When I look at the final summary judgment, full of legal speak and official terms, I can’t focus. The words swim in front of me, making no sense, and I have to force myself to concentrate. To FOCUS. This is your life, I think. But then I think, it is also a life that isn’t, at least anymore.
We were married for 23 years and four months.
My ex-husband and I were woven into each other’s lives for about five years before we got married, making it close to 30 years total. All of those years with one person. All of those years of ups and down, good times and bad, two children, several homes, and many, many nights eating popcorn in his favorite glass bowl in front of the TV, his right arm idly stroking my back. All of those times of familiarity, of security, of confidence.
I loved him so much but I hated him toward the end. Where he used to be loving and caring, he turned nasty and spiteful. Once, he said he hated me more than he had ever hated anyone.
When I had the babies midway into our marriage, seven years apart, he would wake up in the middle of the night with us, feeding them in the rocking chair, and then handing them over to me. I would walk the halls over and over – for hours it seemed – until they would drift off to sleep and I would put them back into their cribs, exhausted. I would come back to bed and he would nestle me into the familiar arms, the comfort of his t-shirt as real to me as my own skin, and I would fall asleep.
During the day of these early baby years, I would need to lay down. “You’re delirious?” he would ask, and take the baby from me. “Go lay down. I’ve got this.”
A few years before we decided to get divorced, we reconciled. He begged me to stay, said he couldn’t believe how wrong he had been, how verbally and emotionally abusive, and he vowed to get better. “I’ll do anything,” he pleaded. “Go on medication. Go to therapy. You and the kids are the most important things to me. I see that now.”
I knew deep down that people are the core of who they are. That to change, you had to work at it constantly – and most importantly, you had to understand why you acted the way you did. I loved him. I had been with him since I was nineteen years old; we had traveled together, made good and bad choices together, had one another’s backs. So I gave in.
And after a year, things slipped back.
He called me names. He screamed at me how stupid I was, how horrible of a mother I was, how everything was my fault. He started sleeping all day after being out all night playing poker. I was scared to be around him because I never knew what mood he would be in. Living with him became intolerable. He did stupid, spiteful things, like putting up each side of the adjustable bed as far as they would go and leaving the house with the remotes so I couldn’t get in. One day, he took all of my shoes and threw them in anger, one by one, into the garage where I parked. We tried counseling and it didn’t help. Of course it didn’t.
To the public, he was a great charming guy. In private, he became a nightmare. He could smile and chat with a neighbor and then come inside and tell me how stupid I was, how incompetent. He threatened divorce over and over again. He kept giving me dates that he would be leaving by, but he never did.
My world became non-linear and my brain became expert at compartmentalizing. I didn’t – and still don’t – remember certain things because I trained my brain to push them down somewhere. I have two contrasting memories, for example: One, early on in our relationship, where he screamed so badly at me that I walked out of the house and up a hill, away from him, panting and crying. Another, after a major surgery, where he took care of me, careful to make sure that the kids were occupied and I could rest. My life was one extreme or the other, and one day, I decided enough was enough.
I filed for divorce after 23 years and four months of marriage.
I found a realtor and put our house on the market.
I found a small place for my girls and dogs and myself to live, and we moved.
People have told me how strong I have been, how it took guts and courage to leave. But what they don’t really understand is that I am not strong. I am just above the coping level. I want the best for myself and my kids. I don’t want to be living in an unhealthy, toxic environment. I want a chance at a healthy, peaceful life. But it’s hard. It is so, so hard.
Like the summary judgment, nothing makes sense to me anymore. You don’t get married thinking you will get divorced. You don’t know someone so well one moment and then are cordial strangers with them the next. It just doesn’t make sense.
Maybe it never will.
Written by Jennifer R.