The Anniversary that Wasn’t: Why I Wish I had just “Thrown Away” my Marriage.

I was scrolling through the calendar on my phone, looking for an appointment I couldn’t remember making, when I scrolled across a repeating reminder.

“Anniversary”


It made my stomach drop to be honest, and I flashed to memories of a lacy white dress, yellow roses on white tablecloths, and promises that were supposed to last forever.

“For better or for worse.”

“For richer or for poorer.”

“Forsaking all others…”

“Anniversary…” plugged in to my phone because I’ve always had a hell of a time with dates, even important ones, and I need reminders.    And there it was, my reminder, set to repeat into infinity, because when you get married you promise each other forever, and you can’t imagine a world where you won’t need a reminder for that date.

I deleted the reminder–I wouldn’t need it anymore–but the word hung like a shadow for the rest of the day.  It would have been seven years this year, and, even though I’ve honestly gotten to the place where I feel pretty damn lucky that the marriage ended, the reminder still tagged along with me for the rest of the day.

It’s funny to me that “divorced” is considered a “relationship status,” as though it were somehow different from single.  Once you are divorced, you are never again just “single”…you are divorced.  Which, as far as I can tell, mostly just means single but with a shit ton of emotional baggage.  I feel like I’m wearing a sticker across my forehead when I say it.  “I’m Divorced” equals “My marriage failed…Try and guess who’s fault it is.”  A scarlet letter.

I remember sitting watching television as a kid, listening to the adults in the next room discuss someone’s divorce, lamenting that “people just throw away their marriages these days.”  Divorce, in the subculture I was raised in, is a character failing.  By that reasoning, I guess I write this with a failed character.

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There’s a meme that pops up on Facebook every few months of an elderly couple who, when asked how they “managed to stay together for so long” respond that “It’s simple really.  We are from a time where if something is broken, we fix it; Not throw it away.”

I have to admit, the first time I saw that meme, I thought it was really cute.

“Yes.” I thought, a touch too self-righteously, “People need to stick together and fix things.”

I was raised in 90s evangelical purity culture, with its message that if you don’t sleep around before marriage, God will bless you with a happy, fulfilling relationship.  In youth groups and Bible studies, marriage was the finish line instead of the starting gate.  Women were framed in relation to their husbands. I was raised to believe that marriage was meant to last forever.  I was raised to believe that wedding vows are sacred.  I was raised to believe that, once you’re married to someone, you will always be married in the eyes of God, no matter what the courts may say.

Later, when I found myself living in what could only be described as a toxic relationship, a toxic marriage complete with abandonment and adultery, those ideas that I no longer entirely subscribe to clanged around in my head like marbles in a tin can, noisy and pointless and undeniable. I thought endlessly on those words: “throw away” and “fix.” I spent two and a half years of my life trying to repair a relationship that was fucked up beyond repair.  I tried to repair it despite what my friends said.  I tried to repair it despite how I was treated.  I tried to repair it despite the warning of a marriage therapist who told both of us that it was obvious to her that he was not invested in repairing the relationship.

I hung on.  I kept trying.

Sometimes, I honestly wish I had just “thrown away my marriage”  In retrospect, it would have been completely reasonable to throw myself into a life boat when the ship started sinking, to get the hell away from something that would only prove to nearly drown me.

I thought back on those vows and wondered how they really worked.  Do they become void once broken?  And, if so, in what order?  Am I off the hook on “for better or for worse” because he broke “in sickness and in health” and “forsaking all others,” or was this just the “for worse” before we swung back around to “for better?”

Ending my marriage was the most difficult decision of my life, but, in the end, it was my decision.  I filed the paperwork.  I made the call.  I “threw away” my marriage.  I dissolved my marriage to save myself.

And when I did it, I didn’t think about the common things that the Bible has to say about marriage.  I mean, I did, but I also oddly thought about Abraham and Issac.

There is a passage in Genesis that recounts a story about Abraham.  He is called upon by God to sacrifice his beloved son on an alter.  In the end, with Issac waiting on the alter for his father to plunge a knife into his chest, God stays Abraham’s hand and provides a ram instead.

Biblical scholars tend to agree that this story serves to point out the differentiation between Judaism and the other religions of the time that encouraged human sacrifice.

I don’t know why exactly, but I thought about this story a lot in relationship to my marriage.  In the end, I couldn’t make myself believe that the same God who spared Issac would want me to sacrifice my own life on the alter of marriage, bound and shackled to something that was eating away at my soul.  I couldn’t help but believe that when we become so committed to an institution, like marriage, that we abandon the well-being of the people who belong to it, that is when we lose ourselves and our humanity.

