Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What Happened in 2010

So it’s been awhile… quite awhile, really. And a lot has happened since I was last on here regularly. It’s been such a rollercoaster, my life, and the ride seems to be coasting toward the station… at least this part of it. Will I go around again? Or will I be able to get off this crazy thing for a little bit?  Only time will tell.
What I’m about to write is hard for me. It paints me in what could be seen as a negative light. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable to put it all down, but I think it will be cleansing in a way. Those who know me in real life love me, and I feel it’s unconditional love.  My biggest fear concerning those who know me is…. Well, it seems stupid when I put it in writing, but it’s that they might see me as flawed, imperfect, weak. Pride is a hard thing to put aside, but in the interest of making peace with my past, I must squelch my pride and humble myself to tell this tale.
Mind you, I wouldn’t change a bit of this… really; I wouldn’t change any of the twists, turns, speed bumps or potholes on the road of my life. The road of my life has brought me to where I am, and where I am is where I am supposed to be… and it is good. Being human, I’m finding, means we are all weak in some ways, all imperfect, no matter how hard we try to be otherwise. For some of us, life just happens to put us in situations that prey upon our weakest points. The choices we make in those situations define us, and in my case the choices I have made have brought me to a new happier place in my life… but at the expense of my pride and in some ways, my self-image.
Heavy, right? Well, sit back and listen to my confessional... my “tell-all.” If I were a celebrity I’d be all over the cover of the tabloids.
I’ve been married since June of 1996. I married JeepMan at the tender age of 23, after a 2 ¾ year courtship… I used to joke that we would have never gotten married had I not told him when and where it was going to happen. In hindsight, that’s a rather bitter observation… but again, I wouldn’t change the course of my life.
I used to say that I knew it was true love with JM because we could have arguments and I never once worried about whether those disagreements changed how he felt about me. I actually liked that he challenged me. We were intellectually compatible, and he had a will to match my own. So many other boyfriends I had just steamrolled with my personality. We were the very definition of “opposites attract.” Me: dreamy, abstract, emotional… Him: realist, concrete, logical. I felt we balanced each other out, and I was attracted to those things in him that I didn’t see in myself.
I came from a very harmonious home; he came from an impossibly broken one. I knew so much of love, of family… he knew so little. I felt sure I could teach him to love and trust and bring him the happiness that comes with having those things. He seemed to want what I had to offer. It wasn’t a pity thing. It was a desire to nurture and give, which is the core of my personality.
And so we said our vows on that hot day in June 1996, and it seemed right. We hadn’t planned a honeymoon, as we were both still in college. We took an impromptu trip to Colorado as our best man had given us plane tickets as a wedding gift. We stayed in (essentially) a frat house for a few days and slept on a futon. It was fun, but we always said we should plan a “real” honeymoon someday. We never did.
The first 5 years passed fairly uneventfully. I worked as he went to school, then we moved and both worked. We had a lot of fun those years, and had our arguments too. I recall in particular when I burned my foot by spilling a pot of boiling spaghetti on the floor. Where a “normal” reaction to such an incident would be concern for my well-being, his first instinct was to be extremely angry with me. In retrospect this was a red flag – it was an ugly trait that reared its head time and again in our marriage, with me and eventually with our children. I still don’t know to this day where it comes from, but I suspect it is rooted in his need to have control in his life.
Over those first years the subject of having children came up several times. I wanted them, he wasn’t ready. There was always an excuse: we aren’t financially stable, we don’t know if we want to settle down in this city, we don’t have a house… etc. Finally there weren’t any viable excuses left and I was insistent that we start a family if we were ever going to have one. I went off the pill and left birth control up to him… a month later we were pregnant. It was a wonderful time, but once Plato was born it went downhill fast. Plato was a difficult baby: colicky, cranky, loud, only wanted Mommy… he would turn blue and pass out if he got too angry, his head was flat on one side from an underdeveloped neck muscle and he had to wear a helmet… not the best experience for a man who had only ever held one other baby in his entire life. I think JeepMan felt rejected by his son in some way, and he also had this odd concern of showing too much affection to him, since he was a boy. It was a hell of a year.
He made it quite clear at that point in time that he didn’t want any other children. I was dismissive because we had always planned on two, and I did not want to have an only child if I could help it. JM was an only child, but I had a sister and I couldn’t imagine growing up without a sibling. I used to joke that I had raised him already; I wasn’t going to raise another only child.
