Looking at Layers

“I’m like an onion. You can peel away my layers, but the further you go, the more it’ll make you cry.”  ― Laura Carstairs-Waters

I really connected to this therapist and it turns out that a ‘connection’ with your counselor is vital to your healing. I tell my own clients this all the time; if there is no rapport, find a new one! Of course, one of the first things she wanted to know about is how my child hood was. I recounted the many moves, my parents’ divorce, my sibling connections, how I was a primary caregiver, etc., and praised the job my mom and dad did overall. I talked about how great it was to grow up in a small town and to see my parents happier with the partners they chose the second time around. I talked for almost the whole hour and her eyes got bigger and bigger as the clock ticked. I really do laugh about this today but then – I was dead serious. I thought I had a great childhood!! I was completely oblivious as to how my childhood shaped my thoughts, feelings, or perspective about the world. I just hadn’t ever given it a second thought. I was who I was and I had an image of who I needed to be. I strived to be that person regardless of the obstacles of distorted cognition’s that developed in childhood.  [We therapists are not looking back to BLAME anyone but to understand who the person on the couch really is – so many clues!] Nonetheless, she was wide eyed and I was smug. When I said, “it was great”, she said “well, OK then.” Little did I realize she was probably thinking about how much work there was to do!

I began to learn about myself bit by bit as she ‘peeled back’ the proverbial onion. I realized that I was a caregiver. Something that was blatantly obvious to many others was just being awakened in my consciousness. I knew that I always jumped in and took care of people but I never thought about why. I also learned that I took care of these people without regard to what I needed. In fact, I wasn’t aware of how to discern what my needs looked like and really wouldn’t for several more years. I realized that I did very little for myself and resentment of it lived in my subconscious, leaking out in the form of passive aggressive behavior more often that I would have liked to admit. I learned that I thought people would not like me if I said “no” to them. I had lots of thoughts really that were fairly misconstrued, some of which were based on ideas in my mind that were just plain false and others that I had due to some assumption that I had made over time. More on the specifics of these – later.

Most importantly, I learned how many of these things impacted my ability to be a good partner to my husband. I love to argue a point. I cherished my time on the debate team in school and probably should have become an attorney. I enjoy defending a position, especially if I feel like I am educated on the topic. In fact, my father and brothers are very much like me in that regard and I grew up in an environment where debating was the way that we communicated with one another on various levels. Well, Hubby did not. In actuality, Hubby felt like each time I entered into debate mode I was simply trying to be right, to run him down, to be better than or ‘one up’ him. That’s not what was happening in my mind – ever – but with counseling, I was able to see how my ‘debating’ behavior could have been interrupted in that manner. I never really cared to be right – only engage in the argument. Although, I will admit that I rarely entered into a full on debate unless I was certain of the information and the odds that I was ‘wrong’ were quite low.

I learned that having children was all consuming for me. I loved those kids to the moon and back – more really. They started my day with love and even though I was usually really ready for them to go to bed by eight, I tucked them each in with hugs and kisses, full of gratitude for their sweetness and genuine naiveté. Francis was growing into such a great young man, so self-sufficient and helpful. I was incredibly protective of him, often to the demise of Hubby’s discipline because I thought there was too much responsibility placed on him. Hubby was tough. He never had time to ‘grow into’ fatherhood – it just happened with my six-year-old. I believe that his interest was in developing character and integrity but our values on how to foster those qualities varied significantly and I often disagreed with his approach. As such, I became a defender and interfered perhaps too much (although I may do it again under the same conditions). The dedication with which I embarked on mothering used the majority of my ‘giving’ energy and generally left little for Hubby. On many occasions I recall asking him to be ‘an adult’ about this – that the children were only young for a while. In retrospect, I needed to assimilate ‘balance’ into this area of my life as well so that Hubby time was also a part of my day.

I learned also that I am a fast processor. I am quick on my feet to render information, decipher it, and respond on point. This, generally was in contrast to Hubby who had to think and consider what he heard before he could constitute a response that felt appropriate to him. Essentially, this made me ‘hot headed’ even though I didn’t have a temper per se, I sought a response quickly and would ‘chase’ down an answer. There was more than one occasion where I literally followed behind him demanding resolution with tone and frustration. It also was not perceived in the way that I intended but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I took my responsibility for change seriously. I knew that I had to learn how to give in ways that I hadn’t before. I was all geared up to be better, to be the wife that would be hard to walk away from, to be ‘all in’. It was possible that I had been ‘holding back’, unwilling to be completely and totally vulnerable in case something happened. I needed to be more open and emotionally available. I know I didn’t ’cause’ him to behavior poorly or cause him to be disrespectful but I was one half of this partnership and I wanted to own my part.

We learned about ourselves and about one another in so much as we were open to hearing. One can only absorb so much at a time. We both knew that we had to individually change some behaviors if our relationship was going to progress. I saw what I needed to do and I clearly communicated what elements I needed from him; fidelity, honesty, and respect. I think he tried, but it wasn’t meant to be.

 

 

The Next Move

“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us – and those around us – more effectively.” — Louisa May Alcott

Hubby was full of remorse, truly exhibiting heartbroken behavior as well. He was so sad and shamed that I began to worry about him. I asked his mom to come and get all of the guns and ammo that was in our house as I was scared that he would hurt himself. He also, was overcome with pain. I found myself caring, wanting to protect him – to reach out. It’s a surreal experience to extend yourself toward the fire, daring to be burned again.

He spent quality time with our children and appeared even more sad afterwards. He knew he had jeopardized our family, our lifestyle. The fear of not being with the children full time emitted from him with palpable energy. I felt kind of sorry for him and yet it was from a distant place, another ‘me’, one who was not hurting. He said all of the right things but I was yet unwilling to move from my “Go to Hell” stance and so he left. I had no idea where he went.

Tom called me. He had a few choice words for my husband, naturally I agreed with most of them. He wanted to know if I was alright – how does one answer that inquiry? What is the definition of OK after discovering the person you love was cheating? Tom was also filled with doubts and more questions. He was hurting too. So much pain – so many people afflicted with anguish because of… what – sex? Loneliness? An Impulse? We had questions but there were no quick answers. He told me they would be moving, he was choosing to stay with her but he was taking her away, closer to where he worked. I was happy to know they were gone but in some crevice of my mind I knew I would miss my friend.

