Gone is the idea that you know where you are headed, that you know who your friends are, that you know who you are. To get divorced is to feel entirely lost on streets that you could once navigate with your eyes closed. The past feels cut off, across a divide, barely visible behind you.
TOVA MIRVIS, “From Somewhere”, Boston Globe Magazine, Sep. 28, 2013
I’ve been married to Doc for 26-years – and a week ago today he told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. The confusion and fear are overwhelming and the pain and sadness are devastating. This isn’t out of the blue – we’ve been having difficulties for a long while – but then again, it is out of the blue, because I really thought, deep in my heart, that he cared about me enough to do the hard work, to engage in often disturbing and difficult process of introspection and discovery, to work on his own issues as I have been trying to desperately to work on mine so that we could have a healthier and more loving relationship. But this is not to be – and I can’t change anything about the circumstances but how I deal with the cards I have been dealt.
The situation with Doc is still too fresh and raw to talk about here – obviously I can’t find anything even remotely funny about our split. But after 30 years, I can talk about the end of another marriage – my marriage with The Loser – and what I learned from it
The Loser and I were unhappy even before we got married – he was emotionally abusive early on. We had been living together and even working together for a while (until my boss finally had enough and fired him – not only because of his work performance, but also to try to get The Loser away from me). It worked – The Loser moved to another radio station far away – but I was so young, so stupid, and so insecure, that I didn’t end my relationship with The Loser then. Instead, I sent him care packages and spent hours on long distance calls, listening to him complain about his new job and alternately blame me for his troubles and tell me he couldn’t live without me.
Within a few months The Loser had quit that job and returned to Utah, where he got a job at another radio station and we resumed living together again. Within a few months, I discovered I was pregnant – and I felt it was the right thing to do to marry The Loser – as an unconfident, frightened nineteen-year-old, I just couldn’t see any other alternative.
After three and a half turbulent years with The Loser, and now a mother of two toddlers, I knew something had to change. I couldn’t live with the drugs and drinking any longer – and I couldn’t continue to expose my children to the often explosive and violent mood changes The Loser displayed. I worried for their safety…and I worried for mine. It still took me another three months before I finally gained the courage to tell The Loser I wanted out – and I was surprised with how well he took the announcement! He assured me that he wasn’t angry and that he would help me find a new apartment. We lived together for another month as I searched for a new place I could afford on my part-time salary – and then I talked to a leader in my church.
I think we’ve already established that I’m not much of a religious person – I’ve had some humiliating and painful experiences with local church leaders in the Mormon faith. But as I contemplated leaving The Loser, I knew that I could not make it on my own – I would need help and support, and I thought the church could offer those things to me – as well as acceptance and a sense of belonging. So, I started going back to church on Sundays and meeting with the bishop for counsel, telling him about my situation and plans. He immediately told me that I shouldn’t leave The Loser – that marriages and families were the most important thing to God. He convinced me that, even with the drugs, the drinking, the abuse – the marriage should continue and I should do what I had to do to make sure it was a success
Although I had already found an apartment and was due to move into it the next week, I told The Loser I felt we should stay together and try to save the marriage. His reaction was…well, like a nuclear blast. All I could do to duck and cover and hope the shock wave passed over me without ripping me apart. After putting his fist through the wall next to my head, he informed me that we would move ahead with plans, that the only way he would work on the marriage was if we separated first, that I was a horrible person to go this far and then want to “fuck with his mind” like that. So the girls and I moved into our little apartment, I applied for food stamps and was told the only way I could get welfare is if I signed over my $400 per month child support payment to the state – and then they would be happy to pay me $390 a month in cash assistance. I declined – and with much shame, I asked the church for help with expenses I could not meet and food I could not afford.
As soon as I moved into my apartment, The Loser’s attitude went under a remarkable transformation. Suddenly, he was loving, cheerful, and would visit often – bringing me flowers, romancing me, and wanting sex. I felt a surge of hope that perhaps I wasn’t a failure – perhaps the marriage would recover! And then I found the phone bill. You see, The Loser often stayed at my apartment while I worked my part-time job at the radio station – watching the girls during my six-hour shift. I appreciated it – I could never have afforded a babysitter – plus, he was being so nice to us! But one day, my phone bill came – and with it, charges to a number in Provo that I didn’t recognize. Repeated calls, always while I was at work.
I asked The Loser about it and he brushed off my questions, telling me it was a radio friend who worked there (about 45 minutes away). He didn’t offer to help pay for the bill. The next month, there were even more calls to that same number – again, always while I was at work. This time, I called the number myself and a girl answered. I asked her about the calls and, after some stammering, she explained that The Loser must be calling her brother – as he was very interested in radio and talked to disc jockeys often. I didn’t believe her – and I told her so. After some more stammering, she suggested that I talk to The Loser and ask him what was going on.
Of course, by that time, I didn’t need to ask – but I did, and The Loser admitted that he had been seeing this girl – this 16-year-old groupie – for months, well before I had proposed leaving the marriage. He insisted that it was not sordid, that he really loved and respected her. I asked if the girl’s parents knew and The Loser admitted they did not. I think it was about then that he realized that I now knew that he, a 27-year-old man, had just admitted he was having a secret relationship with a minor (illegal in all 50 states – except maybe West Virginia – OK, I checked – EVEN in West Virginia!) and I was the woman who could bring the fervent justice of her parents and the state down on his head.
The Loser quickly told me he would end things with The Groupie. He also said he loved me and the girls – and he wanted to work on the marriage. Like a desperate fool, I agreed.
