Once upon a time, in another life, I had a vision for my marriage.
I would tell Joseph how I imagined our life in our old age. We’d have a house with a porch and we’d sit together in our rocking chairs in the evening.
Giving up something that doesn’t exist has been harder than giving up the spouse that does exist. The emotional investment makes me feel naïve. Was there ever a chance that when we retired, we’d still like each other? My resentment and bitterness from a lifetime of our bad marriage would have killed my desire to spend evenings with him.
I blamed myself during the marriage. Not in an “oh goodness, if only I were a better wife” kind of way. More like, “if only I were stronger and could suck it up better”. It was my fault I was hurt and angry because I shouldn’t have felt them in the first place.
In so many ways I thought I had broken the cycle of my upbringing when I simply modernized it. I still internalized the rage and pain after the other person had long since moved past it. The feeling like I didn’t have a right to ever be angry and definitely not to vocalize it.
As a kid, I needed parents who didn’t want me to be an emotionless, rule-following robot. As a wife, I needed someone open to hearing when I was upset; conversations where I brought up my hurt ended with me apologizing after the tables turned on me.
In the final stretch of my marriage, I didn’t have the energy to fight anymore. I scheduled my crying time to skim the pain and anger from the surface before they boiled over (typically between 5 pm and 6 pm, while driving to get my children after work, Monday through Friday).
It no longer felt like I was failing my marriage. I was failing at life itself.
As a kid, I was conditioned to never speak of my household drama with friends. My parents’ Jedi mind tricks worked so well that when I eventually told my childhood friends a fraction of my upbringing, they were floored at how well I had kept it hidden. I learned early how to keep family secrets while slapping on a smile.
As Joseph’s wife, I never told my friends any of our marital drama. It felt like a betrayal to speak of our problems. The pattern repeated itself once I told everyone about the divorce; they were shocked at how well I had kept up appearances when things were so bad (I still have never told anyone the full extent of our bad marriage).
The problem with keeping secrets is that they become normalized. That’s dangerous. Not only does it allow someone to continue with unhealthy behaviors, but they also feel uncomfortable when they’re in safer environments.
When people press me for details on my marriage’s demise, I maintain my faux politician stance and repeat that he’s a great guy but we’re not a good fit. When pushed further by closer friends, I’ll let some things slip.
It blew my mind to see people’s reactions when I’d mention how Joseph constantly threatened divorce during arguments. Even packing up bags and leaving (only to return hours later…where you gonna go dude, we have a mortgage). I assumed it was a petty blow from a grown child lacking emotional intelligence. I didn’t know that it actually can cause psychological harm. That was one small act of many that messed with my head.
I’m grieving a parallel universe where I had the marriage I envisioned. Or the multiverse created by Loki. The images I had of children jumping on our bed to wake us up on Saturday morning. The dinners where we ate meals together at an actual table. Instead, we slept in separate beds for almost a decade. And with Joseph insisting on taking a job far away, he was never there during dinner. Our dining table is a graveyard for faded paper scraps and glue.
Why am I distraught over an alternate universe’s past that never existed? How can I miss something that I never had?
I’m not questioning my divorce decision. This is the right path.
I’m mourning the death of the person whose self-esteem dropped each year. The person who felt like a shell of a human for over forty years whose only purpose in life was to finish raising her kids and then die. That homegirl needed to go, don’t get me wrong. But she’s all I ever knew. And I hurt for the years of agony she felt in her heart, convincing herself that she was a horrible person who didn’t deserve happiness.
I’m not that person now.
Now I can look forward to having dinners with my kids on a table that is meant for actual meals. I can have a house free of an adult man’s clutter and trash. I can wear whatever I want without the worry of ridicule or comments. I won’t have to walk on eggshells or remember how to properly apologize. I won’t have to hear someone yell at me so forcefully, my own home no longer feels like a safe haven.
And when those things happen, I can finally stop grieving my dream of Joseph and I in our rocking chairs on our porch when we grow old.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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