When I was twenty-three, my marriage sank to the bottom of Lake Despair. Okay, it hadn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the four years that it lasted, but I had tried to make it work for the sake of the son my husband (now ex-husband) and I shared. Tomcat was three and a half the day our divorce was finalized.
I spent the weekend I turned twenty-three moving out of the home we had created, leaving the life we had made for ourselves behind. He refused to sign the papers accepting service at first – he didn’t want a divorce, he said. But here’s the thing: He’d been looking for a place to move, away from me and our son and closer to the mistress he’d been seeing for four years, closer to the son he shared with her.
The day we were scheduled to appear in court for the hearing on the stipulation, he didn’t even bother to show up. I’m not sure which made me feel worse, the fact that my marriage was, indeed, over or the fact that he refused to fight for it. It takes two people to make a marriage work. I had foolishly hoped that by filing for divorce, he would realize I was serious about him making a concerted effort to join me in trying to fix our problems, that he would suddenly tell that other woman (the most serious of many) that he wanted nothing to do with her and that he never wanted to see her again, that he would renew his devotion to our family. But I seemed to be the only one who cared about what we were losing – it takes two people to fight for a marriage’s salvation and I was the only one fighting.
My attorney handled things with the judge that day; I didn’t even have to see him. As I sat in the hall waiting to enter the courtroom, though, a couple of gals from the clerk’s office left and headed downstairs. When they were out of sight and thought they were out of earshot, they started talking about how bad they felt for me. I heard and, while I appreciated their sympathy, it made me feel horrible. I felt like a complete failure.
When I married at nineteen, I was unprepared for the reality of married life. I had been tainted by a lifetime of Disney movies and happily-ever-afters. But once my eyes had been opened to the amount of work that it takes to make a marriage successful, I was determined to see it through. I was bound not to become another statistic. I didn’t want to be like so many others of my generation, who quit when things get tough, who view relationships as just one more thing to throw away when our expectations are not met. I wanted to beat the odds. And when I didn’t, I felt like I had failed every expectation I had ever set for myself.
I was grateful that the hearing was scheduled for right before my lunch break at work. As I left the courthouse and went to lunch, I had several old country songs pop into my head. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was one; “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” was another. I picked at the food I’d ordered at a local cafe. When your whole world has come to an end, it’s hard to find the will to eat or even to care about eating, let alone anything else. I had no desire to go back to work that afternoon, but I had no desire to go home, either. There was nothing I wanted to do, nowhere I wanted to be. I was consumed with grief for a relationship I had wanted to last forever. I felt dead inside.
But then my lunch break was over and I had to go back to work. I had to pull myself together in order to at least try to present a professional appearance, no matter how much I just wanted to curl up in a ball and die. And when I got home that night, I had to keep it together for Tomcat’s sake.
I couldn’t allow myself to fall apart. I’m not sure I even allowed myself the time to properly grieve the end of my marriage. But I knew that if I fell apart, I might not ever be able to put all the pieces of myself back together and I didn’t want my son to grow up with the same miserable mess of a parent that I had after my mom died.
So, right or wrong, I buried it all. I buried all the hurt, and the anger, and the shame and the humiliation and the desperate fear that I would grow old alone and die horribly lonely, the same way I had been doing for years. Having lived with a cheating spouse, I became quite good at pretending things didn’t exist and that things were fine when really, they weren’t. So I soldiered on, continuing that unhealthy mindset, because it was the only way I knew how to go on.
Eventually, though, things began looking up. Once I realized that I was free to be happy and healthy now, and that everyone would really be much better off in the end, things started getting better. And tomorrow, I’ll tell you all about how much better things have been since.
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