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My Best Friend, Anxiety, and Cuthulu

My best friend Jennie is half crazy.  I only say half crazy because no one can figure out what the other half is yet.  If I were forced to put my finger on it I’d have to say paranoid, but last week the National Association for the Advancement of Paranoid Schizophrenics sent me a cease and desist letter.  Evidently Jennie is too extreme for them.  They threatened a defamation lawsuit if I kept referring to her as paranoid.  But only after the Invasion was over.  And only if we weren’t all replaced by doppelgangers hatched from green seedpods.

Which some thought maybe Jennie was.

No one was able to reach a consensus, though.   One group put out the opinion that Jennie was being manipulated by broadcasts from alien satellites.  Another claimed the satellites belonged to the CIA.

The rest felt like groups one and two were the aliens.

ALIEN INVASION 1

Apparently the organization still believed she was giving them a bad name.  They couldn’t make up their minds because no one could pinpoint exactly whose mind needed to be made up when someone was already doing it for them.

Groups one and two thought maybe it was group three.

Group three said it was the CIA.

The rest said that they were the CIA.

Whatever the case, I knew exactly who it was because one of the organization’s members tried to cover their tracks by employing a clever bit of misdirection.  The letter came attached with a bomb, but it was postmarked as the Ted Kasczynski Institute for Better Living.  I was suspicious when I noticed that the package was shipped wearing a tinfoil hat.

tinfoil-hat-guy

I think that these people might be onto something, though.  Really, I do.  Jennie has good reason to be a bit off kilter.  She graduated from med school almost 15 years ago and works for the DOD as a medical provider.  I live with her now because she is going through a bit of a rough patch.

And by a rough patch I mean when she comes home she has to be kept from going outside because there’s a busy intersection in front of her subdivision and she likes to stand at the corner prophesying the coming of Cuthulu.

Problem is, when she gets that way she thinks my van is Cuthulu.

charming_cthulhu_v_2_by_tchukart-d5r6yh8

That’s why I park it around back.  I’m afraid I’ll come home one day to find out she’s raised an unholy demi-god into my Dodge Caravan from the Outer Realms.  It’s going to totally suck to see a wholesome family vehicle rampaging across the mortal realm demolishing cities with wave after wave of legions of undead Ford Edsels running over small puppies and old ladies, or something like that.

Jennie regularly tells me that if I make her mad, she’s going to slit my throat with a scalpel.  Maybe she’s not paranoid, but rather a tad bit homicidal.

All joking aside, Jennie was abused physically and emotionally by her mother.  She fled home following high school, where she worked her way into med school.  Several years into her marriage, her husband realized that the one thing he was missing in his life was a punching bag.

Eventually he realized that’s what Jennie was there for.

abuse

Matters went from worse to Jerry Springer when he had an affair with Jennie’s own mother.  Two years later my best friend’s older brother killed himself after falling into a severe bi-polar spiral exacerbated by a fatal addiction to the designer drug marketed as “bath salts.”

THEN… while she was going through this excursion into hell, she was assaulted by a man who was supposed to be a good friend.

You really would be hard pressed to make a story like this up.  I heard even Jerry Springer turned her story down because he couldn’t believe it.

Or maybe that’s what the CIA mind controllers wanted him to think….

I honestly cannot imagine what it must be like to wake up every night in to feel wave after wave of an unnamable dread sweeping over me. That’s just one of the leftovers from her past that Jennie has to deal with now.  I’ve sat beside her couch and held her hand as she attempted to soothe herself by rocking back and forth, as if each metronome-like sway could somehow move traumatic past events away one millimeter at a time.

Anxiety levels

More, I’ve stood beside my best friend and watched—literally watched—her fall asleep standing up because five days of catching sleep in brief snatches does very rude things to the body.  A week ago Jennie fell asleep at the dinner table with her hands in ranch dipping sauce.

My ranch dipping sauce.

If it had been my girlfriend, I’d have done something slightly naughty to get the sauce off of her fingers, but Jennie’s not my girlfriend.  Plus, she really does know how to use a scalpel.

I hate seeing what fear and incessant anxiety attacks do to my friend.  Currently she resists seeing a therapist.  I think that is one of the worst decisions she can make, and all I can do is watch.  No amount of talking is doing any good at the moment.  For now it’s extremely painful to watch moments of irrational panic take an amazing, vibrant, and professional woman to her knees.  If you suffer from anxiety attacks, there is help.  The first step is to know the nature of the beast that you are facing.  Please realize that you are not alone.  Get help.  There are people out there waiting with techniques that can alleviate the symptoms you are facing.  YOU have to do something about it, though.  YOU.  Please don’t wait.  That’s what Jennie does, and it scares me a lot. I suspect that when she falls off of her wall, it’s going to take a lot of the king’s horses and men to put her back together.  Age, experience, and wisdom tell me that I, alone, am not enough.