Only 2 years later did the seriousness of his position on more children sink in. It became a real point of contention between us: I told him that all children are different, that the chances of having another baby as difficult as Plato had been were extremely slim. By this time Plato had grown into a wonderfully easy toddler. The transformation was unbelievable. JM maintained, however, that even if the chance was one in a million, it wasn’t a chance he wanted to take. He felt he had been permanently scarred by the experience we’d had with Plato. I thought he was being a drama queen. He thought I was nuts. We were at a standoff. Then nature intervened. I switched brands of birth control pill and we got pregnant.
The pregnancy with LuLu was fraught with complications, which made the 9 months of anticipation all the more agonizing for JM.  In the end we had this beautiful, easy baby girl, with whom he bonded immediately. It was the experience he should have had with Plato. As she evolved into a headstrong toddler, however, it became difficult again. When things were crazy, he wouldn’t hesitate to remind me that he hadn’t wanted kids at all, and he especially hadn’t wanted a second child. He never said he would change things, but he blamed me when the going got tough.
And it only got tougher the older the kids got. His temper got shorter, the outbursts got more frequent, and the blaming became a daily thing. I walked on eggshells in my own home wondering what was going to happen to set him off this time. We would go for stretches without any serious issues, but there was always the niggling thought in the back of my mind that those times were inevitably limited, that there was ALWAYS going to be another explosion, another argument, another colossal but unintentional trespass on my part that would set him off. In time even the kids were targets of his anger. Those were the times that really eroded my soul. It became my primary goal to protect them from his ire. I slowly but surely gave up pieces of myself, of my identity, to keep the peace. My self-esteem had whittled down to nearly nothing; I took pride in being a good mother and a good career woman.
I had taken a job that required travel. JM and I had both decided it would be difficult on the family but that the financial payoff and the great resume fodder were worth any hardship. It turned out that a job that had promised only about 25% travel ended up requiring about 90% travel. I was gone some weeks Sunday – Friday. It was hard on us all, but especially hard on JM. He had gone from being inexperienced father to inexperienced single father. I am sure he felt that I was out gallivanting while I was away… in reality I was horribly homesick and missing my kids terribly. I was, however, relieved and grateful for the time that I got to spend out of his line of fire, for the room to breathe… and for that I felt guilty, and I worried that the kids were my stand-in scapegoats.
During the last year of my travel, I became increasingly lonely. The emotional abandonment that had been evolving for years at home had reached near-peak levels. Conversations on the phone were brief and cold. The days I was home it seemed I was just “passing though.” I made friends within the corporation with whom I became close, but they were in other parts of the country. I began spending more and more time online, and I discovered chatting.
I began chatting on Facebook, and because I had made “friends” that I only had for purposes of gaming, I met new people. Interesting people. I began to explore new FB apps and found some fun social games. Unfortunately some of these social games had a tendency to walk the line of being a bit questionable in content, but they seemed quite harmless and fun. Still, I didn’t want posts from those apps or people in those apps to be hitting my FB Wall, because JM would inevitably question my intelligence.
So I created a new persona. I felt there was no harm in it… I was passing the time on the road and, frankly, I was in a better mood most days and in a better mood at home since I had an outlet for my creative writing and emotions. A safe, anonymous outlet. I met some fantastic people. I learned that there were many, many people “out there” who were like me: in failing marriages, feeling emotionally abandoned by the one who was supposed to love, honor, and cherish them. There were those who were leading double-lives, unbeknownst to their significant other. There were people who longed for love, for a companion, and simply hadn’t found “the one.” There were the curious, too, putting out feelers to test the waters of what could possibly be available to them should they take a chance.
Of course there were Trolls and Pervs, but they were pretty readily identifiable and infrequent. Most of those types have fairly transparent ulterior motives. I considered myself savvy enough to see through them, and had formed a community of trusted “cyber-friends” who all looked out for each other. It seemed like a great set-up.
Then one day I met “V.” He had seen something I had written in one of the games I played. It was a game where you could post your thoughts, poems, whatever you felt like sharing with people. He was impressed with the way I wrote, he said, and thought I was beautiful to boot. How sweet, I thought, but I kinda just blew him off. I began to notice that whenever I would write things in the game he would usually leave a nice comment on what I’d written, and soon curiosity got the better of me. I visited his page, and found that he was quite eloquent and well-written. Still, he was 10 years older than me and black, so I just figured it wasn’t in the cards. What else could we possibly have in common?
