The Road Taken: The Writing on the Wall

This is how my marriage ended. There was a bang, but first a series of whimpers, which, at the time, I did not recognize for what they were.  In retrospect, I can see clearly. Hindsight is 20-20, after all. But back then, my eyes did not see the writing on the wall. Later, some would say, I was in denial. And of course, they would be right.

Perhaps if I'd seen this writing on the wall, I could have been spared some of the pain. Perhaps.

Writing on the Wall #1

We’d been living in Southern California barely a year, having long left Seattle and, most recently, Maryland. Friends from Maryland came out for a visit and we were all supposed to spend a few days visiting Los Angeles together. At the last minute, G said he couldn’t go. Work was keeping him at home. I did not read into this. I did not think about the three days all to himself, to do what he wanted. The nights, in particular, I simply did not think about.  Nor did I speculate as to why I couldn’t reach him, no matter when I called. I assumed work in his new lab was to blame.

Writing on the Wall #2

Six months before the explosion—the one that I can definitely point to as the beginning of the end—we went on a vacation to visit my in-law’s at their summer home, located on the banks of a secluded lake in the middle of the woods of New England. My daughter was still an infant and had just learned to sit up.  My son was already six, having just completed kindergarten. The three of us arrived first. G stayed behind to finish a grant proposal.  That should have been a red flag, as we’d always traveled together, but I didn’t question. My eyes were shielded by a mantle of trust.

Writing on the Wall #3

A mere 36 hours after he arrived at the lake, there was a call in the middle of the night. This is before cell phones and, the house phone was downstairs in the kitchen. It was my father-in-law who answered it and shuffled upstairs to our bedroom shouting, “G! Phone call. Someone from your lab.”

Startled awake, I wondered what lab emergency could there be at 2:30 in the morning. Did someone forget to put a postage stamp on the proposal? Before I could say anything, G bolted out of bed and took the phone into the hallway. Ten minutes later he returned to the room to say he had to return to California because Louise, a graduate student in his lab, had just lost her younger cousin in a tragic accident, and needed to be consoled.

Louise? I had not met a Louise in his lab and though I asked him repeatedly why it had to be him that needed to console her, the only reply I received was, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand.”  When I nodded and told him he was right, I didn’t understand, that I needed more information, he turned three shades of red and blurted, “I want a divorce!”

Now, anyone else might hear those words and take them for what they were—a plea for me to recognize what was in front of me. But I refused to see the writing on the wall, instead, muttering through my tears, “You don’t mean that.”  And just like that, I wiped away any further discussion of the “D” word. That evening, G took the last flight out, insisting that I stay behind with the children and continue our vacation.

Writing on the Wall #4

That fall, G’s mother came for a visit. Most nights it was me keeping her company, as he somehow had to work around the clock. Sometimes he even told me that he had to work so hard that it wasn’t worth coming home.  Plumb tired, he fell asleep on a couch there.  I never saw this couch, and my dance of denial went on.

Writing on the Wall #5, 6 and 7

The incidents continued and slowly, a realization burrowed itself into my head. Like a small tumor lodged in my brain, growing steadily until I could no longer deny its presence. Oprah might call it an “Aha” moment. A connecting of the dots, if you will.  It was as if I could no longer hide from logic and was forced to see what was right before my eyes. Until finally, I had no choice but to confront the cancer head on. Which is why I asked the question hanging over our heads, thus forever catapulting me into the tsunami that is divorce.

Do you still love me?

Of course, the response anyone would want to hear is “yes.”  The one I still wasn’t prepared for was “no.” Like a sucker punch, a bolt of lightning, a cleaver landing smack down on my fingers. The same fingers used to knead dough whenever I baked from scratch his favorite egg bread, sweet and warm from the oven. The same fingers I used to intertwine with his, as we strolled through our neighborhood, with Katie, our cat, trailing behind us. The very fingers that massaged the stress out of his neck, when graduate school became too much and he was certain he’d have to drop out.  This was my one-two punch:

1. No, I do not love you.

2. No, I’m no longer attracted to you.

But long before this day, before the divorce bomb that landed in a minefield which had developed beneath us, before the explosion that signified the end of our marriage, and before that night of accusations, revelations and desperate cries, there was love. Deep, compassionate, tender love.

And there was Joanie and the camping trip.

           Missed a chapter? You can read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.