I remember her well. She glowed with hope, promise, and love. At the age of thirty, and after meeting the man she would adore with a depth even she didn’t believe possible, her belief in all things good was assured.
I think back on that time filled with both tenderness and sorrow for the woman I used to be. Of course, by now I’ve forgiven myself for those decisions (such as to stay so long in an abusive marriage) that continue to negatively affect my life today. And yet I can’t help but miss her so much when I recall those years when all I wanted to do was love and be loved in return, to be the best mother I could and raise beautiful humans, to make our plans and work toward a future where we could rest at the end in each other’s arms and say with a smile, yes that was good.
Once we married, it all took shape. We dreamed and talked and mapped out the future so that I pictured it clearly. We worked hard to build our businesses together — each of us dependent on the other to do so — while I tried with the might of Hercules every day to be the best mother I could be to our three growing boys. Nothing mattered outside of my husband, my children, and my home. I now had a direction in life, a place to go, a future to move forward into, so everything I did was in relation to that goal.
Though I had a college degree and previously owned a restaurant before meeting the man I would marry (he had no higher education and was a dance teacher when we met), I put everything aside to instead merge our talents and create a new business that we could grow together. Everything we attempted was a success to some degree. Our union of acumen for certain tasks a veritable golden ticket when it came to making money. We bought and flipped houses, we purchased run-down apartment buildings and revamped them, we remodeled and built our own homes. There was nothing in real estate that we couldn’t do since we were doing it together. He was the builder and I was the designer. He took care of the construction of all things, while I used my gift for aesthetics to turn the plain into the fabulous, inside and out. I taught him how to create lease agreements and be financially sound, and he taught me how to ask for what I wanted in any kind of negotiation and how everything is negotiable. He managed all of our business transactions while I maintained our personal finances and planned for the future.
Our other business was a thriving ballroom dance studio, which quickly became my only social outlet and through which we met all of our friends. We threw dance parties, we performed locally, we put on huge showcases and I was on top of the world anytime I stepped onto a dance floor. Our oldest son became a competitor in ballroom dancing and we traveled all over the country to attend competitions. Dancing (waltz, tango, salsa — to name a few) was my everything since it opened up a world that allowed me to express myself in a way I never could before, get into fantastic physical shape, travel, and meet incredible people. It was a family affair and was instrumental in helping me escape the drains of motherhood that often overwhelmed me.
In and around working to build our businesses, with his time spent more and more at work to the point of his absence from our home from sunrise until sunset, I poured my heart and soul into the raising of our children so that they would grow up to be educated and compassionate souls who I hoped would be a benefit to the world once they left my arms. I sung to them, I read books every night after tucking them into bed, I opened up their eyes to any and all new experiences, all the while pouring over every piece of literature about parenting that existed, desperate as I was to get this mothering thing right.
Looking back, I’m not exactly sure when the shift took place. Because it was so gradual, I jumped back and forth between the girl I used to be and the woman I was becoming for many years. Over a period of sixteen years I often felt like a witness to my own undoing, standing back and asking myself often, “Who is that woman?” My youthful optimism and belief in all things good began to erode, but so slowly that it was like gentle waves upon a shore with no evidence to see at first glance. On any given day I would be the mother I always wanted to be, then without warning turn into a woman who found herself raising her voice instead of calmly disciplining. I couldn’t handle the stress of my children nor even small tasks that before were easily taken care of. I began to suffer physically and lacked the strength and energy to confront the darker aspects of my marriage that whispered to me in the middle of the night, or to connect the dots of how the man I loved was changing into someone I didn’t recognize while wondering if I might have been the one to blame for our marital strife.
I transcended from a strong and self-assured woman who knew what she was doing into a shame-ridden, self-loathing mess who holed up in corners of her giant home so her kids wouldn’t hear her cries. I was no longer the woman of his dreams, as was evident by his growing cruelty and barrage of subtle attacks that left me weak in the knees and begging for his mercy. Though I put on the face of an adoring wife while we were out socially and let him continue his one-man show in public (he had a desperate need that I didn’t possess to charm and receive the attention of anyone in his near vicinity), inside I was crumbling to the point where my soul began to implode from the pain.
And I wasn’t the only one hurting. My children also paid the price in that the last few years I struggled to return to that great mother I used to be. Because of the emotional turmoil I dealt with on a daily basis with the man I had married but whom I no longer knew, my own moods became a funnel through which how my husband treated me at any time transferred directly onto my children. I no longer had the strength to play with them, entertain them, handle their tantrums and their fights, counsel them with patience and kindness. I became sometimes cranky and yelled my frustrations. I was jumpy, unable to take a joke, uninterested in having fun. And I was tired, all the while inflicting the blame upon myself and believing it was somehow all my fault.