One day the doorbell rang and it was Pastor R from church. He looked at me with a sad smile and asked me how I was doing. It seemed that Hubby had gone to him for counsel and support, R wanted to check on me. He listened to my perspective of the situation and then – as any good pastor would do – he counseled me on forgiveness. I’ve always remembered he quoted Luke, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him”. As a Christian, I was called to forgive this man who lied, cheated, and stole moments and memories from me. As a wife, I was reminded that it was “God who will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous”. That I, as a wife, should know to honor my promise – the one I made in my vows; “in good times, and in bad times”.  I was starting to resent religion but listened politely and knew that he was doing his job. He started the mental ball rolling for me though – was I really ready to throw in the towel? Did I want to quit right now?

My mother was really helpful walking me through all these questions as they ran the gamut through my mind. What would I do? I didn’t have a degree and our profession was predominately a commission only field – could I support us? We were heavily leveraged after starting a new business, how would that affect Hubby’s ability to support two households? Did I really want to have to work full time? How would I afford day care? Baby Em was barely a month old at this point… what were my options really? Mom was being really pragmatic and never asked about love or desire… she was mostly interested in the rudimentary aspects of survival. That was her gig. She was of the generation of women who didn’t ‘ask questions’, they persevered and plowed through marital discourse in the interest of the family at large. I was more ethereal, I loved this man. What about my dream? The children need a father. What if he is really sorry? What if this was just a mistake? What if God really expects me to forgive him? So many questions still. Mom asks “What are you going to do?” I felt lost.

A few more days go by and Mom has to leave. I knew I would miss her company and support. I wasn’t ready to be alone but I understood that she had dedicated a lot of time to my needs and I was only one of the people who still depended on her. I talk with Michele every day and she takes over for mom as a voice of reason when I am too full of rage or when I can’t find the strength to get out of my jammies. Other than our mothers and Michele, no one really knows what has happened in our lives. I am ashamed of us. I am shamed – period. While rationale and reasoning would say that I was a victim here, I believed that if I had been a better wife, a better mother, a better support person, less fat, less bitchy, less controlling, etc… he wouldn’t have cheated. I was taking on a LOT of the emotional responsibility for the absence of happiness that Hubby is now claiming to have felt.

Just two or three weeks’ post discovery, Hubby and I are talking more. He continues to express remorse and regret for the indiscretion every time we talk. He wants to come home, to work things out. He loves me, he says. He found a place to ‘live’ – sleep really – in an old farm house with a few dudes … he has a room. I go there. We talk about reconciliation and how things would need to be different. He mentions that there is a counselor in the building where his office is located and asks me to consider going. I say that I will think about it.

I stand at the island in my kitchen watching my children at the dinner table.  Baby Emily is gently swaying in her swing sucking away on a pacifier, being lulled to sleep. The girls are kneeling in their chairs to reach their dinner plate and Francis is quietly eating. It is another memory burned into my mind because it is in that moment I realize I have to fight for this marriage. I realize that my children are worth fighting for. Our lives will be so very difficult if I don’t make an effort to reconcile with their father. Raising four children is a challenge with two adults in the house, and would be crazy difficult if I were to attempt to do it by myself. I wasn’t sure I had it in me. But more than that – wasn’t I responsible for teaching them forgiveness and fortitude? As their mother and role model, wasn’t it my job to set an example of courage and resilience? If I ended this now, would they see me as a quitter? I knew that I needed to try and create a marriage that was a model for determination and resolve; of love and respect. In that moment, I knew I would agree to counseling and keep trying to be Hubby’s wife.

*some names have been changed in the interest of privacy

Photo credit: alsis35 (now at ipernity) via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Crippling Questions

One thing you can’t hide – is when you’re crippled inside.” — John Lennon

The moment of Dee’s admission is burned into my memory as clearly as if it happened yesterday, almost as brilliantly as my memory of watching Rocky fall backward after electricity conducted in his hands. I remember what I was wearing and I recall the short walk back to my van. I vaguely recollect the phone conversations I made between her house and mine. I remember sitting in the rocking chair and holding my new baby, only two weeks old, wondering how the hell I was going to take care of her.

There is a compassionate numbness that engulfs our consciousness during times of extreme pain as if to protect our hearts from literally exploding and poisoning our bloodstream with heartbreak. It serves a distinct purpose as it allows us to function mechanically, doing what needs to be done, bearing our responsibilities. I was a mother with four children, three of them under five years of age. I had obligations and I felt unable to crumble in the way that I wanted. I would have preferred to melt into my bed and merge into selfish dreams of an easier life.

I don’t remember details of that day after I returned home. I have no recollection of where Hubby was or where he went, only that I could not or would not look at him. I don’t recall where the children were or who exactly was caring for them. It could have been Francis, maybe I mustered through it. I know it was a summer afternoon and I can see – in my mind’s eye – where I was sitting when my mother came in that day. She came back for me, to take me away, or to help me, or to save me… she was there, and as I did so many years prior when my world fell apart the first time, I again buried my head in her lap and sobbed until every tear had fallen.

It’s such a cliché to say that I was heartbroken but when you are physically aware of an ache there, in your chest where your life force exists, what else is there to say? My heart hurt. I had allowed myself to love again and even though I had been warned, sign after sign, I was unprepared for the reality of deceit. I had been in such deep denial regarding both the man I married and the friend I thought I had made. Pictures flooded my brain, over and over of the times we were all together. I saw things in my remembering that I had missed the first time around. Oh how stupid I felt! I went through it all again and again, trying to decipher when and where there was time and opportunity. It was right there in front of me – daring me to notice and their intentionality of it made me sick – physically ill. My body ached; my stomach was nauseous, the muscles around my ribs hurt from sobbing, and my throat was sore from extended bouts of crying. These feelings of loss were so familiar, different factors but excruciatingly similar.

