Before you read this post a little disclaimer: This post deals with some really heavy things ( not that my other posts haven’t). It isn’t all heavy, in fact some parts are sweet and even funny. I have really outdone myself this time in terms of my ability to be long-winded. This post is written in letter format addressed to my husband. As I have mentioned, my husband and I are separated, and have thought very seriously about divorce. This letter is sort of an exploration of the past 8 years together and the perspective a few recent events have given me on our relationship. If this disclaimer hasn’t made this post seem too off-putting to you, I encourage you to read on. Thanks.
I had a lot of time to think lying in the ambulance strapped down to the stretcher, my body unable to move. I have kept myself in a constant state of busyness since I told you I think we need to get divorced. I was forced to pause and suddenly left alone with my thoughts, a place I am often afraid to leave myself these days.
We were so glad when we didn’t hit the car in front of us. You slammed your breaks on just in time. We unanimously turned to each other and took a sigh of relief. We were exhaling when the SUV hit us from behind. We didn’t see it coming. It wasn’t the first accident that either of us had experienced, but it was the first time we were in an accident together. For a moment I was in touch with the reason that some parents choose to take separate planes.
Seven years ago, the accident was so much worse. The roads were icy and I didn’t see the truck coming. You were in Minnesota and I was in Wisconsin. That time the trip in the ambulance was so much more frightening and a lot more uncertain. As soon as you heard, you found a way to get to me. You stood by me when we went to the salvage yard to get my things out of my mangled vehicle. You drove me everywhere for the next 2 ½ years until I wasn’t afraid to be behind the wheel. I went back to work after that accident, and you went back to Minnesota to go to school, but it only lasted for a few weeks. Things weren’t the same. That accident changed me. It forced me to ask myself questions. The type an unexpected event make you look at, mostly: “what am I doing here?” and “what do I want?” The first question I still seem to be answering, I think that one reveals itself slowly. But, the second answer became clear: I wanted you. I took the money from the accident and returned to school in Minnesota to be with you.
I am sorry, that it takes accidents to inspire moments of clarity in me. But, like the accident seven years ago, the accident two nights ago gave me a moment of clarity. The question and the answer are still the same: I want you. You and I have been through a lot. I know people always seem to say that, it’s almost a cliché thing: we’ve been through a lot together (sometimes with an over emphasis on a lot).
I lost focus. I started to only be able to see the bad. I could only see the times you lied. I will never excuse lying, but the lying appalled me so badly that I stopped looking at you, and never allowed you to explain where it came from. Every time I looked at our dwindling checkbook it was a reminder to me of the sacrifices I have made for your poor choices and the lack of stability that has surrounded my life since you entered it. I forget sometimes that I didn’t have stability before you entered either. And, perhaps, that is exactly why the instability bothers me to the level it does. I have been seeking stability my whole life. Our areas of incompatibility started to be louder than the areas of compatibility. Every time I looked at you, I saw all the things I worked on to get emotionally healthier and all the areas you refused help. I didn’t see the areas you improved, or the areas I still haven’t. I could only see the areas you haven’t changed yet, not how far you have come. Yes, these things exist: You have lied. You have made choices that have forced us to move, leave friendships behind, accrue huge debts and endure excruciating emotional pain, because you weren’t ready to name your problems and seek outside help. I hate those facts, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to stop hating you.
Every time I thought of separating, though, I thought of the past we have together and our beautiful little girl. Every time before this one, those were enough to give me pause, they were enough to give me hope that things would get better. I lost sight of hope this time. Let’s face it: hope hurts. I looked at you the last few months and couldn’t see past the bad. I knew I still loved you, but could barely grasp at that feeling. I have had a lot of practice at forgiving and asking for forgiveness, you would think I would be good at it by now, but I’m really not. This time was different: I wasn’t sure I wanted to forgive you, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try any more. I thought it would be less painful to call it a loss and go our separate ways, than to hope for things to get better. I needed time to see if we still had a future together, I wasn’t sure if they people we have grown into are compatible. They say that people either grow together or apart. Actually, I think you and I grew together, but I haven’t been able to see that under the haze of my anger towards you.
