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!
I was home after a busy day at work, my toddler son playing at my husband's feet in the living room, while I stood at the kitchen sink rinsing arugula, and getting ready to grill some salmon. I felt my husband's presence like an absence; that heavy feeling when someone doesn't want to be where they are. I turned around to face him, and he let out a long, slow exhale. "I'm done," he said, staring straight ahead at the wall in front of him. Then he turned his face toward me and his cool, blue eyes met mine, "I'm done with this," he said, gesturing his hand in a casual way that indicated that "this" was this life, our house, our son, our 13 years of memories together, and me. Suddenly, meaningless me.
He was "done." Just like that.
But I wasn't done. I begged, I pleaded, I cried. I tried to make him see the error of his thoughts. We had a new house, a new baby, I had recently been fired from a job I loved. Everyone has struggles like this in their marriage, I said to him, trying to make normal this terrifying new world we were in.
So we started "trying to save the marriage." We went to therapy, I walked around the house as if on eggshells, I did all the dishes cooked all the meals, tried to become the perfect wife, we went away to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. I took on more of the care of our son, and cried into my pillows at night as I felt my husband disappearing from me, anyway. I got a big, new job and tried not to need his help with everything I was carrying, and the two of us simply tiptoed around the giant hole he'd blown open in our marriage, right in the middle of our living room floor, as if it didn't exist.
One night after I'd put the baby to bed, sometime shortly before Thanksgiving, I was talking with him about us: What were we doing for the holidays? Where were we going? He was only grunting in half-answers, not turning his attention from the television. I started to walk up the stairs to put away some laundry, and said, "Since we're trying to work on our marriage, do you think you could be in this conversation with me?"
He whipped his head around to look up at me and spat out, "I'm not trying. I'm done trying. I'm just waiting for you to be done trying."
It was as if I'd been punched in the stomach. This is the night the blinders fell from my eyes, and I believed at last what he'd said six months before. We were done. And yes, just like that.
Oh wow -- that's a real kicker. "I'm not trying... I'm just waiting for you to be done trying."
This one really hit me.
By Laura L Mays Hoopes
Hello, 4853 Stratford Road, bungalow. I’ll hear later that this word comes from India, as does this idea of a house. Hunched against the heat, it’s sporting a lush St. Augustine grass lawn and two giant vertical junipers. The whole block of bungalows are reserved for new faculty members at Occidental College. Two straggly rose bushes in front of the porch look accidental. One has a lovely red rose, the other a drooping yellow rose. California, the golden. We dreamed about coming back. This is our first house, may we be happy in it.
* * *
I walk along a sunlit street, watching for places where the thirsty roots have tilted the sidewalk. “Brrm, Bruummmm!” Lyle calls to me, speeding along on his tricycle. “I see you Mommy.”
“Hi, Lyle.” I lean down and hug him, then he turns and speeds back to tell Richard I’m coming.
I go up the porch steps and open the screen door. Richard is out of sight. Why does he hide when I come home? He steps out from the back hall. His smile dims the sun. He hugs me, then drops next to his open law book on the pebbly green living room rug. Lyle comes in.
“Look at what Lyle can do,” Richard says. “Count, Lyle!”
Lyle squints and stretches, trying to be taller. He sticks his tongue out a little while he takes his left hand and pulls his index finger out of the bunch on his right hand, aligning it so he can point with it. He smiles and points as he says, “One, two three, four, five, chicken, eight, nine, ten.” He gives me a big grin. I hug him, trying to swallow my laughter at his “chicken.” He has enumerated all of the fake candle sconces around the living room. Pretty good for a three-year-old. I go to the kitchen to start dinner—chicken.
* * *
I’ll drive along here, and stop for some milk at the drive-in dairy. There’s no rush to get home. The dairy is just a few blocks from Stratford Road. Lyle’s at Aya’s house playing so he won’t mind if I’m slow getting home. Richard’s watching TV with law books all over the living room floor. Hope he hasn’t killed the pain with too much Scotch.
“A loaf of bread and a half gallon of milk, please.” A millisecond later, she hands me the bag. I offer $10. Change comes back. I drive on, doing one errand after another. Finally, I turn down Stratford Road. I pull into the driveway, assemble all the bags, get out. I walk up the porch steps, go to the door, put in the key. Unlock the door. Go in. Where’s Richard? Not in the hall. Not in the bath room. Not in the kitchen. My throat blocks my breath. My cheekbones feel full with the tears I won’t shed. He is gone. Permanently. Dead.
I let the dog in, sit down at the breakfast table. I recall making a tape of Richard, Lyle, and me eating breakfast. Rich was trying to get Lyle to say all kinds of weird and wonderful things.
“Say Margaret,” Rich’s voice says in my head.
“Margaret,” I whisper. Then I’m sobbing wildly. The dog that Lyle and I adopted last week at the pound curls himself against my legs under the table. He whimpers, licks my ankle. I stroke his warm, furry head. I get up, wash my face and walk past three houses to get Lyle from Aya’s.
I had been away from my husband and two daughters for a month. Finishing the first draft of my novel, I said. But really. I was trying to find a way to not write the final good-bye to my marriage.
My daughters spent the month at their grandparents, my husband stayed at home. For the final weekend I had to spend at my rental house on a beach, my husband flew in to join me. I was excited. Happy. Eager to see him. I drove to the airport and with me I carried the copy of my manuscript. It was finished. It's final birthing completed just the day before.
"Look," I said when he exited the terminal. "Here it is. I want you to be the first person to see it, touch it, read it."