This path has felt nearly impossible at times.  Every step I took away from the man I still loved felt like a self-inflicted torture.  But that didn’t make it less right.

Here’s one of the things I have learned: almost no one just “throws away” a marriage.  No one dissolves the most important relationship in their life on a whim.  Some things just can’t be fixed.  Sometimes it’s better for your soul to let go.  (I probably should have let go a lot sooner, if I’m being honest.)  And sometimes the most important thing you will ever do is decide it’s time to walk away.

 

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The other side: More on Divorce

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become.  No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell.  There are no maps of the change.  You just come out the other side.  Or you don’t.”
~ Stephen King

My divorce, so long in the making, was final at the end of March.  My cousin, Erin, came down for a long weekend and stayed to hold my hand in a mostly empty courtroom on a Monday morning while I answered questions from a bored-looking judge for five minutes so that he could declare my marriage dissolved.   My ex didn’t come; in Illinois you don’t have to have both parties present to finalize a divorce, and I had decided that the whole thing would probably be easier if I didn’t have to face him.

Divorce is strange.  It can be equal parts terrifying and debilitating and liberating.  Even world-ending.  It’s unexpected for some.  It feels inevitable for others.  The cutting of a cord. The removing of a limb.  A decision that you make, but that feels as though it had been made without you.  One that somehow feels equal parts devastating and hopeful.

It’s the end of something you never thought would end, and the beginning of something you never prepared for.

At least, that’s how it was for me.

Divorces seem to be like couples; each one of them is different

Two years ago, my ex began chasing madly after a career a thousand miles away.  It seemed to make him happy in ways that his work here did not, so I encouraged it, and I sacrificed for it.  My time, money, and all of my needs were placed on a chopping block of my own creation.  I dutifully swung the ax without even questioning, because, after all, we were a team, and I was nothing if not a team player.  Don’t get me wrong.  He never demanded, or even asked for, such sacrifices.  Honestly, he didn’t even know I was making them.  I did that all on my own while he was away.  I believed the sacrifices were temporary and in service to our relationship.  My choice.  My consequences.

At first, he left for two weeks a month…then a month at a time…then six weeks between every stop home.  His priorities changed slowly at first, then seemingly all at once.  Looking back, I can see that his heart left this place…and I suppose me…long before he did.

When my marriage began falling apart, I felt scared and alone and incapable of living my life.  I went through stages where the farm felt like way too much. The animals felt like way too much.  My job felt like way too much.  It felt like I was treading water, barely keeping my head up, all the while watching the waves get rougher all around me.

Bills.  Sick animals.  Farm emergencies.  Broken equipment.  Collapsed ceilings from my then-leaking roof.  None of them had seemed so impossible when I was part of a team, when I had the emotional support of someone equally invested in building this life with me, but they began to pile on as I dealt with one after another mostly on my own.  There was so much to do.  So much to learn.

The truth is, Jeremiah is an incredibly capable person with a laundry list of skills that he always made look easy and that I didn’t possess.  He’s a gifted builder.  He’s good with heavy equipment.  And, damn, can he mend a fence and hang a gate!  When he left, I lost the most meaningful relationship of my life, and I lost at least half of the expertise that had kept the farm running.  The loss of the second made it difficult to find the emotional space to deal with the loss of the first.  It was the proverbial double-whammy, and it made me feel like every piece of my life was coming undone at the seams.

Putting a life back together that has come apart at the seams is a slow task.  Putting a heart back together that has come apart at the seams is an even slower task.  I’m still working on both.

Here’s the thing I’m learning: if you tread water long enough–and just float when you need to–you eventually get strong enough to swim.  People always say “it gets easier,” but when you’re facing a struggle, those words do you a disservice.  I believe the truth of the matter is a little different.  It doesn’t get easier; You get stronger

I’m not saying this in the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” so “stop being a pansy” and “rub some dirt in it” kind of way.  Rather, it’s worth acknowledging that the character traits we tend to admire–grit, compassion, self-awareness–they all come from living through the days we spend in that uncharted, unexpected territory in our lives.

I’m starting to believe that life gives us the experiences required to make us who we want to become, and that becoming the person we want to be is the result of walking through those experiences with all the openness we can muster.  You walk the “blue and lonely section of hell,” and if you let it, it will teach you.

