Dan’s first visit after he’d walked out was so welcome at the time.
A few minutes later, I had very different feelings about it:
Confusion. Shame. Sadness.
Now nearly 9 years later, I’m closing out the memory with Raging. Screaming. Fury.
And I’m madder at myself than at him. Which is saying something.
I wouldn’t open the door to his knock. I still held the hope that he’d come back, as he hadn’t said he wouldn’t, even when I plainly asked.
He was still my husband, not a guest, so he could — and would have to — use his key.
I waited far from the door to give us both space, and when he opened it and stepped in, three things happened simultaneously.
- My hands flew to my mouth to cover up the start of my delighted cry — all my cries are ugly cries, alas.
- I noticed he was wearing a shirt I hadn’t seen before. A new shirt for his new life, I thought with horror and resignation.
- He burst into tears and came to me with open arms.
These open arms were so different from the wide open welcome when we’d first seen each other 14 years before, yeh?
Back then, at the start, he smiled and gave me a hug to end all hugs (actually, the first phenomenal hug of thousands of great hugs).
This time, at the end, he was openly crying — for the first time I’d ever seen — and his hug was all take, no give.
He said he was so sorry to have done this to me, and I, like a supportive and loving wife, squeezed him, rubbed his back, and said consoling words.
Yes, that’s how fucking stupid I was. How loving and caring and stupid.
This man had gathered up his stuff while I was out doing the Sunday shopping, then met me at the curb with his packed SUV and a goodbye.
He’d taken a chainsaw to our life without a conversation or even a warning.
And yet, I stood there holding him and stroking him, crooning that it’s okay, it’s okay, I understand, I understand.
It was very much like me to make other people feel better about hurting me.
To, as one therapist put it, toss water on bridges that other people set on fire.
No longer, though.
These days, I sit back eating popcorn and watch the motherfucker burn.
I’m not as open, as loving, as caring anymore, and I’m a helluvalot more self-centered.
And so recalling that moment when I was still taking care of him, even after he’d thrown me away…? Christ.
Truly, I just screamed out loud, particularly because I know now what happens next.
Better late than never.
We sat at the dining table and had the conversation we should’ve had before he packed up and walked out.
There was no point in a discussion, really, because he was going to do what he went along and did regardless of anything I said.
But an explanation was overdue, and he was finally going to give it.
With what I’ve realized about him since, it’s no surprise that he blamed me.
He was, and likely still is, one of those people who is pathologically averse to accepting fault for anything.
A look-what-you-made-me-do kind of person.
I’d grown up blaming myself for shit I didn’t do, so instead of sounding off-key, his words fell in line with what I’d long ago presumed true — when something is wrong, it’s due to something I did.
Now I know better, so let’s pause briefly for another scream…
He said he guessed that we didn’t need each other anymore. He said that I limited his options. He said that he didn’t see what I could contribute to his vision of his future.
(Are you screaming? Because I’m screaming.)
As I sat there and listened, a buzzing noise started in my head that nearly drowned him out. I felt my Self withdraw and fade to black, and when it was my turn to speak, I heard my mouth say things like, “Well, I still need you,” and “Oh.”
Weak words, I know.
In the moment, I was too occupied with absorbing what he said to drum up better answers.
I’m a writer, not a debater. To think something through, I need time alone and something to write on and write with, so I didn’t have much to say right then.
The following week, though, I had plenty to say.
A couple of days later, I sent Dan a kind, thoughtful, hopeful email about how our solitary natures made it easier for us to solve problems separately, how we’d been adding space between us for years, how we might yet turn things around, blah blah blah.
It’s a good email. I’ll share it sometime.
Today is for sharing the email I sent him 2 days after that one.
This second email was just as thoughtful but otherwise the opposite of the first, my words blunt in a way that makes people uncomfortable (and gets me in trouble).
To people who know me, the tone and tempo is so unlike me.
To people who know me well, however, it sounds entirely like me.
When I’m afraid or angry — or God help us, both — my words become sword and shield. I’m all iron fist with no sign of a velvet glove.
Dan had been experiencing that side of me for months, as I was growing wise to his bullshit, and no longer willing to let things go.
I was meeting his smoke and mirrors with calmly stated facts, inarguable logic, and reasonable questions, of which he was not a fan.
I don’t think well on my feet, but you don’t want to go toe-to-toe after my Crock-Pot brain has had time to simmer on things and build up a good head of steam.
And fun fact: I’m a writer. So you’ll likely get it in writing via email, and I’ll likely keep a copy of what I wrote.