We suck at being away from each other huh? We separated and you left the state for one week before coming back here. And, even here we remained separated, but in the same house. We spent nine months apart that second year together when I was working out-of-state, but after that, I can count the nights we have spent apart. We even planned business trips so that we can travel together.
You changed colleges four times before graduating, and each time, I moved with you, changing my school too. I hated you for it. I saw it as something you did to me. So many of the things that I feel you did to me, or I saw as irresponsible (not that they weren’t were part of the process of you finding yourself. Getting married as juniors in college has made the process of finding ourselves so much harder. We have had to go through a lot more heartache and experiences that felt like losses in our process to find ourselves. I am not sure that would have been felt so strongly if we hadn’t intertwined our lives so early on. I love our little girl, and I love that we tried for her. And, in any other set of circumstances, she wouldn’t be our Aimee. But, we were young parents. Hardly any of our friends had children, and 8 ½ months pregnant with no jobs we moved to a new state and tried to make it on our own. Our identities as individuals weren’t formed before we made a joint identity and before we created a new life. It’s not to say that I would have done it differently. I reject the idea of a world without our little girl. Yet, I wish I could have told our college selves to enjoy college, to figure out ourselves and our goals and then come back together. I would have told our college selves that at 26 and 27, we would look back and regret that we only took one year of dorm life. I am not sure what it is that propelled us to be such serious individuals so early on, but that was certainly something that bonded us. We both came to the relationship weighted down by heavy pasts.
It’s kind of amazing if you think about it that we made it this far. My college roommate said she would come from anywhere in the nation to see us get married, because it was so improbable, and that’s what she did. We stood before a room full of loved ones (half of whom were rather vocal about their disapproval of our union) and confessed our vows before I was even old enough to drink. We spent the first year of our marriage living alone in a tiny cottage with the constant chatter of mice in our walls, the second year with a curmudgeonly one-armed elderly man, an alcoholic, a Canadian and a metal head. In the years subsequent to that we would live in a multitude of places including a period of not knowing if we would have somewhere to live.
When we met, I was a straight-laced catholic girl trying desperately to repent for my sins. Fighting between my budding sexuality and the churches desire to squelch it. I came with a lot of fear, a lot of shame, guilt and pushed down anger, and a desire to get back in god’s good graces. You were a wounded-self-loathing-shoe-hating-vegetarian-hippy. By the time we had gotten married, we were trying to hold onto the things we loved about our faith, but find a way to integrate our belief system with the church we were raised in. We were starting to fall apart from friends whether distance or changing beliefs began that process, our marriage propelled it. We didn’t know how to be married and keep our friendships, and our single friends didn’t know how to have married friends. In an effort to throw ourselves into our marriage, we unintentionally pushed many people we loved away. We poured so much into each other, that we didn’t have lives separate from each other. We mistook Co-dependence for marriage and I mistook your agreement with my thoughts as “our thoughts.”
Still children in a lot of ways, we weren’t prepared for your first mental breakdown or your second. Both times we ran to your parents, both times they bailed us out when we were in over our heads. Your third breakdown has forever marked me. It is one of those moments in which you regard your life as before it happened and after it happened. This last time, I just didn’t have anything left.
But, it wasn’t only your mental health that challenged us. It was mine to. A lessor man would have left. I certainly gave you ample reason. We had hardly been together a year when I cowered under the desk in my dorm room shaking and sobbing wildly repeating phrases, unable to explain what had made me so scared. You stood by through my neurotic fears and my incessant need to have you reassure me that I was safe. You didn’t laugh when I was afraid that something would kill you or me or Aimee. Even, if it was as seemingly ridiculous as drinking milk the day after its expiration. You knew that those fears for me more real. For years, you let me ask you “how many percent?” When you would tell me you were certain that something was fine, I always needed you to quantify it, and you always would. You must have been so frustrated, but you rarely ever showed it. You stayed while I faced the fact that I was an angry person, and that too many times, you were on the wrong side of the anger. You stayed while I worked through it. When I would wake up shaking in the middle of the night caught in that world between sleeping and waking, convulsing in fear, you would talk me down.