I remember that The Loser one day told me he was going to Provo to attend a BYU football game…with a friend. He assured me that he wasn’t seeing The Groupie – that things were over with her. Later, I called The Groupie’s number and her father answered. I asked for her, saying I was a friend and we were supposed to meet that day. I knew what he was going to say before I heard it – The Groupie was at the BYU game – meeting a “friend” – was that me? No, no – it wasn’t me. I hung up the phone and switched on the television, which was showing the game. For hours, I kneeled in front of it, scanning the crowd shots, trying to find The Loser and The Groupie so that I could see what this girl had that I did not. During the plays when the camera was focused on the players, I wailed like a banshee waiting for someone to die. It felt as if I had been stabbed several times in the stomach – and I could do was to clutch myself and sob – while my babies, my two sweet daughters – watched me in concern and my oldest, just three-years-old, patted me on the shoulder and asked me over and over, “What’s wrong, mommy? Why are you so sad?”
I told The Loser we had to go to counseling – and we did. The counselor was good – but The Loser had never been serious in his intent. She would ask him to take me on a date – just a few hours without using drugs or drinking – and he couldn’t make it through the night without lighting a joint. She would ask him if he had broken things off with his girlfriend, and he would admit they were still talking and occasionally seeing each other – on a “purely platonic level” – but that he would end things, again. He sometimes wouldn’t even show up for our appointments and, at one of these times, the counselor told me that she did not believe The Loser would change. She said, “I see men like this often. They come to me when they are 50 or 60-years-old and wonder why they are unhappy and alone, why no one in their family will connect with them. Even then, they don’t want to accept any responsibility for their actions and they still don’t want to do the hard work – and it’s usually too late for them to make any real change. ”
For our fourth wedding anniversary and The Loser’s birthday, I planned an overnight trip to beautiful Wendover, Nevada (by the way, that is my sarcastic voice – there is nothing beautiful about Wendover – but it had gambling and free drinks, so that appealed to The Loser). His mother took the girls and we actually had a good time – he was attentive, charming, and he didn’t get very drunk or high while we were there. When we returned to my apartment the next evening, The Loser asked me if he could spend the night there. I had an 8pm-2am shift at the radio station, but he said he wanted to be there when I got home and he added that he was worried that The Groupie would try to call him to wish him a happy birthday, and he didn’t want that. I was elated that he was taking steps to make sure they did not have contact – so I happily agreed.
However, about 9pm that night, The Loser called me at the station, asking me to pick up some paperwork for him and announcing that he was very tired and was going to go to his apartment to sleep that night. You know that feeling you get when someone is lying to you? That prickly feeling where your brain is screaming at you that something is wrong – but you don’t want to believe it? I had that feeling – and after another two hours, I called The Loser at his place to ask some details about the paperwork he wanted (let’s be real – I knew I wasn’t calling him about that). His roommate answered and, when I asked for The Loser, his tone of voice immediately changed. After some hemming and hawing, he told me that The Loser wasn’t there – he had gone out and he wasn’t sure where or when he would be back. Again, I knew he was lying – and I figured The Loser had gone to see The Groupie.
The rest of the shift was shit – I don’t supposed I would have won any awards for my show that night. I cried and sobbed and occasionally opened the mic to do the bare minimum of announcing – the stuff I was legally required to do. Even then, my voice would crack and I would hiccup a sob or two. As I played song after song, I wrote a heartfelt letter to The Loser, explaining my pain and the fact that I couldn’t go on like this anymore. That he would need to make a real choice – me or The Groupie.
When my shift ended, I drove to The Loser’s apartment – planning on leaving the letter on his bed so that he would get it when he returned from his date. The front door was not locked (not unusual for Utah), so I let myself in, went up the stairs, opened his bedroom door, and turned on the light – and found The Loser and The Groupie in bed together. I can’t tell you what happened after that – I remember screaming and then, suddenly, I was downstairs and outside. I remember collapsing to the ground under the carport and then The Loser was there, in his underwear and nothing else, shaking me by the shoulder, assuring me that it wasn’t what it looked like. “She came up to tell me happy birthday! We were JUST sleeping – nothing else was going on, I promise!” I looked up to see The Groupie standing in the doorway, wide-eyed and clutching The Loser’s sheet around her. I remember screaming again and lunging at her and The Loser holding me back while the Groupie backed into the screen door and tried frantically to open it. I remember shaking The Loser’s hands off me, getting in my car and backing out – watching The Loser watch me – and the horrified look in his eyes…for himself? His girlfriend? Our marriage? Me? I don’t know – but I did know that the marriage was finally, unquestionably, irrevocably over.
Things still weren’t easy. I found a full-time radio job in a city about an hour away and I moved into a little hovel of an apartment, since now most of my pay went to a babysitter. The Loser would visit the kids some weekends and would attempt to pretend that nothing was wrong and that we were still working on the marriage. I was depressed, my health suffered, I was hospitalized for a brief time with an illness and nearly lost my job because of it. And I was angry – so very, very angry at the waste of it all, the betrayal, and the fact that my girls had a man for a father who really wasn’t much of a father at all. My mother says that my whole personality changed that year – that I became guarded, bitter, and that I trusted no one and allowed no one to get close to me. And I think those scars still affect me today, even though I work on it daily – and I think it certainly affected my marriage with Doc – although he has his own, unattended wounds that infected the marriage as well.
I don’t want to become that bitter, angry, isolated woman again. I know this is going to be a heartbreaking, terrifying, lonely ride – but I’m trying to live in the moment, to be at peace as much as I can, forgive as much as it is emotionally possible for me to do at this time, and to remind myself that I’m strong, loving, intelligent, and most of all WORTHY – worthy of love, affection, and acceptance from my friends, family, and most of all from MYSELF. It will be a rocky road, but I keep reminding myself that this will pass and my hope is to emerge on the other side a better, happier person.