I started writing this post on my wedding anniversary on May 21, but I stopped and haven’t returned to the blog since. It has been the longest break from the blog that I’ve had since I started it, and there are many reasons for that, but the primary reason is that I’m happy. I’m actually happy.
I was so angry when I started this blog. I needed a way to express that anger, to get that poison outside of me, and I chose the blog as an outlet. I had no understanding of the landslide I was setting off in my personal life–that within months, the blog would surpass 20,000 views, that every week I would receive another message from another woman. That there were so many women who understood. That I was not alone.
I was afraid of leaving my husband because I didn’t want to be alone, but I am not alone.
I was more alone with him than I am without him.
Anniversaries were happy events through most of my marriage, but the last one was unhappy. It was six months before I left Caleb. I had graduated from my MFA program the week before, and my parents had recently left after attending my graduation. We were able to pretend to be happy while my parents were there, but after my parents left, our relationship exploded. My graduate program had been a distraction from the misery happening at home. I had thrown myself into my writing and studies. I had close relationships with my graduate mentors and my classmates, and those relationships gave me a sense of stability that I didn’t have at home. My program was a challenging one, and the work gave me a sense of purpose, but it also meant that I didn’t feel equipped to handle the challenge of my graduate program and also leave my husband. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I had this sense that I needed to finish my thesis before I made any decisions about my marriage. The voice in my head said that if I left my husband, I would fall apart. I would crumble. It looped on repeat. I would fall apart. I would crumble. I would fall apart. I would crumble. I would fall apart. I would crumble.
I didn’t want all of my work to be for nothing, and my graduate work wasn’t, but the work on my marriage was. It was all for nothing.
I gave him so much of myself. I gave him so much love, so much understanding, so much acceptance, and so much forgiveness. Too much forgiveness. I kept forgiving him.
I will never forgive him again. He has not asked for my forgiveness. His letter was not the letter of a man who is going to change. His letter was not the letter of a man who wants forgiveness, so I no longer give him that gift.
But I can give that gift to myself. I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for my dreams.
Because I had dreams.
I dreamed of a cabin in the woods with a creek in the yard and a smaller cabin in the backyard where Caleb could write. I dreamed that I could bring him a cup of coffee in the morning and sit on his lap, lay my head on his shoulder. Caleb said that my head fit perfectly underneath his, and I dreamed that he would always tuck my head under his and hold me tightly.
I dreamed that we would have a little girl. A spirited little redhead like me. I dreamed that Reed would not be the last child I nursed. I dreamed that there would be another one. In the later years of my marriage, I knew I could not bring another child into that turmoil. My little redheaded girl would never exist.
I dreamed that Caleb would publish a book. I dreamed that publishing a book would make Caleb happy, that publishing a book would ease his torment, that publishing a book would fix his misery, his resentment, his bitterness, his feeling that the world had wronged him. I dreamed that, if he published a book, he would finally be able to see what he had in front of him–a beautiful wife and child who loved him, who would love him if he never published a book, and who would love him if he did. We would have loved him through anything.
I dreamed that we would return here:
Where are those people? Where did they go?
I dreamed that there was a drug that could fix him, that the antidepressants didn’t work, but maybe the mood stabilizer would. I dreamed that there was a therapist who could fix him. I dreamed that there was a doctor who could fix him. I dreamed that his mother could fix him. I dreamed that my mother could fix him. I dreamed that I could fix him.
Above all, I dreamed that I could fix him.
And while I was dreaming of fixing him, my own life was ending. I woke in the morning certain that I was going to die. I felt that even if he didn’t kill me, my heart was going to fail me, and I was going to die. I gained weight. I had night terrors. I was exhausted. My blood pressure was high. I had sleep studies done. The sleep doctor prescribed me drugs to put me to sleep. He prescribed me drugs to keep me awake. None of it made me feel any better.
One day, Caleb told me that he he needed to go to the mental hospital and check himself in. He needed to tell them that he wanted to murder his wife. I was terrified. I asked him why he would need to tell them that. I asked him, did he want to murder me?
He said that it was because he knew they would want to check him in for a long time if he said that, that he thought he needed at least a month. I offered to drive him. I said I would take him if he felt he needed that break, that I would protect him, that I would get him the help he needed, but then he didn’t want to go.
It was all a manipulation. It was a threat disguised as a plea.
He wanted to kill me. He would have killed me. And if he didn’t, I would have killed myself.
I had quit dreaming, and once the dreams were gone, there was nothing left to hold on to. So I left. And I’d like to say that I never looked back, but I did. I still look back. I look back, but I haven’t gone back.
And now I’m happy. I didn’t think I’d ever be happy again, but I am. I have dreams again, but now, my dreams are for myself. I dream of publishing a book. I dream of having my own little writing cabin. I dream of the life that I can share with Reed. I dream of someday finding someone else whose chin my head will fit under.
I am almost myself again. I am almost the happy, healthy person I was when I met him. I am not quite there yet, but I know that I am close.
The other night, I was talking to a man who I see downriver when I’m working for the Forest Service. We were talking about empathy. He said that he worries he has too much empathy because he’s a teacher, and he suffers for his students. I told him that I’m the same, and I’m also a crier. I told him that it’s like there is a short circuit between my brain and my eyes. He teaches anatomy, and he laughed. He told me that would only get worse with time. Then he described a sunrise he had seen on the river during the previous week. It would have made me cry, he said. And I described a sunset that I had seen on the river a few weeks earlier. It did make me cry, I said.
It made me cry because it was so, so beautiful.