Lingering at the Crossroads

On the profundity of book quotes.

I don’t buy printed books anymore. I read ebooks, usually on my iPad, after either buying them or getting them on loan from the library.

Yes, I will agree that there’s something nice about holding a printed book in my hands, smelling the paper when I open it for the first time, and turning physical pages made of real paper as I read. But there’s something even better about being able to carry dozens — if not hundreds — of books with me everywhere I go and to be able to pick up any of them where I left off, no matter where I am.

Besides that, there is no place for printed books in my life these days. I’ve become transient, with most of my physical possessions packed for the day I land, hopefully on my feet, in a new home.

Highlights and Notes

Although I never put pen to paper in any of the printed books I owned — that would be sacrilege! — do “mark up” the ebooks I’ve bought. I do this by highlighting passages and adding notes. I can later go back and review these highlighted passages and think about what they meant to me when I highlighted them — and what they mean to me now.

Cover of 11/22/63I just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I’d gotten it for Christmas last year (or maybe the year before) and it has sat on my iPad, downloaded into the Kindle app, for months.

Reading is one of my few escapes from reality these days, but it isn’t easy for me to do. I have a hard time staying focused on any thought-related task; I do far better with physical tasks. And I have to admit that after taking a long break from Stephen King — the last book of his that I read was The Dead Zone and I didn’t even finish it — I didn’t think his brand of horror thriller would be a good match for my mood. But the book, which centers around time travel to stop John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, wasn’t quite what I expected. It was more historic fiction than horror — no demons in the corn or giant crabs on the beach. It was also long — 853 pages! — and I found it absorbing enough to keep my attention for the several days it took to read. I think I can safely say that I enjoyed it.

Of course, that’s not what this blog post is about. It’s about the truth I found in some of the book’s passages that I highlighted — truth that applies to what I’m going through now.

The latest version of the Kindle app offers four highlighting colors: pink, blue, yellow, and orange. I used pink to highlight five brief passages that made me stop and think about my divorce.

The Crossroads of my Marriage

A good portion of the book deals with the relationship that forms between the protagonist and a woman he meets in his travels. They fall in love, but he’s got a secret that he can’t share with her. It’s got nothing to do with her or their relationship, but his inability to share that information with her is causing problems with their relationship. He writes:

Sometimes a man and a woman reach a crossroads and linger there, reluctant to take either way, knowing the wrong choice will mean the end…and knowing there’s so much worth saving.

In hindsight — which is usually 20/20 — I know when my husband reached the crossroads of our marriage. It was in mid 2011, before I got back from my fourth summer season in Washington.

By the time I got back in October, my husband’s roommate had finally left, leaving our Phoenix condo open for me to move in. We still had the house in Wickenburg, of course; my husband had been living in Phoenix during the week and in Wickenburg on weekends for the previous three years. He had a roommate in Phoenix most of that time and his roommate did not make me feel welcome. So I avoided the place as much as I could. With him gone, however, things changed. We got new furniture and blinds for the condo and I moved my office into the second bedroom. I lived there with my husband and our dog and usually went back to Wickenburg on weekends with them.

I thought being together more would make our relationship better, but it didn’t. My husband never seemed happy; I assumed it was his job, which I knew frustrated and annoyed him. His behavior frustrated and annoyed me. Things deteriorated, fights erupted, he gave me a steady diet of disapproving glances whenever I wanted to do something that he didn’t like. But he never talked to me about what bothered him so I continued believing it was the job.

In reality, he’d reached a crossroads that I hadn’t seen. I don’t know exactly when he got there — I suspect it was during the summer, while I was away. A year later, in September 2012, he told a mutual friend that I hadn’t told him that I loved him when he came to visit me for my birthday in 2011. He was carrying around that disappointment (or anger?) for over a year but hadn’t said a word to me about it. (I never was much of a mind-reader.)

So he reached the crossroads and likely felt very alone. He lingered there, waiting for something — I don’t know what — to happen. Meanwhile, I was chomping at the bit — as I so often am — anxious to move in one direction or another. His malaise and my inability to make it go away by doing what I thought he wanted me to do — making a home for us in the condo — bothered me, but I still didn’t see what the real problem was.