As it turned out, a lot. Soon, he sent me a poem by e.e. cummings that happened to be one of my favorites. More followed by Pablo Neruda and Rumi. We tentatively began to converse, and found we had so very many things in common, and in areas that matter in a relationship. Particularly on the spiritual level… an area of my life in which I had been desert-dry throughout my marriage. V was the son of a preacher, for goodness’ sake. It was the beginning, I thought, of a promising friendship.
Then my world at home began to fall apart in earnest. I left my job under difficult circumstances (downsizing, anyone?), and I figured (wrongly) that a nurse of 14 years specialty experience would have no trouble getting hired. I ended up being without a job for 3 months. I was on unemployment, which was a supremely humbling experience. Recall that “pride in my job” was one of the 2 remaining shards of my self-esteem. It was now shattered. For the first time in our entire marriage, JM had leverage on me in the wage-earning department.
Rather than supporting me during this time, he chose to be demeaning and degrading, even insulting me and reducing me to tears in front of my friends and family. I knew that it had to be over between us. I had considered divorce, even threatened it, for several years… it was time to act. Obviously the “for worse,” and “for poorer” aspects of our wedding vows weren’t being upheld… and the “honor and cherish” had gone out the window long before. I can’t speak to the “love” vow; he has always maintained that he loved me; that he just didn’t know how to show it.
But how to go about it? Here was a man who was derisive to every decision I made that didn’t meet with his ideas of correctness or… Lord help me, sanity. If I said I wanted to leave him he would certainly counter that I must be out of my mind, that I wasn’t serious, hadn’t thought it through, or that I wasn’t capable of being on my own with 2 kids. How did I know this? I’d threatened before, multiple times, and he had always said as much. I truly couldn’t see a way out. I became desperate, and did my best to withdraw from him as much as I could.
And who was there to witness the ultimate demise of my crippled marriage? V of course. We had become cyber-close. I felt that I was already beginning some sort of “emotional affair” with him. I had guilt feelings about that, but they were coupled with the conviction that I needed someone to lean on in this time of hardship. Why not my family? I didn’t want to burden them. I didn’t want to put them in the middle of the sordidness of it all. Besides, the man was so very understanding, and had a gentleness and compassion that transcended the limits of cyberspace. We had actually spoken on the phone by this time, only once or twice, but his voice was like southern honey and the emotion that came through the phone was like balm to my chapped soul.
Then it happened. He had a coaching conference coming up in Iowa City. I checked it out, it was real. I had also checked him out… I wasn’t stupid. No criminal record, and as he was a teacher, he couldn’t very well teach with a besmirched record. He asked if he could meet me while he was here for the conference. I agonized over the decision. In the end, I decided to go with my heart, which was telling me that I could be missing out on something wonderful if I didn’t at least meet this man. The plan became to give him a ride from the airport to his hotel, then have lunch. After all, I didn’t have a job or anything.
The rest, as they say, is history. It was love at first sight, and I’d never believed in that before. He didn’t end up making it to the conference. We spent the next 3 days together, during the daytime, and I was home evenings. I was more convinced than ever that I had to leave JM… and not to run into the arms of V, but to be my own being again. It became crystal clear how much JM was stifling me as a person, or as my mother later told me, “He just never allowed you to be the woman you are capable of being.” So as V returned home to Virginia, I began to make more concrete plans. I had to have it all figured out before I started the ball rolling, because I knew that when I made my announcement, the angry scrutiny would begin, and I had to have an impenetrable defense.
As it turned out, fate intervened. About 2 weeks after I met V, JM found an e-card from him that I thought I had deleted. I was ever so careful about my electronic trail, since we shared a laptop. I honestly don’t know how he found it but he did, and though painful, it was what needed to happen. He confronted me, and I didn’t deny a thing. He felt broadsided, and claimed that he had no idea things had deteriorated so badly. I was offended that he hadn’t taken all my years of tears, letters full of feelings, pleas for counseling, and threats to leave and divorce him seriously. I asked what it was that I was supposed to do to make him wake up and change… to which he pleaded for another chance to make it right. Although he had had so very many second chances, I felt cornered into agreeing to make an effort. After all, this was 14 years of my life I was “throwing away.” But… how many years of my life might I be salvaging in pursuing my happiness?
