From the Ashes
A space for myself to gauge all these interesting ups and downs. I tried this; something that every therapist tells you when you go through trauma is to journal about it. And I did the very American thing: I went out and bought things. I bought a very pretty red journal that resembles nothing so much as an emergency flare ("Watch out!"), and even a shiny new pen that writes smoother than Diana Krall singing "The Boy from Ipanema." I bought these things, and used them diligently for about two weeks. Now they sit in a drawer just devoted to containing them, like the Ark of the Covenant. It's been six months since I've written a word in it, and there's enough expectation and frustration contained within that special drawer to melt the face off a Nazi.
I realize what is wrong is that I have no audience. I am a performer, by nature. From my earliest recollections, I was telling and acting out stories for my grandmother, roping her into playing minor roles. Once, in sixth grade, a group of friends and I presented the "Bridge of Death" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but it didn't work the way it was, because it was a part of the larger movie, so I rewrote the ending to give it a... well, an ending. I didn't realize it then, but I directed the scene, too - you stand there, say this a little louder, can you do a funny voice, etc. At junior high graduation, our D.J. was late, so I entertained my classmates for half an hour playing Jerry Lee Lewis songs on the piano. It wasn't until high school and college that I actually got formal training in what became my life calling: acting and directing for the stage. I was good, but not good enough to overcome a lack of interest and ability to market myself, and I never managed to quite rise above semi-professional stage. Which led me here, to law school.
But that's getting ahead of things a little bit.
The saying goes, "lucky in cards, unlucky in love." I'd met my soulmate in high school and married her the day after she turned 18, so I thought it was a foregone conclusion that I would have terrible luck in cards, which followed suit. She was troubled, with an oppressive, bullying father and no one to talk to. We became each other's whole worlds, and I diverted the course of the river of my life in order to marry her and create a life with her. So I whisked her away, but she soon discovered that I wasn't what she thought I was. I had two years of college under my belt, and had learned to live off loans. I didn't work in school; the school gave me loans and scholarships to be there. So, when she came back to school with me and started working, a pattern was set. She was a hard worker, a go-getter, a bootstrapper. She made things happen. I was a dreamer and an idea person. I thought we made a good match. I decided not to go to law school, after all, and pursue a career in the theater.
I graduated a year before her. My first job was a touring show; I was away from home for the better part of seven months. When I came home to visit, I told her, "I missed you so much," to which she replied, "I got a lot done without you here." I stored that up as a funny story of my quirky wife.
She'd agreed to pursue swinging with me, and we found a couple who lived three hours away. We went to visit them and had a magical weekend - we didn't know it at the time, but what we were craving wasn't swinging, it was a quad. The male and I had been messaging back and forth, and had established a rapport As it turns out, he and my wife hit it off in a big way. But his wife turned out to be almost completely lesbian, and definitely not interested in me. We limped along for a couple of months before deciding that it was better not to see one another. I didn't know it at the time, but she had asked him to leave his wife and run away together. He said no.
We moved back home, and continued trying to set up a quad, always trying to recapture the feeling of that initial meeting with that first couple. We "took a break" to have kids, a girl and two boys. She went back to school and got an MBA, throwing herself into her career. I continued trying to make a living at theater. I finally ended up teaching at a snooty private school, and found some success. However, the man who hired me was replaced with someone who didn't really care for me or what I wanted to teach, and edged me out after four years. Meanwhile, she had risen in her job to a high position of authority, a wunderkind that I was so proud of. She finally made enough money that it didn't really matter if I had a job or not; we talked about me staying home with the kids.
I went away to do a show for three weeks, taking my daughter with me. When I got back, she told me: I want a separation. These three weeks without you have been better. Easier. I like it when you're gone. I deserve to find someone who I'm in love with, who will treat me the way I want to be treated.
I cried. I threatened. I screamed. I did everything I could to convince her that I would do anything in order to be who she needed me to be in order to save our family. I had been abandoned as a kid; I'd never had a home. The house we finally bought and lived in for the past seven years was it. Now I was losing everything.
Then she tells me: it's not that simple. That guy we'd swung with, all those years ago, he was back. And he wants a shot. And she wants to give it to him. After thirteen years, I'm going to lose her to him, after all.
We spend a year going to counseling, which doesn't get anywhere, because she's already got one foot out the door. But still, I can't let it go. This is my whole life! I have nothing without her - she's my success and my identity and everything that I've ever wanted: family, home, security. The harder I try to keep her, the more she wants to leave.
We have a relapse on Valentine's Day: she's met him and slept with him, and he goes into some sort of mental breakdown. He checks into a hospital and goes incommunicado for weeks. She feels betrayed. I leave a flower on her desk at work, and she asks me over. She tells me what happened between them, and I forgive her. We spend a weekend together. I cry tears of joy to be in her bed again.
Then, the following week, she tells me it's not going to work. She feels smothered, like it's just going to go back to how it was before. I try to tell her no, I've changed, but she doesn't want to hear it. She's heard from him finally, and he's sorry. She wants him, and not me.