He got to the crossroads without me, while I was spinning my wheels in frustration just down the road. Or maybe up the road.

He lingered at the crossroads of our relationship from at least October 2011 through my departure for my summer season at the end of April 2012. And then he decided on a path — one that clearly proves that he didn’t think what we had was worth saving.

He began looking for my replacement. He found her in the form of a desperate woman eight years older than him, a woman who sent him photos of herself in lingerie, a woman who convinced him to ask for a divorce. A woman who even provided him with lists of divorce attorneys to call, along with the advice that he should call as many as he could because I wouldn’t be able to work with any of the ones he’d spoken to. A woman who called him “baby” and would eventually manage his side of our divorce.

He reached the crossroads of our relationship and made a decision without me. He put his fate in the hands of a stranger. And I’m living — no we’re living — with the fallout from that decision now.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. Relationships need to be completely honest and open. As two people travel through life together, they should do so hand-in-hand so when they reach a crossroads, they reach it together and can guide each other to make the right decision on which way to go.

I wish we’d both understood that.

Undeserved Anger

Later in the book, the main character gets caught lying to his girlfriend. He gets angry about it and thinks:

We never get so mad as when we get caught, do we?

This sentence hit me like a freight train and brought me back to the August day when I discovered that my husband had lied about having an affair and hiring a divorce attorney. I caught him in the lie and texted him about it. He reacted with rage — rage directed at me.

Yes, he was angry at me because I’d caught him in at least two lies.

His reaction bothered me a lot. The man I’d fallen in love with would have been calmer and possibly — but not likely — apologetic. He would have attempted to offer some sort of explanation. He wouldn’t have reacted in angry rage with a threatening and accusatory email response.

As if it were somehow my fault that he’d lied to me.

We never get so mad as when we get caught. I knew firsthand what that meant.

The Bad Dream that Doesn’t End

Later in the book, the main character and his girlfriend have a falling out — mostly because he’s hiding the truth from her. (His motives are good, but how can she understand that when she doesn’t know the full story?) The fight is over and he’s leaving. He’s thinking:

Part of me was thinking this was all just a bad dream, and that I’d wake up soon. Most of me knew better.

This describes my state of mind since June 30, 2012, my birthday, when my husband called me on the phone to ask for a divorce. I didn’t know then that he was probably calling from the home of the woman he was living with, the woman who had become his mommy and would direct his actions against me for the next nine or ten months. Back then, it was just a shock — only weeks before, we’d been discussing him and our dog spending the summer with me.

For months, they subjected me to every form of harassment they could muster, trying to wear me down, trying to make me give in to a proposed settlement that would take away nearly everything I’d worked so hard for my whole life, leaving me homeless with my savings drained. It wasn’t enough to be wronged by his lying and cheating — they wanted to ruin me financially, too. Every time they’d throw some new form of harassment my way, I’d think that what was happening couldn’t possibly be happening. It must all be a dream — a terrible nightmare — and that if I were lucky, I’d wake up soon in my own bed with my husband beside me and my dog at the foot of the bed.

I even dreamed about him. I dreamed about making love with him. I dreamed about him holding me in his arms, comforting me as I sobbed from the grief I feel every day. I dreamed of him saying he was sorry, that he didn’t mean to hurt me, that the woman he left me for meant nothing to him and he was coming back to me.

But there’s no waking from reality, no matter how unreal it seems.

And I know that.

FEAR

In the book, the protagonist had been married to an alcoholic who went to AA. He mentions one of her AA slogans:

FEAR, standing for false evidence appearing real.

This reminded me of the paranoia that my husband and his girlfriend/mommy were apparently suffering from. She followed my Twitter stream like a circling buzzard’s eyes follow the trail of a wounded rabbit. She’d seize upon some innocuous tweet and send it to their lawyer as evidence of some imagined wrong-doing. I tweeted about flushing a dead fish down the toilet and it became evidence that I was destroying my husband’s valuable exotic fish. I tweeted about scanning and shredding documents as part of my paperless filing system and it became evidence that I was destroying my husband’s documents. These claims went as far as the court, along with fifty pages of other tweets, accompanied by demands that I stop destroying my husband’s property and grant him an immediate inspection of our home.