He smiled, gave me a hug, pulled back. He looked briefly at the manuscript I held out towards him with both hands.
"I'll check it out later," he said. "Let's get my bag and get out of here. I want to stop by MEC and see if they have my size in the climbing boots I'm looking for."
He carried his bag, I carried my manuscript back to the car.
"Let's have a picnic on the beach," I suggested after an unsuccessful stop at MEC.
"Sure," he replied. He didn't know I'd already bought Champagne and strawberries. Pate and a baguette. "Shall we just get take-out?"
I laughed. I wanted to feel like a honey-mooner. I wanted to be 'in love' all over again. "No. No. I have a surprise."
I wouldn't let him see what I'd bought for our dinner. I wanted him to look at my manuscript. "I'll get everything ready while you check out my book," I told him.
But he had other ideas. "I'll take a look later," he repeated and went off to take a quick shower.
I packed the food and champagne into a basket and together we headed down to the beach.
"Isn't it beautiful!" I extolled.
"Yeah, it really is," he replied. We laid out our blanket and he pulled back the cover on the basket to reveal the goodies and cyrstal flutes I'd stored inside.
He stared into the basket. Looked back at me. "That's it?"
I nodded my head.
"Oh." Pause. "I was hoping for something more substantial."
I clung to my hope of a romantic evening on the beach watching the sunset like a drowning man clinging to a deflated life-raft. "We can always make an omlette back at the house later."
It seemed to satisfy him. The idea of more food later.
The champagne cork made a satisfying pop as he opened the bottle. I watched the bubbly, golden liquid fill each glass, the foam cracking and snapping.
We raised a glass towards each other. I gazed into his eyes. "To us," I said.
He nodded his head.
We nibbled on pate and bread and strawberries, the silence lengthening between us like the shadows of the setting sun.
"This is nice," he said. "To just sit here and say nothing. To simply enjoy the view and not have to talk."
I thought about the month we'd just spent apart. About my desire to share my adventures of the past four weeks. To hear of his.
And that was when I heard the crystal clear crack of his champagne glass breaking.
It could have been defective. It could have been a hairline crack I hadn't seen.
But I knew. It was my heart breaking. It was the light getting in. It was over. Eleven years after it had begun, there was nothing left to say. No more conversations to be written in my head. No more words that would never be shared. No more hoping for shared secrets and desires, hopes and fears.
It was over and all we could do was sit and watch the sunset in silence.
He never read my book that weekend. Never even glanced at it, even when I put it in his lap, on top of the novel he was reading that he'd brought with him.
"Please," I asked, giving it one more try. "Please read it."
He pushed the manuscript aside. "I promise, I will. Later. I want to be in the right frame of mine to give you my critique."
"I don't want your critique," I told him. "I just want you to be the first person to read it."
"I will. I promise. Later," he repeated. And he went back to reading his novel.
Later never came.
So many heart-wrenching accounts. The abusive ones especially brutal. And, yet, this is the one that compels me to comment. The spare way you paint the picture. The desperate, pathetic place I've been (we've all been?) begging to be seen, to be loved, to be joined.
The shattering symbolism of the cracked champagne flute matching my feelings of shattered as I watch him refuse your most precious, most magical gift. Not angrily, not malevolently. Selfishly and uncomprehendingly - places from which there really is no return, as much as we try to believe otherwise.
Thank you Caitlyn. It amazes me how when I saw the prompt that story immediately came back to me -- even though it happened over 15 years ago, I remember that moment of knowing. I remember that sound.
I told a girlfriend about that weekend shortly after and she started to cry. "My heart breaks for you," she said.
Thank goodness for women friends -- we understand each other and know the sadness of not being seen.
When was the single moment...?
I was too trusting to nail the coffin over a single moment ..at least for awhile.
There was his defensiveness, when I requested she go home at her child's bedtime, rather than spend all evening every evening, at our house till I was exhausted. (“She” was the ex-fiance of my son, by the way) There was the point where I asked him to not tell her that her constant presence was wearing me out...then he went straight to her and told her. Her phone call to me the following day led to my going to her house...listening to her and realizing his loyalty to her far exceeded his to me. I spent the next many hours in the fetal position in bed...trying to grasp that I had lost him. However, his flippant, "Don't make too much out of that" was a weak but desperate opportunity to hang on to the dwindling life in our marriage.
We went on a ski trip to have time together. "Altitude sickness" struck him hard, and he spent the trip sitting in the condo texting her and reacting to her responses. I was disappointed....but wouldn't allow myself to overreact and feel hurt.
Little did I know...they had sex the first time the day after we got back. Two weeks later, he TOLD me he 'never' loved me and didn't believe in our marriage. I was stunned.
But did I know?
Surely! you say.
My undying optimism told me this was midlife crisis...and he would get over it. I was devastated...couldn't breathe. But set out to get a job and rent a place of my own, so I wouldn't have to see 'her'.
I filed for divorce 6 weeks later...but still hoped.
Over the next two years the divorce was wrestled through, I was in therapy...working a job... trying to not think about him.
And then he contacted me. Asked if I would meet him for coffee. I did...trying to not let myself get hopeful. For six months we met and talked and he poured out his frustrations and hurt about how 'she' had treated him. I listened.
Then, one day, it came to light that they were engaged. And he had lied to me again, and had been with her all along. Just wanted my comfort when they fought.
That's when I knew.
He had no respect for me, for our many years together, for my dignity or feelings. He only wanted me to help him with his comfort zone. It was a hard lesson. But my naivete died that day.
And I am relieved.