Escape Route

I believed that maybe, just maybe – a reason for all of my turmoil was to teach my daughters and that – gave me hope.

Continued from Armoured Up

Running away from any problem only increase the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from the problem is to solve it. ~ Anonymous

When Abee said she “just needed to be alone” I realized that any progress toward a new beginning I thought existed, was only in my imagination. It was possible that she needed space now that the house was empty and she could privately grieve but I wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later when I was investigating company accounting statements that I actually understood. I noticed a number of charges to the corporate American Express card that were made at retail stores for hair products and swimwear. Obviously curious, I checked the dates on the calendar only to find out that it was the day I had offered to hang out with Abee. Remembering back in more detail I recall that Hubby hadn’t been around either. We didn’t tell one another our plans anymore but I was in the habit of paying attention to when he was or wasn’t home. Well, I’ll be damned. He had taken her shopping on the company’s dime…

A few other incidents occurred across a couple of months that forced me to keep very close tabs on how much money was being spent from OUR company’s funds. Also, the time that Hubby and Abee were spending together in public increased as I received frequent ‘reports’ of them being seen out and about. I had to surmise that now Mom was gone, there was no more voice of reason about the impropriety of their relationship. Hubby attempted to intermingle his weekends with the girls into spending time with Abee as well but they were confused as to why Abee was around with their dad, helping him find a new house, etc. No one was being honest and I was getting fired up.

No matter how hard I worked to cope with the depth of the betrayal from my husband and sister, it was constantly in front of me, requiring me to readjust on a daily basis. There was never time to build tolerance as every time I turned, it seemed as if there was another question from someone… “are they still together?” “What does she see in him?” “What do your kids think?” “I can’t believe it!” or something that brought it all back to the front and center of my consciousness. It didn’t matter what coping mechanism I was using at the moment, I had to find another one. It was as if I was building a tolerance to the methods most common and had to constantly find something better or stronger to help me get through the next round of questions or the next battle of nighttime tears from the girls. There were days when I would be driving into school crying out of frustration on how to put that relationship into perspective. There were nights when all of the broken promises bombarded me like slivers of fragmented glass, ripping metaphorically into my already damaged heart. I was tired of hurting. I wanted to escape.

It was a stressful spring all around. I had missed a week of classes while in San Deigo and so I was playing catch up with my classes. I was noticing my mom’s absence daily as I would attempt to pick up the phone and call to ask how she was feeling or to see how her bridge game went. One evening I was sitting on my bed thinking about mom, going all the way back to my childhood. I remembered, even after all those years, the day she had left to join the Army. As a twelve-year-old, I wanted to come home every day to my mom. I wanted her to teach me how to cook and sew (well, she didn’t really sew…) I wanted her to talk with me about girl stuff and play Barbie’s before bedtime. One this particular evening, as I was reflecting on the pain I felt as a child when mom left and the pain I was feeling that night, wanting to turn to my mother for solace… I cried out in deep desolation, for all of the times that mom had forsaken me. The sorrow escaping my body had been suppressed for more than three decades and yet it wasn’t only that, it was for everyone who had left me – intentionally or otherwise. In that one moment, I understood the intensity of my abandonment sentiment. I grasped right then how I had moved through my life from the footprint of rejection and desertion.

I wrote letters that night to Mom, Rocky, Dad, Hubby, Abee, and a couple of other incidental people who had left me or rejected me for what was to them – either nonvoluntary (i.e., Rocky & Dad) or conscious decisions motivated by needs that did not include me. I was able to recognize that outside of death, those people weren’t really leaving ‘me’… they were focusing on what was good for them. They were satisfying their own needs instead of considering the needs of others and while this is what most of us do… many of us are satisfying the OUR need NOT to hurt people we love.

This is the great dichotomy in which we live really… if we make decisions that make us happy regardless of how other people feel – will we ‘really’ be happy??  If I know that by choosing one direction of happiness for myself means that many others will be miserable… can I still experience the joy I was anticipating? Where exactly is that balancing line? Where do my needs and the needs of others intersect? Why does someone always have to sacrifice?

I considered my own pain. It was quasi-torturous to stay in that house, the one we built together – in the town where we had dreamed of raising our family… to hear people say that they saw my sister and Hubby at the such and such restaurant or driving down the road together… If I moved, I could escape all that. I wouldn’t have to be in the same town with constant reminders or notice the look on people’s faces who knew that my sister, the one I bragged so much about when we hired her to work for us, was hooking up with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. I wouldn’t wonder how many people were whispering behind my back. It would be easier to leave – to start anew but the girls… they wouldn’t want to go; they had been raised here. They were embedded in our community, in scouts, sports, and school. They loved this house, their rooms, and the neighbors. I didn’t want to pull them away from their lives. I could go. But then, I would be just like my mom. Leaving my kids to pursue something that offered me personal relief even if it was going to be temporary.