The only problem was, the fish belonged to me, they’d cost less than $10 each, and they were already dead. The papers I was scanning and shredding were all mine. I’m not a complete idiot.

Their — or perhaps just her? — paranoia led to fear: false evidence appearing real.

It’s almost sad to see my husband stuck with someone so psychologically unhinged that she reads between the lines and sees threats everywhere. Almost. But as my friends tell me, he’ll get what he deserves. Apparently he deserves to live out his life with a vindictive and paranoid old woman.

Why Does Life Have to Bite?

The last passage I highlighted is a piece of dialog from the protagonist’s girlfriend. At the risk of sharing a spoiler, let me just say that she was attacked and severely scarred. She says:

“Also, I’m angry. I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel, as well? Why does it have to bite?”

And this is my problem with the whole situation.

My divorce ordeal — and I really can’t use a more appropriate word — has hit me hard, harder than anything I’ve ever had to live through. My parents’ divorce, deaths among family members and friends, personal illnesses, financial hardships — nothing comes close to the pain and suffering I’m dealing with right now, every day of my life.

There’s no closure until it’s over — and even then I doubt I’ll ever have the closure I need. That’s mostly because I still don’t understand how it happened. I still don’t understand how the man I spent 29 years of my life with could throw away everything we had to shack up with a woman he’d met less than a month before. I still don’t understand how a man I loved and trusted with my life could betray that trust and subject me to the kind of mental torture he’s been throwing at me for the past nine months.

But I need to put things in perspective, as my wiser friends have pointed out.

One friend likes to talk about the hypothetical “little girl with cancer.” Yes, I’m better off than she is. At least I’ve had 51 years of life and most of it was relatively pain-free. The little girl with cancer won’t have that.

And, closer to home, I have a very good friend who is also going through some difficult times with her partner. On so many levels, her situation is far worse than mine.

Or I can just read the news and think about the millions of people worldwide, living in hunger and poverty or in war-torn nations. Losing family members, homes, livelihoods. Living in situations so horrible I can’t begin to imagine what their lives are like. I don’t want to imagine it. Like most other Americans, I’d rather turn a blind eye to the world’s more serious problems and wallow in my own grief.

And I know that’s wrong.

But it’s all relative.

Life is hard, life is cruel, life bites.

I suppose I should be happy that things aren’t worse. But that’s a very difficult proposition to grasp, especially with my future so uncertain after so many years spent planning and ensuring my — no, our — financial security.

My Crossroads

Now I’m approaching a crossroads of my own life. It’s not a place I ever expected to be at age 51. I planned and worked and saved and did everything I thought was best to avoid being someplace like this. I doesn’t seem right that I should be here.

It isn’t right.

But right doesn’t matter. As much as I’d like to believe it does, it really doesn’t. No one really cares about right and wrong. I’m naive to think otherwise.

Eventually, my divorce ordeal will end. The loss of my husband, my dog, my home, and the life I loved will be complete. The man I loved and the dreams I thought we shared will fade away like so many broken and dried autumn leaves on winter’s first cold and windy day. I’ll stand at the crossroads and I’ll make the decisions I need to move forward alone, with whatever the judge decides I’m allowed to keep.

As so many of my friends tell me so often, I’m a strong woman and I’ll be okay.

But I can’t help thinking about the mistakes that were made at that other crossroads, the one I didn’t see. And I’ll always wonder how things could have been different if the man who’d reached that other crossroads had chosen a path that I could rejoin him on.

5 thoughts on “Lingering at the Crossroads

  1. Another thought-provoking, fabulous article.

    For myself, as I’ve discussed privately, there were many red flags I wish I hadn’t ignored before we even married. The good things kept me hooked in while the other stuff slowly grew in the background and eventually eroded our relationship. I grew and changed over the years, sought counseling, and my own crossroads was a long time in development of my own growth until I finally couldn’t go on and stopped sharing and trying… long before we actually split up.