I’m not sure where the experience of this affair ended and memories of Rocky’s death began. The pain I was feeling now punctured old wounds of loss from a decade earlier and I was reminded of feelings that had been buried as hope for a new life grew. This time, it was much more complicated. Instead of one child – I had four. I was eleven years older and still having not finished college, my employability was wrapped completely in a business that WE operated. I had allowed myself to love and dream and hope and plan…

I wondered where, when, how, and why… the ‘why’ just wouldn’t leave me alone. I could almost understand why Dee was attracted to my man, he was handsome enough, charming, and always helpful. Her husband was gone so often and she felt alone but why ‘my’ guy?? I wondered how she could have sex with him and then look me in the eye the next day, smile with me, laugh with me, or pretend with me. Was it the same kind of denial that I had operated under? Was it a disassociation, a disconnect from reality that merely offered her an opportunity to survive? How did she reconcile her heart? Was she ashamed, guilty, or sorry? I didn’t even know if she was sorry. After I realized she was affirming my fear I stopped paying attention to her words… was she sorry? Does she have any idea of what I was going through? Isn’t there some kind of honor code that women are supposed to adhere to? Or friends at least?

I couldn’t turn off my mind. It kept me awake with silent questioning; constant and unrelenting wondering thoughts and images that promoted more of the same. Hubby had tried talking with me but I wasn’t having it. Now, I felt ready to ask him about some of the details that were rolling around in my head. It’s extremely curious that people who have been injured by infidelity want particulars as if somehow knowing all of the pertinent information will make it sensible or easier to digest. I felt as if I needed answers – if there were any – to my questions; I called Hubby.

He had been trying to reach out to me but getting through my mother was no small feat. When I finally called him, he answered on the first ring. Essentially what I heard was that he didn’t have any answers as to ‘why’ – “it just happened”. He insisted that he hadn’t intended to hurt me, that it was a mistake, an accident (doesn’t really fit the description of accident but I was listening). He was apologetic, sad, and more humble than I had ever imagined he could be. ‘It’ happened a few times, blah… blah… blah…

I have no evidence for the details I heard and I wasn’t sure then if they were true anymore than I know for sure today. When people – anyone – breaches trust so violently, there is rarely a tale told that is fully, completely believed going forward. It might be the truth and then again – it may not.  It’s never again really clear if the individual is covering his or her ass or being openly vulnerable. At some point, the injured person simply acquiesces to what ‘feels’ like the truth or something that kind of resonates internally. You learn to live with ‘uncertainty’.

Hubby was full of remorse and wanted to see the children. He was gentle when he asked if he could come by the house to spend time with the kids and talk if I felt like it. We scheduled some time when mom – who was still there caring for us – could standby.

Photo credit: Ksayer1 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA      

Broken

“The worst pain in the world goes beyond the physical. Even further beyond any other emotional pain one can feel. It is the betrayal of a friend.” — Heather Brewer

It happened and then it was over, in the matter of seconds. Instantly, I thought I had imagined it. Dee gave me a gift and I opened a beautiful dress, size 0-3 months… Baby Emily could wear it right away. She left after a while and I confronted Hubby about the experience of having them arrive together and share ‘a moment’ with the baby. “What is going on?” I begged him to answer the question. He continued to negate any accusation that I threw out, telling me “nothing was happening” at every turn. Essentially, everything I presented was dismissed as nonsense as soon as it was spoken. I wasn’t convinced. Something was happening and I could feel it. My mind and body were alert… they perceived danger as if there was a railroad crossing stuck in the up position; you knew it was trying to warn you but nothing was stopping you from moving ahead.

We took Em home and rolled along as we have always done. My mom came to help in any way that we could think of – she was a baby whisperer. Hubby was a great help as I adjusted to a different sleep schedule but it was summer so everything was more relaxed than during a typical school year. I thanked God for Francis on a daily basis. His help and support was irreplaceable. I wasn’t relenting on the feelings that existed so strongly, so unsettling – about Dee and Hubby’s connection and its breach of boundaries. We argued about it non-stop and I was insistent… we would have to stop being friends. For some reason, I needed Hubby to buy into the plan of not entertaining a friendship with Dee and Tom. My impression was that he was rather hesitant to agree. It fueled my anger.

Mom knew something was off but since I wasn’t offering an explanation, she left for ‘the farm’ (my grandparent’s home) after a week. I turned into someone I didn’t know. For a couple of weeks, I was tenacious with my demands that he agree to stop any and all contact with Dee. I was tired, hormonal, and suspicious – extremely toxic combinations by any measure. The icing on the cake for me was when I took Ems to the doctor for typical post-birth weigh in. She had an eye infection that the doctor said was common with certain types of sexually transmitted diseases. She asked me if there was a possibility for that to be the case and I honestly couldn’t answer… I was in an almost state of nausea these days.

I went home and confronted – once again – my husband, with the information from the pediatrician and he imploded. He was defensive and angry. I made a decision in that moment that our relationship with the Gregg family was over. With or without STD’s – (a panel had been completed on both me and baby Em) – there were too many questions surrounding the camaraderie that existed between those two people.

The panels were negative and I was accused of making up information in order to trap a confession; I referred him to the doctor for validation and verification. I went to Dee’s home. I called her from the driveway and asked her to meet me outside. She came out and made some reference to how great I looked (after giving birth only two weeks prior, I was wearing my own clothing – a response to the stress I was experiencing). I told her that I did not like what was happening at home, that my husband seemed obsessed with her and there were too many issues coming between us for our families to be friends any longer.

Her face changed. She appeared apologetic and scared. Her eyes became emotional and wet, her breathing changed. It was interesting to watch – in a matter of nano seconds, she became contrite and sheepish. There was something unexplainable in her demeanor that unleashed a knowingness in me… “you’ve been sleeping with him”… it was almost a whisper from inside of me and I watched in horror as she shook her head in an affirmative nod. She was confessing – there in her driveway under a late July sun – to sleeping with my husband. My good friend … the mom of my child’s friend… the wife of Tom… my friend… no, not a friend… a bitch.