Funny that my oldest daughter was almost exactly the same age as I was when mom left me. Is this life offering the same lesson? Can I break some kind of karmic string if I stay and stare down the temptation to relieve myself? It was so enticing… the possibility of ending in-you-face-betrayal simply by relocating but I couldn’t do it.

I sat on the edge of Sara’s bed one night specifically to let her know that I was there with them, that I would always be there and that from everything… absolutely everything comes something good if we are patient enough to wait for it. I explained that nothing was more important than self-respect and that no matter what happened in her life, no matter the man (or men) she would meet – that compromising self-respect should never – ever – be an option. I hope she heard me. I believed that maybe, just maybe – a reason for all of my turmoil was to teach my daughters and that – gave me hope.

In-Between Spaces

There were days when I simply couldn’t talk to anyone because I was ashamed of how negative my thoughts had become.

Continued from Back to School

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

My family was still divided over Abee’s involvement in my marriage; so many little things had surfaced over the course of a year that it made it impossible to distinguish truth from fantasy. We hadn’t celebrated the holiday’s together and it seemed as though I saw Mom less and less. She was doing great though. She had finally acclimated into her community and made friends. She was getting involved in a number of activities and that alone may have diverted her attention but in part, she continued to be torn.

I discovered, quite by accident, that she had enlisted Hubby’s help around her home – the one she shared with Abee – to do some maintenance items. It was an impossible task for me to be unreactive as the man who had so deeply betrayed me was now doing favors for my mother… didn’t anyone in my family have boundaries?? Of course, because I loved Mom, I wanted her to ‘be taken care of’ and it was nice of him to offer but I just couldn’t reconcile it. In my mind, he was doing it for Abee too… she lived there. Was I never going to be rid of this pain? Was there always going to be this crazy reminder of how two people whom I loved deeply made a conscious decision to delude and abandon me? Was there never to be healing in my family unless I acquiesced, gave in and offered consent for this inappropriate relationship? It continued despite my pain, despite Mom’s disapproval, despite family fracturing.

I was grappling with a few conundrums… first, and probably most importantly, I came to realize I had control ‘issues’. I can hear at least a dozen laughs in the universe as I type these words and while I know that I liked to ‘be in charge’… my intent has never been to ‘control’ people – only situations where my involvement was necessary. If there were people in the peripheral… well then, they got sucked into the control vacuum. It’s important to understand, and I preach this to my clients, that control is what we utilize – as human beings – to feel emotionally and physically safe. If I can be directing my environment, then I know what to expect – I am can be more prepared for uncertainties. Without control, I am vulnerable and vulnerability means that we run the risk of experiencing pain.

I had assessed this assertion a time or two in the past when it surfaced and had been identified as problematic but this time it was in my face – I was noticing it, or rather, the lack of it and I identified the crux of the problem each time Mom told me Hubby had helped with something or if someone said they had seen Hubby and Abee together – out in the community. I’m not sure why people felt the need to disclose their observations, but it was much more common than one would imagine – they were not inconspicuous. There wasn’t anything for me to do but to learn how to ‘accept’ their transgressions. The place of acceptance was still w.a.y. down the road on my growth journey so for now… I was focusing on letting go of the things over which I had no ‘control’.

And that was my second ‘issue’. I needed to ‘let go’. Really – there were so many things that I had to ‘let go’ of that I literally, made a list. I wrote letters to people who had slighted me (but didn’t mail them) and meditated on the things that needed to go… I imagined each of them in a bubble and watched as it drifted away… I pictured each item as a leaf that dropped onto a stream and swiftly floated downstream… I cut the list into a thousand pieces. Each of those ideas worked a little and after each technique was completed, I felt a little lighter. I warn clients of the expectation some of us develop that if we commit to ‘let go’ of something that it disappears… it may not – in fact, it often does not. We need to practice letting go. Today, one of the most effective methods I use is to open my hands. The brain is powerful and if I am thinking of something and deliberately open my hands – there is a perception of letting go. For me, driving is when I usually allow my thoughts to run away and one may frequently observe me controlling the steering wheel with flat palms.

What I really needed to ‘let go’ of – was needing control. That was my prayer. It may be a cliché to say “Let go and let God” but what is the choice?? It doesn’t matter if you believe in an old man God, or Mother Nature, or an energy field in the Universe… opening your heart to the experience of vulnerability, of not knowing, is the challenge. It became important for me to chant “trust” to myself in meditation and while perfectly conscious throughout my day. I was constantly reminding myself of my most basic spiritual beliefs… that everything happens for a reason; that I was walking a specific journey; that there was ultimate balance in the universe.

I think the most difficult part of this was that almost every day there was something else to ‘let go’ of. As long as Hubby was living at the house I was aware of his movements and I tortured myself by keeping tabs on the company’s balance sheet. I still had access to the American Express cards and the checking account. I could see that when they traveled for business they were only getting one hotel room instead of two. I could see what restaurants they dined in with dates and times. Part of me convinced myself that the investigating was due diligence for the divorce – which it turned out to be – but it was entirely unhealthy. It was agonizing to watch, week after week, the manifestation of disloyalty but I couldn’t pull myself away from it.

