A little background – I was married to my best friend from high school at 22 and ended our disaster of a marriage at 26. The following are the misadventures and lessons learned of discovering I was married to a stranger and starting life over before the age of 30.
I never had much of a family. When I was young, it was just my parents and myself in our house. My father had two other children that he’d written off as an error of his first marriage, and discontinued contact with his parents or brother and sister around the time I started kindergarten. My mom’s father died when I was very young, and her mother, while at least a relative, was never the cookie-baking, cheek-pinching grandmother one might have pictured. I did have one aunt and uncle with two children on my mother’s side and we saw them every third or fourth holiday. My parents divorcing when I was 12 brought my family down to just myself and one parent.
I’m not complaining. This isn’t an oh-poor-me kind of thing. I didn’t mind growing up that way, especially since it was all I knew. I’m kind of a loner by nature and I like my space and my quiet. And when I visited friends and boyfriends houses on holidays, all the people stressing out in the kitchen, the children screaming and running around, and the general craziness was just a little much for me. I always assumed I was best suited for a future in line with my past – sparse and simple.
Enter the husband. From the time I met him, I was just as involved with his family as I was with him. You could tell his mom had always wanted more children and that from day one, she considered me as one of her own. Living in part of their house only intensified this as his mother and stepdad were a part of our everyday lives. I was welcomed into his family with open arms and embraced by all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins that were thrilled for him to have found a wife (why that didn’t scare me, I cannot explain). Sure, there were still people in the kitchen fighting over whether or not the turkey was done, children hopped up on easter candy running all over the house, and the token creepy uncle looming around, but for the first time ever, this crazy bunch of people were MY crazy bunch of people. It felt great.
But when the marriage started to go bad – or rather, when I stepped out of denial and realized I’d made a terrible mistake by marrying him in the first place – it was the family that kept me in it. I’d been a part of them since I was 21 and since the little family I had was living out of state by then, they were all I had. Starting over isn’t so scary when you have your friends and family to stand behind you – but when the friends and family are the same people you’re walking away from, it can seem truly impossible. So I decided to stick it out. I’d stay with him, for the benefit of them. I figured it was a positive outweighing the negative kind of situation and rationalized it that way…for about a week.
At first there was guilt. I had become my mother in law’s only daughter. She doted on me as if we shared blood, bragged about me to her friends and coworkers like I was her own. We spent time together, did all of our holiday shopping together, did the holiday cooking together, I taught her how to use her computer and she showed me a different kind of parenting and family than my own parents were capable of. And she wasn’t the only one – his stepfather, a wonderful, woodsy, rugged kind of man who had two daughters of his own that had never appreciated him and if there wasn’t money involved, wanted nothing to do with him, finally had a daughter that adored him. It was a perfect familial match. His daughters were nowhere to be seen, nor was my father. He taught me how to skin and butcher a deer, he took care of my car, and he teased and taunted the life out of me every chance he got. Just like I was his own. So if I left, I knew I would hurt my husband – on many levels, he deserved it and even if he hadn’t, love isn’t fair. Sometimes people get hurt, it’s part of the deal. But they didn’t deserve to be hurt, to lose someone. They hadn’t done anything wrong. Was I being selfish leaving them so that I could live alone and find someone better than their son to be with?
Then came fear, which is only natural. What happens if my car breaks down? What happens if I have a bill I can’t pay? My only real relative is a few hundred miles away and has less money than me. And then the longer fears – what if I never find someone new? But my list of fears included what if they hate me? What if they believe that I was the bad wife, he was the good husband, and I’d never deserved to be there in the first place? What if I was giving up the only family I would ever belong in? Did I want to go back to being alone on Christmas?
There were a lot of factors that added to my divorce – from abuse to communication issues, from severe dishonesty, to simply not loving the man I’d married. And as you’ll see in this series, one very human thing won over all of this guilt, all of my fears, and even all of the reasons I should have left him over – the fact that I wanted so deeply just a chance at being truly happy. And in all honesty, if it weren’t for them, our marriage would have been only half as long as it was. They unknowingly kept me there with how good they were to me and for me.
As has already been made clear, I did leave . I don’t miss my husband. I don’t miss being married. I don’t even miss having a warm body next to me at night or the sense of security that came along with being his Misses. But I do miss them. Especially in the fall and in the winter. The Stepdad would be hunting and building fires, my mother in law and I would be at the mall and hour before it opened on black Friday morning, lined up outside. This is the absolute last situation I ever thought I’d find myself in – I miss my family.
I knew that leaving meant the risk of losing them entirely and things had gotten so bad with the husband that it I was ok with it. When I left my husband –in the oh-so-classy way of leaving while he was at work at night, based on his history of anger and abuse – I left him a long note that he probably never read. It said things like ‘this is your bank account. This is your dry cleaner’. I left the parents a note too. I thanked them for giving me a home and a family. I apologized for disappointing them if I had, and told them I hoped they’d understand. I returned the key to their house, left the note on the table, and locked myself out the back door for the last time. I spent hours packing up my things from the downstairs apartment, sealed and left the note for my husband – as cold as a statue. I left that note for my mother in law to find in the morning and was crying like a baby. And I don’t cry.
The first phone call I got when I left wasn’t from my husband – who had gotten home and gotten his note early in the morning and said and done nothing. It was from his mom. She was crying and telling me she was so sorry for what I’d had to go through and what I’d had to do. She understood. She said she didn’t blame me, still loved me, and that she still wanted to be a part of my life. She made sure I was ok, that I was safe, that I didn’t need anything, and told me to call her when I was ready.
I honestly avoided her for a few months. And then a few more after that. I needed time to heal and rebuild my life, and then I needed time to just be me, with my past behind me. She got the hint and backed off. A few months ago I saw her and the stepfather at the grocery store. She was hesitant in coming over to me but was fine once she realized that I was too. She had seen through Facebook of all things, that I was with someone that made me very happy and was genuinely glad to see me so in love, so healthy, and just kept saying how happy I looked. She filled me in on her extended family, on her job, on what she’d been up to lately. We made sure things are ok with us moving forward.
I know I got lucky and that it wouldn’t have worked that way for everyone. I know some women would’ve sided with their sons no matter what they did and written off the girl that slunk away in the middle of the night. I know some families simply wouldn’t have wanted me anymore. But they still do – granted, I don’t go over on holidays to avoid everyone being uncomfortable, but I see them, I talk to them, I celebrate the holidays with them on a very small scale. So while I was willing to part with them if it had to be done, it turned out, it didn’t. It was through this last act of standing by me, of all the things they taught me and did for me while I was with them, that shows me what a family really is.