I said nothing. Mentally, I was screaming “I knew it… I’m not crazy… I knew it”.  I walked back to my van in slow motion without a sound in the universe interrupting my thoughts. There was nothing. There was a void of pain, of anything really. I was once again on auto-pilot yet my heart was racing and breathing was difficult. My entire body was simply trying to fuel my nervous system into automatic action – keeping my heart beating rhythmically and my lungs moving in unison to inhale and exhale appropriately. I started the automobile and backed out of the driveway while I picked up my cell phone and called my mother. “I was right, they were fucking… all along, they were fucking”, I couldn’t say anything else. She said she’d be there in a few hours and hung up the phone.

I called Hubby on his cell. “I want you out of my life… you have 24 hours”, and I hung up.

There is no way to explain the feeling one has when you discover your beloved partner has been lying and deceiving you for any period of time. It really does not matter if it was once or two hundred times – the fact that you didn’t listen to your hunches – to the fiber optic strands that ran through your life in neon colors to warn you – it sends you into a flat spin. It stops time. In the moment you realize that you were a fool, the world takes on a different weight and it all sits on your shoulders. Couple that intense emotion with the idea that your ‘friend’ – someone you confided in and trusted to be on your side regardless – also violated the faith allowed yourself to develop. Faith that she would ‘have your back’.

It seemed as though I had always doubted him, it wasn’t a surprise that he would delude me although in all honestly, I had just begun to trust that this ‘spontaneous decision’ I had made was the right one… that it would work out. I had allowed myself to believe in love again. He had given me all the clues but I ignored them and now I was going to end my marriage, or rather, he had ended it by being unfaithful, by lying in my face, by cheating on me.

I got home and picked up my baby. I sat with her and sang as a river of tears began their flow across my face.

*some names have been changed in the interest of privacy

Denial Meets Crazy

“A bad friend is is worse than an enemy, an enemy you can see and avoid, but to detect an insincere friend is hard” – Bangambiki Habyarimana

I sat there in disbelief, shaking my head as if to clear the image or thinking that I would rewind the last 30 seconds of my life. I kicked his other leg – hard. “What are you doing”, I asked him -there on the spot. “What?” he responds with attitude. There was surprise in his voice as if he was challenging me to go further. I didn’t. I sat there watching though. I replayed the evening over again in my mind.

I wound the clock back to when Dee and Tom arrived with the beer – that beer that had been requested so casually, so intimately. I recalled conversation that flowed so easily, so familiar, almost as if Tom wasn’t even there with us. I remembered – now suspect behavior – Dee getting up to use the bathroom; a second or two later Hubby got up to get more beer. They came back to the patio together. Again, Hubby goes inside to pee, Dee goes in to grab more snacks. Now that I was thinking about it, this pattern existed through the evening without regard for Tom or me and here he was playing ‘footsies’ under the table, right in front of me.

I know what I saw. I watched his foot intentionally move against her leg, not in an accidental manner, but with purpose, along her calf up to her knee and she was smiling. I looked up to see her glancing at him with recognition I didn’t know existed but only for a microsecond and then she looked at me with normalcy.

I felt sick. Terribly sick. I was questioning the exchange almost as quickly as I felt it. His questioning response, her normal gaze in my direction – was I imagining all of this? I kept watching but it didn’t happen again – that I saw. I didn’t know what to do – should I cause a scene and get mad? Did I really see that? Should I alert Tom to my fear? What about my friend? I couldn’t believe she would be a voluntary participant in this… she’s my friend, a good friend. Jesus, what was happening?

Everything was spinning in my mind, I had to go to bed. That was what I did – I went to bed to process, ignore, deny, file, shuffle, replay, and reject thoughts that didn’t fit the vision of my life. I just couldn’t fully accept the idea that a friend of mine and my husband would engage – literally, in front of me – an inappropriate series of gestures … it simply wouldn’t compute. I ignored the details and allowed myself to carry on as if everything was as it had been. I woke up, got the kids ready for school and went about my day. I didn’t talk to Dee for a couple of days but she eventually called, asking me if everything was ok. I said “yes” and we continued as we had been – spending time together with our children. I did defer on the ‘family time’ somewhat as a precaution but I didn’t find another reason to be concerned.

Michele came out to visit one afternoon and as usual, I shared some of my concerns with her. I explained that I had questions but that they were unfounded and I was being ‘careful’ and yet something felt unsettled. She was – as always – my friend and validated my feelings genuinely. An hour or so after she left, she called to tell me that she had seen Dee’s van parked in the lot at Hubby’s office that day on her drive home (it was normal to pass that way as the office was on a main thoroughfare).  Of course, the nausea signal in my stomach returned with a desire for there to be some simple explanation.

Later that day Hubby was home and we were – as usual – sharing our day. I mentioned Michele was there most of the day and he proceeded to tell me that Dee had been at the office because she was thinking about leaving Tom and wanted some advice. While we weren’t attorneys, it wasn’t uncommon for people to ask our counsel about divorce and financial matters. That reason resonated with me. Dee had been really unhappy in recent months. Tom’s travel schedule had him out of town most of the week, most of the month, most of the year so far. It was lonely for her. She was raising three children predominately by herself and it was hard. When he was in town, he had little time for her frustrations. It made sense that she would ask Hubby his advice. I told him that her car had been spotted there and he got upset that someone had been looking – Why was I playing detective? He wanted to know. Clearly, that hadn’t been my intention but his defensiveness caught me off guard. All I could think was, ‘chill out’.

My radar was on full screen. A week or two later, I was at the office and found toys there that hadn’t been there before. Hubby claimed they were for Dee’s son when he was at the office last, but something about that statement didn’t calculate correctly… I had babysat for her recently – was it the day he was speaking of? It didn’t make sense. I attempted to address some of my concerns with Hubby but each time, I was rebuked. My “imagination was overactive” he would claim.

Mid-summer arrived and so did baby #4. Emily Lyn – named after my favorite Aunt, a woman who has more grace in her little finger than I do in my whole body – was born early July. In fact, we call her our boom-boom baby as I am sure after watching fireworks, she was just too curious about all the ‘fuss’ she heard on the outside and decided to make her entrance. I was overjoyed to be welcoming that little on into the world and knew in my heart that since God had made the ‘baby decision’ for us, she would be a special blessing. Not that the other three weren’t of course…

Ironically, I was in the same hospital room as Michele had been just two weeks before when she delivered her little girl…. Our lives paralleled so tightly.