I existed in this space between being the person I wanted to be…. strong and growing – contrasted with a person who was trapped in the anger and dismay of a failed dream. I vacillated constantly between the light and the dark. There were days when I simply couldn’t talk to anyone because I was ashamed of how negative my thoughts had become. It took all my strength to stay up…

One morning as I was driving to school I was talking to Hubby about some of the divorce details. We were at very different points of agreeableness. It was a difficult conversation and I felt as though I was getting the short end. There were days when I felt explicit loathing – as close to hate as I had ever come – even though Love was supposed to be ruling my heart. I had a meeting with one of my psych professors to discuss research I was doing for her. I sat in the parking garage and cried – again – it was almost a daily habit as we hashed out our agreement and then took a deep breath and walked across campus to her office. I was thankful for the early winter air as it quickly hid the emotional evidence of tears.

I sat down and began the dance of small talk in preparation for moving on to more specific topics. She asked me a series of questions that somehow triggered an emotive response and tears once again, sprang to my eyes despite my strong opposition. “Damnit”… “I’m sorry,” I said, “I hate it when I am this weak” … “so sorry”.  I shared that I had a hard discussion with my soon-to-be-ex-husband on the way in this morning as I tried hard to control myself and she looked at me with genuine empathy. It’s important to describe her because she was indeed my professor, but she was all of 28 or 29 years old, tiny… very petite, and gentle. She was soft spoken and quite deliberate with her words even though her smile was seemingly spontaneous. “Silly lady,” she said as she reached over to touch my hand “don’t you realize how much strength it takes to show emotion?”

Splitting Delusions

…there was a theme unfolding in the aggregation of my reading material. The Universe was validating these ideas again and again.

Continued from The Longest Day

“I’m not crying because of you; you’re not worth it. I’m crying because my delusion of who you were was shattered by the truth of who you are.” ~ Steve Maraboli

Our bodies are designed to protect us against complete emotional obliteration and when the defense system is activated properly, it resembles my image of a ‘zombie’ – flat affect, disheveled appearance, monotone speech… that was me for a day or two… I would sit and stare, at nothing in particular but into the room sometimes watching the dust particles dance in the sunlight wondering how many of them I was inhaling with each breath; curious to know if the hair in my nostrils really was catching them so that they were not collecting in my lungs. It is intriguing to consider the folly of our thoughts when the reality is too difficult to deliberate upon. I was experiencing my life in its most simplistic possibility, practically floating through the hours as they passed. That was God’s gift to me, a respite from the suffering so that I might recharge my depleted spirit and muster the courage to move forward.

And I did. I wasn’t open to talking to Hubby for a few days. We moved through our home and work life with obvious dissent but kept silent because there was simply nothing more to say. He would ask me to talk but I simply could not. There was nothing left in my vocabulary that hadn’t already been said at some point throughout the years and to vocalize the same sentiment was now superfluous. Apparently, the prior pleadings, arguments, or confrontations had only temporary effect and the components of a happy, respectful, monogamous relationship that were important to me just couldn’t be met in ‘this’ relationship – the one that existed between he and I. It had finally – after so much time, pain, and frustration – dawned on me that we had been fighting for the impossible. Hubby and I were not the dream team. I understood that the man I had married was not the man that I saw in my heart. And that man would never – ever – behave in a way that so decimated my heart or that of our family. I finally grasped that I didn’t know this man but what was clear, is that I didn’t like him or want to be married to him.

I saw an attorney and followed her advice. He refused to leave our home, apparently on the advice of his lawyer and so he ‘moved’ into our finished basement. It took a couple of weeks for that transition to be complete, as even in pain there is often a question of its finality. The interim was awkward and painful because both of us were desperate for some semblance of normality and comfort, but in our house – there was none. We would occasionally ‘slip’ into old habits as I found myself laughing at something he said and for a microsecond, the energy in the room felt familiar and easy but I quickly rejected its lie because I now knew that nothing was ever ‘easy’ with us. There was a consistent whispering in the air, a beckoning, to concede and return to life as I had known it…

We told the girls we were separating; that Daddy was moving to the basement and we were going to ‘take a break’. They each reacted differently and I later discovered that our oldest had been listening to many of the ‘fights’ and so she was relieved. Man, the things we do to our children! We divided our time at home so that the girls had an equal opportunity to be with each of us. When it was his night, I went out and vice versa. I usually waited until after ‘bedtime’ to come home so that his bedtime routine wasn’t interrupted. You know how it is… because he had worked so many nights as they grew up, I was the person who usually did the ‘tucking in’, at least on weeknights.