I go another couple of months, twisting, trying desperately to make sense of it all. How could my partner do this? We were one person. It was her and me against the world. Somewhere along the way, I became a burden to her; over the years I got heavier and heavier, until she couldn't hold me up anymore. It was then that I realized: she hadn't really loved me, not like I thought she had. I was a way for her to get away from her dad, and she found herself in this situation that she tried to get out of, but couldn't. So she tried to make it work - she waited for me to change. She thought maybe having kids would do it. She saw glimmers here and there, but I would always relapse into behavior she found unacceptable: being irresponsible with money, mostly. Having no ambition for myself. I realized that she wasn't accepting and loving me for who I was. Nothing I did was ever going to be right, because she just didn't love me, and she had seventeen years' worth of resentment built up. She was never going to want me, ever again.
It was hard to accept that. I did, though. What choice did I have?
And then came Holly.
I'd been a teacher for four years. She was a former student I'd always gotten along with. I had a strict Facebook policy as a teacher: if you friend request me, I will okay it, but I won't seek anyone out. So some kids ended up on my friend list. It was fun to keep an eye out for what they were doing in college. It was a wealthy school, so they would go on crazy vacations and post crazy pictures.
Holly was smart and wise beyond her years. I'd overhear conversations she was involved in, and think, "Holly, someday you're going to make some young man very happy." She read de Sade. She was openly bisexual. Me, being a good teacher and happily married, rooted for her to tear up whatever college campus she found herself at.
But now, in the throes of my divorce, she starts talking to me. Deliberately. Regularly. More and more often. Then, the bombshell comes: "I think you're really attractive. I had the hugest crush on you when I was your student. If I had come to your office and tried to make out with you, what would you have done?"
At first, I'm sure Ashton Kutscher is waiting to punk me somewhere. I dither. I throw out something non-committal and easily deniable, like, "I'd be flattered, of course!" But she presses. She likes me. She'd like to meet me for coffee.
And I struggle with this for a while. I was a good, dedicated teacher. I never sought this out. She's in college, for God's sake. I've been hesitant about dating women in their mid twenties, much less... however old she is that scares me so much I don't even want to do the math.
But we meet, because, in the end, her interest is flattering. She's a beautiful, smart, funny girl with the world spread out before her, limitless possibilities and resources to match... and she wants me? So we meet. And we meet again soon afterward. And again. We talk every day. And soon I'm swept up in a current of emotion and I know exactly what it is, but I'm glad for it! Is there any better morphine than NRE for the gutting and gnashing of the termination of a twenty year relationship? And so, to quote Barney Stinson, We Ride!
Negotiations. I care about her. I know she can't be tied down to an old man while she finishes college across the country. I've been through that already, and I can't do that to her. Besides, that's exactly what I don't want - over-commitment too early, and she gets older and wiser and discovers one fine day that she's never really loved me at all... no thank you. Been there, done that, wearing the tee shirt.
She has this talent: I say something that I think could potentially upset her, and she comes back with not just, "that doesn't bother me at all," but "that's a great idea! How about we make it even better by doing xyz?" She's been envisioning an open relationship the whole time. I'd discovered poly sites back in my swinging days, and thought maybe that's what I'd experienced and was trying desperately to recapture.
And so, here I am. In a long-distance relationship with a beautiful young girl, marriage officially over any day now, trying to be a good father, working to not only finish law school, but finish on top so I can provide the things I should have been more attentive to the entire time. I feel like the universe saw me drowning and threw me a life preserver: not the one I was envisioning, but something that could be, dare I say, even better?
Which brings us up to today. :)
So today would have been seventeen years. I've known this day was coming, and I've been a little curious how I was going to react. For a while, I was planning on sending flowers. But now that it's here... it just seems so pointless. I don't want her back at this point. She wants me back even less. I find myself grieving for something that hasn't existed for a long time... it's like burning to bring the murderer of a dinosaur to justice. What's the point, really?
But I am a sentimental guy, so I mark anniversaries. This is the last one. It feels significant. So today I mentally raise a glass and allow myself to mourn a bit. For something young and innocent and beautiful that died before its time. Something that deserved more attention than it got. Something that should have lasted forever, but didn't. I feel like a young man in the twenty second row.
I feel sadness, but not anger, and that's a step forward, I think.
So I did something incredibly impulsive, which I am prone to do when infatuated with someone: I booked a flight out to see Holly in Boston. We had a conversation about her birthday, and I asked what she was planning. "Nothing." Well, are your friends taking you out? "No." She seemed a little down about it, changing the subject abruptly and pointedly not returning. So, I figured, I would ride in on my white horse and save her.
So, I booked the trip.
It could have been disastrous, I know. But I did it, and I asked her, "which do you prefer, surprise, or anticipation?" She chose anticipation, so I told her I was coming. Luckily, she was overjoyed, and left it up to me to plan the day. We're going to walk around Boston, checking out the Freedom Trail, possibly a museum or two, and end the day with a sunset clam bake on one of the Harbor Islands. To put it mildly, I'm looking forward to it.
That's a long trip! Have fun!
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