Do I miss being married? Yes. I miss the companionship, I miss the second income, I miss the regular sex, I miss the shared history. Do I miss my husband? Nope. Just, nope.
I come from a line of long-married people. My parents recently celebrated their 56th anniversary. My grandparents and great-grandparents were married until death did them part. When I got married in May of 1979, it was for better or worse, rich or poor, fat or skinny, blah, blah, blah. Sigh. I was also seven months pregnant, I lived with my parents, and I had college finals coming up. I was twenty years old. What the hell did I know?!
My father, in his infinite mercy, told me that I didn’t have to get married. He gave me an out and I didn’t take it. I had brought enough shame on the Rivera name. Rev. and Mrs. Rivera had already lived through my previous breakup, a week before the wedding, and I thought it was time to let them off the hook. I knew the church gossip circle could be vicious and I had been a favorite topic for too long now.
So, off I went into the world of marital bliss. Bliss. Believing the Lies Instead of Spying on the Sucker. Yea, we won’t use that word the same way, ever again.
We leave Eileen to have her child, graduate from college, get a job, start graduate school, have a second child, drop out of graduate school, raise her children, educate her children; we allow twenty four years and six months to pass by. Years full of joy, struggle, achievement, and sorrow. And now the story gets interesting, because on her birthday, in 2003, she moved out. She moved on. She was paroled. And she cried.
My husband and I started couples counseling in the summer of 2002. We had a few great sessions, I especially felt very comfortable with the therapist. I was just beginning to open up about my feelings and the grudge I held against him for past actions. At our last joint session, he sat there and pulled out a
figurative double-barreled shotgun and blasted my faults, my weaknesses, my lack of affection; he labeled me a good mother, but a poor wife. He said that he wouldn’t be returning to our sessions because HE wasn’t the one who no longer wanted to be married. I was the one with the problem. As love lay bleeding in my hands, my self-esteem having taken a direct hit, our time was up and we drove home in absolute silence. I cried as I showered, knowing that this marriage had gone as far as it could. It was time to give up the ghost. He wrapped himself around me when I got into bed, apologizing for his nastiness. I told him it was just another episode in a long line of episodes and tried hard to keep myself from using the word ‘always’. Our therapist warned us against using that word and I just wasn’t up for anything further from him. And then we had sex, because that was how he expressed himself.
The next day I received a call from our therapist, while I was at work. She told me that she was concerned about me and wanted to make sure that he hadn’t become violent the previous night. She also told me that it was apparent that he wouldn’t get anything out of our sessions and she would be referring him to another therapist.
He never returned to therapy. I, on the other hand, continued my weekly sessions. Week after week of sneers, ridicule, when I got home; anxiety attacks, and crying while sitting under the shower so no one would hear me cry. And then week after week of silence, indifference, and finding somewhere else to go while I was at my sessions, because being home alone wasn’t working for him. All the while, I knew where this was going but I knew I couldn’t get there alone. I needed my therapy sessions the same way menopausal women needed to take calcium. I was strengthening from the inside out. Learning to use words like, “When you do that, I feel __” or “When you say that, I feel __” and I never said, “You always __”.
Only two people were surprised by my Declaration of independence. My husband and my younger daughter.
My older daughter pointed her fork at me, and said, “You should’ve left ten years ago”. I asked her if she wanted to come along. She sat up, from where she was laying on the floor and told me that she had her own escape plans in mind. She informed me that she would be taking her sister with her, so there was no need to find a large apartment since they would be moving out on their own within the next year. Pride in her strength fought with grief in the knowledge that I would no longer be living with my greatest treasures, my children. Mr. Man had already informed me that if I wanted out of this marriage I would be the one leaving. And once I left, there would be no returning. As if.
My older daughter was already out in the workforce, and living at home had allowed her to have a comfortable financial cushion. My sorrow was for my younger daughter, who was still a year away from college graduation. She would never have the opportunity to amass a comfortable cushion. She was a Daddy’s girl, the apple of his eye, and yet she and I had a great relationship. She came to me with everything, good and bad. There was no judgement, no advice. I served as the voice of reason. The person who laid things out in a manner where she could make a decision for herself. My wild child, my last baby, had already shown that she had steel in her spine. She would be fine.
As I continued shopping for appliances, electronics, and various home goods, my comadre kept nagging me, “When are you going to tell your parents?” More than anything, I feared their reaction. They knew I was in therapy, and living downstairs from us, they probably knew that all was not well in the upstairs apartment. My new residence was almost ready for me and I needed to get all my clothing there, so I needed to have the discussion now because there was no way they wouldn’t notice me going up and down the stairs with armloads of clothing. So, arming myself with a cup of coffee, I went downstairs, treating each step as if it was a chasm I would fall into if I wasn’t careful. It was probably the slowest I had ever taken those stairs in my fifteen years living in that house.