Em was born at 3 am on a Saturday and by six, Hubby left to get some rest. Later, Grandmom brought the kids down to see their new sister and once again we felt like a big happy family. We have video of that day and it’s still as precious to me now as it was then; seeing the gentle embraces from one sister to another.  By Sunday I was ready to go home; moms don’t get any rest in a hospital but the doctors wanted to keep us til Monday morning. Dee had called and wanted to come see the baby that afternoon. I was happy to have some company.

Hubby arrived early afternoon and within a few minutes Dee walked in. Coincidence? My thoughts were like a hurricane, reeling and robbing me from the joy of the moment. I felt paranoid and irrational. I recall a distinct sense that they had driven together and I may even have asked but of course, it was a silly question – even in my mind. No one would admit to that, right? Hubby picked up baby Emily in his arms and was cradling her softly – a very proud father. Dee walked up and stood shoulder to shoulder with him, oohh’ing and aahh’ing like anyone who loves babies would. Both of them had their backs to me and like a photograph that is snapped for a permanent record of a moment, my mind recalls that instant. I felt invisible sitting there in my hospital bed while by husband and my best friend were holding and googling over my baby.

*some names have been changed in the interest of privacy

Well That’s Awkward

“The most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie.”  – Shannon L. Alder

The only ‘complaint’ I had (I use this word deliberately with the definition of ‘expressing displeasure or unhappiness’) was my inability to satisfy Hubby’s libido. I found myself reaching way past my comfort zones in an effort to be creative and imaginative when it came to our sex life. I tried creating some outrageous fantasies that sounded at least a tiny bit believable to my brain… it was the only way that I could be convincing. My definition of fantasy is something that is ‘imaginary’ – it exists in a world outside the realm of reality – and belongs there. Fantasizing felt somewhat safe assuming it fit that definition and I allowed myself to wander the spectrum of sexuality. Some things were tantalizing…

It wasn’t yet a ‘thing’ to openly discuss casual girl on girl encounters and yet they were quite common in every porn flick we ever watched. I admit to some broad curiosity but I took the ‘fantasy’ to a new level and vocalized it in detail on an occasion or two. You would think that I had insisted on manifesting an experience by the enthusiastic response it spawned. For weeks, I fielded questions about how I would go about making it happen and/or did I know of someone that I was attracted to. I easily became frustrated with the questions as it was all imaginary in my mind and should have stayed that way. The frustration grew to disgust with the vigor of interest from Hubby and the relentless prodding for more details; it felt like an interrogation. I became sorry I ever went down that road.

It seemed that Hubby was particularly interested in creating encounters with ‘others’. One evening while entertaining at home, a gentleman approached me and made the comment [modified to reduce crudeness] “I’m told you have great body parts”. I almost dropped my drink and looked at him with a dumbstruck expression, unable to formulate sound. “I’d love to see for myself”, he smiled. I was nauseated. The room grew hot and black. I wanted to run but couldn’t see where to go, I didn’t know how to get away. I was pregnant for christ’s sake! So many thoughts were spinning around in my mind and nothing stopped long enough for me to have clarity. I turned away and left the room with nothing more than a grunted sigh.

I found Hubby and asked him what the F*** he had said to that man. He told me and laughed. He was drinking. He had been consuming a lot of alcohol lately. There was no reasoning or arguing with him as long as the beer was in control. I left everyone and everything and went to bed. I wanted to lock the door – part of me didn’t trust anything or anyone in that house that night. I didn’t sleep, rather I laid there and thought about all the times things that had gone down like this. All the times that I had failed to satisfy Hubby, his needs, his desires. It’s as if they were inexhaustible, limitless. How did I work with this? I was profoundly embarrassed to be approached by some random guy who had intimate knowledge about my body. It felt like an immense violation of my privacy, of our love, of respect. My nerves were on fire as I imagined the confrontation this was going to produce.

When I was finally able to address the situation, I was faced with comments that completely invalidated everything I was feeling. “What’s the big deal” he asked. “I was complimenting you”, he said. “I’m proud of my wife”, he boasted. I didn’t feel heard, or validated, or valued. I felt cheap and trashy. There was something about my feelings that implied they were small and inconsequential. The ‘proud’ and ‘compliment’ words were louder and more attention grabbing than my feelings. There was a shift in my spirit that adjusted Hubby’s words to have more value than my emotions. I didn’t notice it then – it just happened. His language unzipped some nefarious part of me that needed ‘proud’ and ‘compliment’ more than I needed self-respect and dignity. Those attributes became microscopic and cold in my soul. They could not cohabitate in the world in which I was living.

I didn’t know what to do with this event. In my mind it spoke poorly of my husband so I didn’t want to tell anyone. On some level I was ashamed of my reaction – or complete lack of one – but it was predominately sub-conscious. I convinced myself that it was actually a complimentary incident and used it as evidence that the man I married really loved me. I may have told Michele and Dee some version of what had transpired but I’m pretty sure it was presented in a positive light, without disparaging commentary. I kept the rest to myself.

My mom had become one of my best friends. We talked almost daily for a minute or two and she spent extended time with us when she was able – mostly on the way to or from her parents’ home as they were aging and mom dedicated a ton of time to them – a whole summer at a time. It was mom who first brought to my attention the amount of beer Hubby consumed on a regular basis. She spent a week at a time with us and was known for her observational abilities. He had always been a drinker; we both were. I however, did not enjoy being drunk. Ever since my 25th birthday and the probable alcohol poisoning I experienced that week, I monitored myself pretty well. Not to say that I haven’t overindulged since then, it just wasn’t with any regularity. I guess I had become accustomed to Hubby’s consumption patterns. He was never loud or obnoxious when intoxicated, in fact he became loving and gentle; quite vulnerable actually – a trait I coveted with him. I started keeping tabs on how much beer disappeared and with what regularity.

