Today I started researching writing courses. The Creative Nonfiction website offered an opportunity to write a story about starting over, a paying opportunity. I’m starting over, a story I share with women of all ages. I’m 65 years old starting over. I’ve known my husband almost my entire life, been with him 34 years and married for what will be 32 years on Cinco de Mayo. With a text message four days after I moved to the apartment I found for Cary and Caleb, that move part of the lie, he told me he had kept busy with hunting and having a good time seeing other women and wanted to keep having fun. Which part of this message hurt me the most? It wasn’t the hunting because that had been an integral part of our life since the beginning, although the renewed coon-hunting should have been a sign to me, the hobby of his first marriage taking him into the dark of night. Was it that a 60-year-old man would choose a text message to end his 32-year marriage? Was it that he had been seeing other women until he had narrowed down to the one who shared his one true passion? (I didn’t know of the one at that point, though I learned later others had known. I didn’t consider when he said he just wanted to find someone to hunt with that he meant a woman. That was just my sexism about hunting or a wife’s trust). Or was the most hurtful part that he was having fun while our son was in jail and our daughter beginning the slide into drugs again, while I was trying to be strong for everyone? Or maybe it was the inadequate opening saying that he’d always be grateful for the good times. Take your pick! Did I feel stupid for being so trusting? Yes and no.
My husband needed more of my attention, maybe. Even that I’m not sure about. The one thing about lies is that you question everything you think you know. I was spread thin by everyone else’s needs and had faith that they would be there for me too. I was the optimist to his pessimist. Now I was compelled to face certain facts about my husband I had denied. I hid them and from them. I came to the disturbing understanding that for years my marriage had probably been a network of lies. What do I know, though? Not much, except tidbits that are collected from unexpected sources. The things that others could tell me about my marriage are possibly legion just as the ones I know from his first marriage. And thus, the progression of a certain type of life. I did not learn much from my husband because he refused to discuss anything. He said he just couldn’t talk about anything involving emotions. He never could. That is such a failure of communication for him, for me and for our kids, communication we had longed years for. He was secretive and sneaky. Sneaking up and down the hill to our barn with his girlfriend in tow just to avoid driving past the house one Sunday I was there. I already knew she was with him, but when I walked to the garage where they were, she was nowhere to be seen. I laughed, not in humor, but the absurdity of it. After all, though, I’ve said my life was like a soap opera. And for years, I’d thought my life was boring.
I am at an age that I hoped to enjoy retirement, hoped I would become important and needed by my husband. Instead, here I was at the center of that clichéd, centuries-old storyline, the wife supplanted by a slightly younger woman who shared his only true passion in life. He even denied me the emotions of hurt and betrayal; he denied that I had been a wife who loved and experienced passion. I wrote letters to him about how I felt and our life together hoping for conversation. I suggested counseling for us, for him, for me. I did it. He told me and our son he didn’t need it, too old to change. There is always fault on both sides of a marriage. The things I said to my husband he tossed back at me, but intensified to exceed mine. There were so many contradictions to things he has said and was saying that the truth was never clear. The one original complaint he made to me was that I had never invited his friends to dinner. I didn’t know what to say to that. Later, I thought his friends, his invitation. He knew I would have done dinner for whoever he wanted. I was an accommodating wife and mother.
In fact, I had become a woman different in marriage than I was in the outside world, strong for others and weak for myself. I had accommodated too much, been there when he wasn’t. I now was treated like the enemy. I think I was the enemy because I did not just quietly move aside for what he wanted now. I did not accept his lame excuses and rationalizations for his behavior. Perhaps he really believed that one text of perceived honesty would belie all the truth and hide the enormity of what he had done to me and our family when we needed him most. But even reading the ugliness in his words, I still believed he was a good person, the one I convinced myself he was. He said he meant no harm to anyone. I believe him. I believe he never thought his actions hurt anyone. But he had lived and does live a life of secrets and lies and end runs. I believed with a counselor, I would listen while he talked, and he would listen while I talked. I believed the marriage and our family could be saved despite his cheating, though it was inherent. I had forgotten though how hard he is towards people he is done with, sabotaging relationships. I was not the first or even the second to come up against his hard heart. That hardness was the thing that came into arguments, he with the guns-blazing solution and I the soft-heart approach.
So what and how and when he did this, stomped and trashed 34 years of a life and family are at the center of my feelings about him. Nothing can ever change that. You learn to live with things, but you don’t forget. Some things can not be glossed over as just some glitch in your story. I’m not sure he thought this out though. Only a few weeks before I started looking for apartments, he wondered if we should get more steaks for the freezer. There were just certain little things suggesting a continuation and not an ending. There were so many ways he might have done this, starting first with conversation. I, who have always believed in civility and rationality, have no desire to be either one of these things to him. I started there but inevitably found it impossible to continue. I had to change who I was with this husband. My accommodation made my marriage last too long. I have accepted that it was never to be a real emotional partnership. My wry new motto in some circumstances is now, “If it feels wrong, it must be right.” Not easy. Baby steps.
I write this post now because this is the moment that seems right. I write what most people who know us already know, some already knew before me. If I had written this post after the early morning text on November 4, I would have written different words with different emotions. If I had written after one of our fights, I would have written other words and in anger. Today I don’t write in anger or hate or revenge. I hate the things he has done to me, to our family. I hate his hard heart and his inability to share much of himself. He claimed I might love him but didn’t like him. I don’t know if that was true because I often didn’t like his approach to problems. But now my feelings towards him are complicated not by love, like or hate. I can’t quite pinpoint what they are. I care about him, have concern. Thirty-four years, two children, burying parents, dealing with medical issues and memories can not be erased. He was the most important person in my life for so long. He can’t be written out of the past or my stories. Sometimes he was the story. When he sent that first text saying that things hopefully would get better for everyone with his actions, I deny that any of us were his concern at that moment or any moments when he chose to betray me. Because they were very deliberate choices. But in three and a half months I have evolved to accept that things will indeed get better for me and Jacob and Cary, despite him. Therapy helped me get there. She didn’t tell me what to do or how to feel, she guided me to the answers I already knew. My husband now stands on the fringes of our family where he often stood. His relationships with our children will be completely his own; I am not the go-between anymore. I hope that will be better for them.
I admit it. I’m scared, and I’m excited. I’m 65 years old and worried about the future. This seems like my greatest failure. I had hoped for so much more in this marriage, but I know it could never come from my husband. I worry about money, but I am lucky to have some. I want to work again for money and hound my daughter to find a babysitter. I worry about catastrophic illness with age and the stresses in my life. The effects of these last couple years have taken a toll and on none more than our children who live uncertain lives. Now my life too is as uncertain as theirs. I have supportive friends who have their own problems but take the time for mine too. I could ask for more, but if I wanted more, it would not be for me.
My story now is as a woman on her own. I will not accommodate anyone else’s story until I want to. My advantage is that I was alone for a few years as an adult young woman, then I found two people to love. Then I married one of them. So I am not afraid of being alone or loneliness. I’ve already been there, felt it. I am not desperately seeking a partnership, but leisurely enjoying no one accusing me of taking advantage, only being interested in their money, and lacking love and passion. There is a freedom in that.