i had it all figured out, once.
a thousand times.
i had the answers, the proof, the wisdom just so.
i was unconquerable, impenetrable, undefeatable.
two and a half years ago, those walls started to crack.
i didn’t notice, at first. i’d see dust shaking, feel rumbling in the foundation, hear groaning in the distance.
shrug it off. ignore it. tend to it later.
months crept on, and so did the cracks.
hairline fractures bled into breaks. breaks morphed into fissures. fissures festered into gaping holes, exposing a weak infrastructure.
a flawed design.
two and a half years ago (seven years ago), my marriage began to crumble. two years ago (eight years ago), i slept in my bed alone, my heart gradually recognizing the need to move away from the relationship i’d been clinging to so tightly.
two years ago (and a number of times before that), i gathered the courage to ask for a divorce–and meant it.
they say a good marriage can survive anything; after all, love is all you need, right? with a solid foundation, a couple can overcome anything. marriages can be rebuilt. relationships can be repaired.
they don’t mention the relationships–the marriages–built on little more than tar, tears, and wreckage. the relationships that have little more than shifting sand to go back to, once the walls have come crumbling down.
nine years ago, i met a man i would eventually marry. our meeting was one that inspired fear, confusion, and discomfort in me. i was drawn to him, certainly, in large part because he challenged me. i loved to banter, loved to tease, loved to feel fire, and i felt it in spades. i was pleased.
i had misgivings. tantrums, convoluted conversations, hidden meanings, and mysterious whispers all set me on edge, made me shake with uncertainty and fear, had me feeling and experiencing a myriad of emotions, sensations, and fears that had never truly taken root in me before.
but alongside these feelings, there was laughter, little snippets of conversations promising something better, something more–if only i would change, a little. if only some things would shift, a bit. if only i would give in, just a shade.
so i did. i changed, shifted, gave in. small things, at first. a nose ring. plans for additional tattoos. the clothes i preferred. big things, next. my beliefs. my goals. my hopes for the future.
the fear of being left behind, of not being good enough, of facing that loss and humiliation drove me to accept behavior that roiled my belly, sent chills along my spine, inspired fear in my chest. i offered desperate solutions to problems that do not exist in healthy relationships, made concessions in a bid to recapture that interest, that fire, that was once felt for me.
my world went from rich, vibrant, and lonely, to muted, hollow, and still,
in spite of the shifting and changing and giving in:
changes were made. relationships lost. trust broken. the core of who i was shaken.
the people i grew up with, who i trusted to be there for me–gone.
the people i believed would fight for me, if i found myself backed into a corner–absent.
the people i was desperate to turn to for help, for guidance, for a way out of my own personal nightmare recoiled in disgust, in embarrassment, in shame.
for a brief, glimmering moment, i let my instincts take over and stood my ground.
a few days later, my resolve shuttered and amid tears and silence, i drove away to sign my name to a paper, my devotion to a stranger.
the next year and a half went by. updownupdownupdown. an amusement park with all of the uncertainty, and none of the joy. moments of laughter drowned in the unsettling, unbearable knowledge that something (everything) was not quite right. intuition constantly screaming that nothing was what it seemed to be, and everything was cloaked in shadows and performance and coaxing.
and then, a break. a piece of the wall exploded, imploded, leaving a massive hole.
one that i was sure i would quickly and easily scurry out of.
instead, someone else scurried in.
the next nine months were awash in pain and confusion. i thought i was doing the right thing again and again–
i wasn’t. hindsight is 20/20. insight was rare.
there were signs of other cracks. being left in a car in the middle of a Phoenix summer, frozen by fear, for 45 minutes. having a request for money for baby supplies turned down, only to find an expensive drum kit arrive on the doorstep a few days later. asking for access to income and being denied again and again.
i puttied over the cracks as well as i could manage, determined. i was strong, after all. i could do this. willpower, love, and determination would see me through. i was strong.
really, i was proud.
day after day, a sense of loss. some of them small (why have a baby shower? no one is happy for me. no one excited. no one will come.), some of them large (this newborn life i dreamt of sharing with my partner for so long, shrouded in fear, dislike, and darkness).
then, a sweet, sweet little boy, who ripped my heart out of my chest and sewed it back up. who made the world brighter, calmer, more meaningful.
and things seemed to get better, for a while. arguments grew fewer and further between. the hungry gaze for other women dampened. the constant threat of separation dimmed.
but, of course, it came back. years passed, and even with the slivers of hope and possibility of renewal, something whispered at the back of my mind, curled over my shoulders, crept into my throat.