Spring came and found us rearranging sleeping quarters to prepare a nursery for baby #4. We spent time with Dee, Tom and all the kids, picnicking, dinners, and game nights. We came home from an amusement park one day – all of us but in two cars – with plans to gather again for dinner. Hubby asked me to call Dee and tell her to “bring all the leftover beer” when they come over. He didn’t ask me to ASK her – I heard him say TELL her. It stirred my insides. I wasn’t comfortable ‘telling’ her to do us a favor. They came – she brought the beer. I was seven months pregnant so I wasn’t drinking but beer was flowing otherwise. The four of us sat outside on the patio, gathered around the table that I had spray painted green earlier in preparation for summer, and the kids played in the yard. We had eaten and we were now simply enjoying the great late spring twilight. It was a relaxed evening, one of hundreds we had experienced throughout the years and I was having fun. I was sitting in a chair against the house so that my vantage point was the whole patio and yard beyond. During a spirited string of conversation, I glanced down – below the surface of the table – and observed quite accidentally, Hubby’s foot rubbing the length of Dee’s leg.

*some names have been changed in the interest of privacy

Little Hurricane

“Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.” – Alain de Botton

Our little family was running on auto-pilot. My twin sisters took turns spending the summer with us to care for baby Sara and Francis while I took my Series 7 licensing classes and exams. By then, they were turning 16 and ‘playing house’ was fun. It was great to have them around – what new mother doesn’t dream about having a built in mother’s helper? Hubby and I – always in unison while planning – were redesigning our business plan and imagining an environment that offered maximum flexibility while also maximized income potential. With me as an administrative principle, it left him available to optimally utilize his talents. It seemed like a match made in heaven – he got to be the brightest star in the constellation and I managed the sky.

I had given up trying to reconcile how I felt about our physical life. The only communication skills on that front existed in the form of lingerie, toys, and erotica. If our encounters went to a place that I wasn’t ‘comfortable’ with, I simply went out of my body. I became another person very much like my time in high school when I adopted a character in a play and presented that personality to the audience. She looked like me, talked like me, and laughed like me but she didn’t think like me. In fact, she didn’t think. She didn’t have emotional feelings, just the ability to experience physical things, most of which ‘felt’ good. She rather enjoyed the carnal reactions of those nightly encounters. That is unless ‘I’ was exhausted or menstruating, in which case there was a perceived expectation to ‘make it quick’ or provide pleasure, which ever was more appropriate. In those times it was harder for ‘me’ to escape and then the emotions would flood my psyche with feelings of disrespect, insensitiveness, and/or distrust.

If ever I attempted to communicate these feelings, I experienced rebuttal in the form of disparaging comments, criticism, or complete discredit for what I expressed. It seems that I ‘was naïve’ and unaware of what ‘most people did’. It was always pointed out that my body said one thing and my words said another. I didn’t know how to argue that point and it always ended with a passionate seduction that took the form of intense physical pleasure. I resigned myself to the understanding that ‘this’ was love.

In October, my dad died. My rock, my foundation, the man who always had my back – died suddenly. He had called one morning to find me busily preparing for a conference trip to Florida. I chatted briefly but told him I’d call next week after we returned and I’d catch up. I never got the chance. We were only in Orlando for a few hours when we got the call and by the next afternoon, I was back home, repacking and flying out to Cincinnati. The second funeral I had ever attended. One – two. Two funerals in my life so far and they were the most important men in my world.

That year we spent Christmas in Virginia with my mom and step-dad. My brother was working down in Atlanta by then and came home as well. Our other sister lived in the area and of course, the twins were still at home, in high school. The whole family was there and it was good. It was baby Sara’s first Christmas and we all spoiled her with attention. I missed my family. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive and 250 miles is not a Sunday dinner distance. We drove down fairly often. We had a big ‘ole conversion van in those days with a five-inch television in the back. The only VHS movie we really had was Top Gun and Francis would watch it once on the way down and at least once on the way back. It got to the point that Hubby and I would sit in the front seat acting out the parts of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis – having memorized the parts by osmosis.

On the way home after Christmas I was sitting in the front seat talking to Hubby about my emotional goodbye just hours earlier. I was still feeling rather funky and complaining about my body’s aches and pains although I was just 32 that summer. Quite suddenly, it occurred to me that I was late for my period and with some thought, realized I was three weeks overdue. Baby Sara was in the back seat only eight months old. Oh my goodness… holy cow… I think I’m pregnant.

…….

It was confirmed and I had an adjustment period. I was still changing several diapers a day and now there would be another little behind needing wiped, bathed, and patted. My body changed rapidly. Our wombs are like balloons, the doctor explained, after being blown up a few times, it just kind of remembers which shape to take. This new baby was due in September which meant all of my maternity clothes were going to be the wrong season. That felt like a minor inconvenience compared to the anxiety I felt about pregnancy in general since my last one was so full of marital discord. I was quick to remember the emotional turmoil that I experienced less than two years prior and I went ‘on guard’ to protect my heart.

It was rather unnecessary as it did not get repeated (which, flipped the switch on my wariness scale and left me feeling unsettled about the fears I had experienced then). This pregnancy, in fact, was completely different. I felt happy. Life at home took on a comfortable routine and I didn’t gain much weight; thankfully because I still had 25 pounds of baby Sara weight left over.  I only looked pregnant from the side for most of the term. I experienced a sense of contentment for the first time in a long while.

The twins again took turns staying with us that summer. They were 17 and turning into fantastic young women, looking at colleges and anticipating their future. They were each little mothers and delighted in making sure Sara was a baby fashion icon, adorned (as was insanely popular in the 1990’s) in matchy-matchy top, bottoms, socks, shoes, and headband. We have dozens of photographs from that summer documenting the current toddler styles as introduced by Gymboree and Baby Gap. I loved having them around and was eternally grateful for their help. As a two-year-old, Sara was talking up a storm, repeating her vocabulary on demand as we, very proud parents, put her on display for family. It was a personality trait that blossomed through the years as she always created some kind of dance or skit to be performed before bedtime.

