the hardest words.
here is the next part of my memoir, “from death to peace”…
Luggage in my hands, butterflies in my stomach, and my heart racing, I slowly walked up the stairs onto our tiny front porch, grabbed the shiny gold door knob, and pushed the door open into our home.
“We gotta talk”, I said, on that hot mid-July day, perhaps even before I had even dropped my bags.
Seeing my lovely, bright, open-floor plan home nestled in the mountains of North Carolina should have made me feel peaceful, comfortable, and happy; but I was terrified, insecure, and determined. Seeing my husband for the first time in 5 weeks should have been a moment of joyous reunion, but it wasn’t. Instead I knew what I was facing. I knew what I had to say.
I had spent the last five weeks in Europe, working and reconnecting. I traipsed all over northern Europe as a leader for 5 amazing college-age students who embarked on a pilgrimage through Scandinavia and 2 Baltic countries, visiting Methodist churches and exploring different cultures. The Caravan, an exchange between Methodist congregations in Western North Carolina and Scandinavia/Baltic Countries, as it has been called for the past fifty-seven years, exists to provide a cultural and relational exchange between brothers and sisters who otherwise would never meet. It is an opportunity to realize that we are all family, and that although we live in different places and have different customs, our hearts are the same. The Caravan is also an intense pilgrimage, which has a tendency to leave such an impression that one’s life is changed. Countless tales exist of pilgrims returning home transformed. All this to say, that these 5 weeks were not only transformative for the youth I was leading, but for me as well.
The trip to Europe inspired me and reminded me of dreams, goals, and callings I had 12 years earlier when I was one of those youth on my own Caravan journey. The trip was a culmination of many years, thoughts, feelings, and fears I had been pondering for a while. And the trip came precisely when I needed it.
Let me back up.
It was mid-May, two months earlier, and I walked down the hall at the church where I worked. Nathan was sitting in his office, cup of coffee in hand, when I walked in and helped myself to the coffee pot which sat behind Nathan’s desk. We were like that. Invading each others’ space, teasing each other endlessly, laughing hysterically, and joking constantly. Completely comfortable together. On rare occasions we were serious and intense. This was one of those occasions.
I sat down across from Nathan, holding my coffee cup and sipping on probably 4th cup of the morning. Nathan did the same. We chatted and caught up with each other. I was gone three days out of every week because I was in seminary, so we spent many mornings chatting about professional and personal things. Yes, I worked full-time and studied full-time. It was a crazy balance, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even though it was Monday and we had worked together the day before, it must have been one of those times where I needed to vent. We don’t get much chatting done on Sundays. So I needed to spill my guts.
I began recounting (again) for Nathan the ways I was currently frustrated with my marriage… the lack of communication, the time spent apart, and so much more. Nothing had been the same after one sultry July morning in 2002 when my husband confessed that he had been unfaithful. We stayed married and did our best to make things work, but lately (as in perhaps, years, when I look back now), things had been feeling very disconnected. Unexpectedly, Nathan stopped me in the middle of my griping session and basically ripped into me. It was time for me to make a decision, he said. He was tired of listening to me complain about things, tired of hearing about my roller coaster ride of emotions, tired of watching me suffer internally, and tired of me not doing anything to make anything better. He fiercely challenged me to be honest with myself, to look at my current situation, and to stop putting all my hopes my “one day it will be better”mantra . Today was the day I was going to do something. If I wanted to live the life I wanted, I needed to stop bitching and start accepting (not his words exactly, but you get the idea). With firmness in his voice, he suggested for me to contact a counselor and to confront Jake with all of my feelings and frustrations. I needed to stop venting my frustrations at other people, and start being honest with myself and with Jake.
I was shocked. Hurt. Terrified. Stunned.
Natham scribbled down the name of a counselor/therapist and challenged me to call her. Right then. Looking like a deer caught in headlights, mouth gaping wide open, I shuffled out of Nathan’s office and down the hall to mine as if I was on auto-pilot. Somewhere deep inside I must have known that it was time to take action. A few minutes later I walked back down to Nathan and reported that I had an appointment in a few days. I actually felt a bit of relief. Just taking that step to make the call released some of my anxiety. The moments building up to something unknown are always the scariest, you know. Yes, I was pleased with myself… even a bit proud.
Then my bubble burst. Nathan reminded me that now I needed to go home and tell Jake about the appointment with the marriage counselor. Shit.
Later on that Monday in May, I sat down on my sofa, Jake in the chair nearby. My palms were sweating, I could hardly breathe, and I wasn’t sure that if I opened my mouth to speak, anything would come out. What was I so afraid of? Jake getting angry? No, I think I was most afraid of the fact that nothing would be the same as soon as I spoke the next words which would come out of my mouth…
“Jake, something is not right in our marriage. It just doesn’t feel ok, and I’ve contacted a marriage counselor so that hopefully we can figure out what’s wrong and begin to fix it.”
“There’s nothing wrong with us. I don’t think we need a counselor.” He was shocked. My words came out of the blue. I know it sounds drastic that I even contacted a counselor before talking with Jake, but I needed to do it right then… or it would have never been done.
“Perhaps you don’t think something is wrong, but I do. And if one of us in this marriage thinks something is wrong, then something is wrong. Will you go to the marriage counselor with me, Jake?”
“No. I told you before that I don’t like counselor’s, so I’m not going to go. I don’t think there is anything wrong.”
Panic. Anger. Fear. This is not going how I planned. He’s refusing. What do I do?
“Well, I have an appointment already made and I’m going to go. I would love it if you would come too. Please. Just to talk some. Think about it.”
End of conversation.
A few days later I went to that appointment and I continued to go weekly for the next few weeks, before I left for 10 days in Greece (an educational trip). I had another appointment or two in between my Greece trip and my trip to Scandinavia. I knew that I would be going back again and again, even after I returned from all of my trips that summer. Turns out, I met with Mary throughout the whole next year.
But I always went alone.
I dropped my bags, hugged Jake briefly, and could feel the tension. It was thicker than the humid air surrounding us on that summer day. We went through all the rituals, “How was your trip?” “Good, how was your time here?” “Good. I got a new tattoo.” “Oh.”
All the while we could feel it. I am certain that Jake felt it too. Something big was about to happen. Palms sweaty again, breath almost gone, hands shaking. Standing in our office, I said it:
“I think we need to get a divorce. This isn’t working.”
There is no need to go into all the reasons why I knew that we needed to separate and go our own ways, but I knew it… from deep within my soul. While I was terrified beyond belief, there was a sense of peace swirling around inside me, like some beautiful, warm glowing light. We had tried. We had given up. We tried again. And then we created our own lives, even as we were still married. There were good times, great times, and good memories. But, there was hell too. Those are all stories for another day. That is not the story I am telling here.
A few minutes or hour later, I have no idea exactly because time stood still in those moments, Jake left the house. And just like that, our 9 year marriage was over.
* names have been changed for privacy