My first marriage ended on Veterans Day
Every Veterans Day, I remember the final day in court, when we were standing in front of the judge – finally – after having been there for more than half a day. His Honor was asking questions: “Did you read the agreement?” “Do you understand the agreement?” “Did anyone force you to sign the agreement?”
Then he turned to me, “Mrs. X, you have initiated this complaint for divorce – do you believe that there is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage?”
I must have been doing the deer-in-headlights thing, because my lawyer nudged me and stage-whispered, “The judge asked you if you believed your marriage is irretrievably broken, which is legalese for no hope of reconciliation.”
Feelings of disappointment, anger, hurt, betrayal, and loss welled up in my chest. I thought about how not even five years prior we had been standing in front of our minister in church answering a whole different set of questions: “Do you take this man…?” “Do you promise to…?” How full of hope and expectation I had felt at that time.
But it was barely two years into the marriage and two children later that I started thinking things were seriously wrong. It was early Spring, my favorite season. Just when everything should feel brand new, it felt dead and rotten to me. After dropping the boys off at daycare on any given day, I took the long way back home where I worked as a marketing communications consultant. The tension in our house was almost unbearable to me: Mr. X was out of work. When I arrived back at the cheerless house, I flipped on my cordially neutral, Stepford-Wife switch and busied myself with work until I had to pick the boys up four hours later.
For almost the rest of that year the constant angst in the pit of my stomach made it difficult catch my breath. I suffered with headaches, I ground my teeth, and my hair started falling out. Sometimes I felt a ray of hope that things could be the way they used to be, what we vowed they would be – but those moments were fleeting.
The realization that the marriage was a sinking ship sunk in one day when my two-year-old squinted up at me and said, “Mommy sad.” I didn’t deny it, but I also didn’t burden him with my feelings. Inside I knew I was crumbling and I feared my light was being snuffed out.
The night I gave up the charade was a night like any other, except after their bath, I got the children dressed and methodically packed them and whatever belongings I could fit in my sedan and drove away, as I had rehearsed so many times in my mind. We arrived at Grandma’s house for what I thought would only be “a little while.” It turned out that we spent more than a year in abeyance, living in relative poverty while I scrambled to get it together and provide for the children, the burden of that responsibility falling primarily on my shoulders.
I still can’t bear to look at any pictures from that year, because while they might have captured seemingly happy scenes, I knew how I felt. My mouth was usually set in a thin, grim line, lips pressed together tightly to prevent anything morose from spilling out onto my children or other innocent bystanders. It had been an awful, miserable, heartbreaking experience, but that chapter of my life was about to end.
“Yes, your honor.” I answered.
Today the children are 16 and 15. Every year I remember the events of that Veterans’ Day 14 years ago and honor the choice I made.