Labor Day weekend was approaching and we would be losing our teen help because she had to go back to Virginia to start her Senior year of High School. On the Thursday morning before, I woke early to discover that my water had broken. I wasn’t exactly laying in a pool, but soaked enough that a shower was necessary when I noticed contractions had begun. I quickly cleaned up and we headed to the hospital where again, the doctor opted to induce my labor. I experienced a panicked memory of the last induction and the intensity of it so we agreed to take it slow. The Pitocin rate was reduced and I settled in for what turned out to be a manageable but long day of labor.

The pregnancy had been so completely different than the one I endured with Sara that we were convinced the baby would be a boy. So much so that we only had one name chosen; Phillip. By 4 pm, we had another daughter. A daughter with no name. We had thought about Erin Nicole or Alexandra Nicole but couldn’t decide. We decided to sleep on it and see what we thought after holding her for a few hours. Hurricane Emily had just decimated Cape Hatteras and many of the babies in the hospital were named Emily that year and while we didn’t name her Emily, she did somehow get nicknamed Little Hurricane. Finally, when they pressured us to choose, we dropped the Nicole and took our little Erin Alexandra home.

We were now five.

Life on the Outside

Reality, however Utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays.- Aldous Huxley

Within weeks of returning home I began suspecting that I was pregnant. Remembering back, that air conditioned cabin had afforded some additional creature comforts… A test confirmed that we would be welcoming a little one sometime the following April. I was crazy happy to be pregnant again. We seemed to be congealing, the three of us, and I was excited to be moving toward the vision of ‘family’ that had been rebirthed as Hubby and I built dreams of our life together.  Any indication that something was amiss stayed tucked inside that mental filing cabinet

We were both smokers back then and talked about quitting often. We had agreed that if / when I was to get pregnant, we would quit together. One of the things that tipped me off to the pregnancy was the repulsion I experienced when I smelled cigarettes so for me, quitting was a piece of cake – nothing like vomiting as negative reinforcement! For Hubby, quitting was not as easy and he continued to smoke. It became a true and sizable bone of contention between us. When he arrived home at night, I would immediately know he had just had a cigarette, I would gripe – a lot. Eventually he stopped telling me the truth but the smell was always a dead giveaway as my nose had turned into an ultra-sensitive olfactometer. And then – my grumbling and nitpicking became more intensified. I was a pregnant woman who had been let down and lied to – no combination of those aspects were good together. I was turning into a nag about the whole smoking thing.

I continually tried to explain that the odor of cigarettes in any capacity was difficult for me to experience while I was pregnant and couldn’t be close to him if I smelled it. I stopped kissing him. Not only did I feel let down because of the broken promise but no matter how many times I had said something was a problem for me – it didn’t change. I felt unsupported and insignificant yet again. The absence of greeting him with a kiss – and in fact I would often stand five feet away – when he came home in the evening, certainly wasn’t behavior supportive of a good relationship. However, I didn’t feel as though I was simply being ‘stubborn’, I had a true physiological response. It wasn’t long before he noticed how much physical distance I always maintained and that I wasn’t kissing him. He wanted to know what ‘my’ problem was.

I didn’t exactly enjoy the bodily changes that my physique went through during pregnancy but I cherished the experience of feeling the baby move, knowing that life was growing inside of me, and the anticipation of loving our little angel. My body began to change, I started gaining weight – a lot of it – and Hubby’s libido suddenly disappeared. He swore it wasn’t personal, that it was him – that he felt weird during sex – like the baby could somehow know what was happening.

Something didn’t make sense. We went from having sex literally, daily – to nothing at all. I talked with my mom. My step-dad talked with him and ultimately we had a ‘family talk’ about our sex life. “This happens sometimes” my mom says. Umm. I am thinking, you don’t know my husband. After being with him for two years, what I felt sure of, was that this behavior was odd – definitely off from what was normal for us. And, while I realize that everyone is different – it was quite contrary to my prior experience. My pregnancy with Francis might as well have been an aphrodisiac for both Rocky and me. No matter how he tried to rationalize this shift in our lifestyle, it didn’t compute for me. I wondered how his needs, the ones that I perceived to be insatiable, were being met. I grew fearful that he was going to look for alternate avenues. I started to play detective and challenged any information that felt off… he thought I was losing my mind.

It seemed as though my belly grew in tandem with the gap in my marriage. Each morning as I showered and dressed, I would allow my mind to wander to the Playboy magazine collection that swelled by one each month – and the women in them. It would wander to the Victoria’s Secret clothing that was delivered to the house as a gift for me (pre-pregnancy) but always a size or two smaller than I actually wore. It would wander to random comments I heard from time to time about men who should divorce women who got fat. During a time when I should have felt loved and cherished, I felt rejected and rebuffed. I ate an amount of food commensurate with my sorrow and gained 60 pounds over the course of my pregnancy.

There were dramatic behavioral changes in our sex life. The smoking / distance thing that had become ‘my fault’ (at least in my mind) created emotional distance between us. Then there was my body, the weight gain and pregnancy metamorphosis. All in all, it took a deep and rugged toll on my self-image. Any gains that may have been made over the last couple of years felt as if they were being swept away. I found myself once again doing anything necessary to experience approval. I cooked better meals, I worked to save us money where possible, I attempted to initiate physical contact as much as I could. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be desired. I wanted to feel important to my husband. I didn’t feel any of those things.

I tried to immerse myself in activities that would occupy my mind, to make sure that I had a never ending supply of ‘busy’ work so that I didn’t think too much. I was a Den mother for Francis’s Cub Scout troop, I sewed a lot of clothing, I decorated and crafted as our budget allowed. I worked at organizing Hubby’s business, helping with paperwork and motivation whenever it was necessary. We continued to build visions for our business and I signed up to sit for a licensing exam that would offer us more opportunity.

I focused on the activity that kept my mind occupied. When emotions arose that didn’t fit the construct of my life vision, they were chided by my outer self. I couldn’t help but think that I had rushed into this thing – that I deserved to be in this predicament because I had been so impetuous. I was afraid of being labeled a fool if I were to acknowledge it wasn’t working. Duh…. They would say… that’s what you get for being so spontaneous and reckless or perhaps that was my own mind talking, scolding, and criticizing.