still, i was immobilized by fear. still, i hid the conversations we had, the relationship we had, the way i was treated. still, i was too ashamed to admit all that had gone on, too humiliated to tell anyone what was happening behind closed doors, too afraid of being called crazy, of being ignored, to scream out for help.
he doesn’t beat me, after all. can i really complain?
a little girl i loved, a house i was excited about, a fresh start i was determine to do right by later, and still, it lingered. the sense that something was wrong, something was hidden, something was buried and struggling to come to the fore.
still, it was ignored. a faux wedding ceremony, a faux honeymoon, and a few months more, and it reached a crescendo.
i can’t. i can’t do this.
nothing dramatic, this time. no terrifying discovery, no heartbreaking confession, nothing revolutionary to steel my resolve. simple, incontrovertible peace: this is not what we are made for.
i broached the subject in may of 2018. asked, once again, for this marriage to end. no shouting or begging or crying, this time. weary, resolute. done. hoping against hope that it could work out well, that friendship and companionship could stay on the table.
a few months passed, and nothing more was said. just a settling, a resolve, that would not ebb.
and then, four months later, a confession.
a confession that turned into weeks of a landslide of confessions, of horrors, of unspeakable, unbearable admissions that left me reeling and struggling to breathe again and again, threatening to break me completely under the weight. a final, steady acknowledgement:
you’re going to divorce me, aren’t you?
yeah, baby, i am.
there are other pieces that drifted in and out of the story. a few more months, and hope was at an all-time high. i felt supported, lifted up, seen for the first time in decades. for the first time, perhaps, ever. brick by brick, streak of mortar after streak of mortar, building those broken walls, this time with a better foundation. a foundation of community and support, and strength.
or so i thought.
perhaps because what goes up must come down. perhaps because it was too good to be true. perhaps because the sickness that had been lurking, creeping through my veins, hiding in the dark was finally roaring its way free and showing all of the cracks and breaks and tatters. perhaps a little bit of everything.
but those painstakingly-laid bricks began to fall away. people i thought were here for me, who i trusted, who i admired–one by one, they fell away. safety i took for granted vanished, nightmares that i thought were left behind in my marriage clawed their way forward and shattered the fragile net of safety i’d built.
a text here, showing a relationship was not what i thought it was. the loss of a trusted therapist for my son. the abandonment by someone i thought was my friend. the sense of betrayal brought about by being talked about, laughed at, when my back was turned. all of it crescendoed into a perfect pitch–
a pitch that sent every new wall careening back to earth, crushing me in the rubble.
crippled under the weight of disgust and anger and humiliation and the smug assertion that i was right not to expect better. who was i, to think i deserved–to think i could have–anything more than what i’d already had?
after all, it was a line i knew well: if i had enough self-esteem, enough self-respect, i never would have let him treat me the way he did. any and every abuse i experienced was mine to bear, mine to shoulder, because if i’d not been so interested in sex, i wouldn’t have been touched. if i had more friends, i wouldn’t feel the loss of one so acutely. if i wasn’t so sensitive, barbs wouldn’t hurt. if i wasn’t so small-town in my thinking, i wouldn’t mind people moving in and out through an unstoppable revolving door. if i had better self-esteem, i wouldn’t have been treated poorly.
a little over a year has passed, since the losses started coming fast and steady, one after the other. therapists, friends, authority figures–all vanished in a wisp of smoke too dark and rich for me to see through. too close for me to sort through.
wounds still too deep, too fresh, too raw for me to have healed all the way through.
instead, i have slivers of hope. slivers of light. slivers of i can do this.
there’s no way i can do this.
yes. yes, i can. i can do this.
learning better how to stop barreling face forward into everything in my life, throwing myself into everything without a moment’s hesitation, wholeheartedly and unabashedly pursuing the people who make my heart sing.
learning to grieve properly, to take my time, to recognize that my life is not a race against everyone else, or a snapshot to be measured against the snapshots i took when i was five, ten, eighteen. learning that wounds take time and intention to heal. habits take ages and unending attention to unlearn and leave behind. relationships do not all have to be soul-deep (though i may forever fight against this one).
learning that not everyone means what they say. that people may want to be a hero more than they want to be a partner, want to have a story more than they want to have an actual human being staring them in the face.
that i have been that person, myself, in the past.
learning that i have my hand in everything that has happened, that i have long hoped for a rescuer, while rarely actually taking the steps necessary to rescue myself.
for now, i am a city in ruins, still sorting through rubble, still working out how to rebuild.