Happily Ever After
By Sherry Bailey
Once upon a time, I believed in fairy tale endings. I was married for twenty-six years, was still in love with my husband, and expected to stay that way until one of us died. I was a wife and mother, and mostly happy in these roles. And for a long while, my husband was happy too. At least he said that he was. Until the day someone else came along….
In the spring of 2001, my married life ended when my husband left me. Of course his actual leaving was preceded by a few months of painful dithering since there seemed to be no real reason for him to go. At least he didn’t reveal the reason until much later; at first he’d only say that ‘something was missing’ from our relationship.
It turned out that the ‘something missing’ was love. Apparently, he had fallen out of love with me. He said that for the past ten years things hadn’t been right between us. Ten years! Well, that was a shock since I’d thought we were happy. Well, mostly happy. Like any long married couple, we had our ups and downs and times when I wished I was single again. But I believed that this was what marriage was all about and that nobody could be happy all the time. I see now that happiness is relative, there is happiness, and then there is HAPPINESS and for years we’d been experiencing the lower case variety. Still, we were best friends and to me that counted for a lot. Besides, who chucked out years of being together just because things weren’t perfect?
When he first said that he wanted to leave, I decided to put my own feelings on hold. I reasoned that as long as I remained loving and understanding towards him, he’d eventually see that we belonged together. I ignored my own hurt feelings and focused on his, which, in hindsight, was crazy making. What amazes me now is that until the week before he actually left, we still slept together, even though afterwards he’d accuse me of seducing him. This hurt me terribly but I rationalized his behaviour by telling myself that he was stressed out and possibly depressed. I convinced him to go for counselling not realizing that counselling can only help those who wish to be counselled. None of my efforts to save our marriage had any effect however and when he finally confessed there was someone else, I was devastated. Before he left, he promised that he’d keep in touch; he said that our marriage wasn’t over yet and we’d meet again soon. I held on to the thought of his returning but it never happened. After being separated for two years, he began divorce proceedings and three months later, he remarried.
In the first months following his leaving, I lived in a fog of disbelief. It was hard to fathom that our life together meant so little to him that he could just walk away. Feeling angry, sad, and confused, I berated myself. How had I been so blind as to not know that our marriage was falling apart? Obsessing over my shortcomings (real and imaginary) created a mass of raw emotion that spilled into my journals. I see sawed between feelings of love and hatred towards him. I felt that I was in his power and longed to break free. I hated myself for being dependent on him, both emotionally and financially. At least six months would have to pass before I’d stop blaming myself for being who I was. I wanted to heal, wanted to live life again, not wallow in anger and sorrow. Easier said than done, but ultimately I decided to spend my time focusing on all I did have, rather than all that I didn’t. This positive approach helped me appreciate the talents and gifts that I possessed but had long taken for granted. It was then that affirmations became important to me. A poem entitled “Little Word, Little White Bird” by the poet Carl Sandburg was one of my favourites. It stressed that as long as I did not become a thing of harm, nothing would harm me. Wise compassionate words that I held onto as I did not wish to remain resentful or bitter.
During this transition period in my life, I was grateful for all the people who cared for me. People who listened to me, who went to lunch with me, who sheltered me, who counselled me. People who taught me, who gave me their time and expertise, who believed in me. Because I no longer had to consider the wishes of a spouse, I now had plenty of time to develop my own interests, some that I’d previously explored, but also some that I never would have considered had I remained married. In many ways, I felt more alive than I’d been in years. Even so, there were dark days where I slipped into a gloomy introspection. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays were lonely times when I missed my husband (the old him, the one I remembered from years ago) as well as his family. I had doubts as to whether I’d be able to start over again on my own. For years, I’d only worked at writing jobs which didn’t pay much and the thought of having to support myself seemed daunting. Even so, I held on to the thought that eventually I’d figure things out. I believed that if I faced life with love and an open heart then my future path would become clear.