I attended counseling. So did he. His counselor said I was behaving rashly. Mine said I clearly knew what I wanted and was quite emotionally detached already.  Of course I was… the wound that had festered for so many years was now numb. The cold and clinically obvious choice was to amputate. I was clear to JM that despite his pleas I would not give up communicating with V during this time; I needed someone to lean on. He took this as a clear conflict of interest (which it was) but I felt that by giving V up entirely I was being set adrift in a sea of sharks. Besides, I loved the man already, and couldn’t bear the thought of being out of touch with him. V was predictably patient and understanding of what I needed to do.
At first, JM was overly willing to shoulder all the blame for our failed relationship, even though I didn’t ask him to. I think he thought that if he showed accountability it might soften my heart. In truth it seemed pitiable, and I knew he would hate to be pitied. He sent flowers. He bought cards, jewelry. He set up a weekend getaway for us. I tried; I really did, to believe in the sincerity of these acts. And although I do believe they were sincere, I felt in my heart that they were band-aids. So many chances he had thrown away to be a better husband to me. So many scars I had from the years of verbal and emotional abuse. He used to argue vehemently against that terminology, and I would always challenge him to look up the definitions and consider his actions in that light. I doubt he ever did.
In the end, we are divorcing. I knew it would end this way… as I told him time and again, I can’t force myself to feel what isn’t there anymore. He has asked if I miss having him in the home. I told him to not ask questions he doesn’t want to hear the answers to. I don’t miss him in the home. It is now a place where I can feel safe and secure. Where I can be myself and not feel as if I am under a critical magnifying glass.
The kids are doing fairly well; they miss their dad and I am careful never to say a disparaging word about him. I don’t know if he has afforded me the same courtesy, but I am confident that my relationship with my children is strong and mere words won’t compromise it. I encourage their interaction with him, and offer an unbiased listening ear if they have feelings they need to discuss. Interestingly, Plato observed not long ago that although he misses his dad terribly sometimes, he is glad that the house isn’t full of arguing and crying all the time anymore. I shouldn’t be surprised… my Little Old Man is so very insightful. Lulu seems a bit more blithe about the whole thing, but she needs extra cuddles and gets them in spades.
As for V and I? We are madly in love. It’s been almost a year and a half now since we first “met.” I cancelled my Alter Ego FB account shortly after we began communicating, and haven’t looked back. He has moved closer to me, and hopefully this summer will be able to move to the same town. We’ve discussed marriage; he’s never been married (though he’s had long-term relationships and even helped raise children), and has always wanted to. I am certainly not opposed to the idea. I have never felt this way about anyone, not even close… not even with JM in the beginning, when marriage seemed like a grand idea. Time will tell. The divorce has to finalize first. He has met my family; I’ve met his friends and will hopefully meet his brother and sister-in-law soon. Sadly, his parents are both deceased. He says they would have adored me.
And that, good readers, is my story. 2010 was a year of upheaval and change. I have never been inherently averse to change; I tend to bend in the current and trust in God, or Fate or whatever powers that may be to steer me to where I belong. I look at change as an opportunity, not as a force to be resisted. I am happy, for now. I am content and feel that I am where I am supposed to be in my life at this time. I truly believe that I cannot make a good life for my children if I am unhappy, and I want to be able to model a loving relationship for them, not worry that they might think that fighting and tears are a normal part of a marriage relationship.
I can’t possibly know where my road will take me, but I am on it and I am driving again. It feels good, real good. Maybe 2011 is the year where I reclaim “me.”

5 comments:

LeVohn said...

Dear Heart,

All the treasures and wonders I dreamed of as a boy are contained in your smile. I am your knight in rusty armor, and every beat of my heart is a love song.....dedicated to YOU.

jjdebenedictis said...

(((*hugs*))) This post is so brave. I'm sorry 2010 was this hard on you, and going forward, I wish happiness and peace to you, your family (including the ex; all breakups are hard), and your new love.

fairyhedgehog said...

What a huge upheaval. Thank goodness you had V to see you through.

It sounds like things are looking up for you now, and about time too.

Whirlochre said...

Glad you're back — though it's clear getting here has been fraught with peril.

Stepping forwards when there appears to be no ground beneath you or belief your muscles can actually work your legs is HARD.

But 2010 is gone, and you're still here — maybe even more here than you were.

Debbielou said...

I've just come back to blogging having been away a long while -it's now nearly a year on since you posted -I'm sorry to hear that you've had a rough time, I hope that you are well and are much happier. We only have one life and we have to be truthful to ourselves- you've been really brave. I hope 2012 is a really good one for you all xx