Girls dream of pretty white dresses and three-tiered cakes to herald in their union with the man who captures their soul. Churches with deep crimson flowers set the stage for wedded bliss. Parents, with empty wallets and full hearts, shed tears of joy to see their daughter enter into the sacred ceremony of holy matrimony. Many happy years are sure to follow the newlyweds along with the occasional trying times but love will conquer all, right? Only in sappy romance novels does such a fantasy exist.
Flowers fade, love shatters, and marriages dissolve. My dreamscape vanished after twenty-one years and had me running to salvage what little remained of my individuality. I can’t remember the exact date the idyllic dynamic of my marriage changed. Nonetheless, our relationship had twisted into something less enduring.
At one time I had those notions of happily-ever-after dancing in my naïve mind. After all, my parents married young and had many years of trying times raising four kids. Yet through it all, they reached the milestone of fifty years of not murdering each other. I’d often joked to my parents that I was going to put them in a timeout when they verbally sparred. Their anger was a mere farce. The secret to their success was never going to bed angry, something I never mastered. Our bedroom was the battleground instead of a sanctuary.
My dynamic growing up was an unparalleled world of family unity over materialistic obsession. I coveted having a large family myself one day with plenty of children to impart that same wisdom to so that they could pass the same to their offspring. An enriched spirit triumphed over physical baubles. That lesson I’d treasure forever but none of that knowledge prepared me to face a life where those values were scorned. The land where worldly possessions were the true worth of one’s love became my isolated island away from my family. Because of my Catholic upbringing and the example of what marriage should be by my parents, everything that came unhinged in my relationship with my husband had to stem from something I was doing wrong. I grasped at the tangled skeins trying to mend a widening hole between us.
Traditional dynamics of a family, and something I observed growing up with my parental units, was the mother raised the children and sacrificed her dreams. What was more rewarding than rearing children? When our household income needed to increase beyond paycheck to paycheck, my husband decided he would go to further his education. I thought nothing of it at the time. The man had always been the sole bread winner from my observation in the hierarchy. With the economy as it was, I also worked forty hours a week but also was responsible for running a household as well. Time for self was a luxury I couldn’t afford.
What I found after he finished his schooling was another round of deep-seeded resentment. I was the slacker for not bettering my income level despite the lack of a college degree. When my husband sought affairs outside of our marriage, I blamed myself for not being more attentive. Never mind that I rushed out of work to get to the ice rink where my husband dropped our son off and left him. His online girlfriend was more important than his family. One day, my son got into an altercation with another boy in that short span between when his father left him and I arrived at the rink. That incident had my son kicked off the hockey team and out of the sport he enjoyed. Much like I had done, my son blamed himself. The pattern formed but I still didn’t see anything beyond my guilt for not preventing it. Again the problem was squarely on my shoulders because I wasn’t paying my husband enough attention between my physically laboring job and my son. I struggled at work. My enthusiasm for my hobbies waned. Depression sat on my shoulders like a tattered scarf choking me. The skein unraveled completely and exposed my fading soul. When I lost my uncle and grandmother on the same day, the lack of compassion from the man I’d pledged my love to for twenty plus years killed any empathy I had for him. My marriage was a sham and everything I did in an attempt to make him happy furthered my depression.
I made plans in secret to leave with my son in tow. My mother inherited a sum from her brother and was desperate to get me out of a bad situation. On Thanksgiving Day in 2012, I packed up and left while he went to his mother’s and pretended nothing was wrong in our marriage. Heaven forbid he look back in any way. One truth about mentally abusive partners that the victim never realizes how they manipulate. So cunning is their tactics that you turn everything that is horribly wrong onto yourself. Emotional claws cut jagged festering wounds. Visible scars manifest and never fully heal. The real crack across the cheek was unless the abuser kept you locked away, the laws didn’t care how far a person was pushed to the precipice of suicide. My failure in the sacred ceremony of holy matrimony haunted every step I took to get away from the commit I made twenty years ago.
Shattered and torn, I almost ran back. Would the Catholic Church shun me for abandoning the most sacred of unities? How often had I heard the homily condoning the breaking of the martial pact between man and wife? As if staying for the sake of some preconceived idolization born out of necessity in ancient times was worth my sanity. My parents, together for over fifty years, begged me to divorce. Two church going Catholics that hold each other’s hand every Sunday wanted me to run like Forrest Gump. They saw through the thin veil I hid my pain behind. My mother helped me find the strength I thought I lost to stand up to the tyrannical monster trying to woo me with soft spoken words of lament. The villain peeled back that false mask and revealed the manipulating self-centered egomaniac that tried to cow me. Four long years it would take me to cut the cord of that last stretched thin skein. The stark reality that the meager job I’d held for most of my now dissolved marriage was not enough income to live comfortably. I’m not high maintenance by any means but rent alone would eat up one paycheck plus part of another. My schooling was never a priority while I was married. I was expected to simply find another higher paying job with a degree and be reminded about how little I contributed monetarily. Now I was in control of my own destiny. With my divorce decree hanging in my living room to remind me every day what I fought for and the semi-colon tattoo on my arm to never give up, I applied to get the degree I’ve always wanted—Accounting. I can finally better myself instead of struggling to breathe under an oppressive thumb. The air has never smelled sweeter.