It was a regular day just like any other, probably a Tuesday. The sun was low in the sky and my stepson was home from elementary school. We’d just finished a family dinner at a long, wooden kitchen table and I was clearing the plates while my little boy sat on the bench, legs kicking, probably doing some homework or play fighting with some plastic figures.
I can’t remember any of this part exactly. Because what I remember is what came after it.
My then husband was a former Army soldier who had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He’d recently enrolled at the local community college with his GI bill while I, already a college graduate, played breadwinner and mom and wife.
I remember a gnawing feeling of unhappiness that had gone on for several years by that point, but I couldn’t allow those feelings to bubble up because things were just the way they were. That was the end of the story. And anyway, I loved him. He was my husband and this was my life.
Aren’t so many women this way?
“I’m going to go meet some friends to study,” he said as I was washing the plates in warm, sudsy water. “At the Chili’s over by the Home Depot.”
“That sounds good,” I said, drying my hands and stepping away from the sink. “I’ll see you later.”
A kiss. A wave. Just like any other day.
But it wasn’t going to be like any other day.
I’d noticed that he’d been staying late in art class lately – to work on some of his pieces, he’d said. I’d never questioned it because I never had a reason to. Why mistrust a person who I’d been with for more than eight years, and who had made a promise in front of our family and God that he’d love me forever?
But as the hours ticked by an uneasy sensation sprouted in my gut. I gave my stepson a bath, we finished his homework, I read him a story, I tucked him into bed. And as it got even later my stomach churned violently, perhaps sensing what was to come.
I decided to call him in an effort to quell the anxiety. I’ll just see when he’s coming home, I’d thought, not wanting to be an overbearing wife.
Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. “Hey, this is Johnny. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.”
“Hey! It’s me. I was just checking in. Could you give me a call back? I was wondering where you were and what time you were coming home. I’m starting to get a little worried about you.”
I hung up. I waited. I paced. It gnawed.
An hour or so passed so I called him again. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. “Hey, this is Johnny. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.”
I hung up. I paced. Now I had to think. Think, think.
I dialed the number again.
“Hey, this is Johnny. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.” No rings this time. Just voicemail.
But what does that mean? Did he turn the phone off? Did the battery die? Did he break it? What happened and why isn’t he calling me? He’s never done this before.
When you trust somebody you don’t jump right to the worst possible place. You move through the logical steps of what might have happened and you eliminate every single one of those before you begin to allow doubt to enter your mind. Before you allow truth to enter your spirit – which we often block out in the name of love.
Around 10:00 p.m. I pulled my sleeping stepson out of bed so we could go look for his father.
“Mom? Where are we going?” he said as he rubbed his eyes and shuffled with me toward the garage.
“Shhhh, don’t worry. We just need to take a ride,” I said as I buckled him into the back seat, forcing a smile as only moms can do. “It’s okay, go back to sleep.”
Thankfully, he did.
I drove wildly down the long country road we traversed when coming and going from the house – a rarity in the DFW metroplex – with tears streaming down my face and a pounding in my chest. I examined every ditch, every turn, desperate for an answer to the panic that was exploding inside my body.
I drove all the way to the Chili’s which, of course, was closed by then. The parking lot stood still and white except for one or two lingering cars, the sounds of crickets, and a panicked wife in a black Honda Civic.
I tried to call him again.
“Hey, this is Johnny. Leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.” No ring, no answer.
I drove back down that country road in utter defeat. The tears were splayed into a matted mess of makeup on my face, my heart was empty, and I felt like a cold shell of a human. I gently put my stepson back into his bed and then sat down on the sofa with my head in my hands.
I cried my soul into those hands until, sometime after midnight, I received a call.
“Oh my God, where are you?”
“I lied to you.”
“What? Are you ok?” I stammered to a silent line. No answer.
“Look just come home and we’ll talk about it when you get here.”
I waited, wringing my hands, pacing, wondering what he meant and still not knowing what was coming my way. In fact, relief was flooding my body in a blanket of warmth – because he was okay. He was safe. He was coming home and we’d figure out whatever it was he had to share.
“I was with someone else,” he said after walking through the door. “I’ve been seeing her for a while and I don’t want to be with you anymore. I want a divorce. I’m leaving.”
Gut punch. Open mouth. Nothing coming out.
Then he went to pack his things.
“What? No….” I’d lost air.
And then I was on my knees, begging.
And then tears turned into rivers.
And then I was crawling behind him as he packed his things, as he walked, as he left. And then the garage door closed and he was gone.
This is the worst day of my life, I thought to myself as I fell into a heap in the master bedroom closet. I didn’t know what to do just yet, but I wanted to make sure my child didn’t hear me crying my eyes out. So I went to the place with the most sound absorption and, in fact, the closet is still where I go to cry.
There are a lot of things that happened after that day. I lost my son. I lost my house. I lost my life. I lost my future.
I spent about a year floating around, void of identity, not knowing who I was outside of “Johnny’s girl.” We’d been together since I was seventeen years old and I was now twenty-six. Who the hell was I? What was I doing in this world, now that my future had been erased?
I remember calling a family member shortly after he left me, probably the next morning but it may have been in the middle of the night. I remember she said that sometimes the worst day of your life turns out to be the best thing to ever happen to you.
What rubbish, I thought. My husband has been cheating on me, I was too stupid to see it, and he just left me. Now I’m alone and I’ve lost everything. How could this possibly be the best day of my life?
But she was right, you know. I suffered a lot in my late twenties and early thirties. I was lonely, I was lost, I was unsure of myself, I was afraid. But I grew and I changed. I forged a life and a career for myself. I locked the memories of motherhood into my chest where I could treasure them for the rest of my life.
And then after a few really unsuccessful love affairs, I met a man in my early thirties who was the right match for me. I married him because I loved him and wanted to be with him – not because he loved me and I needed that in my life, like I did the first time around.
And I so often say to my husband, even now, “I’m so glad Johnny left me. You’re so much better as a husband, and he and I weren’t a match at all. I don’t even know what we had in common.”
I write my blogs and my books and my poetry to try to process life and to share the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Like that your worst day canbe your best day – in hindsight, of course. Because the worst day of my life actually unshackled me from an existence I was chained to. An existence that was not suited for me. An existence that I didn’t want, because I didn’t even really know who I truly was.
After my divorce I began writing. I began dancing again. I became certified as a yoga teacher. I made friends.
I learned what a margarita tasted like and what foods I actually preferred. I learned to sit quietly with my own thoughts and I overcame my debilitating shyness. I found some self-confidence that I’d never had and I gained some pride in my ability to overcome adversity.
I learned who the real me was for the first time in my life, and I got to embrace her with open arms.
And here I am, almost exactly 13 years later, being my best self. Sharing my wisdom with you in an effort to promote a book that was born out of the ashes of these experiences.
What a glorious day, indeed.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, is now available!
The Big Pause