The girls differed on how they were adjusting to our separation and we attempted to answer their questions honestly while offering only what we believed to be age appropriate. Franky, they didn’t have a need to know the details of our adult relationship so we kept it simple and unilateral; no blame. My attorney had suggested a book ‘Mom’s House, Dad’s House’ by Dr. Isolina Ricci – a book I refer clients to, to this day. Even though Hubby and I didn’t have separate houses yet, it was a great guide of how to help kids navigate the division of parental attention.

On weekends that were ‘his’ – I left. I called in every favor I had ever earned and visited with friends and family. I used their beach houses, their mountain cabins, and spare bedrooms for months on end. I became an expert timeshare sales customer. I think over the course of eighteen months, I utilized free weekends at resorts selling timeshares a dozen different times. You see, if you agree to sit through a timeshare sales pitch, you can spend a weekend – free of charge – at the resort you are considering. I was a champ – proficient and skillful – on how to say “no” regardless of the ‘pitch’ or pressure. I spent weekends in the Pocono’s, the Jersey Shore, the Virginia mountains, and New York City. I was alone on these trips and took advantage of the solitude to look at myself in the mirror, to learn meditation, and to grow in the way that the universe was directing me.

One of the first books I picked up after what I will call ‘discovery day’ was about reincarnation, written by Dr. Brian Weiss, a psychiatrist in Miami who used hypnosis in his practice of helping patients cope with pain. One patient – Catherine – went into a spontaneous regression and began offering information to Dr. Weiss that became, ultimately, life-changing. I encourage you to pick up the book – Many Lives, Many Masters and keep an open mind. This book was just the tip of the iceberg with his stories of people under hypnosis in regression experiencing amazing and profound insight. I was immediately intrigued. Most importantly, most what Dr. Weiss speaks to in his collection of writing echoed many other things that I had recently explored by other authors… it was if there was a theme unfolding in the aggregation of my reading material. The Universe was validating these ideas again and again.

In this book the phrase “our task is to learn, to become God-like through knowledge. We know so little … by knowledge, we approach God, and then we can rest. Then we come back to teach and help others”.

This idea resonated so deeply in my soul that I sensed vibrations moving in unison with the words as I read them. That’s empirically identical to the basis of what I had taken away from The Conversations with God series I’d been reading, no… studying over that last couple of years. I grew to believe with no hesitation that I was experiencing a journey, a spiritual, a soulful quest to be the best possible version of myself.

The weekends that I wasn’t being ‘mom’, I used to learn and I became more and more enthralled, excited really… about the concepts that were forming concretely in my heart. I was going to use this pain – this growth opportunity – to be better… to be the best me. And I wanted to tell the world about it but I was only a suburban housewife who had never finished her education.

I decided to go back to school.

The Longest Day

It was good to be with friendly faces but I was wary of the impending confrontation that I knew was looming in front of me.

Continued from The Tipping Point

“Those who are heartless once cared too much” – unknown

When my tears were spent, I stood up and squared my shoulders. I was finished. Done. Through. Right there – in that moment, I knew that this marriage was gone. I was no longer willing to spend another minute allowing myself to be disrespected in the manner that had been a hallmark of this union. As the saying goes – ‘fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me’. This was the third time and this time, my mother could fend for herself…  It was time for me to think of me – the messages I was sending to my children, my daughters – about self-respect.

I had things to do today. I was scheduled to get my hair cut and then meet some friends for drinks. I thanked my therapist for being there, for allowing me to breach a boundary in the most unforgivable way and scheduled an appointment to sort this all out.

I headed to my hair stylist, approximately a thirty-minute drive. I had first met him two years back after my hysterectomy when I realized that I had the same hair style for twenty years or more. I had researched stylists in the area and his name came up as one of the best. My primary interest was finding someone who could look at my face and determine – for me – the best hairstyle based on the shape of my face and my hair texture. In past attempts, a stylist would ask me what I wanted, ‘look through a book’ they would say… well – that’s like buying a pair of panties that I like from the Victoria Secret catalog and then being pissed that they don’t look like ‘that’ on my bottom!

Michael had cut my hair that very first day – trimming at least eight inches or so – and gave me a new look. It was something completely different and I loved it… I’d been going to him ever since. Funny that this particular day I was seeing my hairdresser, the proverbial therapist…

I recall being there and obviously emotional. There is no hiding this kind of emotional devastation even if I had wished to. When he asked me, what was happening, I put forth an avalanche of verbal expression, detailing each minute of the morning with explicit detail. It was a safe place, a location where no one knew me or my family, and I was free to exhibit any amount of animosity that popped up in the conversation. I was incredulous. I was beginning to get pissed, pissed at Hubby, pissed at Abee, mostly, pissed at myself. For a while, I forgot all the spiritual development that had been a part of my recent life and moved back into this rudimentary human reaction space. I wasn’t focused on forgiveness or spiritual growth, just the pain of my immediate experiences and it was raw.

Michael listened, like any good therapist – hairstylist and proposed blonde accents to spice up my look. Thankfully, that meant another two hours at the salon and I was grateful for the diversion. I didn’t care what he did, sex me up – spice me up – make me look younger… it didn’t matter. What did matter, was my plan. I needed to create a plan.

