Letter to My Ex: Seventeen Years

By an anonymous contributor 

One year ago

Dear T,                                                                                                                    

I am shattered. The life I thought I had was a myth, an illusion. More than being angry, I am sad. So sad. I spent seventeen years with a man I never really knew, and I can never get that time back.

But you know what? I am angry. More than seething at the infidelity (again), I rage at the fact that for three years (probably much longer) you have constructed a fragile house of lies around us. A house that I believed to be solid. Capable of supporting and protecting us.

And yet, every day, you have smiled at me, kissed me, and omitted such a major part of your life in a desperate effort to cling to the time-sensitive splinters of our remaining life together.

Every night, I cry myself to sleep, unable to believe the tears still come after so many. When I finally soothe myself enough to drift off, I’m startled awake. Did I hear a noise? Is there an intruder? Only in my mind. You steal in, scratching at the walls of my sanity. Insomnia is a bitch.

I’ll be in the middle of something completely normal, like working. Making dinner. Reading. And I am suddenly filled with such disbelief at what my life has become. Pinch me, somebody. Because this is not my actual life.

My life is divided between trying to provide a cocoon for our son, to give him a soft space to land as he processes this upheaval, and becoming a puddle of ooze in the middle of the floor. As much as I need him right now, as soon as he walks over to your house, backpack strapped on and sadness in his eyes, I allow myself to fall apart. I spend days in an alcohol-induced fog, desperate to numb the persistent pain.

My friends are my lifeline, and yet, I have now been relegated to the ‘other’ category. The one they don’t quite know what to do with. The friendship manual didn’t prepare them for situations such as this one. They look at me with such sympathy, but they’re also thinking, ‘Thank goodness that didn’t happen to me.’

It’s always better for tragedy to strike others, isn’t it?

I don’t want to know anything about what happened the night the ‘condom broke’ or the events that led you from pretending to be a faithful husband to finding comfort elsewhere. No, scratch that. I want to — I need to — know every last painful detail. The truth can’t hurt any more than this does…can it?

Why did you cling to me after I found out the last time that you’d strayed? Why did you bother to make empty promises when you could have set me free, let me start to find myself? Now I’ve wasted an additional seven years, and in that time, I knew. My heart would stop when you’d stay out too long. I’d smell your neck when we hugged, looking for evidence that my worst nightmare had come true. I’d find abnormalities that I was sure were proof, and then you’d convince me otherwise. So yea, I’m angry. Angry at myself as well as you.

So here I am. My nightmare has become a reality. I’ve gone into action mode, making lists of the various tasks that will move me closer to whole again:

  •         Schedule therapy
  •         Get an STD test
  •         Find an apartment
  •         Pack
  •         Scream
  •         Cry
  •         Grieve

My new therapist is cautiously complimentary about my go-getter attitude, but warns me that grief will happen in its own time. Fuck that. I don’t have time to waste mourning you. I desperately want to be past this.

If only…

 

4 months ago

Dear Tyrone—

Do you mind if I call you that? I found your dating profile today, and you use that name. You use a fake name.  You have no intention of ever being honest with a woman, do you? It made my stomach hurt to see your ridiculous profile pictures, your Brooks Brothers jacket tossed carelessly over your shoulder, you giving the camera your best ‘look at me, a successful consultant. I would never lie to you!’ face.

Lies.

Every time I sit down at my computer, a rock forms in my gut. I open my email timidly, afraid that there will be another vomit of vitriol, a tirade of terribleness. It’s laughable that you see me as the cause of our marriage’s demise. Certainly I was no June Cleaver as a wife, but none of my shortfalls forced you to wander the seedy side of the internet at night, looking for comfort between a pair of willing legs.

You curse me. You spit at me. You fume. A simple question from me will send you to outer space with your anger. I call it ‘poking the bear,’ though usually it’s not intentional. Sometimes it is, though. Because the only thing I can rely on right now is your fury.