Gmail search is a marvel, by the way. I searched for this email with his name and the month and — ping! It popped up in my phone as fresh and embittered as the day I sent it.
Dan didn’t reply to this email or the kinder one I sent before.
That earlier email said no expectations on a lengthy reply, this gave no such quarter, and it didn’t matter what I asked for, he was done.
He never again replied to my emails or sent me any — and, if I’d but known, his silence was just getting started.
Two weeks later would be the last time I heard his voice, and two weeks after that I’d read his last text.
Today, 8 years, 5 months, and some-odd weeks and days later, I still haven’t heard a word from him. He didn’t even give a thumbs-up to my divorce summons.
Unforgivable. And also? Understandable.
As you’ll see in a moment, what could he possibly say in reply to my email (or to explain away what he did later)?
I was wrong.
Wow, what a selfish dick I am.
Leaving was a mistake, I want to come home.
With this email, my feelings had clearly turned a corner, and it was far too late for any of that.
Unedited, some paragraph breaks added.
From: Crys W. W——
Date: Sun, Oct 26, 2014, 4:38 PM
Subject: About limitations
To: Dan W——
I’ve been thinking about what you said about limitations, too. How you saw my illness as putting limits on your future that you found unbearable, unacceptable.
Thing is, when we met you were living in your car and close to losing your job.
Deeper than that, you had no higher-level education, a 5-digit child support debt plus 10 more years of payments to go, a bad credit record, and a warrant out for your arrest from a failure to appear at a hearing because you violated a restraining order based on a domestic violence account.
Regardless, I really liked you and grew to love you because you’re a great person. And I accepted those issues and their inherent limitations as part of being with you.
I didn’t always handle it with good grace and there were phases of resentment early on, but I got over it and worked with and around the limits.
I married you in the midst of all that, without reservation, knowing the issues put limits on money and traveling together, that the legalities of that warrant may get tricky and expensive, that the criminal record prevents you from getting jobs at the federal government, fed contractors, and large corporations where you could earn more. And that the repercussions could last our whole lives even after things are technically resolved.
I could commit to a life with you because I also knew that many of the issues would pass with time and especially because being with you trumped the troubles.
And after many years of wait and work there’s only the legal thing left.
Then these past couple of years I started to have my own troubles.
I developed this illness that was scary and mysterious and always an unwelcome surprise, but now is diagnosed and managed…no more surprises. The depression that came around that time was managed, worked on, and is gone.
All that’s left is my anxiety, which is both managed and temporary…something I can work on and we can wait out. There’s debt but that just needs time to pay off like your debt did.
But you didn’t see it that way.
Rather than accept my difficulties as part of being with me as I did with you and yours, rather than wait them out or even talk with me about them, you apparently tagged me as a burden, a liability.
You shut me out emotionally and, as you said yourself, you moved out because you couldn’t imagine a good future in a life with me.
Yet I was able to see a good future with you, and committed to it, even with all the baggage you had, even with the notable last hurdle you still have.
I don’t know what to make of that. I really don’t.
It seemed important to point out, though. Maybe you’ve already considered it, but it only just now came to me.
If you think I’ve misunderstood something here, let me know. It would be good to hear your thoughts on it.
To be fair, now that I’ve read this email again (and again), it’s no wonder he ran for cover 😆
Because, again: What could he say? Faced with the facts, what could he possibly say.
Facts faced, here’s my say:
When I think about all I accepted about him, all I willingly took on to have him with me, I question my sanity.
Was I that vulnerable to my treacherous need to be liked?
Was I that desperate for my intelligence, humor, quirks, and faults to be appreciated and enjoyed instead of mocked and scorned?
Was I that tired of being tolerated and that eager to be adored?
I’d recently left a marriage where I’d become part of the home decor.
I was much-loved at the start, but by a couple of years in, I was furniture — always available, apparently invisible, easily ignored until needed.
And now here was a guy who not only talked to me but listened — listened!
A guy with similar interests who shared interesting stories and talked about what he thought and felt and dreamed of.
A guy who salved my wounds when he said near the end of our very first (and hours-long) phone call, “Communication is the most important part of any relationship.” #isthatirony
A guy adept at explaining away all those huge red flags as not a big deal, and of course, none of them were his fault, anyway.
Oh, my Friend, I was so starved for attention and affection, I would have overlooked anything short of convicted rape or murder.
He was that convincing, and I was that needy, that hungry, that open to being convinced.
I made a bouquet of those many red flags and put them in a vase, and then tended to them for 14 damned years.
Because in him, I saw my only chance to be loved just as I am.
And … I took it.
Photo credit: Susan Wilkinson