Sara Wilson, Divorce Editor for the Huffington Post, asks She Writers to share the moment they knew...their marriages were over. Share yours here, and don't forget to submit it to the HuffPo contest of the same name by emailing your SHORT ESSAY (no more than 600 words, please!) to email@example.com by Friday, April 1st.
You may also want to attend, or host, a meetup in your town on Tuesday April 5th, where you and other SWers can read your short essays, and give each other courage and inspiration.
AND DON'T FORGET: Feel free to share OTHER "The Moment I Knew (It Was Over)" stories here, even if you were never married, or never divorced. This is a prompt that can inspire us all!
One night when my husband Jim was working late, I was under the covers with a book when I noticed the bed quivering. It felt like an airplane in a bit of turbulence and lasted maybe fifteen seconds, then a pause and another shake.
Our house was not near railroad tracks, and there are no subways where we live in Vermont. Our residential street didn’t have much traffic, the washing machine was not running, and there was no wind. Earthquakes are rare in the east.
In the morning when I asked the neighbors, no one had felt a shaking in the night. Was I living with a poltergeist?
The next night the bed trembled again. In fact, it shook every night. By the time Jim came home at midnight from his newspaper job, the bed was still.
“There’s something weird about this house,” I said.
“You’re imagining things,” Jim said.
“I’m not imagining.”
“It’s probably you that’s shaking,” he said.
“It’s not me. But it’s something.”
“I haven’t felt anything,” he said.
“Maybe the ghost doesn’t like you.”
Another night, just as I was drifting to sleep, my son called to me from his room down the hall.
“Mommy! My bed is shaking!”
I picked him up and brought him in to sleep with me.
“I want to sell the house,” I told Jim the next day.
“You’re being childish,” he said. “I don’t have time for this.”
For the next months I lived with the shaking bed as well as flashing lights and unexplainable movements of large furniture. Jim said I was nuts. Because of our work schedules, we had only weekend chunks of time together. We started bickering over small things that magnified into big things. Everything seemed wrong—problems with our son’s day care, the demands of my job or his job, and the trembling house.
In January the bed shook me awake. I was waiting for the quaking to stop when I felt a sharp stab in my left breast. Pulled muscle, I thought. I pressed the spot, but the pain was relentless, like an ice pick through the flesh. Rotating my fingers, I pressed harder. Under my fingertips, I felt something. A small pebble, not so big as the egg of a hummingbird. How long had it been there? Had the poltergeist deposited some little treasure during the night?
I don’t remember the surgery, but when I came to in the recovery room, the doctor was smiling over me. He had removed the cancerous lump but saved the breast. Lymph nodes were clean. I was 35 and had been reprieved from the gallows.
For a while, Jim and I did not argue, but he agreed to sell the house and move to a nicer part of town. Eventually our quarrels started again and, finally, we divorced.
I've been told that cancer is a wake-up call. I didn’t know the disease could shake me conscious and force me to change what was wrong with my life. Or maybe it was the poltergeist. In any event, I’m free.
I think your spirit guide or angel was letting you know. That house wasn't haunted. They were just trying to wake you up, which you did. Wonderful story.
I hope this doesn't sound mean, but a ghost story is really the last thing I expected when I clicked on stories about divorce. I'm sorry if this is impolite, but I find this a little unbelievable, except for the cancer and the divorce.
I was shocked, and I was angry. "So I am good enough when you are too sick to live alone," I yelled, "but now you are healthy and you are walking out? What am I... yesterday’s trash?" I replayed the years I had spent supporting him through relapse after relapse – affair after affair. The years I had spent working to get us out of debt and working to get my life back on an even keel. The years I had stood by him while he ran off everyone else. The years I had spent... telling God that I was willing to leave my marriage. I was willing to stay, but I was also willing to leave if he would just give me a sign. A sign big and bold enough that I would not miss it.
I smiled. Thank you for the sign God... I do not have to do this anymore!
The demise of my marriage I chronicled in my memoir, Happy Beginnings: How I Became My Own Fairy Godmother. This is how I found out and realized that it was time to start over and make my dreams come true. Below is an excerpt where I find out my husband is leaving me and deal with that blow.
As I sat watching my favorite television series, I was appalled that the main character's boyfriend had just broken up with her on a post-it note. I was compltely unaware that a similar fate awaited me, but on a slightly larger stationery product.