Both of my parents were in the living room when I entered their apartment. My father watching his Saturday morning news programs while my mother was cleaning out her purse. After having put the discussion off for so long, I just dove off the diving board, head first, no fancy swan dive for me. “I’m leaving him and next Saturday is my last night here.”
Mom took off almost running. My eyes flicked from her back to my father’s face, while internally I said, “Ohshitohshitohshit”. He looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m glad you finally made a decision. It’s been a long time coming”. I told him where I would be living and that I would be taking my personal belongings out little by little. My mother walked back into the room with a few shopping bags and some boxes. She said, “I bought all these things for your grandfather, but I think you could use them more”. A lamp, flat wear, a small coffee pot, and a few other household goods emerged from the bags. Relief poured out of me in a huge, gusty laugh as I walked over to hug them both. Those who loved me, and wanted only the best for me knew it was coming and patiently waited for me to say the words.
Sunday, November 16, 2003 finally rolled around. There is little that I remember about that day, but I remember that night as if it happened yesterday.
While my husband stayed home drinking and watching football, the rest of us went to my favorite restaurant to celebrate my 45th birthday. My gifts were already in my new home. A bed-in-a-bag set from my daughters already dressed up my new bed. The hammers and screwdrivers, from my sister, helped me hang new curtains. A new rice cooker from my comadre, sat in the new kitchen waiting to feed me. We talked and laughed throughout dinner as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. We decided that I would be hosting Thanksgiving dinner in my new, roomy dining room. Having never done so, I was very excited about hosting family gatherings.
With dinner done, we piled into the car and drove back home. My daughters retreated to their bedrooms to prepare for bed. I went from room to room gathering up my toiletries and the clothing I still had there. And finally it was time to say goodbye.
Mr. Man took me by the hand and led me to sit beside him on the bed. Our bed. A bed that would never again look as neatly as I preferred. He told me how much he loved me and how I was the love of his life. How he wished this had never happened. And then he became himself again. “What kind of mother leaves her children behind?” I allowed him to speak, never letting on that the question had been on my mind for a month and that this had already been a topic of conversation with my daughters. On and on he droned about how his daughters would get married and have children and how I would continue to be an integral part of their lives while shutting him out. Questioning what he would do if he got sick and I cut off his health insurance. The more he spoke the better I felt about my decision. And the less I wanted to leave my children in his home. I looked him in the eye, told him that I wouldn’t be taking him off the insurance, kissed him on the lips and told him to take care of himself.
I walked to the living room, tenderly kissing my daughters while reminding them that I was as much at fault in the breakup as he was. I received nods that they understood what I was attempting to do, as the tears streaming down their cheeks let me know that they couldn’t get any words out of their throats. And then I left the house like my ass was on fire.
The three mile drive south was done carefully, slowly. The road wavered before my car as my eyes welled up with tears, repeatedly. As soon as I could catch my breath it would hitch, and my eyes would fill again. Never questioning my decision, still seeing my daughters’ tear-stained faces before me, the car continued moving to a new street in another city. A home where I would sleep alone for the first time in my life. I had made my bed and now it was time to lay in it.
Fearful that sleep would not make an appearance after an emotionally draining evening, the alarm clock was moved from the nightstand to a bureau on the other side of the bedroom. Emotions warred within me. Sadness that my daughters were no longer within arm’s reach, yet excited that I would be able to show them a new strength that hadn’t always been apparent. Strength that had been hiding under the a cloak of too much compromise. Hiding under a barrage of words that should never have been uttered and tears that should never have been shed.
Brand new pajamas, a brand new bed with brand new linens. There were no memories in this bed and yet my body lay in the same spot it had occupied for so many years. Here silence reigned. Eyes closed, I slept straight through until morning for the first time in months. Months.
My routine never changing, only the location of things changed. Coffee and breakfast were made; the dishes were washed and I left for work in the knowledge that my home would still be clean when I returned home in the afternoon.
Taking pictures of what I had taken to calling ‘my sanctuary’, I proudly showed them to my therapist at our next session. There would be new fears and insecurities to tackle and I would use her as a sounding board for the next two years.
Plot twists are thrown into your life to let you know that what you think is good for you, really isn’t. It takes distance and clarity of spirit to see that, acknowledge it, and revel in it. Once I became bored with my solitary existence and I found myself looking forward to going to work because there I wouldn’t be alone anymore, I realized that I had traded one cocoon for another. It was time to start wriggling out of it and find out what my butterfly wings would look like.
Taking baby steps, I began attending events and performances whenever I could. Making new friends along the way. Finding new art forms I hadn’t been exposed to in the past. Taking the plunge into social media, shortly after my fiftieth birthday, allowed me to find an outlet for the writing bug that would raise its head occasionally. Starting a personal blog was another step in my emotional freedom. And nothing would do but to call it Mariposa Social.
Finally free of emotional cocoons, the butterfly’s wings were finally out. And they were gorgeous.