Please get help!

 

The Price of Adultery: Part 1

My ex-wife Julie and I met one night at college as we each walked alone along separate paths.  I was lonely, and she told me later that she had been drawn out onto a lonely walk because of another guy.  She liked him, but her feelings had gone unrequited.  That night she walked to let go of the idea of him and reconcile herself to the fact that something she had hoped for would never be.

By that time of my life I have discovered that I was already in a lifelong battle with depression.  As I passed groves of mountain evergreens lining the walking paths that skirted the campus, I remember the faint emotional sirens singing insidiously to me the same song that seems to tug at people with depression.

I felt like I was not “good enough” to be a part of the company of other students I admired.  My life was always the life of the outsider standing in the cold night looking into a window spilling out warmth, light, and laughter of people within . . . groups of people, the voice within me chided, that I could never possibly belong to.

I always watched from the other side of that window, pretending to smile, hoping that the grin on my face showed those inside that I too was one of them, one of the blessed elect, and that except for my solitary errand, I would doubtless be elsewhere enjoying the same mirth and happiness they reveled in.

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But I knew inside that I was really one of H.G. Wells’ Morlocks, a collegiate J. Alfred Prufrock not fit to share a smile or a laugh with a pretty girl or a close friend.  I knew in truth that it was time for me to go, always time for me to go.  Only the ghost of me remained.  If all I left in others was the believable pretense of a smile and the veneer of acceptability, then I felt like I broke even.

That night we both secretly carried our own baggage of disappointments and letdowns.  We met and walked together, and at some point I held her hand.  Neither of us suspected how far things would go, or how far things would fall.  I sensed from the beginning that we weren’t the best fit, but two months later I discovered I had MS and Julie was the one person there for me.  6 months after that she was pregnant and 10 months after that we were married.

Julie was a wonderful girl.  Gentle.  Sweet.  Thoughtful.  Considerate.  Unsure of herself and full of her own self-doubts.  And why shouldn’t she have been?  When Ju was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, choking her.  The resulting brief reduction of blood flow to her brain left her with a number of learning disabilities.

Growing up, she attended a prestigious and expensive private Catholic school, and it was hell for her.  All of the kids came from families with money and they possessed the kind of self-confident arrogance that sometimes accompanies children born among the Eloi, or the elect.

Julie attended special ed. classes to help her learn to work with her learning disabilities.  But you can imagine what it looks like to snooty school kids when one of their classmates has to leave regular class in order to attend “special” classes taught by the same teachers who were also working with mentally retarded children.

Julie knew that almost everyone looked askance at her as far as perceived academics went.  The boys liked her because she was thin and cute and more jock than preppy diva.  Julie has always been extraordinarily modest.  Any nascent arrogance got beaten out of her by a father that walked out on her when she was young.  And then there were the cruel remarks children made behind her back because she obviously wasn’t like them.  More, Julie never knew how pretty she was when she was younger.  The girls did, though, and they had their ways of making her feel ostracized . . . like a Morlock.

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Our marriage was full of trouble from the beginning.  I was always impatient with Julie.  Despite her learning disabilities, Ju was bright and just as capable as any other girl.  She just took longer to process and sift through things she read and heard.  I was book smart and grasped literary and philosophical things easily—the kind of guy who never opened a book and hardly went to class but still pulled a B effortlessly.

Julie worked and fought for every academic accomplishment she earned.  I had little respect for her at times because I constantly had to stop in mid-conversation and explain things to her I found self-evident.  She frequently became passive-aggressive and defensive whenever issues arose.  On top of that she suffered from what was at times a severe social anxiety.

Despite all of this, Julie loved me wholeheartedly and with the kind of devotion many people would shave years off of their lives to experience from another.  For all her love and fidelity, I returned her affection with an affair that left her shattered and devastated.

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Julie spent most of her life unsure of herself and afraid to live, to step out and take a chance.  Most of the time she got by with just existing.  This took its toll on me over the years.  That’s about the only thing I can offer up as an explanation as to why I cheated on her.  For a long time I clung to it as a life raft, excusing me from the deep and damning waters of my betrayal.

One day I finally let go of the raft and allowed myself to sink into the depths of that pitiless and self-recriminating sea.  Not a day goes by now when I do not in some way or another pay for the emotional toll I exacted on her.  I know that we weren’t good for each other.  Intellectually we had very different needs.  But this knowledge doesn’t do a bit of good to buoy up so my head remains above water.  It’s all I can do to hold on and tread.  Guilt is such a thinner thing than water that when we let go of the defenses we cling to in order to keep it at bay, we sink.  And down below, where the water is deepest, the guilt exerts a pressure that is unbearable.