I never planned to divorce my husband. Years back, the first time I had discovered infidelity, our business was young, I had a newborn baby and our finances were just budding. Today was different. Our children were older; our business was established and we were much stronger financially. This was better than at any other time before, to think about leaving our marriage and believing that I would be ok. I had never finished a bachelor’s degree. I had taken a voluntary second place, a submissive posture with our business in terms of production – running most of my earnings through Hubby’s position because of the tax advantages. On paper, I was worthless except that I owned an equal fifty percent of our company. Otherwise, my resume demonstrated twenty years of partnership but no production quotas to support successful claims.

We were earning good money so I knew that it would all be ok, that it would work out, but there was a moment of anxiety when I realized that I had not personally produced a dime in income for more than ten years. I needed to put a plan in action but I had no idea where to start. I sat there with foil protruding out from my skull thinking carefully about what I must do next. I knew that first and foremost – I was finished with Hubby. There was an absolute in my heart, an unequivocal finality in regards to the future of our relationship. We would co-parent… that’s it. There was no denying that we had four children to raise. Even though Frank was in college, we still had three girls, the oldest of which was about to begin high school.

Oh. Our girls. What would I say to them? The breadth and width of Hubby’s betrayal is his story… not mine to tell but it clearly would have an impact on our family. I had to find a way to frame this morning’s experience in a way that could be digested by adolescent girls. I was willing to take the fall, to say that I was no longer willing to be in a marriage where I didn’t feel valued. I could say it in a way that didn’t disparage Hubby but still honored me. Why in the hell was I concerned about his favor??

“A heart can only take so much pain, and although it won’t shut down, it will begin to shut out.” ~ unknown

There were a gazillion thoughts swirling through my mind as I sat in Michael’s salon; some of which made sense, some did not; some were rational, others not so much. My defense system kicked into high gear and I formulated several automatic responses in anticipation of greeting Hubby later that night. I was going to stand my ground – we are done. Period.

My hair turned out fantastic. I was blonde from ear to ear and by any measure, the cut was sassy and the color was sexy. Michael was good at what he did and perhaps a little impartial to me, protective of the perceived injustice that existed in Hubby’s behavior.

I finished up the day at a restaurant / bar in a small neighboring town where one of my good friend’s and her friend – an acquaintance of mine – were catching up. I was exhausted, completely spent and somewhat unwilling to relive the melodrama of my day. I just needed to laugh, to think of something neutral, to escape the reality of my life so that’s what happened. We talked and laughed about kids, life, and busy schedules. It was good to be with friendly faces but I was wary of the impending confrontation that I knew was looming in front of me. I needed to go home.

When I got there, Hubby was sitting on the couch, watching television. I hadn’t spoken to him since earlier in the day when I told him I wanted a divorce. I suspect he had realized at some point that he had left his email account open, that there was a lot of evidence to suggest that he had significantly betrayed everything our matrimony vows embodied; so much evidence. He was regretful, remorseful, and repentant. I sat down on one side of a very large couch to listen. He stretched out and put his head on my lap after commenting on how much he liked my hair. He cried. I sat there quietly and still.

My heart was stone cold.

The Tipping Point

I was screaming vulgar, violent words that no one could hear as I pushed the print button, time and time again.

Continued from Discovering My Soul

“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not, With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.” ~ Malcolm Gladwell

I believe that much of life is what we make it. I had decided to think about the adversity in my life differently and in fact, my life was different. There was a ‘settling down’ of things. Every once in a while, there were ‘twinges’ of fear that activated my internal alarm system and I addressed it in counseling immediately. I wasn’t about to allow ‘gaslighting’ to re-enter my world – I wasn’t going to be a ‘fool’ again. My ability to trust was exceptionally fragile. Anytime a comment, behavior, or action didn’t fit into the schematic of my reality, I addressed it. I was learning. It was still far from perfect but there was some peace in my heart for a change.

It was the holiday season and Christmas was always a relaxed time for us. We made sure the focus was on family, food, and time together. That doesn’t mean that I was calm, cool, and collected for sure as during this time of year my definition of ‘relaxed’ changes a bit. My emotions were relaxed – my stress level of completing everything that needed to be finished, stayed elevated – which was the norm. It had become my Christmas Eve challenge to finish the matching jammies that the kids would wear to bed but it always got accomplished and by midnight, I was sipping a glass of wine next to the fire anticipating morning smiles.

It was a good Day. We had gotten the kids a pinball machine that year as a collective gift and most of the day was spent downstairs in our rec room taking turns to see who could rack up the next ‘highest score’. Mom and Abee had come by earlier in the week on their way south to spend a few days with Emma and her family. I was especially grateful that I wasn’t facing having to dedicate a holiday to the rigorous attention of emotional regulation. In that way, it was particularly ‘relaxing’. Hubby and I actually had fun together as we interacted with the girls, now eight, eleven & twelve; there is something endearing about that ‘tween’ time in adolescence.

