I was sitting in this campsite last weekend, see? Oh no, I’m not an honest-to-goodness camper but my friend Meeks thinks I need to get hold of myself so she brings me there to commune with nature. She thinks it will restore me; help make me whole again.
It just so happens that we were surrounded by a bunch of people belonging to the Family Motorcoach Association. Who would have guessed it! There they were - serious campers, every last one -filling every available campsite with their state-of-the-art motor coaches, having their annual get-together at the Ponderosa Campsite.
I study the oval-shaped plaque displayed on the front of each vehicle. It reads Family Motorcoach Association. The word family sets me to thinking again. Dangerous thoughts. Outrageous thoughts.
You see, my kids told me about it just last week. Daddy’s getting married again, they said. They didn’t want to hurt me, they said. There just isn’t any right way to relay that kind of news, they said. My children are young adults now. Ben, my oldest, is a graduate student at MIT and Teresa is a senior at a college in upstate New York.
Hurt. What could they possibly know about the hurt I’ve been carrying around inside me for the past nine years? It’s baggage I can’t seem to unload. Nine years. It took me that long to admit that a divorce was inevitable. You see, when I left him ( you’ll understand if I don’t mention his name), we had already been married for sixteen years. Sixteen plus nine ( I know what you’re thinking) - yes, this would have been the year to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
When I left him, there was never any thought of divorce. I loved him more than life. My life. But when the doctors at the hospital questioned me about my slashed wrists, they forced me to consider the question: What did he do to you that would make you want to die?
Then slowly, painfully, I sifted through the debris of my shattered life, groping for the answer. He never loved me. In fact he never even liked me, I told them. I must be a bad person and I deserve to die.
Did I hear you say ridiculous? Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Someone doesn’t stay around for sixteen years unless there was some feeling - at least in the beginning. Well, I thought so too. But I see now that it turned out to be a marriage of convenience based on a “green card” romance. Oh, there’s no need for me to go into detail about that, but I can tell you, honey, that’s exactly what it was.
So, after spending thirty days in a psychiatric ward, I went home and asked for a separation. You’ve got that funny look on your face again. I can sense your question before you ask it. Separation? Don’t most people just ask for a divorce? You mean you had nine years of separation?
Please don’t laugh. It’s true . What you don’t understand is that I never wanted a divorce. I wanted … oh well, it doesn’t really matter anymore. And him? Well, it didn’t seem to matter one way or the other to him either - at the time. So we settled into a state of limbo…still married, not living together, sometimes coming together for special family events. There were the children to consider, you know.
Nine years of waiting…hoping … for what? You see, that’s how I know that he never really loved; never even liked me. Do you think he ever asked me to come back? Do you think he ever mentioned the word reconciliation?
He’s such a jerk! my son fumed recently. Jerk. The word triggered another memory buried deep in my heart. I think about my dear friend Hannah. There she was, dying of cancer when her husband left her for some young chickee who was already pregnant with his child. I can still picture Hannah during one of our last conversations before she died. Such a jerk! she said. It wasn’t said with any anger or bitterness. In fact, she said it in such an off-handed way that she might have been referring to someone who’s just cut out in front of you on a busy highway.
I never thought of you-know-who as a jerk. Maybe I should have. Maybe it would have saved me all the grief I’ve been carrying around for so long. When does it all end? I asked my therapist recently. Yes, I’ve been back in therapy ever since this thing about the divorce. When does the pain go away? How long, for Christ’s sake, do you mourn the loss of your marriage? I’ve been grieving for nine years!
My therapist was the one who finally convinced me to file for a divorce. You’re hanging on to a myth, she said. You’re not dealing with the reality of what is, she said.
“But I want my family!” I wailed.
“It doesn’t exist anymore. You’ve got to let it all go,” she answered in a voice so quiet that it scared me.
Grief. Mourning the loss of. Did you ever notice how those words are used? Oh, her grief is so terrible, we say. She’s mourning the death of her husband. That’s how people refer to the widow. But do you ever hear anybody say she’s mourning the death of her marriage ?
I have another friend I want to tell you about - Elena. She has been a widow for as long as I’ve been separated ( and now recently divorced). Elena still mourns and it’s been ten
years. Vincent was a prince of a man. Theirs was a love affair that spanned twenty-five wonderful years. A massive heart attack claimed his life while he was away on a business trip. His last words to her had been written that fateful morning, in a note which he left tucked away under the windshield wiper if her car. Elena, darling, I’m missing you already.
So I say to myself: we both grieve but her grief is more real. To have lost something so precious; to have experienced such a complete, beautiful love and then have it all taken away in an instant is by far the greater loss. What did I lose? Only the idea of what marriage and family meant to me.
That’s how I rationalized my pain, and it’s helped to a point. Intellectually, I’ve been able to put the whole business in perspective. You mourn the loss of someone you love; the grief being in proportion to how you felt loved. At least that’s how it should be. But as I told you, he never really loved me, so why should I mourn at all?
Now there’s this business of dealing with the latest news. Daddy’s getting married again. I wouldn’t have brought this up in the first place except…sometimes I feel this terrible rage, you know? Yes, rage! I’m thinking all the time - why? Why couldn’t he have invested that same kind of time and energy in developing a relationship with me? What does she have that I don’t have? Oh, I don’t have anything against her personally, you know. If I did, I’d probably be tempted to send her a sympathy card but that sounds like sour grapes, doesn’t it?
Still, I’d like to warn her. Has he changed so drastically that he’ll never revert back to his old ways? Will she be able to put up with all his put-downs? The daily barrage of insults? The cold, icy stares? The sullen silences? Will she have to beg him to talk to her?
Will she succumb to forced sex? Will she cheerfully gloss over his sudden rages? His falling asleep at the dinner table because he drinks too much wine? His dirty clothes on the bedroom floor? Bad breath?
My kids - our kids, that is, don’t want to be caught in the middle. Nor should they be. They were rather sheepish in mentioning that they would attend the wedding. By all means! I said almost too emphatically. After all, he is your father, I said. Oh, I pulled it off, all right! Rather brilliantly, I might add. But I’ve been a basket case ever since.
They’ve passed along tid-bits of information like plates of horsd’oeurves being served at a cocktail party. She’s a born-again Christian, they say. I hoot over that one! The man hasn’t been inside a church in twenty years! Her kids (she’s a widow) really don’t like him at all! they say and my brows arch in mock surprise. She runs a very successful business, they say and silently I respond BINGO! That’s it, right there! The sonofabitch is an opportunist - always was, always will be. Somehow I derive satisfaction in knowing these little pieces of information. The devilish voice in my head whispers with wicked delight: It’ll never work out!
The wedding is less than two weeks away. Maybe I would have been better off not knowing the exact date. Maybe I could have managed more rationally if everything had been said in the past tense. Oh, by the way, Daddy got married again last week. An after-the-fact comment. A footnote to the last chapter of a sad, sad, story. Oh well, it didn’t happen that way so I’m sitting here wondering how to get past that day.
Do something to take my mind off the subject, you say? Now you’re beginning to sound like my friend Meeks. You know, I was just thinking about that camping trip again. Have you ever built a campfire out under the stars? To watch the flames lick and swirl around the logs like so many fiery tongues is a mesmerizing experience. You can keep a proper blaze going for hours. In the end though, you’re left with a bed of dying embers - smoldering ash. But it isn’t until you’ve doused it thoroughly with a bucket of water that it finally goes up in smoke.