    Part of my journey included trying to understand why he was doing what he was doing, why he was as he was in our relationship, feeling blame for so much that i had nothing to do with and wasn’t responsible for, either. But eventually I stopped doing that as I realized that it really didn’t matter, he had his own issues and I had mine, and it didn’t matter anymore because I had to move forward and separate emotionally.

    His version of what happened and mine are quite different. I doubt that will change and it doesn’t matter to me anymore… It’s been a long time now, as you know.

    I truly think at some point you’ll no longer wonder if things could have been different or changed somehow. I don’t think you’ll always wonder, even if feels that way right now. I remember wondering and thinking about that as well. In time, though, as I moved forward, that left my thoughts and mind. I don’t know how long that took, and the time doesn’t matter anyway… It’s just a grieving process thats different for each of us.

    At least part of that was wanting to understand so I could grow and I prove, learn from mistakes to not repeat them. Of course we don’t want to ever go through this again or make any of the same mistakes. Separating from his issues and focusing on my own growth was part of letting go, part of grieving, part of moving forward and moving on without him. It was tangled as we had so much history as well as 2 children together. So it takes time and can be a bumpy road, of course.

    I’m very glad — thrilled, relieved — to have such a different life now, one that is so much better and so much at peace. I have a great life that I’m so grateful to have these days. My situation was quite different from yours, but my divorce was also awful and incredibly painful… worst thing I’ve had to go through. Worth it in the long run to be where I am now, though… truly.

    And yes, you ARE indeed strong and you will get this through to the other side and will indeed be OK. In the midst of it, though, I know how it is, how endless it can feel, and what a rough journey it can be in the midst of it. You have lots of love and support all around you, which is HUGE. :-)

    • I think I would feel better about all this if, after attending the marriage counselor sessions, he and I would have TALKED it out. He was holding so much inside. If he truly didn’t believe we could move forward together, he should have been honest with me rather than let me believe — up until the point when I discovered his girlfriend — that things could still be made right. It was the purposeful misleading, lies, and betrayal that are causing me the most pain.

      Understand that none of the people who know us both can believe he would do such a thing to me. Can we all be wrong? Apparently, we can. Unless, of course, he’s not wholly responsible for his actions — which is what I suspect. So sad that he’s hooked up with such an evil, manipulative woman.

      But, in the long run, I will probably grow to understand and accept that what happened is probably for the best — despite the pain. How much longer could we have stayed together with his complete inability to be open and honest with me, his wife? I guess it should surprise me that we lasted as long as we did.

      My mistake was treating him like an adult and respecting his privacy. While that might have worked with the man I fell in love with, it didn’t work very well at all with the pitifully weak man he became.

  2. Another great, eloquent article, and lots of good quotes:

    “We never get so mad as when we get caught, do we?”
    “Right doesn’t matter.”

    I don’t believe in closure, like there is some turning point where a painful event becomes OK. We just get used to it.

    Relationships are complex and people are funny. 29 years is a pretty good run. I don’t believe in “happily ever after” and lifetime marriages because, well, they just don’t happen that often. It’s awful how yours came crashing down, and how he turned so weird. It sounds like a deep unhappiness and he’s lashing out and acting out instead of facing it. I wonder if you’ll ever know what was really going on inside his head? I wonder if he even knows.

    • Thanks, Carla. I think you’re right about closure. And I’m getting more and more okay about it every day. I’m just sad. Sad for myself, sad for him, sad for what he threw away without even trying to save. I can’t imagine that he’ll ever be happy and I have to wonder, at this point, if he ever truly was.

      And no, I don’t think he knows what was going on in his head. I think he was confused and he turned to friends and strangers to advise him. The man who fought me in court to take away everything I’d worked hard for my whole life is not the man I fell in love with or married. He’s what was leftover when bad advice and greed changed him into the sad, delusional liar he became. I wonder if he even remembers what a good man he used to be?

What do you think?