We typically spent one day over Christmas week with Hubby’s family; exchanging gifts, catching up, and enjoying cousin interactions. It was a full day as we watched all twenty-two open gifts one-person-at-a-time, in order of age – oldest to youngest. What else does one do on a day like this but eat, drink, and be merry?! It was a tradition that we all held in the highest regard. Spending an entire day with extended family was always a holiday treat.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in a traditional way by hosting a small get together with friends. Our children had basically grown up together and it had become customary for us all to gather, let the kids hang out, and ring in the new year – quietly – with friendly faces. There were two to three times as many tweens as there were adults and so by midnight, it was noisy and late… the evening didn’t last much past the stroke of midnight. We had closed out another difficult year and ushered in 2004 with a promise of impending dreams come true.

Just a few days later, on a Wednesday morning, after everyone had left for school and work, I sat down at our home computer to check my email. Hubby and I shared a computer, the girls had their own desktop although when everyone was home – it was a free for all…. Whatever chair was empty. As I moved the mouse to ‘wake up’ the screen I noticed that Hubby’s email was open. That was unusual. He must have been on it this morning and forgotten to close it.

“It is strange how often a heart must be broken before the years can make it wise.”     ~ Sara Teasdale

I didn’t intend on doing anything but clicking on the upper right-hand corner – the little ‘x’ that promises to end your view but his inbox was right there, in front of me and full of emails from Abee. A quick glance at the topic line indicated that many of them were work related and then I saw one that said ‘apartment’ and another that said ‘meet me’ …

I wanted to vomit on the spot. I began to shake uncontrollably. My heart began to race and I couldn’t find my breath. They weren’t the only emails. There were emails from several different women – not related to business – women I knew. I instantaneously lost my sanity. I became unglued – a crazy woman. My perception of good judgment, rationale, or sound conscience disintegrated on the spot. My insides erupted in an explosion of panic and my nervous system took over reading, one by one, letters that were right there in front of me, depicting a life I knew nothing about. It was the closest thing to an out of body encounter that a living person can spontaneously experience. I noticed a vibration in the room that I soon understood was a result of the violent spasms occurring in my body. I was screaming vulgar, violent words that no one could hear.

I made my way to the car stopping just long enough to pick up the phone and call the man who had shattered my life for the last time. “We are done. I want a divorce.” And I hung up the phone. I probably added some expletives, most likely strings of them before we disconnected and still shaking, drove straight to our therapist’s office. In the demonstration of my lunacy, I entered her waiting area, walked right up to her office door, and began pounding. She was in session but I had no regard for anything except the prevailing annihilation of my morning; of my life. An emotional nuclear detonation had just obliterated my heart so completely that I was a walking, talking, shell of the woman that had awakened that day.

She came out, annoyed that I was being so disrespectful but as I shook a wad of crumpled papers in front of her with the announcement that “they’ve been lying, I’m done… I can’t do this”… she ushered me into a small kitchenette with instructions to ‘hide’ here for a minute. I had no idea who she had in her office but occasionally it’s important to protect the identity of one client from another for confidentiality’s sake; a task that can be challenging in a small town. I waited a bit, having no real concept of time passing as my head was still reeling in another dimension and then she came to get me. She only had minutes as I obviously wasn’t there for a scheduled appointment but quickly, as any good therapist would, she assessed me for suicide ideation and or violent considerations.  I hadn’t gone quite that far off the deep end thankfully and I was slowly regaining my sanity, my breath, and collecting my thoughts.

“You can’t stay in this marriage,” she said. “I know, I know…” I replied and without the protection of delirium, I slid to the floor and the dam of sorrow, of broken dreams, of failed hope – collapsed with me into agonizing heartbreak.

Needs

I went into hyper-control mode – attempting to manage some degree of emotional safety.

“You know, life fractures us all into little pieces. It harms us, but it’s how we glue those fractures back together that make us stronger.”  -Carrie Jones

I felt foolish and stupid and lost. I stood by the front door of our home and looked out at the gorgeous open space in front of me. We had built this house when all of that was just farm land. Today, there were twenty-five other houses in our neighborhood and I wanted to be in any one of them – any home but mine where only chaos seemed to perpetually exist. I wanted to be someone else, any one of those neighbors.

It was an upper middle-class neighborhood, mostly families, about half were single income households. It was the kind of neighborhood where the parents stand at the bus stop in their slippers holding coffee cups that were either empty or turned cold as we stood there – no matter the season – and chatted about our busy lives, children, and home life. They thought mine was great because I didn’t ever let them see beyond the wall that I had built to keep the absurdity contained. Some of us attended the same church, most of us were involved at the school in some capacity, and if nothing else, we ran into one another at the grocery store at least once a week. In all those places, perception – illusion – was important. I had fought hard to fortify the mirage no matter where I was, to hide any indication that ours wasn’t the typical suburban marriage. Only a handful of very close friends got to see the garbage in my life and even then, it was only the stuff that was still floating on the surface. No one got to unlock the mental drawer and open that file tucked deeply inside.