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Julie has the kind of tenacity and spirit that will allow her to remain afloat in even the worst storms.  I am not so strong or resilient.  But rarely are the souls of the damned made of such durable stuff.  She sails in better and safer waters.  I live at the bottom of a sea floor littered with the wrecks of torpedoed relationships, walking and stumbling blindly among other lost souls in the dark, hoping for a redemption that remains ever elusive and forbidden.

In Relationships and Divorce, It’s Never The Fall

I have a family friend named Philip.  He’s an attorney and the clerk of court in the county where I’m from.  You’ll understand my surprise when I found out last year that he had fallen from the top rung of a ladder and broken several bones, because while they teach you lots of things in law school, apparently reading the sticker that clearly states, YOU MAY DIE IF YOU STAND ABOVE THIS RUNG isn’t one of them.  William Shakespeare once wrote the famous line, “Kill all lawyers.”

Many of us use that quote when we get a speeding ticket and the D.A. won’t drop it down from 85 in a 55 down to say 35 in a 55 with time served for good behavior while waiting patiently in the courtroom lobby.

I don’t want lawyers to die… at least not the ones I know.  Okay, maybe with one exception.  I used to date a lawyer once.  It didn’t last long.  She was so into her job that she took her litigation to bed with her at night.

When other men were her clients.

When I asked her what the hell she was doing, she claimed she was at her best when her work was done pro bono.  I took offense because the only one not getting a bono was me.  It really hurt that she used my bedroom to go from corpus delicti to corpus delicatessen.

But I digress.

Philip is a good guy, and whether he deserved to get what happened to him depends upon where your outlook on life falls: 1) anti-lawyer, 2) anti-man, or 3) anti-tree.  The day the accident happened he was standing (ALONE!) at the top of his ladder sawing a loose branch down from a large storm damaged oak.  The tree took umbrage at having one of its limbs removed without so much as a writ of habeas corpus, and so it did what any self-respecting organism does when threatened with amputation.

It kicked Philip’s butt.

The branch swung loose and struck Philip unexpectedly . . . I have it on good authority a nearby poplar and sassafras tree said they saw it coming a mile away.  At the moment the branch swung free and began its arc toward Philip a new sort of law kicked into effect.

That would be Newton’s 3rd law of motion.

Philip went straight down and that’s when he met Newton’s 1st law, which stipulates that a body in motion stays in motion until it hits the ground in the most painful manner possible.  Philip’s fall wasn’t a long one, and it was somewhat cushioned by contact with his left leg.  Unfortunately his fibula wasn’t ready to stop moving, and decided after snapping in two that it was time to go somewhere else—like through his calf.

And thus, my family friend suffered his first compound fracture.

Plus a broken arm.

Plus a crushed ankle.

And that was when I realized that it was a really good thing Shakespeare never offered up advice on making his famous dictum about killing all lawyers a reality.  If the Bard had really been serious, he could have just passed around dozens of duralite ladders and then stepped back to watch the carnage begin.

When I made the comment to Philip that I bet it hurt like hell falling off the ladder, he just laughed.

“No,” he told me.  “The fall didn’t hurt one bit.  It was realizing that I was alive once I hit the ground that hurt.”

I came away with this as a bit of sage advice for life . . . especially where divorce is concerned.

Divorce doesn’t hurt.

It feels a lot like holding the cool, smooth shaft of a pen between your fingers as your sign a book worth of papers officializing everything.

What really hurts is almost the exact opposite of what happened to my friend Philip.  He just fell off the ladder once.  The whole lead-up to a broken relationship is a lot like constantly falling off of a ladder and then climbing right back on up to the top of the thing time and time again.

In relationships as in sawing loose tree branches, it is always easy to ignore the sign warning, ONE STEP ABOVE THIS RUNG AND IT’LL SUCK TO BE YOU.  But we take that step, don’t we?

If you’re reading this blog, then you know what it’s like to climb up the ladder again and again and fall flat on you face enough times to perform emotional reconstructive surgery on your own soul as if your life were dangling at the end of a wrecking ball.  I know what this is like.  I’ve been on both sides of emotional destruction.  I ruined my first marriage, and then watched as the girl I loved, my old high school sweetheart, left me for a man who made $200,000 a year more than I did.

There is hope.  There is life after the life you thought you were destined for self-destructs around you.  And whether you were the one who was wronged, or you made a complete ass of yourself and drove your love-life into the ground, renewal is possible.

As I discuss relationships and offer up advice and helpful readings, I would love to hear from you and your story—both your triumphs and your defeats.

In the end, all are helpful.

And please remember, none of you are alone in your experienes.

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