“But it has to stop hurting so much, eventually, right?” I asked him.
The look on my face had to clearly be a desperate sadness, pathetically searching for hope—for him to say something to ground me, to ease my mind that this moment is only a hard moment in the grand scheme of life. A life full of countless moments. Difficult moments make us grow, right? Tribulation demonstrates who your true friends are, right? What doesn’t kill us…? That sort of thing?
He had to see I was on the verge of breaking apart. Again. As if all of me throughout the days and weeks would gradually become fragile, until I would shatter. Again.
“Or, it won’t” He said. Calmly.
I remember feeling incredulous at his response, even in that emotional state.
Tears welled in my eyes. I tried to hide them, but I’m bad at hiding my crying. He knew how to sit with me through these painful moments, and taught me to be present until the tide of sadness flooded me and then receded. Again. Leaving me emotionally drained yet oddly at peace.
“This might always hurt when you reflect back on it, but as you move on, you will think about it less. All of this will be less relevant.”
He wasn’t a therapist. His perspective certainly wasn’t flawless and his actions weren’t necessarily selfless. However, he was a friends who came in and out of my life at the right time. I ended my marriage the month before and subsequently lost basically all of my friends. I didn’t know this at the time, but in two months I would be laid off of one of the first jobs I loved, a job that changed the direction of my non-artistic career ambitions, and ultimately change the entire path of my life.
I get panic attacks. I realize that now. I’ve been having them off and on for years. Usually, they’d happen at night, in bed, my mind wondering about nothing in particular. Then I’d feel my chest tighten, my heart rate would speed up–I just can’t seem to catch my breath. I just can’t. I sit upright, my chest extended—breathing calmly in…and out…in…and out. But my breath never catches. My lungs feel like I just can’t get enough air. I don’t feel panicked, I don’t think? I just feel like I want to be breathing more than I am.
I assumed this was heartburn, because, I’d never really had heartburn. And if it was a panic attack, shouldn’t I be clearly anxious, fidgety, shaky, speaking rapidly, incoherent sentences—my mind racing?
I’ve learned anxiety has different forms and that was, apparently, one of them.
I break down once every other week or so now.
When I was first preparing to tell my husband I no longer wanted to be married, I was crumbling to tears every few days. I knew I didn’t want to be married to him anymore. In fact, I didn’t want to be married at all anymore, maybe ever.
How do you mentally prepare yourself to tell the human you love (thought you loved?), who you’ve shared a decade of your life with, that this—this relationship that you two have built is no longer healthy. (If it ever was?) That you know both of you have had to sense things weren’t working. But you both kept pretending for years now, not willing to admit it to even ourselves. We’d become cynical and stagnate–together. Or maybe he was always cynical and I just absorbed that trait? Maybe his life was fine with his growing career and I was the only one feeling stifled, feeling less-than?
My life was on a “negative trajectory”. I will never forget my brother’s words when we’d chatted during the Christmas holiday over a year ago, now. I hadn’t been happy with my job at the time, local art opportunities were fairly fruitless, and despite forcing myself into the community attending events and volunteering, I had no social circle to speak of.
And despite, discussing my marital and personal concerns with my husband back then, nothing had changed. A year had passed. And I was still so lonely. My husband was probably lonely too. He had his own work challenges. He woke up at 4:15 am, and was gone before I got out of bed. He’d get back around 6-7pm, we’d eat, sit on the sofa, cuddle with the dogs (not so much each other), watch television, go to bed at 9pm, and that was our weekday, every weekday.
While living in the Azores, it was so easy to feel fulfilled. With the welcoming community, the festivals, close friends nearby, the sunshine, the ocean, a job I liked—it was so easy to ignore anything that wasn’t really working between us.
In the brown isolating plains of North Dakota, with neither of us having friends, with gloomy days, snow and cold, winters that felt like years. (I think there’s a metaphor in there somewhere?)
In North Dakota, I’d convinced myself the only thing really working in my life was my marriage. He was my rock, the only thing that made sense. The only thing that provided any form of fulfillment in my life, any sense of belonging. So, it took a long time to even admit I had the question of—am I happy in this marriage?
Is this where I really want to be?
Where do I want to be?
Are we really working on any of the things we fight about?
Has anything actually changed in the last year?
It hit me in the chest. A knot formed in my stomach, and my heart dropped, while at the same time a huge weight felt lifted. No, I wasn’t happy. I was in the exact same place I’d been a year ago when I talked with my brother. When my husband and I discussed our needs and what we could work on to be better for each other–again. A conversation we’d had in varying forms countless times over the years.
It’d been a year since he had adamantly declined the idea of marriage counseling. A year since we would work on spending more quality time together, watching less TV, traveling more, getting out into the community together. A year. And the only real difference was that now I had a salaried position with benefits at a nonprofit–providing the financial stability my subconscious needed to admit I was miserable in my marriage, and I was 32
Then I’d been 31.
If I stayed, this was exactly where I’d be at 40, at 45, at 60, and I’d look back, and think to myself, why didn’t I try for something with my life? I just settled. And I wasn’t even happy where I settled.
I wasn’t happy.
I couldn’t spend the rest of my life as someone else’s plus one. I’ll never forget, that was how my brother framed it; someone else’s plus one.