The one description of myself I could never have imagined as a child, especially in such a Catholic family, was Divorced. And yet, I am. Have been. I was. It is a point of distress, though not shame. I know too many others who have loved, committed, and lost. No longer a huge looming shadow in my life, but a distant landmark of my past.
I have been reading Carolyn Hax of the Washington Post for years now, and find her to be wise and funny, a lovely combination. This past week, there has been discussion there about a person who did not, after a month of dating, inform the writer of his divorce. I side solidly on the side of early, full disclosure in a relationship. Anyone I consider a friend knows of my marital past. I met D before that divorce was final, of course he knew that because he was unit clerk in our National Guard Unit, and had looked up my file. First Guard weekend after I escaped, I found him out to tell him I'd left the marriage, even though we were barely friends, and only in that context, at that point. I was never anything but honest and up front with D.
At the time, though I knew I had to leave, knew the danger was escalating, it was not really escapable without help. I tried for a year. Try getting an apartment without being able to leave a home number. I was living in an alternate reality, where he would beg me to stay, plead with me that we "had something." And throw clothes angrily on the bed in the early morning, to accuse me of worse sins. I didn't just tread on eggshells, I danced on broken glass. I dared not drink, though he drank too much. I was raped, though not - because there was no such thing as rape of a wife by a husband where I lived, then. I allowed it, in lieu of a beating. Although, I had only had slaps and a few bruises at that point, and a replica black powder pistol discharged into the floor. He'd always been drinking when he'd shoved or slammed me up against a wall. And always promised that was the last time. I was crazy. I was tucked down hard, surviving, sleeping beside my worst enemy, keeping him sated and mollified, until I could find a way out.
I was ashamed. That I had not managed to free myself. That I was living with this, and hiding it, putting make-up on the bruises like any battered woman on COPS! Making excuses for him. Then. I decided to tell someone, so that I would not allow another year to go by without getting out. And I found out that I had friends. Then he threw me back onto the washing machine, leaving bruises against my back, and where his fists grabbed my shirt, dead sober. Oh.
We went for the second time to the counselor, the employee assistance one for the library where I worked, though he had been fired. The counselor took me aside, asked me what I wanted.
"I want a divorce."
"You need to tell him."
He brought him back in, and I told him, as I had told him before, but without witnesses, he had not heard, had not believed. He drove home, the scariest drive of my life. And left, telling me he was getting beer, to get drunk. I called the friend I had told.
"I'm coming to get you."
"Oh, I'll be alright." I said, in my fantasy world.
"No, I am not asking you. I am coming to get you. Pack a bag." Dear Maureen. Brave woman.
I was still packing when she arrived, and then he returned. She told him she was taking me. He said that was probably a good idea, and tucked into his beer. We left. I looked up a lawyer. He smashed everything in the apartment, and showed up drunk at my friends' house, giving his pistol to them, claiming to be afraid he would hurt himself. They approached me, and asked why I hadn't mentioned his gun. I had no clear answer. I had to call my mother, and tell her that my husband had been hitting me, the one excuse she would have found acceptable for divorce. I never went back. I grieved as for an amputated, gangrenous limb. I felt a failure, a fool, a liar. All, honestly, true. I was hopeless and bereft. I lived in my friends' basement for two weeks, in search of an affordable apartment, and disrupting their relationship. I was not malingering, I took the first place I could, in a very tight housing market.
D knew all. I hid nothing from him as we approached each other so tentatively. I dated someone else for a few months, assuming D was too young, and I only saw him once a month, anyway, knew precious little about him. I was casting about, with that divorcee appeal that draws in men. It wasn't pretty, but it temporarily shored up my shredded ego. In that last week before we were sent off to Gulf War I, another friend, W, a Vietnam era vet took me to get gear, and I invited D along. W and D talked Robert Anton Wilson, and I was warmed by their connection. The ex was to meet me at the Library, where W's wife worked, with D to provide buffer - though he hadn't realized it (I'd mentioned, but not clearly enough). D briefly met the ex, not realizing the relationship, and went off to bid adieu to friends. (He felt terrible about this, much later. ) I was trapped alone to "say good-bye" to the not quite ex. I pulled away from a kiss, if not his smarmy hug. I was ashamed that I had ever wanted to be with this mess of chaotic manipulation.
The legal divorce came later, and a friend came with me. Ex did not show, although he signed the papers, partly because I paid him some alimony, which he accepted without comment. The judge asked me why, and I said because he drank too much.
He made a note.
He'd been stealing from me.
"And he's been hitting me,"
He signed the papers, and stopped me before I could say more. I didn't cry, then. I had chosen the most concrete reasons. The most legal reasons. The lawyer assured me everything was done. My friend, L, one of several who I didn't know would be there, took me for lunch. Then I cried. I felt strange, and relieved, and empty. I wanted to kill myself and rejoice together. A huge door slammed shut. And a million others swung open.
I am divorced. I failed. I tried again. The triumph of hope over experience. Sometimes, hope is right.
Life has to be loved fiercely. Or it will destroy all.