My husband sat across from me with his 3x5 index card neatly printed with bullet points outlining why he was moving out of our home.
1) I'm not happy.
2) I need some space.
3) I'm not sure I am still in love with you.
And just like that, I was going to be alone. The reason was not that my husband had died in a plane crash, as I had always feared. It was not because he had a stress heart attack in a a hotel room while on a business trip. The reason was staring at me holding a 3x5 card and telling me that he was not sure he was stil "in" love with me. I heard the words coming at me at supersonic speed. I heard the words in slow motion. I heard the words...wait...I did not hear the words.
"What?" I asked, "What did you say?"
"I think that we need to take a break. I need time to find out some things. I have rented an apartment." he told me again.
"A what?" I asked.
My husband looked at me funny. "I rented a furnished apartment."
"Where?" I inquired.
"Near my work." he answered.
The words sunk in below my subcutaneous layer. The neurons began to fire in my brain; and I felt a rush of anger, hurt, betrayal, astonishment,and incredulousness come surging up from my soul and out of mouth.
"We just got back from vacation. What do you mean you are moving out? What is going on? Are you having an affair? When did you decide to do this? Oh my God, I am going to be a statistic."
I could no longer sit, so I got up from the couch and paced. Then my heart absorbed the emotions and I had to sit down before I fell down.
"Get out now." I said with eerie calm.
My husband looked scared.
"I can't." he looked at me sheepishly.
"What do you mean? You have an apartment, so go there." My heart was icing over slowly.
"It won't be ready until Wednesday." He could not look at me while he said this.
"Are you kidding me? You just tell me that you are leaving me, but you're not leaving for three days?" I laughed in spite of myself. "I don't care where you go but you will not be here tonight. I do not want to see you, touch you, smell you, or even sense your presence. You are..."
I stopped and picked up the pillow off the couch. I lookd at it and I felt the tingling in my hand as I lobbed it at him. I threw another, and another, and another. I was throwing the pillows at him as hard as I could. It was a one-sided pillow fight. My husband stared up at me, and I saw anger come to his eyes. I thought how ludicrous it was that he was angry. He stood up and started to walk away.
"I am not leaving until Wednesday and you are going to have to find a way to deal with that." He was taking a big risk thinking he was going to sleep peacefully next to me after what he had just told me.
"No. You want to leave. You leave now!" I was adamant and this time he looked downright scared.
"What about the kids?" he questioned.
"Now you're worried about the kids?" I wanted to smack him but I was out of pillows.
"I love the kids and I don't want to hurt them." He lowered his head when he realized how futile the sentence sounded.
"Really? Well I think that their father leaving their mother the day after they come back from their summer vacation will be a very happy occasion for them, don't you?"
I knew I was being petty and hurtful, but I didn't care. I did not want to look at this man any longer. Yet he was still there. His apartment was not going to be ready for three more days, and amazingly, he thought that staying at the house until the apartment became available was a viable opition.......
The catalyst to monumental changes in my life occurred when my mother passed away from cancer. I realized part of my decision for allowing my unhappiness was to make sure that I pleased her, my family, and my husband. After her death and the subsequent expedited remarriage of my father, I found myself faltering in who I was. While my marriage had been for many years less than satisfying, I felt that this was my lot and accepted my life as it was. With my mother gone and the pressure of having to be perceived in a certain way lessened, I attempted to talk to my husband and tell him that things were not working out well for us. He maintained that he loved me and that he wanted our marriage to stay intact. I felt stuck.
I waited until the children were upstairs and I walked over to him. Quietly and calmly, I told hiim that I did not care where he went but he was leaving tomorrow. I would not allow him to leave me and then not leave me. I outlined for him that he would pack, find a room, and be gone.
"You will tell the kids tomorrow before you go, why you are leaving." I said this with eerie calm. "You will make it very clear that this is your idea, because I will not have my children thinking that I pushed you out of this house. You want to leave then you will tell the children that you are going and that it was your decision to leave.
The Moment I Knew
When I was 28, my lawyer husband and I drove across the country from D.C. to Iowa City, where he was to drop me off at the Iowa Writers Workshop and then make the long trip back to the East Coast on his own.