This place, these animals, all of this work, and even the dissolution of the most significant relationship of my life…they are my teachers right now, and I’m discovering that it’s usually easier to let them teach me than it is to fight them on the lessons.

I am learning.  Everyday, I am learning.

A little bit of kindness and a tiny chicken

Let me be crystal clear: I didn’t NEED any more chickens.  Cluckingham Palace is currently home to 11 laying chickens, 1 lavender turkey hen, and, of course, Arthur of Camelot.  I currently collect more eggs than I can personally use, and I’ve been pretty open about the fact that eggs cost more to raise than to buy.

I know all of these things, but I have a mild case of chicken math disorder…which is basically a psychological disorder, and every Spring I seem to manage to fill up a brooder.  There are some very reasonable arguments for doing so.  (Chickens lay fewer eggs as they age.  If you free-range, it is understood that you will lose an occasional hen to predators, etc.)  But, when you get right down to it,  I know that the real reason I keep buying chickens is that I like having chickens hanging around and that itty-bitty chicks are basically the cutest things ever in the history of all time; all of the other reasons are ancillary.

I had debated ordering chicks from mypetchicken again this year–I’ve been wanting a few rare breeds for several years that I know I can get through a hatchery order–but all of that went out the window when I walked into my feed store and realized that they had ordered in more than a dozen different types of chick this year.

You see, as it turns out, I have no real self-control.  Though I admirably resisted all of the cute, little fluffy-butts the first time I saw them, it couldn’t last.  A couple of weeks later, I made the mistake of going in to pick up feed while I was having a bad day; I left the store with two chick crates (10 chicks).

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Chicks Riding Shotgun

Chicks require special care for about a month and a half.  It usually takes about six weeks for chicks to lose the fluff and grow their adult feathers.  Until then, they have to live away from the other chickens and be kept warm and safe.  For my chicks, that means living in my basement for at least that first six weeks.  I settled my new chick-kids into their brooder that afternoon with lots of food, clean water, bedding, and appropriate heat lamps.

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I don’t worry much about my adult chickens.  Though I have an occasional issue–and I’m lucky enough to have a vet who will treat poultry–chickens tend to be pretty hardy.  Chicks are another matter entirely.  They are sensitive to heat, cold, changes in food, and stress.  Issues can arise pretty quickly, and they can be hard to successfully treat.  So, when I found one of my chicks acting lethargic about a day and a half later, I didn’t waste time.

It was already late when I found little one, but, despite the hour, I picked her up out of the brooder and took her upstairs with me.  She had “pasty butt” which can be a symptom of a bigger issue or the issue itself, so I cleaned her up, offered her some water, and tucked her into my shirt so I could keep her warm and keep an eye on her at the same time.  I didn’t want put her back in the brooder for fear that the other chicks would pick on her (it’s common for them to pick on sick birds), so I held her next to me, occasionally dipping her beak in water so she could drink and hoping she would take a turn for the better.

The two of us watched Netflix until I almost couldn’t keep my eyes open, and at three am, I put her back in her brooder, a small towel around her to give her some space from the other chicks.

The next morning, I awoke groggy and later than usual, but I went downstairs to check on my little one first thing.  She was still hanging on, but had pasted over again.  I picked her up, brought her upstairs, and cleaned her up again.  Then she and I settled into my couch for the morning.

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I would read between offering her water or food.

She would occasionally perk up.  The cats would act incredulous that I had a chick on their couch.

I called off work to stay with her, and I spent the morning with her, letting her bask in the sunlight.  I took a quick break from my reading and her basking to attend to my barn, but beyond that, I held her for most of the day.

That evening, I asked my sister to come over to “chick sit” so I could do my second round of barn chores.  God bless her, she came and sat on my bed holding a baby chicken for about an hour while I took care of things outside.  By then I wasn’t optimistic about the little one’s chances, but I didn’t want her to be alone.

Little one passed that evening.  She was warm and safe.  She hadn’t been picked on by the other chicks.  She hadn’t died of dehydration.  She had known what it was like to bask in the sunshine.

You get used to losing animals when you do what I do.  Or, rather, maybe you don’t entirely get used to it, but you learn to accept it.  With little one, I had honestly resigned myself to losing her fairly early on–I knew pretty well what was coming–but I had made the decision to keep holding her and to keep trying anyway, because it was the right thing to do, and I believe that matters.

In my mind, kindness matters.  It matters no matter how loud or how quiet it is.  Kindness matters every time it’s given, whether to a person or a stray dog or a dying chick.  And it matters even when it doesn’t make a “real” difference in how things turn out.

