When I first opened my husband’s secret email account in September 2011, I went into a state of shock. I stopped eating and sleeping. My hair started falling out in clumps. I had terrible chest pressure and problems breathing. Interestingly, the only time that my breathing grew steady was when I went running.
My brain did some funny things. First, it shut down all memories of my marriage – the good and the bad. Within 24 hours, I could hardly imagine what my husband’s face looked like, even though I had been married to him for nearly 16 years. I didn’t know how to act all in a sudden – that would require decision making, which would require thinking. I wasn’t capable of it. The only thing I could do was act like normal. And so I did. That means that after I called him at work and cooly told him to come home and get his things and leave our home, I brought my son to baseball practice, helped my daughter with her homework, cooked dinner, and tucked everyone into bed.
Then I drank a the most expensive bottle of red wine I could find – one that we were saving for a special occasion. I recall leaving a little bit left over in the bottle, thinking, “I am not the kind of mom who drinks a whole bottle of wine.” And then I pretty much passed out.
I could have slept for days, but my children were young, and they needed me. So I woke up at 6:30 am, believing it was all a bad dream. When I realized it wasn’t, I had to lie down flat again and remember to breathe. This would happen for months – I would wake up, look around, remember what was going on, and then bend over from the anxiety and tightness in my chest.
But afterwards I always got up and took care of my children. They saved me.
That first morning, after I dropped them off at school, I called my friend K and told her I had learned that my perfect husband was not exactly faithful to me after all, and that he had moved out. As soon as I said those words, she told me she was leaving work and heading to my house. Since then, she has been with me, listening and advising and supporting me and my children nearly every day. I have a feeling that when she unofficially signed up for this, she had no idea that it would take up nearly three years of her life, and that she would learn things that she never imagined about my husband – and perhaps about the world in general.
And along the way, we learned a lot about ourselves. Like, what did I first see in this man when I was 23 years old and first met him? What did she see in the man she nearly married at the same age? Why were we attracted to our opposites? Why did both of us stay silent when our instincts told us that something was wrong? How did the role of perfectionism contribute to all of this? And why were we perfectionists in the first place?
Some days I call her my brain. My own brain is a tiny bit out of whack when it comes to this divorce and the circumstances leading up to the breakdown of the marriage. I tend to forget things. But she always remembers. “Madness,” she’ll say, “he sent you that threatening email last Easter, and you were so worried, and you didn’t reply for three days. And then he sent you another threatening email because you didn’t reply fast enough.”
“Ahhhh,” I say. I do remember. And then I wonder if perhaps I just don’t want to remember.
I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have her friendship and support for the past nearly three years. And of course, I would say the same about my father’s overwhelming support. And then the support of so many other friends – and I have to confess that I was once afraid that some of these friends would dump me when they found out that my soon-to-be-ex was a lunatic who engages in some really repugnant and scandalous behavior.
But as it turns out, I didn’t lose any friends. In fact, I’ve made more friends along the way, and I’ve reconnected with old friends: D and C and J and V and so many more. I have no doubt that some gossips talk about my divorce and my husband’s dramatic weight gain and overall bizarre new appearance. I’m sure that even more people wonder what the hell happened to him, and to the marriage. I hate when I occasionally hear pity in people’s voices when they talk to me.
But I’m told the pity will fade away in time, and, of course, gossip and speculation gets old too, and gossips will move on to a more interesting story. Either way, no one has told me any gossip specifics, and so I make the conscious decision to remain happily oblivious.
This ordeal has also brought me closer to my father. Ironically I was scared to tell my parents about my separation because I was afraid they would freak out and blame me. But both of them have refused to judge or blame me for one thing involving my marriage. I’ve also learned that almost nothing shocks my father. That he deals with difficult situations like he would deal with a business deal – he takes out the emotions, which leaves him able to see all the different sides of a problem. He’s taught me some critical life lessons: he was the first to say that you should never make the “other guy” feel humiliated – that you should leave him with something, even if he doesn’t deserve it. He’s taught me that you don’t sweat the small stuff. You can’t control everything – you need to let people do their work, and you need to let go and trust them to do the right thing (even if you don’t particularly like them for fully respect them). And he’s taught me that you need to focus all of your energy on the most precious part of the deal: in this case, the children. And then you marshall all your strength and make all necessary sacrifices for the fight to keep them safe.
Along this awful journey, I’ve become closer to countless friends, as my obvious vulnerabilities make them more likely to share what’s going on in their lives. I’ve learned that the old expression, “Never judge anyone. Because you never know how their life is & what they’re going through….” is very true. I am surrounded by people who, by most definitions, lead charmed lives, at least on the surface. But difficulties touch everyone, sooner or later, and there is no such thing as a perfect life. Everyone struggles.
And lastly, there are the divorced moms I’ve grown to know, each one braver and cooler than that last. I’ll never forget the first time I went out with a group of them for drinks, shocked that they were laughing out loud about the horrible things their ex husbands had done. No one I knew talked openly about problems like that. What a relief, I thought. I was able to breath again, listening to them. I would say that most divorced moms are unshockable, but that’s not entirely accurate. When they hear something that shocks them, they stay silent and absorb it. They live in worlds that are no longer all black and white, and because of this, their empathy and acceptance have been expanded in all directions.
And so now I start to meet the working moms. So far, they have greeted me with enthusiasm, and with tons of practical advice, calendars, schedules, and childcare options. I admire their focus and energy. We’ll see if it rubs off on me.
And so I fight on, sometimes feeling alone, but never really alone. And that is the difference between me and soon-to-be-ex.