck with the bill. I also didn’t tell you that I later found out that all those sweet book gifts he used to bring to me were shoplifted. I should have known better; this is the guilt I carry.
I have been so ashamed of all of these things. These are the things I don’t want anyone to know.
To Be Continued . . .
(I wrote these words a year ago. I was ready to start working out all my feelings surrounding my divorce and all its pieces. A year later I find myself in a completely new place, a better place. Yet I am still haunted by the past, by the guilt, by the things I don’t want anyone to know and the things I wish weren’t true. So I am starting over again – and again, and again if that’s what it takes to be okay with the past and to be some the wiser in all the days ahead of me. Thank you for being here with me and sharing the journey.)