My ex-husband and I never should have gotten married. There. I said it. I think we both knew that, too, which, in a way, makes it even harder to admit. We fought all the time, he’d kick me out of our house and I’d leave for a few days. When things calmed down I always went back. This went on for years. I cheated at one stage. I’m not proud of it, but it is part of our story so it’s worth mentioning.
The last year of my marriage was a cycle of break ups and make ups that left me with a spinning head and a constant feeling of nausea. I was desperately trying to control my husband’s behavior with my own. If he got angry, I got extra calm. If he got sad, I tried to be silly and smiling. I wanted to make him love me and treat me the way I was learning to deserve. I was on a roller coaster ride that I didn’t know how to get off of.
During one of my therapy sessions, I learned that it’s okay to be on the roller coaster as long as I wanted to be on it. The choice to stop riding was mine. And I learned I could get off the ride, but he didn’t have to. He could go around and around and up and down as much as he wanted, but I was free to wait on the platform. I was learning that we had separate emotions and behaviors. I couldn’t make him happy any more than I was the one making him angry. He could rage and throw things and belittle me as much as he wanted. I didn’t have to ride the roller coaster with him. I started to wait on the platform.
I was noticing that the steadier I became, the more enraged he seemed to become. It was as though he was trying harder to say things with the intention of causing me pain. I remember one particular Sunday so clearly in my mind. We had made plans to go out for lunch and run some errands and spend the day doing family things. I was excited and hopeful and ready to embrace my new outlook on the person I was becoming.
We had been separated for some time already and were living apart, so I ran out of my house that morning with our son in tow and headed over to meet my husband. It was spring, the sky was that perfect shade of blue and there were big happy white clouds, I could smell the earth and the grass and the new buds of everything around me. I was in such a hurry I forgot to grab my keys, so I turned around to run back up the stairs to my apartment. The driveway is stone, and the first step has a concrete face. I kicked the concrete face of that first step with full force and almost face-planted into the stairs. I immediately told myself what a moron I am, swore like a trucker for a few seconds, and slowly limped up the stairs.
By the time I got back into my car, the persistent throbbing was getting harder to ignore. By the time I got to my husband’s house, I wasn’t putting any weight on the inside of my left foot. I smiled, said I stubbed my toe, and politely asked him to drive. The thought of pushing in the clutch for the rest of the day made me teary-eyed.
For a little while I felt like there was a real chance my family would end up together and happy. We ate, laughed, ran errands, and shopped, all as a family unit. We decided to end the day with some ice cream. I was feeling at peace in my environment for the first time in months. I should have known better.
My husband wiped our son’s face, telling him he was a mess. They were laughing, joking around with each other, and then my husband said something like, “You’re a mess. You’re BOTH messes.” I chimed in, thinking we were all still being silly, and asked why I was a mess. That’s when things changed. He stopped what he was doing, looked directly into my eyes, and said, “Because you’re here.”
My heart skipped a beat. My breathing stopped. I’m here? We had spent the entire day being a family and laughing and now my mere presence was too much for him to bear? I turned around in my seat, stared out the windshield, and kept silent. I was not going to engage with him. Under any circumstances. I was going to stay strong on the platform and let him ride around me.
We weren’t far from the house, and I thought we were going to make it there without incident. I was reading street signs, counting the telephone poles, and listening to the whir of the tires. I was focusing on everything except him.
“I can’t stand the sight of you.”
Damn. So close.
He went on to tell me if we didn’t have our son, he would never see my face ever again. He called me a whore, told me he hopes I rot in hell, and that I disgust him.
I asked him to please keep his voice down, our son was in the back seat. I reached for his arm, thinking maybe I could sort of snap him out of it. I got off the platform. He told me to get my fucking hands off him.
I had to find the platform again. I stared straight ahead. I held onto the door handle and just kept staring. He continued his verbal assault and I waited on the platform for the ride to stop. When we got back, got our son out of the car and started to walk away. I met his gaze as I got back into my own car to head home. He told me to fuck off.
This wasn’t just any Sunday. This was Mother’s Day. The fall is always most painful from the highest peak.
Back at home, I put on Nickelodeon and said I’d be out in a little while. In the security of my bedroom, behind the closed door, I slid down the wall and cried for all of the pain I was in. I cried for my marriage, I cried for my son, I cried for my three broken toes. Most importantly, I cried for myself. I purged all of the toxic emotions I was holding in because I thought holding it all in meant I was strong. I cried violently and thoroughly. But to my surprise, it didn’t last more than a few minutes. It felt like everything had been waiting so long to come out, it was all up at the surface, begging to be released.
I stood up, dried my eyes and knew I had finally reached my rock bottom. I would never put myself or my child in that position ever again. I would never be spoken to that way, and I especially would never give anyone that power over me.
I braced my toes as best I could with some athletic tape and left them alone. Over the next several weeks, I watched my foot heal and as those bones got stronger, so did I. And by stronger I mean I was more able to talk about what I was feeling instead of holding it all in. I was more open.
Our divorce was finalized seven years ago. We’re friends now, I’d say. Or maybe acquaintances is more accurate. We can joke with each other, we can all go out together for our sons birthday, and for the first time I can honestly say I’m not intimidated or afraid to talk to him. I’m not waiting for the yelling, and I’m not waiting for the anger.
I had to remember It would all be fine in the end. If it wasn’t fine, it wasn’t the end.