You didn’t laugh at me when we started having sleepovers freshman year and I had to tell you I still sucked my thumb. You understood that I had a traumatic past and that was a way I had used to cope. You never laughed, you never asked me to stop, but soon, lying next to you at night replaced my need to suck my thumb. I had resigned to believing I would always be a thumb sucker and that it was too late for me, but you helped me unlearn it. You cut all of my food and any dish we were serving to others for the first five ½ years of our marriage, because you knew that the fear of knives put me in a catatonic place. You chopped up all of Aimee’s food until she was two because you knew that I was terrified she would choke. You waited through all of that, while I believed I could get better without medication. You understood that my anxiety was so bad, that I was afraid of medication. You waited until I was ready. Being on the other side of that now, not really in touch with that fearful woman I once was, I easily forget how much of my neurosis you endured. I forget what it felt like to believe I would never get better. When I think about how mental illness has touched our lives, I always think about your depression and your anger. I forget about my anxiety and my anger.
There are moments you try to escape, and some of them you always carry with you, just below the surface. Your hospitalization was that for me. As a woman who usually gets lost in fear, facing your threats of suicide, the bags of pills in your coat pocket, you being taken away in handcuffs, wasn’t met with fear, it was met with devastation and then an immediate shut down. I would survive. I would find a way to make it. I would figure out who I was a part from you, so that if this were to happen again (and at that point I was sure it would) I would know how to survive without you; parent her without you. When you looked at me and told me that you knew Aimee and I would get over it, that we would be sad at first, but it would be better for us in the long run if you killed yourself, I couldn’t see that it wasn’t you talking. All I could see is that such an utterance was unforgivable and certainly unforgettable. Your suicidal episodes were the most “othering” experiences of my life. I couldn’t meet you in them, but I didn’t feel I could reach out to anyone either.
Two days ago, before we got in the car accident, you let me go with you to an inpatient intake for your anger management. They had you fill out that questioner that we are so familiar with. Rate how true the following statement is. You said, “Look at my answer for this one.” You pointed to the statement: I am worthless. You had marked untrue. “I haven’t been able to mark that since middle school.” At times, I can barely handle what your depression is like for me that I forget what it does to you. I will never fully comprehend living in a cloud of self-hatred. I have felt a lot of hideous things, but I do not know what it is like to feel worthless. Know that you have never been worthless to me. I understand the magnitude of you believing your worth.
I love that you know me in this way that no one else does. I love that you know that Ozzy saying, “I’m the F-ing prince of darkness” will always make me laugh. I love that you know that it makes me happy to deep clean our fridge, and if I am allowed, other people’s fridges too. I love that you are not too proud to ask for forgiveness or admit fault, like I sometimes am. I love that you would run into Lake Michigan with all your clothes on for me. I love that we used to steal other people’s bikes and ride them around town late at night and then return them before the morning, that we have ridiculous quotes that make us laugh, that we are the kind of people who go to the bathroom with the door open and the kind of people who go on adventures on a whim. I hate that you don’t take social cues well, that you often go too far with a joke and that you suck at staying up as late as I want you too. It bothers me that I feel like I often have to parent two children, that I have carried our financial burden the majority of our time together and that you have never kept your own checkbook until this separation. I love that when I am crying, even if it is you who made me cry that you know how to hold me. You know that I am not good at being vulnerable. When my mom told me that I was a sinner and I fell in the shower sobbing, you jumped in with all your clothes and held me. You are the only person I know, besides me, who would willingly go in front of both your own parents and your spouse’s parents and recite a litany of all the wrongs you ever committed against your spouse and ask for forgiveness. Yep, five years in, we did that.
You are a self-admitted compulsive liar. You never seem to lie to anyone else except me and your parents. You never lie about anything substantial, but that doesn’t make it less of a lie. You lie in the way a child stands with a marker in hand and assures their parent they didn’t color on the wall; they don’t want their parents to be disappointed and when confronted with the truth, they will grasp at explanation after explanation until their whole charade is exposed. Your lying has undermined my ability to trust you, and you know that I regard the truth almost above anything else. It is ultimately the reason I thought divorce was our only choice. But, now that you are in programs getting help, I am willing to consider inviting hope in again. If we are airing faults I will be the first to say that I am certainly not without them. I often think that you meet my faults with more compassion than I meet yours; certainly with more patience. A few years into our relationship, when I told you I was in love with someone else, you packed a bag and left, but you didn’t even stay away a whole night. You came back home and lay on the bed and held me while we cried. You let me figure out the way I felt for him in the security of our marriage. That could not have been easy for you. I am not sure that at that point in our relationship I would have been able to stay if the roles were reversed.