My heart was shattered. I didn’t understand how it could – again – be decimated so intricately. I thought I had stitched it together with glue and string and secured it with locks… I thought I had buffered its ability to be broken ever again. This time it was so, so complicated. My family, my mom, my sister, the rest of us – our daughters – what do we say to our daughters?

I didn’t ask Hubby to leave, he didn’t seem to want to go. We didn’t know how to move from this point. Hubby could not explain how or why things had gotten to this point, only that he was confused, ashamed, hurting, and undecided about the next step. We scheduled back to back therapy appointments to try and unravel all the emotions and thoughts that had us both thinking we must be crazy.

Abee didn’t come to work on Monday and I was a little worried. I called Emma to make sure someone was looking out for her – after all, she was my baby sister. “She’s here” is all Emma said to me. Of course. She would run. She ran to the only place that was safe since mom was away – to her twin.

Mom flew home but she didn’t fly into our area – she flew to Emma’s city. She went straight to Abee who apparently was comatose or something. WTF?? Because I had three kids and a business and a life – I didn’t get support? No… it wasn’t that. It was because I didn’t surrender to the pain. Not yet anyway. When I finally got to talk to mom she was a little less adamant that it hadn’t happened but she did point the finger directly to Hubby. He was the problem! Being almost 20 years older, he should have known better – he was a devil. She hated him. She was going to take Abee and move, far away – out of Hubby’s reach.

Wait, What?

“You’re leaving again? what?” I didn’t know how to respond to this. I didn’t know how to process the words that I heard my mother speak. Abee was the victim here? Seriously? I got mad. All the feelings that had been abated over the last several months as I saw them – well, didn’t see but felt them carry on an affair right under my nose – with total disregard for me and our family – lashed out at my mother.

“What about me? Why do I end up being punished for this? I’ve waited more than twenty years to have you be a part of my life in a meaningful way and you’re leaving again? Because of this?”

I unleashed all the abandonment sediment that had rested in the riverbed of my soul for all these years and thoughtfully dared my mother to do it again. I wasn’t going to let it happen. “Please mom, please stay. We’ll make it work.” I said. “I need you”.

Mom was house rich and cash poor. She would have lost a ton of money if she left. Sadly, she was financially dependent of Abee for the lifestyle that they lived. It wasn’t possible for mom to stay and for Abee to leave. Abee was dependent on us for income.

It ran over and over in my mind and I couldn’t find another solution. If I wanted mom to stay – Abee had to stay – Abee had to work – she worked for us. Shit.

My back was against a wall. In therapy, all I did was run through possible scenarios and none of them ended with mom staying a part of my or of my children’s life unless Abee continued to work for us. We paid her more than she could probably get somewhere else and mom’s livelihood was directly tied to her income. I was between a rock and a hard place; cornered, if I maintained the need for mom to be here. She was the only person I felt like I could count on. For me, healing required her presence.

Our therapist thought I was crazy and Hubby was against it but I demanded that we find a way to work through it and keep everything as it was. I went into hyper-control mode – attempting to manage some degree of emotional safety. I squared up and directed almost every detail of my day so that I could stay in ‘safe mode’. I turned into a robot of sorts – moving from one task to another so that our children were as insulated from the trauma as they could be. Clearly, something was wrong and we tried to comfort them but we were entirely imperfect. Our fighting was too loud, our words too strong, and our uncertainty too deep to maintain consistent levels of composure.

I couldn’t talk with anyone except mom and my therapist. Who would believe this? Even the therapist was incredulous that we could make this work. I insisted that ALL of us be in therapy – with her. It seemed logical to me that if one person was on the inside of our thoughts and emotions, our dysfunction, and our healing process; it would be easier. I refused to listen to her challenge to my rationale and she eventually yielded to our request albeit with the caveat that it was highly unusual and may someday make a great story. (!)

I felt incredibly alone in my anguish. My best friend, my sister, my confidant, was no more. My husband, my partner, my supporter, was gone. The combination of the betrayal and loss of what I thought I had was more excruciating than even the death of Rocky twenty-one years earlier. With death comes finality. This was different. Even though I moved my desk into a different room in our building, when I walked into the office every day I was reminded of the deceit and deception that had existed in my life. We still had to work which, meant meetings, phone calls, and planning sessions; it couldn’t be helped. We were small, there was no place to hide.

My instinct, my priority, my need …was to keep my family together and that’s what I set out to do.

Liar, Liar

My knowledge was confirmed with his answer to my single question and the validity of it filtered into my body one cell at a time.

