My life started unraveling on a Thursday morning this past July, barely four years to the day I’d met Robert, the Englishman I was madly in love with and thought I’d be sharing the rest of my life with.
Like most days, I’d fed Opie, made a cup of coffee, looked over the day’s projects, and decided to get my workout in before the morning got away from me.
Robert popped his head around the door, as he always did before leaving. And as always, I said, “Hey, you! Off to work?” This would usually have been followed by him kissing me goodbye while trying not to get conked in the head by a dumbbell. Instead, with all of the nonchalance of telling me that he was in fact off to work, he blindsided me with the news that he wanted a sudden divorce.
Then he left for an appointment.
Five months earlier we’d finally moved into our “forever home” and we’d just gotten back from another romantic holiday. Incapable of processing what I’d just heard, I finished my workout while thinking that surely I’d misunderstood and just needed another cup of coffee.
Except I hadn’t. And I didn’t.
So I did my best to make sense of it. To understand why he wanted this sudden divorce. For the past six months I’ve been trying to establish exactly where, when, and how I’d failed him. I asked 1001 questions, none of which yielded a straight answer. I slowly cut away parts myself as if I’d done something wrong. I suggested seeing a therapist separately or together. I made an emergency appointment with my doctor and asked if he thought I had some sort of undiagnosed mental illness that I couldn’t recognize because crazy people don’t know they’re crazy and I just could not fathom why the person I’d chosen, eyes wide open, to share my life with could just decide on one random Thursday that he didn’t want me anymore. Or maybe I just lived in a distorted version of reality.
My fairytale marriage was about to be over less than 3 years after it had begun. I could not believe or accept that. I would’ve done anything to save my marriage because you don’t get married the second time around at the old enough to know better age of 39 and then decide a few years in that you don’t want to be married after all. Both almost 40 years old and with one failed marriage behind each of us, we knew going into this that marriage is a commitment that requires work and compromise. We’d discussed it ad nauseam.
So, what the actual fuck?
The pain nauseated me in a way that only the news of my grandfather’s death had done fifteen years ago. Debilitated by shock and grief, and feeling queasy, I sat on the cold tile floor, resting my cheek against the new white toilet seat remembering how many toilets and tiles we’d looked at before choosing these. What was going to become of all of the things we’d chosen together for this home, our supposed forever home?
Being the height of summer, daylight lasted about 17 hours that day and it never really got dark, but deadlines be damned, I laid in bed for the next few days. I wanted to escape to a place where my life was still intact, where sudden divorce didn’t exist and my husband still loved me. But I mostly sobbed and wondered how this could be happening and how I was going to survive such an epic betrayal.
And still I had to sleep beside him.
A few weeks earlier, I’d been sending my sister photos from our trip and she was saying how ridiculously happy we looked, and how happy she was to see me so happy. Now I’d sent her a terse message saying, “He wants a divorce and I have no idea why. I need you to help me. But what can you do?”
I needed serious help. But really, what could anyone have done to make this sudden divorce nightmare better? It was unfair of me to even ask.
In a haze of anguish, disbelief, and fatigue, I read these words from my friend Shannon Kelly, and I took them onboard:
Can you tenderly and lovingly hold the pain of another human being without trying to fix anything, “say the right thing” or defend yourself or jump to action or “what are we going to do about it?” Because THAT is all you need to do right now. Just be still and open your heart and let people know, “I am here. I am with you. I care. Tell me more.”
PS. That is all you ever have to do when someone is in emotional pain. Promise.
He’d said that he was depressed. So I tried to hold his pain, to listen, and to be still with him. I accepted blame for things that couldn’t have possibly been my fault. I hoped. I even prayed. I asked others to pray that he was just in pain and reacting in the most devastating way possible and that he’d find his way back to me.
And sometimes it felt like he would. At other times he seemed sadistic. And some days I felt like I was a teenager dissecting every conversation and text message for clues about whether or not the boy liked me.