Often times when one of us was a complete mess the other one pulled their shit together enough to hold up the fort. I think that is a part of marriage. But, there have also been moments we went through together: losing my dad, the years estranged from him and the reunion with him. The end of friendships, the death of six loved ones in 8 years, poverty, the loss of religion, our coming out processes, and our assertion of independence as adults. You scanned over documents and police reports trying to help me get the bottom of a family mystery, and held me when the fabric of what I believe to be true in my family started to unravel. You stayed through the years when I had traumatic flashbacks during sex. You were the first person to take me really seriously when I complained of stomach issues and you taught me not to be embarrassed about it and to seek medical help. You sat with me through two colonoscopies and a long period of uncertainty. You held my hand for hours in the waiting room while I sat four months pregnant waiting for my mom to make it out of open heart surgery begging God to let my mom make it to meet our child. That’s a lot of big moments for eight years. I think we have earned some years of reprieve. Those moments don’t include the various jobs, the moves, the silly Christmas cards, the gazillions of pets we have acquired, the movies we watched, the documentaries that changed us, the spiritual growth, the day-to-day, the birth of our daughter and the subsequent trials and joys of parenthood.
I have been operating under this notion that you and I do not share the same emotional intelligence. I came to this conclusion because I tend to be articulate and you struggle to make complete thoughts. I tend to be overpowering in a conversation and you tend to just agree. Perhaps I am misidentifying what is going on. Perhaps what is happening is a lack of communication skills between us, an inability to find an equitable amount of speaking up and listening on either of our parts. Perhaps it is not emotional intelligence. Because, when I think about it, there are a lot of things that you have come to before me. Two years ago when we were lying in bed and you told me you weren’t sure if you believed in god, I was devastated. I wasn’t ready to hear it. I was angry and I didn’t allow you a forum to talk about it, or a safe place to explore it. It took me a while to catch up. The same is true of the LGBTQ community. You were one of the voices that showed me that it was safe to come out and that love wasn’t sin. You pushed me to learn more about politics. You have a far better grasp of history and geography than I do, and I lean on you a lot to help me through understanding them or navigating conversations that require such knowledge. You challenged me to channel my passions into advocacy. You were the first person I knew who believe dissent could be patriotic. You were also the first person to show me what that looked like in action. You constantly challenge me to see art differently. When you look at art, often times you see something I don’t. You were the first protester I ever knew. I didn’t know I could use my voice in that capacity. You give me insight into the world of music and I give you insight into the world of books. You say I showed you how to love and that being in love could be safe. I made you realize your lover could be your best friend. I rein you in when you get over zealous and I taught you that while a love for the world and global awareness are admirable qualities, they cannot come at a cost of not being there for those in your immediate world. You taught me that it was ok to fart. Before I met you I believed a lady never farted and held it in to the point of making myself sick. I made you grow up a little, and you taught me that sometimes it’s OK to be a kid. No one had ever given me permission to be childish before you, and frankly I hadn’t seen the point. I taught you that it is good to have friends and be social, and you taught me that solitude didn’t have to be a scary thing. You showed me the need to assert myself as separate from my parents, and I pushed you to let your parents in. I taught you that taking care of yourself and liking this is OK and that with the right attitude it doesn’t make you materialistic.
I think you have terrible taste in cats. The cats you pick are always ugly and have odd mannerisms but I love that you allow me to embrace my love for animals, and that you have embraced your love for them too. And, had it not been for your skill of finding the ugliest cat in the room, I would never have met Moose, my neurotic-slap you in the face when your alarm goes off- stare at the wall- ornery cat. I like that you accept that I am someone who feeds strays ( even the ugly ones) and checks to make sure animals on the side of the road are dead and not in need of medical assistance. I particularly love that you took a giant leaf and scooped up a baby bird from the sidewalk when it fell from its tree because I asked you to bring it to the veterinarian. I love that when we were in line at the bank drive thru and we saw a family of ducklings trying to jump up the curb, you got out of the car to help the smallest one who got left behind. I love that you knew you couldn’t touch its feathers so you enlisted the help of that random stranger to create a ramp out of cardboard for it. I like that you go with my strange whims and my desire to try new experiences even the ones that led us to eat only raw food for a month straight or when I tried to convince you that chanting loudly with your feet on a stool was helpful for going to the bathroom (a practice I still maintain provides useful at times).