The fact that little one knew what it was like to bask in the sunshine matters.  I really believe that.  I think that every good thing makes the world a better place.  Every act of kindness, no matter how very, very small, no matter how insignificant it may seem, makes the world a little kinder.

In a world where you can be anything, please be kind.

 

The Adventures of Kahn

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Kahn was someone’s house cat once.  I’m almost sure of it.  Feral cats don’t come to humans to ask for help, which is just what he was doing when he and I first met.  It was the coldest, darkest part of winter, more than a year before we took over at the ranch.  I was helping to keep an eye on things while the owners were away, doing evening chores and hanging out with a friend, Katie, who had come along to keep me company.

The night was quiet, so we heard the his cries from outside the shut barn door.  Katie slid it open to find a battered-looking, black cat standing just out of reach.  It was snowy, and he was cold.  His inky fur was rough and made him stand in stark contrast to the snow.  He held one foot above the cold ground, obviously wounded and infected.  His right eye was swollen nearly shut, and despite his size–Kahn is a big cat–he was desperately underweight and looked very small.  He continued to cry as we looked on, but skirted us.  Nervous and scared but pleading for help. Continue reading “The Adventures of Kahn”

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

DSC_2496NI know.  I know.  That phrase usually belongs to Christmas, and I love Christmas, but whoever first coined that phrase and applied it to Christmastime obviously didn’t know the joys of springtime on a ranch.

Out here in the Midwest, March is when the Earth starts to wake from her long, restless, winter sleep, but, like me before my first cup of coffee, she moves slowly, and yawning, meanders through the month in a bit of a cloud covered haze.  March comes with sprinklings of hope and signs of warmth.  But it also comes with snows and drops from 70 degrees one day to 25 degrees the next.  March is the messenger that Spring is coming, but March is not Spring.

But April?  In April, things come alive again.  For about two weeks, I have been soaking in blue skies and green grass.  Reveling in the new flowers, chirping birds, buzzing bees.  I find that there is something deeply intoxicating about the color green, and I’ve spent hours and hours aimlessly wandering our fields to soak in the spirits of the season.

Spring is when the ranch wakes up again.

My first trip to the ranch was in the Spring, over 15 years ago now.  I recently stumbled across that story, one originally written for a Master’s level class in creative nonfiction.  If you’ve ever wondered how on earth I ended up on this ranch, this is it.  That day was when my love affair with the ranch started; thus far, with ten years on my marriage to Jeremiah, it’s been the most enduring love of my life.

It doesn’t hurt that it all started one beautiful Spring day… Continue reading “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Autumn –Or– We can still do hard things.

Dear Readers,

How I’ve missed you.  Last I posted, I wrote about how we can do hard things.  Since then, well, I’ve mostly been doing those hard things.  Under my breath, every day, “I can do hard things…I can do hard things…I can do hard things.”  And guys?  It’s getting easier.  (My mother-in-law bought me a print, just to remind me; I hung it on the wall in my bedroom.  (It’s an Etsy thing; you can find the print here if you like.) It’s one of the first things I see when I wake up and one of the last things I see before I go to bed.  And I think it helps.)

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Have you ever been at a spot in your life where you can literally feel things transition around you?  The winds shift, and things change, and you have to learn to adapt or you get left behind.

In the past few weeks on the ranch, I’ve felt the shift as seasons transition from summer to autumn. A few leaves have already fallen, but most are holding tight, ablaze in a sea of colors that remind us how beautiful transitions can be.  Temperatures are dropping at night, and high and low temps easily vary by more than 20 degrees over the course of the day.  The shift in seasons, slow at first then all at once, seems an apt metaphor for my life right now.  Jeremiah’s business keeps him on the road almost constantly these days as he shoes horses and attends conventions and clinics, sometimes student, sometimes speaker.  He’s gone more than he’s here at the moment, and I’m convinced that isn’t going to change.

Our relationship dynamic is shifting like the seasons, adapting to our new reality.

My relationship with with the farm is changing too.  I’m learning to take care of things, not just the day-in and day-out, but all of it.  This almost farmgirl is taking farmgirl lessons all over again with a long list of things to learn.  Mostly it has to do with equipment, the only area of the farm that was completely Jeremiah’s domain up until this point.  In my husband’s absence, my dad, a former farmboy himself, is teaching me.  A few weeks ago, he taught me to use our zero turn mower, a necessity as every stitch of grass on the property was overgrown. Continue reading “Autumn –Or– We can still do hard things.”