We married ten years into our partnership and were together for nine more. I referred to him as my soul mate for most of my life.
Today would be my 15th wedding anniversary.
We don’t share a home, a family vision of the future or inside jokes.
Today he’s the ex, my daughter’s father, a guy I was once married to.
The dusty photos of his relatives, my former in-laws, are no longer in my closet. The pictures belong to him.
I don’t buy his favorite Tobasco sauce when I go to the grocery store. He doesn’t laugh at the full ice tray I put in my morning coffee.
I don’t love him. I don’t hate him.
We don’t exchange greeting cards or love notes.
He’s not mine.
I’m not his.
We aren’t the “we” we once intended to be.
We parent the same child and orbit in the same world – sometimes. We are cordial, communicative and refuse to make our kid a piece of taffy we tug at one end to pull on and bite into the other.
I’m grateful for that but on this would-be anniversary I feel sad. I tossed and turned all night and couldn’t settle into sleep. Anger was in my breakfast bowl. The Unlucky Charm I couldn’t stop chewing was the memory of the vows we wrote, spoke and made.
One line in particular.
“I promise to see the best in you.”
It’s the line I wish I could delete, edit or undo.
Not because it was a lie, but because, in fact, I kept my word.
I saw the best in him. Always.
I saw the best in him at the expense of seeing other things.
I didn’t see how the best in him was also a character I created-wanted-hope for and wished real. When facts showed me different or new I stuck to the story line I had committed to. We were were BFF’s, partners, soul-mates, devoted husband and wife. Period.
We never even said the word divorce. It was a concept we hadn’t needed to entertain.
When he said he was working late, I thought he was working late.
When he said I had no reason to worry I believed my worries were trust issues. When I shared doubts he’d laugh, smile and scoop me into his arms.
“You’re the only woman I love,” he said.
I didn’t hear what was not said.
I silenced my own intuition and let his words be a blanket of security even as the threads and seams gave clues.
It’s not that I didn’t see or feel the red flag signs. I felt angst, discontent and anxiety. Horrendous flashes of fear that stayed trapped under my skin and some of those I had long before I met him. I felt lucky he’d even deal with the likes of messy me.
I saw signs and figured they all pointed to me.
Me as flawed, fragile and worries too much.
I saw the best in him. I saw the worst in me.
I was 24 when we coupled, fresh out of college and newly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. My step-father, grandmother and a college friend died in less than two years. My sister bumped into the alcoholic deadbeat dad we hadn’t seen since toddler time. It was a tsunami tide time in my newly adult psyche.
My ex was kind, funny and more mature. He was nine years older, soft and squishy he was like a mattress I could turn into.
And there was joy, bliss and ease too. We enjoyed each other so often and were compatible.
We shared poems out loud, his or mine or the works of Robert Bly, Coleman Barks and Mary Oliver. We devoured whole books by Bill Moyers and listened to Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo and the Indigo Girls. We loved the beauty of lyrics and melody in song or poetry.
And mashed potatoes.
We loved food and debating politics and being lazy with books and newspapers.
He admired my firm moral center and hard-working ways. His passionate exuberance and humor lit up our home and made us break into laughter often.
We’d cuddle up on the couch for hours under a soft blanket and watching endless West Wing episodes while repeating monologues.
I was his.
He was mine.
We were family even before becoming parents.
I idealized him and was hoping for rescue. I let him take care of me. Not financially or practically – but emotionally.
I made him my answer guy – the solution.
In truth, I was a non-stop cling-freak for years. I thought he was stronger, smarter and more seasoned at life, love and health and getting over the past. He loved to be needed, wanted and admired.
I thought I was difficult, damaged and lucky to be loved at all as though I were his service project. I felt lucky and grateful and worked hard to make up for my lack.
I did all the cleaning, money managing, handling the yard, house repairs and that was true though we both worked.
He has to deal with me I thought – I owe him. I took on the heavy lifting of parenting too to compensate for being so emotional. He had work and the work of dealing with me.
When I felt anxious or distrustful, I’d tell myself, “Don’t be neurotic.”
When I felt needy for more I’d think, You’re too needy.
When I spoke up or complained, he’d say, “Can’t you focus on the good instead of what’s hard?”
I’d think, why did I have to be so negative when with such an optimistic of a man?
I didn’t doubt him, scrutinize or second guess him.
I doubted, scrutinized and second-guessed myself.
Endlessly. Repetitively. Vigorously. THIS is what fills me with remorse today.
He didn’t make me do any of that.
He didn’t force, abuse, coerce or manipulate me into any of it. He simply allowed me to do what I was doing.
See the best in him – and the worst in me.
I don’t despise or hate him. O.k., sometimes a little. But I’m a postcard visitor. I don’t live in anger or rage.
I don’t admire or trust him either after seeing how he conducted himself.
But I care.
I invested years, tears and time with all I had.
And I don’t regret our union, the family we started and all I’ve learned and still learn. But I’m sorry to be divorced, for my daughter, who has two sets of house keys she has to pocket and two different places to lose ballet shoes.
I don’t miss either, don’t pine or revisit memories I’d like to recreate. I don’t want him back in my home, heart or psyche.
He took up too much space in me.
He took up too much space because I let him.
I was empty of myself.
I didn’t trust my own intuition, feelings or self.
I didn’t like my own inner company or accept for who and how I needed to be in the world.
That wasn’t his fault. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
We both settled for something less than honest.
He lied to me.
I lied to myself.
I didn’t believe I had a right to want, ask or expect more. For years, it seemed a near miracle that any man would be with a survivor of sexual abuse. That’s the shame I 100% lived, knew and believed.
It was a fiction I made real because I believed it was the only story a woman with my history could live.
He loved the broken and ashamed version of me, the girl who was afraid, needy and lacking confidence.
I gave him a shell of me and did so daily, devotedly and with total loyalty.
A lackluster me is what I was and delivered because I believed that was the best of me.
He is strong. I am fragile.
He is generous. I am selfish.
He is whole. I am broken.
These were the lies we told. This is the truth we believed.
We were both mistaken. We were and are each and both far more complex.
I didn’t believe I was a self worthy of love when I married. That was no gift to him or to me.
We wore roles like uniforms and couldn’t take them off even when they stained and ripped and frayed.
Until “we” ended I didn’t break open, strip down to soul and forge my own way.
I don’t regret daring to love, partner and commit for life.
Or needing to leave.
I want to keep my eyes and heart open to the interior world and exterior orbit.
No more fairy-tale bullshit storylines that are unwavering.
Give me naked non-fiction and close-up documentary.
I want is tender, vulnerable, gifted, dazzling, terrified and brave.
Note: This is the edited version that ended up in Elephant Journal. Finding the balance between honest without making anyone a villian or victim (not even me) is a challenge. Figuring out if, what and how much to share is a challenge as well. What’s the my story part of another’s story that overlapped? I hope I danced it enough for this to be clear, useful and fair.
You Matter Mantras
- Trauma sucks. You don't.
- Write to express not to impress.
- It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
- Breathing isn't optional.