“I do,” I said.
I pledged my love to her, and I was sincere. I loved her. I loved her smiling face, her happy heart, and our unlimited potential.
I pledged to cherish, to love, to honor. Through sickness, I said. Through hardship and frustration and tough times, even if money wasn’t there. Through pain, and through uncertainty, through life and through death.
And I meant it.
We were young, and what did we know? Things change. I soon found I didn’t like being yelled at. Apparently, I needed to be yelled at often. Her smile had faded some, I noticed.
We tried counseling, and things got better for a time. Soon afterward, children came, and everything was different. Kids have a way of making you focus on the big things, like where you actually left the children; it turns out you have to keep a close eye on them at all times. There were new experiences to be had, new lives to share, thousands of toys to be played with, and bedtime songs to be sung. And we had to keep an eye on those children! The petty problems seemed petty, and they were soon forgotten.
Kids get older, and as ours grew, they didn’t need as much attention. They began to make their own way, as they should. Without the kids to focus on, however, the old problems between us resurfaced. This time they were more difficult, more persistent, more frequent than before. They were still petty. One thing that hadn’t changed: I still didn’t like to be yelled at, and it seemed that she thought I needed to be yelled at more than ever.
We tried counseling again, but it didn’t help this time. Things seemed to get worse. We’d traveled this road together for many years, she and I, and we had a lot of time and effort invested. There were memories. I didn’t even consider divorce; staying married was the only option. I noticed though that her happy heart wasn’t so happy anymore. Neither was mine. Joy was gone.
In a fit of romantic passion, I asked her to start fresh, to marry me all over again, to renew our vows and re-experience that newly wedded bliss, to begin again. She declined. I’m married to a woman for 20 years, and she declines to marry me again.
I was devastated. The only thing that can possibly be more heartbreaking than the woman you love turning down your marriage proposal is the woman that you are married to rejecting you, saying she didn’t want to do it over. I hurt like I didn’t know was possible.
Still, I tried to make change happen. I wasn’t about to give up. I pleaded. I argued. I begged. I prayed. I cried. I sat alone, I slept alone, I hurt alone. Can we continue to live this life, I asked? I knew I couldn’t, not for long.
Once again, a last ditch effort, we tried counseling. This time, the counselor wasn’t encouraging; things might not ever change, he told me. That unlimited potential we started out with, those happy hearts, those smiles, they were now gone for good.
I needed a change.
It still took months for me to reach the point where I realized that change wasn’t going to come, that I was waiting for something that wouldn’t appear. I had to become the change I needed, I saw. It was a hard decision to reach, as it probably should be.
It’s always hardest on the kids, they say, and that’s probably true, but it can’t be any harder on the kids than forcing them to live in turmoil, I figured. Isn’t it better than teaching them the same pattern of dysfunction to be repeated in their own marriages for their own children to see?
I told her it was time, that I’d finally reached the point where I needed to leave. “Why?” she wanted to know. I didn’t want to be yelled at, couldn’t take being interrupted, didn’t want to argue, I explained. She yelled. She interrupted. She argued. It was the confirmation I needed.
So I became the change I needed. I left. Reluctantly, I left.
To take the most productive years of your life and give them to someone else to share, those days when you’re developing a career, making a home, raising children, and finding your place in the world, is an act of genuine love.
To walk away from that investment and those memories, that potential, that is an act of desperation. You don’t give up so much, unless there’s really nothing left to give. You don’t allow someone to walk away from those things either, unless there’s nothing to keep. I left. She let me go.
Tonight I sit alone, left-over pizza beside me, my watered-down root beer in my hand. I sit alone and I wonder. Was there something else I should have done? Could things have been different? How are my girls are faring? Do they miss me? When will I see them again? How were their days? Did they get my last text message? Was there something else I should have done? Could things have been different? How are my girls? I sit lonely, alone.
There’s nothing more lonely than warm tears and cold pizza.
There are moments when I miss her, when I miss her companionship, miss the years we invested in each other. Other times, I have to talk to her on the phone for something; invariably, she reminds me why I left, and I’m grateful for that.
And so I am alone, but I’m also at peace. I can talk to my television, I can talk to the walls, I can talk to myself on and on and on about anything, and never be interrupted. I’m never challenged, I never have to argue, and I never have to explain what I meant by that. I can throw away my own garbage any damn way I please, without having to be corrected over how the cereal box should be flatter.
Am I better off? Was I right to walk away, to give up, to start life over again? Do I think the uncertainty and the loneliness are a fair trade for what I left?
(Written January, 2014)