“When your lover is a liar, you and he have a lot in common, you’re both lying to you!” — Susan Forward

Continued from Lightening Strikes

My head started swimming on his words “I’m in love with Abee” – I knew it! I knew something was wrong – I had felt this way before, with Dee. I didn’t connect the feelings – or maybe I had simply refused to look. I needed to get out of there. I looked at him with disgust. I wanted to vomit. So many things ran through my mind but none of them seemed appropriate at that moment and I found myself standing, robotically; moving toward the door, and walking out. I got to my car by memory and in a state of shock, I pulled out of the driveway and headed west. I could not get the idea out of my mind “I knew it!!, I’m not stupid, I knew it.”

I picked up my cell phone and called Abee. “Hubby thinks he is in love with you.” “What?” she says? “That’s crazy” but I disconnected. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say. I called mom. Unfortunately for mom, she was traveling in Hawaii of all places – trying to enjoy a vacation of a lifetime. I couldn’t care. I needed my mom and this wasn’t going to be pretty. Everything I had feared was being validated. She, of course, was in an impossible position and while she wanted to comfort me, she was also concerned about Abee… She offered to come home but that wasn’t what I wanted. I just needed to vent.

I was beside myself as I found a parking lot behind a large church. I sat there and chain smoked cigarettes – one after another – in an effort to calm myself. Reflections from the past several months as I noticed changes in the way they interacted, the way that they spoke to one another, laughed together, in the way that Hubby scheduled business events. Abee called me to ask if I was ok. What??

She claimed to not understand, to say that he was crazy, that it must be a mistake. What the heck? She seemed confused and hurt.

I trusted that woman. I didn’t trust that man – he had already proven that he was untrustworthy – that he could betray me; she has had my back.

She exhibited all the behaviors that I needed – confusion, surprise, and support. She told me it would be worked out that this wasn’t real.

I went home and waited for hubby to come home. I was fed up with is inconsistency – his denial – his betrayal. I didn’t understand his mind, the way he thought. He seemed confused too. He demonstrated a perplexed persona – stating that he didn’t know how he felt… he was trying, to be honest with me. He had feelings for Abee, he loved her, he loved us both. Fuck you, I thought.

I drove to Abee’s house, the house she shared with our mother who wasn’t there. She was pensive but seemed to be on my side – she was persistent with her feelings of confusion and empathy for my pain. She appeared to ‘not understand’.

The next day was Saturday and I was a wreck. Hubby went back and forth with his feeling – one minute he loved me more, the next he didn’t know. It was one of those experiences that seemed surreal in every aspect. I felt as if I was floating in the world – between realities – hoping that the one I was in would fade away at any moment and leave me back in something that felt less intense. Three times that day I went from my house to Abee’s – we went to lunch. I distinctly remember being at a diner in Amish country with her – the drive did me good – as I recalled, the details of the last time this happened to me. I spelled out how I felt, what I thought, I recounted the pain and agony that I experienced minute by minute during the discovery of Hubby’s first affair. I spoke – in detail – the way I felt about my friend’s deceit and betrayal. Abee stayed silent; austere.

Later that evening, I drove to her house – again. I was relaying information that Hubby was claiming – that she reciprocated his feelings – that in their travel together, she ‘held hands’ and echoed his claims.

She denied feeling anything for him – she stood firm in her state of confusion and deference to his claim. She rebuked his assertions by claiming that he had misunderstood her. She would never do ‘that’ to me she says.

By Sunday, I was spent. Literally just empty of emotion and energy to sift through the differences that Hubby and Abee presented to me. I was trying to simply *be* that day and it was difficult with three kids in the house and the constant influx of questions that were infiltrating my mind. I was in a state of suspension trying to remember to breathe because I constantly found myself holding my breath and waiting. I was waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had unfolded three days prior. I wanted to crawl back into my oblivious and protective hole where I just lied to myself about how everything was fine – that my life was a normal one.

And then… in a very quick and simple moment, I realized that Hubby didn’t just ‘fall in love’ – not without sex.

It was so clear – the realization that sex had to have transpired in order for Hubby to be ‘in love’ – I knew. I simply knew that this was more than some skewed fantasy in the mind of my husband. This had been a full-on affair and most of what I believed to be true about my life was currently – a lie.

My knowledge was confirmed with his answer to my single question and the validity of it filtered into my body one cell at a time. For the second time in our fourteen-year marriage, Hubby had exited our union to meet his emotional and/or physical desires. This time, it was not a random stranger or a friend of mine, it was my sister – yes, my half-sister – but my blood relative, my best friend, our employee. I tried to call her but she didn’t answer. I didn’t care really – I didn’t know what to say or if I would even be able to contain my burning emotions. I called mom.

I’m pretty sure I was screaming at her while she told me all of the reasons that I must be wrong. She was coming home she said – she didn’t say it, but I knew I had ruined her vacation with my ranting – I felt guilty. It wasn’t ‘my fault’ per se but I was the one calling her – needing her. Who can I talk to? My husband loves my sister – they have been having an affair. All this time – lying to my face, right in front of me – one lie after another. Where do I go? What do I do? In one part of my mind, there is a tiny, quiet voice that simply repeats over and over…

“help”.