I remember this woman who was in her mid-forties as well as I remember the woman who just turned thirty and met the man of her dreams. There was no more promise in her eyes. No more hope. And though she still loved deeply, she felt no love in return. She retreated as he furthered his own agenda without her. He stopped dancing with her, although he kept dancing with everyone else. She grew physically sicker and stayed at home. He hid his life from her and she no longer possessed the strength to care. Her world grew dark while his continued to shine, which was just as he wanted it to be.
I remember how her grief was matched in tears by her confusion as to how it had all ended up like that. Didn’t they make plans? Didn’t they build and create and love for the past decade and a half in the effort to finish this together? What would she do without him? Every move she had made since they met was a move designed to take one more step toward their future as a single unit. Every decision made was in their joint best interests, every day spent working together toward a mutually agreed upon goal. She trusted him with her life, while he vowed all their hard work would one day pay off and asked for her continued faith in him, which she gave wholeheartedly.
Until the day the double life of the man she loved, the man she had children with, the man with whom she’d built a comfortable financial nest, was revealed.
I remember that feeling as though it were yesterday, perhaps because the residue of a life stolen without my consent still lives and breathes within. I didn’t plan for “me” as a single individual. Instead, I spent sixteen years planning for us, so when that plan fell apart without my participation and I didn’t have a Plan B (making an escape route in case my marriage fell apart was certainly not in my wedding vows), I found myself standing in a state of destruction that happened in an instant. Like a raging fire had swept through my home in the middle of the night, destroying my belongings and my life as I knew it, while I escaped within an inch of my life and stood holding my children’s hands upon the charred ground.
It was then, while standing amongst the ruin and trying to get the smoke out of my eyes, stripped down for all to see, that I realized she hadn’t made it out.
The woman I used to be. We lost her in the fire.
Today, I have only memories of her. They are both good and not so good. I see her smiling and laughing with her children, painting their rooms and cuddling them at night and reading to their sleepy faces. I see her working with the man she adored as they built their businesses together, feeling successful at the end of every day when she snuggled into his arms each night. She had such an open and forgiving nature about her, was open to all kinds of surprises and jokes, and could laugh at herself for her silliness and desire to always be good and do the right thing. I remember the audience standing and applauding after any performance. She danced as she lived — with vibrancy and passion — and when the music started playing, her joy was palpable and spread to everyone who watched.
I also remember her crying, in a heap on her closet floor. She forgave and forgave, and yet he wouldn’t stop hurting her. I remember the feeling of her heart concaving when he stood over her and offered nothing but an icy glare. When I close my eyes today I can still see her standing by the large window in the family room of their home, unable to stop the tears from falling, wishing she could die instead of having to endure him walking around her as though she were a piece of furniture that had gotten in his way. I remember her fear when she begged him to leave her because she wasn’t strong enough to take it anymore. Then I remember her faith being temporarily restored when he suddenly would change and show her love again, a spate of ecstasy that never lasted too long. Never long enough.
Most of all, I remember her heaving body on the floor in the bathroom after she found out about his double life, which included grooming young girls to one day replace her in her own home, in her own business, in her own life. There were no more good memories to create after that. At that point, whether she could smell it or not, the fire had already begun within the foundation of her home. But the smoke went unseen because she had had her eyes squeezed shut to the pain.
Though I don’t have the luxury of keeping only the good memories of her alive, maybe it’s better that way. After all, I cannot let her go and fully mourn if I try to shut out all that led to her end.
So, I will remember everything as it was and feel it as I need to until such time that I can one day, finally, let her rest in peace. I will remember her smile, her naivety, her childish demeanor, her trust in the world that no harm would come. I will remember her stubbornness, her wisdom, her ability to view everyone and everything without judgment, without reproach. I will remember what a great mother she was in the beginning, how her heart was always in the right place, and how her children meant more than anything else in the world. I will remember her riding her horse, mowing the lawn, driving their tractor, decorating her home, cooking every night, riding bikes, and playing with her little boys and their Hot Wheels and Legos and Lincoln Logs.
But above all, when I want to resurrect her from the corners of my mind and bring her to life once again just for a moment so that I can see her smile, I will always remember her dancing.
This post was previously published on www.psiloveyou.xyz and is republished here with permission from the author.
Photo credit: Suzanna Quintana