Today marks the end of what I like to call my Fortnight of Suck — a collection of dates that used to send me spiralling into a depressive abyss: 10/23: my stepfather’s birthday; 10/26: the date my divorce was final; somewhere in there is the date of my ex-husband’s second wedding and then there’s 11/1. All Saint’s Day. The day I got married.
I got married when I was 29, and I thought I had done a pretty good job of waiting for the right guy, while busily checkering my twenties with bad decisions that have now become interesting stories. I wanted to find a guy that, if I couldn’t live happily ever after with, at least I could live as happily as possible.
The reason this date is so poignant for me is because I only got to keep the guy I married for 4 months. On March 10, 2000, a drunk kid in a Chevy Tahoe tried to drive through the back of our 1989 Honda Civic while it was at a red light. My husband was at the wheel. I was out of town.
Our marriage had already started out with challenges. Two weeks after our wedding, my husband’s mother died of complications from a bone marrow transplant to treat myelodisplastic leukemia. She had insisted we have the wedding we wanted instead of getting married when we first found out she was ill. We would’ve gotten married right away otherwise, so she could have been part of the wedding.
My husband’s injuries were numerous: a mild-to-moderate frontal-lobe Traumatic Brain Injury, bruised sternum from breaking the steering wheel with his chest, nose broken in five places, face lacerated with glass from where his head went through the windshield, and a left eye that required 3 surgeries: one to remove the blood, and two retinal reattachments. It also doesn’t have a lens. He was in the ICU for 10 days and in a neurological rehab unit for 5 weeks.
Brain injuries are weird and nebulous things that doctors cannot definitively predict the recovery arc for. My husband could either make a comprehensive recovery OR he could end up a vegetable.
I was thrown into the unlovely position of considering if it would make me a bad person to get divorced if the latter event were to occur. I was also thrown into the position of caregiver.
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much from that time period. I took a leave of absence from work. I spoke to the police. I spoke to a lawyer. I went to the hospital every day. I met with doctors.
My husband’s recovery arc was considered remarkably quick. He regained full functionality and was out of the hospital in six weeks. Leaving out the relative heartbreak of having your new husband not know who you are for weeks on end, and also having to tell him all over again that his mother had died, this was an auspicious start.
It took me a while to realize the guy I got back wasn’t the one I married. That guy had effectively died on March 10th.
It was the frontal lobe TBI that did it. The frontal lobe is the area that controls your emotions. My husband developed rage control issues. He became increasingly more verbally and emotionally abusive. He blamed me for the accident. He blamed me for us buying a house. He blamed me for strongarming him into having a baby. He blamed me for getting pregnant too quickly. There was no tone of voice I could use that wouldn’t make him angry. I chewed my food too loudly.
And through it all I just held on grimly, thinking that eventually he would recover enough to be that guy I married. We got counseling. I got counseling. I tried to be quieter, kinder, more inclusive of him in the decision-making (which I had already been doing, but his memory was affected by the injury, too.)
It was the day he threatened to punch me while I had the baby on my lap that I’d had enough and made him move out.
Which didn’t end the abuse. About the only thing we agreed on was that we would wait to get divorced until we sold the house and paid off our shared debt. We tried collaborative divorce, which I quit after he kept moving the goalposts of our agreements. I was subject to angry tirades over the phone whenever I set boundaries.
My ex-husband moved to a different city in the state, leaving me to figure out parenting a toddler mostly on my own until we worked out a placement agreement. He didn’t pay any child support until absolutely forced to by our divorce decree.
And so, every year when November 1st came around, after I’d lived through the Fortnight of Suck, I would ponder my life and how hard it is possible to work and still have very little to show for it. My ex has his dream life, pretty much, he’s doing what he wants to do for a living, is married and has a son, and we get along a lot better than we have. I worked my ass off for that, by the way, and it was for my daughter’s benefit. She deserves to have her own relationship with her father without having me put my damage into it.
It would be less than gracious of me to say my ex doesn’t deserve what he has, I mean, he was in the accident after all. His life has been irrevocably changed because of it.
But so has mine. Because of the laws of the state where I live, I can’t move more than 150 miles from my ex without his consent. This has made it impossible for me to get a job in my field. I hold an advanced degree that is totally useless. I’m a single mother that hasn’t had a serious romantic relationship in over 5 years. It’s hard not to be bitter and envious.
Or, it was. For some reason this year is different. Today would have been my 15th wedding anniversary. But I haven’t really noticed or marked the dates of the Fortnight of Suck. And it’s probably because I’ve made peace with the fact that my life is what it is right now, and right now it’s pretty good. I have good jobs, I am writing some and getting paid for it, I have the most amazing friends a random, socially inept nerd could ever ask for, and I have the most swell consolation prize for a shitty marriage ever: my daughter. Even if all I had been married for was to make sure she existed, that would almost make up for everything.
Depressive abysses are no fun, and I could never figure out why I wasn’t over those dates. But maybe it just took me this long to finish grieving for the life I’d planned to have.
Maybe, just maybe, I can start living the life I already have.