It’s okay friend
It’s okay friend (Indigo Girls, ‘Hey Kind Friend’)
I had been in Hawaii for over a year before it came to me, as something of an epiphany, that I had left my previous life without actually saying goodbye to almost all of the people whose support and friendship had made those decades range from tolerable to joyous. The times that were only tolerable, I certainly needed them more.
As my marriage rapidly unraveled, my spouse developed the idea that there was a conspiracy to undermine our relationship and that others were trying to demonize him. As part of the discussions that he swore were designed to save our marriage, he extracted promises that I would not mention his name to anyone, including my closest friends, children and sister.
I did not keep the promise not to speak to my children, sister or closest friend but it set the stage for me to feel unable to reach out to anyone outside of that small circle. I did not post to social media that I was leaving; I did not call or contact any of the people whose friendship helped me through many a crisis large or small. I was perhaps too broken to think of a way to say I was leaving the state without mentioning who was being left behind.
In the discussions he initiated, he berated me, sometimes for being duped by people who were trying to harm him and other times for being an evil soulless creature who had somehow duped him into thinking otherwise for 37 years. He pointedly told me that I was neither kind nor a pacifist but was purposely destroying him. He repeatedly told me that, since he was disabled, he had every right to have me arrested for criminal abandonment should I leave, but of course he would not do so because he was better than that.
During the months this went on, he was unwilling to discuss anything that I might see as a source of damage to our relationship because he had done nothing wrong; I had simply changed when his health took a downturn 2 years earlier. If I mentioned anything about the life we had led prior to 2014, he saw it as an attempt to attack his memories. Sadly there were many places where our memories diverged.
So in a mixture of pride and shame I simply walked away, without attempting an explanation to people I had known and loved for decades. I had hoped to take the high road and not to ask anyone outside of my sister and oldest friend to “take sides.” I had no reason to want a painful situation to be worse for anyone involved.
If I’d had any delusions that he would also try to take the high road and not ask friends to take sides, it would have been laughable. I did not. I was fully aware that he would tell everyone we’d ever met that I had abused and abandoned him.
I expected him to extract their sympathy because he had been through a very rough time after having heart surgery and suffering repeated side affects from medications. I did not expect him to tell them the full extent that he had lashed out at me, the times he threatened to have me involuntarily committed because I had lost my soul, his accusations that I had turned against him or that I had wanted him to die when he had heart surgery; I did not think he would mention the hospital nurse who took me aside to ask if I was safe.
Even knowing that, I simply let it go. I did not feel the need to detail how my counselor had worked with me trying to find alternatives to leaving, and how she felt strongly for more than a year that leaving was the only means I had to save my own life.
I had faith that many friends who’d known me for decades would trust there was more to the situation than my spouse was outlining. Others I suspected would take his words at face value and “take his side.” I was okay with that as I knew anyone who suffered from PTSD to the extent he did would need to feel people were on his side.
So it came as a surprise to me when I realized over a year later….as epiphanies appeared to abound… that I was not okay with that after all. I left a spouse who had been disabled with PTSD for decades. But I did not leave when he was unable to support himself. I worked for most of our marriage while he was unable to sustain a job outside the home for most of the decades we were married. It was just a little over 5 years ago that he was approved for 100% VA disability and for the first time in my life, I thought I was off the “work ’til you die” plan. When I left, I did not ask for support though his disability income was 4 times what my social security income was. I did not make him homeless. Rather I left him the house we’d been living in for 17 years with no strings attached. The only thing I removed from our marriage was me.
In an age where even states recognize no fault divorce, I was stunned to realize that people I had long considered progressive, social justice oriented and feminist would appear to fall in line with the thought that there was any side that believed it was not ok for a woman to stop being a wife. No matter how painful the dissolution of marriage might be, no matter how many mistakes either spouse may make, there are simply no sides. We are not chattel. We have the right to walk away from a situation that is neither healthy nor sustainable. It was a failure not to elucidate that.
So this is my time to apologize for not taking the time or having the trust to engage with, to provide my truth and my thanks to people for all the times their friendship had lifted me up. I did not owe my spouse silence, I owed my friends light.
Help me forget where I been
Remember who I am