She took off her wedding ring one year ago today.
That’s when I learned she did, anyway.
It was Easter Sunday, but nothing was coming back from the dead in our house.
I will probably be doing a lot of reflecting this week.
A person doesn’t really understand the full spectrum of human feeling until they experience a great loss. Some people lose parents or siblings or friends or someone else close to them at a young age.
But their experiences, while unfair, raise an interesting question: Are they better equipped to deal with life trauma as an adult due to being tempered in fire at a young age?
But it doesn’t matter. Because everybody is going to go through their own personal hell sooner or later. I don’t think there’s any defense except to make your life the most-balanced and content it can possibly be.
It’s officially been a year.
Do I feel better?
So Many Stages
There’s nothing one-size-fits all about any of this.
Everyone’s situations are different. And everyone’s ability to cope mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually varies for a million different reasons.
Here’s what happened at our house.
A Great Loss
Without warning, we lost my wife’s father. My son’s grandfather. The closest thing I had to a dad locally.
He was a fantastic human being.
There was nothing fair about what happened next for anyone. My sweet mother-in-law lost her husband and a home she helped build with her bare hands. My wife and her brother lost their father. A really good one. They lost the only “home” they’d ever known. Their place to go on beautiful summer days. Perhaps the perfect place to wake up Christmas morning. My son lost his grandfather. Both deserved more time with one another. I had a million things I wanted to do with those two and my brother-in-law.
And I lost my wife. Right then. It just took me several weeks to figure it out.
I’d heard of grief changing people. But I’d never seen it up close and personal.
She shut down hard.
And instead of leaning on me, she told me losing her father meant she lost the only man in her life that really mattered and made her feel safe.
She pushed me away. She said I could not help her.
That everything she thought she felt about me and our marriage was now uncertain.
That’s when I moved into the guest room.
The Guest Room
I slept in the guest room for about 18 months.
It was an extraordinarily challenging time.
Every day consisted of me waking up sad and going to bed sad and waiting for her to make a decision about whether she was going to choose to stay married.
At some point during that period, a light bulb went off. And I knew who I wanted to be.
I did the best I could to piece it all back together. Whatever I did was wrong. Nothing worked.
Sleeping in the guest room was the second most-horrible experience of my life. But that’s where I became a better man.
Whatever I am today that is good—that can maybe help people—came together in that guest room.
It felt long and drawn out. After breaking the news she was leaving on a Sunday night, I had to work the next day and came home to watch my wife pack a suitcase for her and our son and take him to her mom’s house.
If you’ve been there, you know how surreal it feels. We’d been married nearly nine years. Your brain is in complete denial.
Maybe she’ll come back!
Maybe she just needs some time away!
And at that point, I did think she would come back. Maybe an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder situation. Or maybe she would decide to not break up our son’s home. Or maybe she would simply decide the horror of losing half of her son’s childhood seemed worse than the horror of being married to me.
This lasted exactly 11 days.
My wife was in love with someone else.
I found out 11 days after she moved out. My then-four-year-old son let it slip in a conversation when asking me if I knew the guy. It took me about 30 seconds to piece it all together. Who knows how it would have played out had he not asked me that.
That information changed everything.
I went nuclear. Not the stable kind.
Because regardless of the details, timeline, circumstances, etc.—that’s when I realized the person I thought I knew best was someone I didn’t know.
That is some earth-shattering shit. When you find out someone isn’t who you thought they were. It’s easier to deal with when it’s just some person at work, or a friend of a friend. It’s more complicated when it’s the person you married and had a child with.
This is the thing that left the biggest scar of any life event I have ever experienced.
It has poisoned me in ways that are hard to explain. The wounds have closed. The pains I feel now are merely ghost pains. But I still feel them.
I still dream about it.
I still get goosebumps when I drive by the hospital where they met.
I still cringe when I hear his name.
I have an unfair hatred for cyclists now. Simply because he was a cyclist.
I never want to go see our local minor-league baseball team for the rest of my life because that man was part of my son’s first-ever baseball game. I put a tee-shirt on my son the other day with the team name on the front. It gave me a stomach ache.
I took a girl out to dinner a few weeks ago. We went to a restaurant where I feel certain my wife ate with that guy. Ugh.
I care about being strong. I care about pride. I care about holding my head up.
But the complicated feelings associated with that entire period still course through my veins almost every day.
Almost every day, I think about that man.
And I think about her liking him. Loving him.
Our marriage legally ended exactly one week after our nine-year wedding anniversary. And that was the day I found out her relationship with that piece of shit ended.
Not even five months after she left.
Not even five fucking months.
It was good that it ended.
But it was bad, too.
So cheap, my entire adulthood.
What a waste.
Acceptance and Healing
There was no healing during those five months. None. I foolishly tried online dating because I insanely thought that if I could be with someone else that I would balance the equation and not feel as bad.
As if that would put us back on equal footing.
But I wasn’t ready to date, and I sucked at it, too.
I was so tired of feeling like I didn’t have any control. Like she had the upper hand.
But she always did.
Once that relationship was over—and I knew she and my son were in a healthier, safer place—real, actual healing finally did begin.
That was August.
And here we are. Seven months later.
I feel better.
I don’t know if I’m better. Sometimes when I talk to my father about divorce and he tells me stories about my mom driving me 500 miles away from him when I was four years old, I can hear the anger and resentment in his voice. More than three decades later, you can still hear the bitterness.
Maybe I will always feel this.
Maybe that’s my penance for all the things I got wrong in my marriage leading up to it breaking.
Maybe that’s going to be part of the fuel that helps me continue to grow as my years advance.
One year later?
I can breathe.
I can laugh.
I can relax.
I can enjoy being in my home.
I can look forward to seeing a girl who isn’t my wife.
I can say bye to my son without breaking down crying after he leaves.
But, one year later?
I can’t let go of the anger.
I can’t stop wanting her to care.
I can’t shut off my desire to try to protect her.
I can’t escape the memories that haunt me.
I can’t make her stop mattering.
She dropped off our son at my house over the weekend. I asked her if I could hug her. I do miss her. I do want her to know that I’m trying hard to be a big person. That I care.
She said I could.
So I did. And kissed her cheek.
She didn’t reciprocate.
Which is okay.
Because, one year later?
A lot of things are different. A lot of things are better.
But a few things?
They’re exactly the same.