When times were especially rough, being able to view my life objectively helped. Being a writer also helped as I got all my feelings down on paper. As the days went by, there were more and more happy times and the sadness of the past started to take on the quality of a bad dream. It took a lot of searching to find the woman who’d been buried so long under the guise of wife, but eventually she emerged. Slowly, I was becoming the person I wanted to be.
But how, you might wonder, did I let go of the hurt and anger connected with being dumped for another (younger!) woman. Being philosophical helped, making vows to focus on positive thoughts helped too. Although negative emotions have their own agenda, (you can’t just will them to disappear) I remained open to all my feelings, and tried not to judge them as either good or bad. Mostly, the biggest shifts occurred when I viewed myself as the heroine of my life story and realized that it was up to me to create a new future. Once I gave up the illusion of being powerless it seemed that more and more positive energy flowed my way. Energy work such as Reiki and Therapeutic Touch began to make sense. There seemed to be so much more to life than I’d realized. Also, as I mentioned earlier, there were always people, good people, who were willing to help me on my journey.
During those years, I worked hard at being good to myself–emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I kept active. I walked for miles. I meditated. I found a new home in a new neighbourhood. I planted a garden. I travelled. I explored a few different jobs. I went back to school. I found new and more satisfying work. I dated some nice (and not so nice) men. Still, even with all the positive changes in my life, I felt lonely. I sensed that I would be happier if I were part of a serious couple again. What can I say? I’m an incurable romantic.
Fast forward to the present, almost a decade later. I own my own home (totally paid for, no mortgage!), and I have a job that (most days) I enjoy. I say most days, because how can a sane person always enjoy working with teenagers? (I’m an Educational Assistant at a Junior High School). As for personal relationships, I have a few close friends, lots of friendly acquaintances, and for the past four years, a steady boyfriend who I love and who loves me (of course he’s hardly a ‘boy’, but ‘partner’ sounds like I’m dating a cowboy). I live with my son Neal who cuts the weedy lawn in the summer, and in the winter, shovels the snow. He and I talk about when he might move out but so far it isn’t happening. I have two pampered cats that sleep at the foot of my bed. I eat mostly vegetarian food, and am mostly healthy (15 pounds can’t be that hard to lose). When I don’t get what I think I need in the way that I want it, I practice the art of wabi sabi (the Japanese art of imperfection which teaches that perfection is not only impossible, but undesirable. Mostly I do what I want as long as nobody gets hurt. As a result, I enjoy life. The heartbreak I’ve experienced seems centuries away. Still, every now and then the past crops up. Sometimes it takes the form of remembering a birthday or an anniversary. Sometimes a vivid dream brings back the long ago good times. These ghosts can be unnerving but I live with them quite well. I accept them and they soon pass. Still, the thought of how I’d feel if I ever came face to face with my ex was something I wondered about. Would seeing him in the flesh make me go through another mourning period or had I truly moved on? We hadn’t had any contact with one another since our divorce so mostly this was an idle thought, that is, up until a few months ago.
On that morning in June I was hanging the laundry out to dry when my ex drove up. Ron had come to collect Neal; they were going out to lunch. When Ron emerged from his truck and hesitated at the edge of my yard, he seemed smaller and less self-confident than I’d remembered him. For one split second, I wished I’d taken more care with my appearance, (egos are unpredictable), but the feeling passed. I looked o.k. the way I was. But more importantly, I felt o.k., no pounding heart, no lump in my throat. We stared at each other for a moment, and then Ron slowly moved his arm upward in a wave. Such a casual greeting, one that years ago would have broken my heart, but now it seemed right somehow. Perhaps I could have gone over to speak with him, asked how he was doing, asked how his wife was, and we would have chatted for awhile, but to be honest, I didn’t want to hear about his life, it was no longer any of my concern. Over the past decade we’d lost touch with one another in all the ways that mattered, and making small talk seemed pointless. I admit that it felt liberating to finally realize this. The man I’d once loved was a stranger now, an amicable stranger perhaps, one that waved to me across a yard. So, what happened next? I did what came naturally. With all the courtesy and respect, I’d give a stranger, I smiled and waved back.