After I told my husband that I wanted to divorce, I did a whole host of things I am not proud of, because I was losing my damn mind. I wonder sometimes if that’s excuse enough, if it’s alright for me to brush it all away under the pretext that I was blind and paralyzed with fear and mad with panic. I have people tell me that it’s not, that I was terrible and cruel and not myself. And there are times when I believe that too, when I cry about it and get nauseous and flush red with humiliation. During those times, it helps me to think about why things ended like they did, because while hindsight can make me feel like a sociopath, it can also help me see more clearly.
While I was in Ireland, I grew up. I shook off years of depression and fog and listlessness. I took stock of all the things I had been content to accept about my life at home and decided that 26 was too young to give up on myself. I gathered all the strength I thought I had and I told my husband we couldn’t be married anymore, because, and I truly believe this, it was the best for both of us. Neither of us was happy or fulfilled, but we were tethered together by love and marriage and, at least in my case, a sense of responsibility to the commitments we’d made. I think I’ve told this part before.
What I haven’t said, for nearly a year, is the hardest part, because it’s taken nearly this long for me to come to terms with it.
When I told my husband I couldn’t be married anymore, he was in Ireland with me, having come to collect me at the end of the field school, having traveled to the other side of the world with my parents and The Middle Child. I had vaguely threatened him at the beginning of the summer, because he hadn’t wanted to make the trip. “This is so important to me,” I said, believing it was going to be the last trip I’d take for most of my life. “You are coming.”
Sitting on the park bench, sobbing in broad daylight in public, telling him I was done, I wished I’d spared us both and just let him stay at home.
Instead, the two of us were sewn together for seven days, traveling the country with my family, who were all so shell-shocked and crazy with worry that they wouldn’t let us leave. At the time, I flashed hot with rage and sadness and deep, deep abandonment, because while I had just done the most terrifying thing imaginable, when I needed them the most, my family, reeling with the enormity of what I’d done, couldn’t reach me. They couldn’t be what I wanted them to be. I was broken and exhausted, never needing support more in my entire life, and my family turned on me. Something must have happened to me on that island, something sinister and seedy. I felt I had burst free from years of letting myself down, and everyone around me thought I was on drugs. I had just done something that felt like the most adult, sane decision I had made in years, I had finally told the people closest to me how I actually felt, I had done this massive, life-changing, serious thing, and no one took me seriously. They wrapped me up in shame and resentment, treating me like a caged animal, and plunked me down in the backseat of a Peugeot sedan for a family road trip from hell.
Now, I know that everyone was devastated. This story is not just about my life imploding. But then, I was the instigator, I was the one who started it, and I didn’t feel empathy or kindness or even pity. My family thought I was a monster, a loose cannon of insanity that could disappear at any moment into the wilds of Europe, never to be seen again.
My dad stayed up full nights in the lobbies of bed and breakfasts, just to stop me making a break for it. And for six nights, I stayed in the same room as the man I had just destroyed, crying myself to sleep and trying not to be swallowed up by the ruin and darkness.
For this week, I shut down. I became completely blank. I didn’t talk to anyone, least of all the man I’d loved for years, even though we sat jammed together in a car for hours every day. I listened to the same twenty songs on a loop on an iPod, I texted friends I’d made in Ireland, I cried quietly to myself when the horror of what was happening crept in through the cracks of the walls I’d been building. I did anything I could not be where I was, because that place was disgusting. I had never before lived through an experience that was so horrible it felt surreal, and I never want to again.
I hated everyone. My plan hadn’t been to run away into Europe and never be seen again, but had I been able to, I would have.
During this time, I was not kind. I was not nice or respectful or tuned into what anyone needed. Now I know that everyone felt numb, everyone wanted self-preservation, we all felt abandoned and angry. I couldn’t see it then, though. I was the one who had done this to everyone, and all I could feel was their collective confusion and disbelief. I was a pariah in my own family, and it hurt so much that I stopped feeling. For that week, eventually they were right – I was not myself.
When I consider all of it like this, I can forgive myself. That doesn’t make it go away, or even make it better, but it makes it digestible.
I am not a bad person.
I am human.