On the outside, life was great. We were good (and became experts) at projecting to the outside world, an image of ourselves and of our family that fit into social and familial expectations. My subconscious began the slow and delicate separation between the life I wanted to live and the life I was actually living.

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Deep Disappointment = Yuck!

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”  – Unknown

I wasn’t working for the first time since I was a teen. Francis had a couple of neighborhood buddies and would ‘go out to play’ with Matthew and/or Andrew almost every summer day it was an option. Hubby went to work. Usually we would have our morning together and then he would leave to see clients. He often didn’t return until late evening. My days were long and rather lonely. We were just keeping our chin up financially so there wasn’t much flexibility in the budget for exploration or home improvement although I was really good at making something from nothing and by all measures, we had a lovely home.

I was restless. There was a significant period of time where the realization that I had turned 30 and had not yet effected the world in a profound or meaningful way was depressing me.

Hubby and I were often in sync when we were dreaming about building something – the dream, the prep, and the implementation – they were the glue that spurred and motivated us to work together effectively. He moved to another company, which generated a tremendous amount of work that we agreed to do together. I maintained my licenses so I was able to contribute / help in a sizable way. I essentially became his assistant and I now had a purpose beyond being a house sitter while Francis went out to play.

Our days were fairly typical for a small family of three. We did the best we could – day by day – and settled into a fairly symbiotic routine.

Fast forward a year to the summer of 1991. We had some financial successes that year and we made the decision to take Francis to Walt Disney World for vacation. My twin (half) sisters were turning 15 that summer and we invited them to join us. I missed being physically close to my family and being a part of their day to day lives so it was great to be with them for an extended period.

I’m a spendthrift when necessary. Especially back then, I was able to stretch a dollar further than your average rubber band. We were going to camp in WDW so we had to drive – allowing for transportation of all the camping equipment. We drove to Virginia and took the Auto Train from Lorton to Sanford, FL.

I had worked on the Amtrak trains for several years while I was in California going to college and I was excited to share some of the experience with my family. When I booked our ‘coach’ tickets on an overnight train, I really hadn’t given it any thought because I knew that the seats reclined to an almost prone position. I hadn’t though, considered the impact of sleeping out-in-the-open for the rest of us. Really, those kids were able to sleep almost anywhere – it was us, as adults that had a more difficult time. I had the upper hand as I knew what to expect but Hubby wasn’t happy. He wasn’t comfortable and he didn’t really sleep. Deep breath Leslyn – you are on vacation.

After a rough evening, we at least woke to find ourselves in Florida. The beauty of the Auto Train is that upon arrival in FL, you just get in your own car and continue the trip. It was a tight squeeze for the 5 of us but we made it to the campground that I had found on our VERY new internet. It was the prudent alternative and we discovered why when we arrived to find that the only trees on the property were babies, barely 5 feet tall. For any of you who may have ever gone tent camping, you’ll realize immediately that tent’ers rely on trees to tie off their tents. To make it more insane, the tent we were using was a borrowed CANVAS army tent that slept 8 – I thought it would all be easy. Well, except that I never took the summer Floridian weather into account. Apparently, it will often rain every afternoon in the manner of gusty, fast moving thunderstorms.

The first one we experienced was the day of our arrival and it rolled in while one of the girls and I were at the grocery store. We returned to the campground to find Hubby attempting to yell directions over thunderclaps, in between lightning strikes while Francis tried to hold a tent line (he was actually flapping in the wind) and sister #2 in tears. Everything that had not been in the car (which was with us at the store) was soaking wet and the tent looked like a pool float with a broken air stem – completely deflated – flat on the ground. This vacation wasn’t starting well.

The other thing we didn’t know about Florida weather is that by 9 am it was 90 degrees outside. Our canvas tent soaked that summer sun like a dry sponge and so my grand plan to save money by eating breakfast at camp and packing lunches went right down the sewer. Within an hour after waking, we were mostly huddled in the air conditioned bathhouses, attempting to muster enough courage to spend the day waiting in line while we were either bathed in our own perspiration or completely soaked by a drenching downpour. My advice to all of you reading this… don’t go tent camping in Florida in the month of July. Ever.

The bulk of our vacation was good. The twins quarreled from time to time; Hubby’s patience was challenged a fair amount; and I played mediator a time or two. We were there for two solid weeks over the 4th of July (which, as a note – WDW offered the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever waited 6 hours to see). It continued to be agonizingly hot. The last weekend we were there, an air conditioned cabin became available at the campground and we instantly agreed to rent it. I’m not sure I ever again slept as good as I did that first night in air conditioning after 11 days of hot tent resting.

We were exhausted when we got on that train to go home; not only from heat distress and sleep deprivation but because as most people who’ve had a WDW vacation would agree – you need a vacation from that vacation. It’s go, go, go… each day. It’s great; but it’s tiring. So, by the time evening fell and we were well on the way home, it was apparent that sleeping in the coach train seats was going to be challenging once again. Hubby, feeling frustrated and wealthy, approached the conductor to see if there were any sleeping car accommodations open. “Yes, there is one – it sleeps two” he said. “I’ll take it” says Hubby.

I turned my head, not really sure if I had heard that exchange correctly. “It only sleeps two?” I asked? “Yea, you and I can get a good night’s sleep. The kids will be fine here” replies Hubby.

Um… It took a moment for this idea to sink into my head. He was willing to let twin 15-year-old girls and a 7-year-old boy hang out alone, on a train full of strangers. Hmm. I wasn’t sure if that was just ignorance about parenting / caring for children or if it was a chilling example of a selfish disposition. In either case, it didn’t set well with my personal value structure nor did it fit inside my definition of responsible behavior. He went anyway – I slept in the coach section with the kids.

I recall feeling deeply disappointed that night. I was unable to relate with the decision he had made. I felt disconnected and distant. In my mind, that experience provided me with important information but it didn’t fit into my vision. It wasn’t in accord with what I wanted my world to look like. I filed it away – or perhaps a better description is that I stuffed it deep into the back of the filing cabinet in a folder that was labeled… ‘YUCK’.

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