You push back, demanding my anger, requiring my retorts to your huge hostility. You only know me as a short-fused, hot-headed Cajun, and can’t wrap your head around my nonresponse. Believe me, I have plenty to say in reply to your 2,000-word rants. But I will never say them. The playing field isn’t level. You are imbalanced, and there is no rationalizing with the unstable.

I take my words, fold them up, and swallow them. Sometimes I write them, publicly, to bleed the blackness from my body. I wonder how long it will be before you discover that I’m writing about you under my maiden name. It doesn’t matter. I want you to find what I write. I don’t. I do.

I went to Italy. You being the person I once shared a love of travel with, it’s hard for me not to have you to tell about it. I want an audience for my amazing accomplishment of hiking the Dolomites for an entire week. I want to regale you with tales of my yoga retreat and the incredible women I met there. But ‘you’ no longer exist; you’ve been replaced by a monster with six heads.

I went to Italy to find healing, solace. Yea, I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love too many times. I liked the idea of going on this trip, this pilgrimage, and coming back having found myself. Maybe with an Italian lover under my belt. I came back slightly happier, sure, but just as fractured. And no lover.

I’ve decided that something good will come from all of this. There is creativity in pain, and I am struggling to turn my heartbreak into something good, something others can benefit from. There is healing in my writing. Every word pushes one more grain of grief down the hourglass. If only I could see how many grains were still left.

 

Today

Dear… what was your name again?                                                                         

Well, that’s over. The divorce is done. I expected it to be a line in the sand, for it to feel different, the way you do when you wake up on your 21st birthday or become a parent. But today’s the same as yesterday. And yesterday (and today) are pretty good, everything considered.

Oh, you still pop up with your punches to the nose via email, but I’m better able to block those these days. My confidence is returning. I know my value.

Yes, I went through many days where all I could think was ‘how could I not know?’ I blamed myself for not seeing what was so clearly right in front of me. I’ve been reading my journals from the past two decades, and the signs were all there.

If this were a movie, I would roll my eyes at the weakness of the female lead. ‘Girl,’ I’d think, ‘get a clue.’ I’d write her off instantly. And I struggled not to write myself off for a long time. But I have to believe that I will not — cannot — make this same mistake again. That I will not attract a man like you into my world again. I crave truth and trust, and I will have it.

I’m not 100% yet, but there are more good days than bad. I was in Poland recently (a trip I hope you scratched your head wondering about), and found myself in a Jewish cemetery. On top of a cluster of graves, people had written messages, hopes, wishes, on paper and left them under rocks. It was quite beautiful. I found a blank piece of paper and wrote:

Contentment.

I’d read an article discussing how aiming for contentment, not happiness, was ultimately the better goal. Happiness is hard to come by, and really, who’s happy all of the time? Being content is much easier. And it’s enough. I am enough, right now.

I’ve gotten my wish. I have a home that is my living heart. It perfectly expresses who I am, which is fun to unearth after all this time. While our son and I have our pre-teen struggle, he’s doing okay, and we’re falling into our new routine.

I’ve even dated, and have discovered that I am a sexy, beautiful, confident woman that men find fascinating. I realize who I was with you no longer defines who I have to be with others. Every day I erase a little more of the tape in my head that you implanted, telling me I am mean and selfish. I don’t need it.

This week I started the process to change my name. Maybe once I’m signing the name I was born with, this will all feel real. The last time I used that name was 12 years ago. I’m not the same person I was then. But I look forward to reclaiming my name, my birthright, then discovering who she is these days.

This last year has been utter hell. I wouldn’t wish divorce on my worst enemy. But it’s slowly fading from being the center of my world, and will continue to dissolve into my background.

‘Oh, he’s a guy I used to be married to,’ I will say when your name comes up, ‘My baby daddy.’

You will no longer define me and my history, but be just one square in the patchwork of my long and fulfilled quilt of life.

 

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