My husband never ceased to amaze me for all the time I was married to him. I would think I had something all figured out, and it would turn out that no, I really didn’t. Not by the longest shot I could imagine. Toward the end of our marriage we got into couples counseling with a highly recommended shrink. I looked forward to it because I felt that finally, we would get some real help communicating.
I thought, since he agreed to come to counseling at all, that my husband would work on the marriage because he really did care about me and wanted our relationship to work. The only other option I could think of was that if he didn’t care about me, he would work on the marriage because he knew how much a divorce would cost. That option might buy us some time, I thought, even if the marriage was on shaky ground. Maybe we had a chance of figuring this out. My husband was a very successful salesman, after all. He was highly motivated by money.
Just about the time I realized that counseling was not going to repair the rifts between us, my brother was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma. I couldn’t deal with my brother’s illness and my marriage at the same time. We dropped out of counseling while I flew back and forth from Colorado to New York City to be with my brother. My husband bitched not about the time I was gone, or the fact that he had to deal with taking care of our kids, then 11 and 15, but about the money. Especially when I dared to change my flight dates at the last minute due to some change in my brother’s treatment, and spent an extra hundred dollars here and there revising the flight schedules.
Once I booked a three-day weekend in New York when it was obvious the treatment wasn’t going to buy him much more time. “Chris, why are you going for such a short visit?” my friend asked. “What are you going to think of yourself when a few months from now you no longer have a brother and you look back on this time and kick yourself that you didn’t stay longer?” She had a point. I changed my flight and gave myself a few more days. I paid the fee to do so. My husband held that over my head shortly after my brother died.
“I know you were playing games with money to piss me off while your brother was sick,” he told me. “I had to pay those penalties to change your flights not just once, but a few times.”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing what he was saying. “How can you even say that?” I screamed. “Other than my children my brother was the human being I felt closest to on the planet!” I would have stood in line with the junkies to sell my blood plasma if I needed to, to get the money to go see my brother. I would have sold or hocked anything I personally owned to be able to get on a plane. My husband knew that very well. I had told my husband once during counseling that if I was going to play games with him about money, he would know it without a second thought.
At the time I was thinking of a joint savings account we had with a very large balance. I could have emptied that account and hidden the money and there would have been little he could have done to prevent it. That’s what I was talking about in terms of a “game.” It never occurred to me to worry about a few hundred dollars in fees to change flights.
I learned a very hard lesson from that exchange. My husband thought it was okay to kick me when I was down. There were other things he did during that time that showed me just how much he wasn’t my friend, or someone I could count on. And the counseling? I realized there was an option that hadn’t even been on my radar at the time. My husband never did believe that I would leave if things didn’t change, even though I had been telling him that as clearly as I knew how. Therefore he didn’t have to work on the relationship, period, other than to show up. He could behave any way he wanted, he thought, and often did. In his mind I had no credibility.
It took me years to recover from losing my brother. My mother’s death followed not that long after my brother died. I didn’t experience much support coming from my husband in either case. It’s not that he couldn’t offer support. Early in our marriage my father had passed away and he had been totally different. But now it was obvious something fundamental had changed.
I realized as I sat with my brother in those last weeks of his life that if it had been me suffering from that terminal disease and not him, I never would have had the level of support around me that he did. My brother and his spouse were divorced at the time of his illness. She took him in and cared for him at the end when she had no obligation whatsoever to do so. “Wouldn’t you do the same for me if I was dying and you knew I had no one?” she asked. It made me think. On so many levels I had “no one” and I was still married.
I did eventually file for divorce. It’s been by far the hardest thing I ever did because it involved so many relationships at the same time; grieving for those I had loved and lost to death, to change as my children left the nest, and to dissolution of so many precious dreams, which is mostly all that was left of the marriage. The hardest kernel of all within that realization was how I had deserted myself.
I’ve had four years to find out just who I might be. I like this person I am so much better than that ghost-like woman who moved through her life without much presence. Where had I gone? What had become of me? I guess that doesn’t matter so much anymore. What matters most is I can look in the mirror today, and today there is someone looking back. I promise never to lose her again.