death of a marriage
It’s been three months since we ended. Three entire months since everything imploded. Or should that be exploded? I’m not sure which is more apt. Imploded feels like being swallowed up from the inside, engulfed and fighting to breathe. Like swimming through glue — a quiet and sticky, suffocating death.
Exploded is considerably more violent. My life torn apart and flung to all corners. Loud and vicious. Words turned into shrapnel, slicing into tender flesh. A million fragments like lost puzzle pieces, with no hope of finding them all, let alone piecing them together into the picture on the box. Funny how what’s on the inside never quite looks like that.
Three months. It seems unfathomable.
I don’t even know if I want to put it back together. That’s a lie. If I’m honest, I would gather up every piece I could find and jam them together even where it’s clear the shapes no longer fit. I want to put it back together so badly, I wouldn’t care it looks nothing like the box. But well-meaning friends tell me I shouldn’t want that. That I should remember how unhappy I was, that things weren’t as perfect as they seemed, that there was a reason I’d thought of leaving. And maybe that’s true.
Maybe what I regret is allowing the choice to be taken out of my hands. Being forced to go. Leaving was supposed to be my decision, to live on my own terms, free and somehow unshackled. But I don’t feel that. Not at all, because in the end I was a coward. I wasn’t brave enough to leave of my own volition. Instead I chipped away at us intentionally, not quite crossing a line but knowing I was dancing so close to the edge I couldn’t help but dislodge some rocks.
I tossed the grenade, but I made him pull the pin. How was I to know it would be nuclear?
Nothing prepared me for the fallout.
I expected the sadness. Of course I did. I knew, no matter how much I thought I wanted it or which one of us tore it down in the end, it was going to hurt.
I didn’t expect this rage. And rage is absolutely the right word. This is not anger. Anger and I were already acquainted, had been for years, with her simmering under a polished surface formed from keeping the peace, treading lightly, bending and compromise.
No, this is rage, pure and simple.
Rage at how it ended. Rage at my own weakness. Rage at the violence, at what was allowed to happen. Rage at the loss of control. Rage at being painted the only bad guy, as if there weren’t two sets of dirty fingerprints on the dismantling of our marriage. Rage that I can’t turn back the clock.
Rage, rage, fucking rage.
My insides are molten, roiling and pushing and retreating then pushing again as if testing for weak spots in my skin. Where exactly am I going to crack? Because I will crack. It’s inevitable.
It’s rage that drives me out of my apartment every night to run in the dark until my lungs are searing, not caring for my safety, not looking over my shoulder. Daring danger to cat-call, to try putting hands on me, because pity the man who comes within ten feet of this ball of fury.
The music is so loud in my ears I feel the bass vibrating through every tendon as my feet pound a relentless rhythm, driving me ever forward. Must. Not. Stop.
If I stop running, the obsessive thoughts intrude. I can’t help thinking about death, about dying somehow before being forgiven. I’m not sure who’s forgiving who, or who might die. Me or him? I can’t figure out which way around would be worse. That’s not normal. I need help.
When I reach home, it’s there waiting for me. The sadness. I’m not sure where I thought it was going to go. Perhaps I thought if I ran far enough and long enough it would get sick of waiting and leave. But it doesn’t. It’s like an annoying house guest that you feed and house and don’t want to be rude to, but you wish would just fuck off. Except way worse than that, because sadness gets into the shower with you and winds its fingers into your hair. It takes greedy handfuls of your dinner without asking before climbing into your bed and spooning you tightly whether you like it or not.
Sadness rubs my shoulders when I collapse on the carpet to howl and it echoes my friends – “You’re getting thin. I mean you look great but don’t lose any more weight.” Which really means you’re too thin, you’re not looking after yourself. I’m worried. None of them understand that at some point the energy being burnt has to be the shitty feelings.
I ask sadness to stop squeezing my bones and lay there, hollow, feeling like Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun, when she curls on the floor of that hideous hotel filled with other sad and lonely people and calls through the wafer-thin walls. Foetal yet reaching out, desperate for company. Which is ironic because all I kept saying before I left was how much I wanted to be alone.
I can’t bear being alone.
The worst part – and there have been many worsts – is my husband looking through me like I don’t exist. Like a stranger on the street. That’s how it would look to others but what they don’t see is the prickle of hostility that radiates from him. It’s invisible but as tangible to me as the blast of heat that comes from an oven when it’s opened too quickly, your face too close.
He doesn’t make eye contact, but this wave tells me he still sees me. He’s as aware of me on a cellular level as I am of him. We always have been. The difference now is every fibre of his being wishes he wasn’t. I can tell. He’s choosing not to look at me through sheer force of will. He always was good at that part.
He said to me long ago that once he’d decided a person was dead to him, he was able to switch off. Detach. And nothing could change it once done. I always thought I would be different but I’m seeing it made manifest and it’s a knife to my heart. I am killed.
