I remember looking out the window of the cabin. It was the first of November and much cooler than we had anticipated. The gray silk of my dress was barely any help against the just about freezing temperature outside and I could see frost on the brown leaves that crunched under my heels as I walked about the park and posed for portraits earlier. There was snow in the evening forecast, a thought I found simultaneously romantic and worrisome.
Our guests were gathered in the front. A warm fire burned in its place. The tables were set with pumpkins, cheery tea lights, and autumnal leaves. Our friends and family had had a little trouble finding the place but now they sat in their seats and talked amicably among themselves. It was a small gathering of only our nearest and dearest.
I felt silly in my wedding dress. No one knew me as the princess and yet here I was looking as if I had stepped from Cinderella’s story. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be traipsing through the underbrush, following the creek down to the lake, or up on a mountain someplace. Of course I loved my groom but planning the wedding had been infinitely more stressful than I had imagined. Nothing had gone directly as planned. Paul had lost his job just a few days ago and we were keeping it a secret until after the wedding. The stress built inside of me and was coming to a head. It would all be over soon, though. We would kiss each other, hug our friends, and fall asleep in each other’s arms, our union blessed by a Higher Power.
“You are going to divorce him,” a voice said in my head with an undeniable conviction. I reeled back a step, shocked by the knowledge that had suddenly sprung forth in my mind. One of my closet friends had expressed her doubt when we announced our wedding and I had argued with her. We hadn’t spoken in months but because her husband was my fiancé’s friend she sat in the other room as a guest. I told myself it was because of that that I was having these thoughts.
My father asked if I were ready at that point. I swallowed the lump in my throat and turned to smile at him. He looked resplendent in his Naval dress blues- so much more regal than any of us in that little cabin. My gaze drifted from him to the other people gathered around the room. All the groomsmen were wearing red rose boutonnieres that my Dad had made in a surprising and endearing show of craftiness. My Mom had helped pin each one on. She was already seated. Dad handed me my bouquet of matching roses and I took his hand.
During the ceremony, our unity candle went out. That sense of foreboding stirred in me again but I pushed it down. The heat had just turned on and the air from the vent above blew it out. It was nothing more. That night, on our way to an after party at my new brother-in-law’s house, we were rear-ended by a stolen car someone was joy riding in. All the air was knocked out of me and I sat in the car gasping for breath. Paul had not asked how I was but instead went after the other guy. In retrospect, it seemed as if I should taken all these things in and filed for an annulment the next day.
I didn’t. I loved Paul and I thought love conquered all. If you tried hard enough, if you worked hard enough, you could make it through anything. Over the years this idea was tested over and over again. Paul could never keep a job. He was always mouthing off to the wrong person, saying rude things to his coworkers, or just not able to do what was asked of him. But if you ask him, it was never his fault. Our relationship was much the same way. He said it was never his fault. I asked too much, pushed too hard, and did not respect his dream of becoming a famous musician enough.
When he developed cancer, work was the first to go but he’d never miss band practice or a show. It “gave him strength.” It bothered me that he could drink as much as he wanted and jump around in a rock band all night but he never had the energy to work more than ten hours a week or do the dishes or a load of laundry unless I yelled at him.
The first time I got pregnant, I miscarried. When we first thought things were wrong, I went to the hospital’s emergency room. He had a show that night and his band came to the hospital not to offer support but to ask if he would leave me there so he wouldn’t miss a show. He asked my permission and I denied him. The venue was upset with them and they heard about it the next night. I, in turn, heard about it again and again and again.
Despite the birth of our lovely son Elijah in July of 2009, our relationship was beyond repair. We had both been tempted by others. I barely resisted but I still have doubts that he was so strong. We fought often. He still couldn’t keep a job. He preferred music to his son, his wife, our family. He stopped saying “I love you.” We had screaming matches over the phone. It was plain as could be to me that we were done and yet I still hoped and dreamed we would work it out.
Then Paul got a job working for a friend he had known from high school. He boasted that this was the job he could not get fired from. He pulled away even more. We fought and, for the hundredth time, I brought up divorce. He agreed. He wanted me to have sole custody Elijah. He wanted to stay in the apartment. He admitted that he had only been using me those past two years for a place to stay. We tried to be civil until I could find a new place but I felt slighted he was already scouting around for his next relationship when we hadn’t even moved out yet. Finally, enough was enough. He stormed from our apartment in a huff, I packed our things, and my son and I left.
For the past eleven years I’d lived in my version of paradise- a couple hours’ drive from the ocean or the mountains. Just a couple more got us to rainforest or desert and we sat in a small city perched between the hustle of Seattle and miles of peaceful farmland. I had a handful of amazing friends that I’d do anything for and, I know, would do anything for me. I loved my job, my boss, my coworkers.
I knew, though, that if I stayed, there would be a constant battle between me and Paul over our son. I knew I would fight him to be an active part in his son’s life and I also knew that just as I had been regulated to something below Paul’s musical aspirations, so would Elijah be. My son never needs to know that his father thinks he is only second best. No child should ever feel less important than a hobby.
On August 30th, 2010, Elijah and I stepped onto an airplane that took us 3000 miles away and deposited us right back in the last place I ever wanted to see again- North Carolina. We are currently living with my parents as I try to get back on my feet. It’s a huge adjustment to go from a completely independent person to having to rely on your parents again for absolutely everything. To complicate matters even more, I feel very much like an adult able to make my own choices but my parents seem to think our relationship paused at my 18th year and this 29 year-old in their house is the same person. In some ways, yes, I am. I still love horses. I still love baking and photography. I still have strong opinions and a loud voice and, yes, I still make stupid, foolish mistakes.
However, I also know now that this is temporary. I know that once I get a place of my own, it will be my choice to subject myself to their well-intentioned but sometimes completely out-of-touch whims. It’s just going to be tough to hang on until then.
Paul lost his job with his friend just a few days before we left town. Some things never change. He is dating someone new and has not asked about his son in over a month. I got sick of trying to keep him interested so I stopped sending him pictures or calling him with updates. So far, he has missed his son’s first steps, first real words, and first display of imagination. There are a lot of firsts that Paul will miss. But that’s okay, I’m not bitter.