It was the eighties, when people talked about power couples and two earner families and equal rights and such arrangements as ours were not unknown, although both of our mothers had their doubts. Les believed I’d return; I only had to get this ‘education thing’ out of my skin. As we cruised past more fields of corn than either of us had ever seen in our lives, we told one another we’d see it through: I’d go to school for two years, try to write the Great American Novel and then return to D.C. where we’d settle down for good, have kids, raise a family.
Now here we were, standing in the battered office of the Workshop, when a young man strode into the room. He came into the office in a rage, black hair rising from his forehead like a rooster’s comb, body all wiry angles, eyes wide and flashing dark sparks. With a dramatic gesture he stared straight at me and my knees literally went soft.
“Where are my papers?” he demanded. I shivered; the secretary said something; he nodded, then, with a second searing stare, he left as quickly as he had broken in, leaving only cooling silence behind.
“Who the hell is that?” my husband asked.
“Some screenwriter,” the secretary replied. “From L.A.”
My husband looked at me. He was tall and beak nosed, a lawyer who someday far in the future would end up in jail for bilking Lehman Brothers on a mortgage deal. “Stay away from that guy,” he said. “There’s something about him I don’t like.”
It took a week for us to get together, at a barbeque. He took me into a grain bin and asked me if my marriage was in trouble.
“Yes,” I said, slipping my ring off my finger and sliding it into the pocket of my jeans.
Another month passed before I worked up the nerve to phone my husband to tell him I might not return.
“It’s that screenwriter,” he said. And then, before he heard my answer, he said, “I have only one thing to say. I will never, ever marry an intelligent woman again.”
At that, dear reader, I knew I was done.
This is the story of when I knew it was over...
I could never have imagined…
I was in my car.
He called from work. Angry.
My heart was adrift, no longer his, no longer my own.
Married too young. To the wrong man.
We moved away from home together, eager for something new, to share exciting experiences.
We had only each other.
At twenty-one, I needed someone to care for me, to provide shelter and protection…someone to think for me. I didn't see that I wasn't looking for a husband. I wanted a father.
I believed that as long as I felt tenderness for him, we could grow together. I had promised forever.
At twenty-four, I started college, learned I was smart. My brain expanded and my desire and ability to explore complex ideas grew.
He was stagnant. The same. Always the same. He believed he had all of the answers. And where he had the answers, I most certainly did not.
The more I grew, the more he held on. The more I tried to share my experiences, the more he resisted. My growth threatened his sense of self.
The more he held on, the more I retreated, bit by bit. Learned not to talk. Hid my enthusiasm and confided in others.
He called, exploding with accusations and anger.
I turned around. Drove home.
I was gathering the last of my bags when he stormed in. How he knew I’d returned, I’ll never know.
Physical and mental intimidation were his weapons of choice. I always caved to him. I would back down and withdraw deeper within myself.
I had been on the receiving end of his rage before. I'd been shoved and grabbed, but never more.
Drops of saliva flew as he raged. I felt them on my cheeks.
I remained silent. I hoped that if I didn’t engage, I could escape. Typically, once he expelled that anger, he would relent.
He followed me into the bathroom…I attempted to gather the last of my things.
I could feel his rage even before he touched me. The air was hot with anger. I saw his desperate hands. My peripheral vision blurred.
In a moment, I was pinned to the wall, his hands around my throat, eyes black as coal.
I had a moment to wonder if he would kill me.
I had a moment to wonder what I would do with my life if he didn’t.
I will never know why he let go.
He released me with a shove and moved back against the counter, hands in fists. I didn't run. I walked.
My actions were opposite what they’d always been. The script called for me to calm him, tell him that I loved him still.
I looked him in the eye and I walked out.
He said if I left, it would be with the clothes on my back.
I tried to leave through the garage. He blocked me.
I tried to leave through the front door. He blocked me again.
He grabbed my arm, viciously twisting until I released my purse…my wallet, my license, my money, my keys.
I went for the phone, said I was calling a friend to pick me up.
He watched me dial. Realization that I dialed only three numbers showed on his face.
Those following moments were some of the longest of my life. His threats gave way to tears, then pleas.
The police arrived, pulled him outside, returned my belongings, helped me to leave.
I didn’t recount what he had done. They didn't seem to want to know. I avoided their eyes and just kept repeating that I wanted only to leave.
Loyalty, guilt, and shame for being the kind of woman who falls out of love had always guided me.
I drove away, without a backward glance.
A life. A marriage.