There’s this great line in the grossly underappreciated,
brilliant film Random Hearts, where Harrison Ford asks Kristin
Scott Thomas, “I try and go back… in my head… What’s the last
thing you remember about you and your husband that you know was
true? I’ve got to find out how far back I have to go to do
that.” The passing of time is a withering arbiter of
perspective. I can’t really trust mine where my marriage is
concerned because self-protection and being the hero of our own
story is part of our makeup as beings of id and ego. I wrote
this essay roughly ten years ago as mostly catharsis if not
tribute to the best things about relationships and marriage,
with love and respect for a person I cherished and admired. I
can’t say I actually know this person anymore, which I do not
mean in a harsh sense, only that we are no longer in each
other’s lives. I have, at best, the briefest fleeting occasional
(and largely accidental) glimpses into her life as it has
evolved over the past two decades. It is my sincere prayer and
hope that she’s found at last what she’s been looking for, along
with my selfish hope that she did not needlessly delay her own
happiness out of bitterness or trepidation over her experience
with me. As I mention here, she and I are surely no longer the
same people we once were; we would be all but complete strangers
today. Hi. Nice to meet you.
Marriage creates complex connections across relationships and families. Those connections do not cease to exist just because two people go their own way. I’ve made reasonable attempts to respect her choices by communicating important things through back channels while learning of important events from her side of our connections only by accident. Her choice to firewall off the past is not unreasonable; attempting to erase it entirely is troubling in the sense that it suggests so much damage has been done that, rather than communicate even basic, reasonable information (for instance, my mother-in-law’s passing), that she’d rather I discover it, as I do most anything about her, by accident. On its face, these choices seem irrational. I am left to wonder: was I really that much of a monster that, even two decades after, she’s in denial that we ever existed? And, if that is true, if what I cherish as the happiest memory of my life is, for her, the greatest trauma, that is even more disturbing because it suggests virtually everything I know to be true about she and I and us was not true at all; which makes this essay more or less a colorful delusion or fantasy on my part; one in which I loved and was loved.
Every accidental discovery of things most rational divorced people would, in spite of their differences, communicate makes me reexamine my own perspective on that time while also forcing tough questions about her. Was she really the ethereal saint I choose to remember? The woman I remember could not possibly behave the way this current version, using her name and wearing her face, does. Or, is this actually her and the woman I cherished was an act or a glossed-over fabrication of my own lunacy? I can’t reconcile these two people: the incredible saint who walked The Walk of The Truly Innocent, who taught me how to be a better and more giving and loving person, and whoever this is today; a person who seems to either fear me or who takes delight in my suffering. Or are these the same person and I simply chose to see what I wanted to see? Or, my most anxiety-provoking conclusion: am I responsible for this transition from a selfless and giving soul to someone whose choices—so far as it impacts our lingering connections—grossly disappoint me? What is true, what is not, and how far back do I have to go?
As the twentieth anniversary of the close this life chapter’s arrives, and absent any perspective from her, I’ll hold to these conclusions: first, that I am probably getting what I deserve. My simply blogging about this likely embarrasses and humiliates an extremely private person. Second, our memories belong to us. Presuming all she is clinging to are the negatives, I’ve chosen to cling to the positives; to learn and grow from both. Third: No matter how unpleasant or hostile her disposition toward me is, I will show her the unconditional love her sacrifice and investment in me has earned. Fourth: we are, each one of us, entitled to our own story. She has hers, this is mine. This is my memory and my choice to believe in her and in us. I choose to believe what we had and who we were was true. If that makes me a fool, well, I’ve been called worse.
The most terrible thing I've ever seen
in all the years of my life was the tail lights of my wife's car
on the day she left me. The afternoon of July 5, 1993 we had a
final argument over some store-bought chicken— something so
unimaginably small and yet it's usually the small fires that
send people scurrying for the exit. We'd been looking for the
exit for a very long time. Not an exit from each other but an
exit from the misery we seemed to bring to each other. I held my
wife for the last time twenty years ago today before heading
out to meet Darlene, my best friend, who knew the moment she saw
me on her doorstep that my life had fallen completely apart. And
when I arrived home that evening, my wife was gone.
She was the kindest human being I’d ever met. Generous to a fault and possessed of an almost ethereal grace and innocence. Anointed. The rarest of rarities, an intelligent and sophisticated woman who still possessed a childlike innocence and sense of wonder. Possibly the most noble soul I have ever known. She drew me out of my darkness. She taught me what real love was, and she shaped my life forever.
Divorce is a lot like a death that you just keep on dying. The cynical view of divorce, of relief or even joy at having parted ways with your hated enemy, is a wholly inaccurate and immature view of what is the most painful process imaginable. If you are considering divorce and think divorce will bring you relief from your struggle, please think again. Divorce only brings you a new struggle, a new emptiness and a new unhappiness. Like abortion, it creates as many problems as it solves and leaves you the shell-shocked walking wounded, trying again and again for the kind of Cinderella love we were promised as children. Those gentle lies our well-meaning but ultimately ignorant parents told us as they ingrained severe un-truths in us. Un-truths about Happily Ever After. Programming we spend our lives trying to overcome as we continue to search for a Happily Ever After that simply does not exist.
I'd have much rather my mom taught me to better myself and to seek satisfaction in life from growing personally and from serving God and helping others. I'd have, ultimately, preferred the less kind truth that life is an eternal struggle and that the very best we can hope for is to find and maintain peace in our lives. That we should be bonded to people who are, first and foremost, our very best friends. Our most trusted friends.