I find you really annoying at times and you have terrible timing, but you are kind-hearted. You were the first person to ever call me sweet that I believed. You were also the first person I ever trusted enough to sing in front of. You are the only person I know who will do middle of the night pirouettes in the living room in front of our picture window. We share an unbridled passion for nineties music. You have exposed me to all types of music and musicians and I have found myself in many of the songs, with the exception of Bob Dillon whom I will always dislike. I taught you that country music has its moments (as few as they may be). I adore that we sing Disney songs on the top of our lungs, and not necessarily when Aimee is home.
Some of the things that seemed so significant at the time have gone from a place of importance to funny anecdote. When you got arrested three days before our wedding for disturbing the peace because you and our friend were hammering the post off of a “3 way” street sign, I really considered calling off our wedding. When you got back you were so terrified I wouldn’t marry you that you started puking uncontrollably, that and other moments seem so dramatic. I was not at all amused, but like the time I sold my pants to someone who liked them, waiting in line for a concert, these little poor judgment moments bring character to our lives.
So, after I examine the pieces of the last eight years together, I can only conclude this: they were worth it. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like they were and there are times when hope is scary. But, three moments over the last few days have made me certain that I am not ready to be done. First, laying there in the ambulance and hospital room alone after the accident made me think of all of the times we have been in ERs, doctor’s offices and hospitals and all the reasons that brought us there ( good, bad and ridiculous). I realized that I never want to be in a situation like that without you. When I heard Aimee’s little voice say “Where is room 43?” and I heard you both coming towards my room, I almost busted out in tears of gratitude. And, early that day when you could truthfully answer that you weren’t worthless, I realized what a big shift has occurred within you. When that ass of a therapist did your intake and told you weren’t “depressed enough” or “anxious enough” for the inpatient program, I could have slapped him clear across the jaw. I was proud of you. You sat there and advocated for yourself and sought resources to get better. Instead of rewarding you for your progress, they punished you for not fitting in their box. “ Well, the bigger the net the bigger the holes,” the therapist said in his snide little voice, “This is a broad program for depression and it looks like you unfortunately fall through the cracks.” I love that we both couldn’t stand that guy and that we both see so many problems with the mental health system. I am happy that as a bi-product of these difficult experiences we have learned not only to be self-advocates, but to advocate for others as well.
But, you know what made me 100% certain that I am not ready to throw in the towel (oh yeah you also suck at knowing common phrases)? Bowling. After the concert tonight you and Aimee and I drove around and just talked; I love when we do that. We both saw the bowling alley sign still lit up, and despite parenting norms, we took our 4-year-old bowling at pm at night, just the 3 of us, just because. And that, Adam, is why I know I am still in love with you. This isn’t a free pass for either of us to slack of on getting healthier, and I need an atmosphere of honesty. I have a deep appreciation of how you have stepped up in the last few weeks to take responsibility for Aimee’s preschool, begin advocating for your own needs, and have been seeking resources for help. This letter isn’t an excuse to stop trying, but it does mean I want to try again too. I have noticed that you are working on getting better.
It is amazing, if you think about it, to look at how much we have changed as individuals and find that in many ways we have actually grown in a similar direction. We have both gone from being religious to realizing that there is not only one road to fulfillment. We have both gone from shame to acceptance in many areas. We have begun to move from feeling like outsiders to discovering that there is a LGBTQ community willing to embrace us. We have both found creative outlets in which to grow our unique voices and we have both gone from strict views of sexuality and monogamy to embracing the concept of a more fluid experience of sexuality and the possibilities of open marriage. So, somewhere in there, that rigidly religious girl and that self-loathing hippy grew up.
I think we have some easier years coming to us, and I sure as hell don’t want to miss out on cashing in on those. I’m not done yet.
P.S. I also love that you allow me to be an over-sharer, that you helped me take a quality in myself that I felt ashamed of and embrace it. Most people would not be as strong as you to have their lives read about in blogs and books. I thank you for allowing me to share our lives in a public forum.