We are dead, and I am as desolate at the death of our marriage as I would be if he had left this earth. I did hear somewhere that the pain of divorce is a kind of grief, as if someone has literally died. I guess, in a way it must be. The life I knew is gone, there’s no going back. The person I shared it with has vacated the shape we made together. There is only empty space where there was once completion.
I wonder what exactly it is I’m grieving. The loss of him? The loss of us? All of the above. Maybe it’s the loss of myself. Except I don’t know which one. The me before my marriage? Maybe I mourn the existence of the me I became during. In this liminal space, I haven’t figured out what the after will be, and so I drift —anchorless— back and forth, between sadness and hope.
I remember a friend who nearly died telling me it’s true how your life flashes before your eyes, except it’s not so much a flash as much as things slowing down, like in The Matrix, and you see all the important bits, all the people you’ve ever cared about, as if your brain is trying to reassure you in those final moments that your life was good and you were loved.
It’s different when a marriage takes its final breaths.
It’s not the big moments I recall. I’m not replaying my slow walk down the aisle towards him or the first time he kissed me. Not the first time we made love. Or even that time in Amalfi —that was so perfect it sounds exaggerated— where, sunburnt and drunk on Limoncello, we danced on a stone wall on the side of the road, under the fullest of moons, to the strains of What a Wonderful World floating from a nearby hotel.
There’s no curated medley of pivotal events. No highlights reel. Instead it’s a flurry of mixed memories, as though our life has been torn into tiny shreds of paper and shaken up like raffle tickets. Except nobody’s a winner here.
I see the small moments. The insignificant things that wove the fabric of our shared life. The barista-made coffee, brought to me in bed on a Saturday morning if he’d happened to go the shop for bread; the hastily scribbled love notes left on each other’s pillows or in suitcases, post-its on mirrors; it’s the arguments, the petty squabbles and tired barbs, apologies too many to count; it’s my foot hooked under his to fall asleep every single night. It’s his fingers curling around mine as our eyes closed, me kicking him under the covers to short-circuit the snoring; it’s waking on a Sunday morning to listen to the rain.
It’s the groceries and the bills, the disappointments and the wins. It’s the phrase ‘what are we doing now?’ and dancing madly to Jessie J’s Domino on repeat. Sitting on the beach while he body-surfed, searching for his head popping up from beneath the waves like a seal. Smiling when he’d scan the sand to see if I was watching.
I was always watching.
Our chemical connection clouds my memory as much as it ever did. Cellular awareness, even in retrospect. Like a fly caught in a spiderweb, I would feel his every shift reverberate around me, making my skin prickle and my belly tighten. Even after years together, after that first flush of lust was supposed to have been diluted by domestic life and familiarity, he smelled like food to me. It was reciprocal, and we’d bury our faces into necks and armpits and thighs, inhaling each other and tasting salt on skin. As hungry for each other then as the day we met.
I remember once, high on champagne and about to leave the house for some event, his ardour rose unexpectedly. It was a combination of the heels I wore, my perfume, and the fact we were home alone. He backed me against the wall, in full sight of the front door, to kiss me. Strange for a woman of my perceived strength to find eroticism in the way his hand circled my throat, tender but firm. It used to thrill me, the power in those hands.
He murmured into my mouth that he wanted to taste me and I said okay as long as I could stay dressed. I stood, one hand cradling my glass, the other wound tightly into his hair. A knee hooked around his neck, my stiletto digging into his back as his tongue traced my skin. I came hard and he was impressed that I didn’t spill a drop of champagne even as my knees buckled. It was always like that. Burning. Visceral.
Except the last time.
The morning before I left we made desperate love for the first time in months. We hadn’t slept and, exhausted, we somehow found each other among our ruins. Both crying a goodbye, pressing ourselves together as if our grasping hands could catch and save us. My climax sobbed out of me and he smothered it with his own.
A day later, that same mouth called me a whore, spitting the word at me with previously unthinkable venom.
And in this moment, I wish the tumble of memories was selective. That I could pick and choose. Because the last time my husband’s hand gripped my throat, it wasn’t to love me. But that’s the time I’ll remember. It will blot out the others like spilled ink obliterates part of a sentence on a page, irreversibly changing all meaning.
I always knew the rage was in there, hiding behind the power in those hands. So, I have to shoulder some of the blame. I chose this, despite my better judgement, knowing he was broken.
You see, I’m a fixer. I don’t know if it’s ego or altruism but either way I don’t seem to be able to resist damage. I orbit the fragmented as if the gravitational pull of my love will somehow put things back together. Isn’t that how stars are formed. Or comets? I forget. Perhaps it’s meteors. They’re the ones that crash, right?
Maybe I thought loving me was enough to keep the rage at bay. And it was, until it wasn’t. Isn’t it funny how we romanticise things when we are desperate for love. We absorb the light like a sponge and conveniently ignore the dark.
I read something the other day - I think it was a meme.
“If you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, the red flags just look like flags.”
~ the end ~