It’s true, I have completely lost my grip on the marriage I once thought would last forever. I have to share this story – not just because I need to in order to heal and learn and grow – but because I think others need to see how actions and behaviors can truly damage people so deeply that they just can’t ever recover. Or they choose not to.
I met him when I was 18. I remember thinking he was a dork, so – no first impression rose there. But he stole my heart with his determination and resolve to put me at a place with my weight where I could be a Marine, if I wanted to. Weeks of bike rides, phone calls and laughter sealed the deal for me.
Little did I know what would become of it.
He was my first real boyfriend, but it never did sink in that he was playing around, away from his wife at the time – he didn’t wear a ring. I had no idea. I knew he was interested in another girl, so the competition was on.
Within the first months of our relationship, I was in the two major battles of my lifetime. One for my weight – the other for his love.
Looking back now, I can see the writing on the wall. And me, with a great big can of spray paint, trying to cover it all up.
It wasn’t long before I did give him that rose, with a note that said “I have a feeling that one day I’ll be marrying you.” If you ever want to do something to scare off a guy, girls – that’d do it. I wore my heart on my sleeve and let him take it and break it a hundred times over. It’s okay, I thought – tough, enduring love will always win in the end.
Except it doesn’t.
This is a military life. A military story – with a military ending. This is what can happen inside a military marriage, after the military is done with you. This is a tale of post traumatic stress disorder gone horribly wrong, a story about how pushing a military man to his limits doesn’t make him want to succeed, it makes him feel like he failed.
He was stationed in California, and he called and pleaded for me to go there, to be with him. I packed up my trusty little 89 Ford Escort with everything I owned (and at 18, that amounted to a few laundry baskets of clothing and some yearbooks), and headed West. I crossed this country and probably filled my loved ones hearts with dread and panic at the time but the only thing I could see or think was that he needed me, wanted me, chose me. And I was going, come hell or high water.
I arrived in Fallbrook with a few dollars in my pocket and an overwhelming excitement to just “be” wherever he was. I had no logic at the time other than that. I couldn’t see past the nose on my face, if he wasn’t in front of it. Oh how the co-dependency flags are waving and the red lights are flashing – but I just carried on like I knew what life and love was all about, and this was it.
It wasn’t long before I endured our first deployment. Operation Desert Storm was underway in late 1990 and he left for two tours. The first was the toughest. I remember late nights of worrying, watching the news, reading the paper. I remember blue striped postage-paid envelopes with seams bursting from the pages and pages of letters I’d write. I stamped each letter with a number or series of numbers – after a while reaching into the 300’s, so when they arrived he could read them in order.
Care packages, mixed tapes, stress. Yellow ribbons taped together and removed, one day at a time, until his return.
Phone calls from overseas back then were insanely expensive. I remember $300-$500 phone bills. When he could call, the line was cut up and echoed, but I didn’t even care how many minutes we sat and repeated what we were saying because of it, because I knew he was alive, and I could finally sleep.
I remember his homecoming. OH how I remember his homecoming. I was at the base in the middle of the night. A swarm of Marines flooded the runway when they opened that giant C-5. I was in a panic – would I even be able to recognize him? Without a doubt, I spotted him in an instant by his walk. I amazed even myself that I knew his walk well enough to identify him by it in a sea of uniforms. The homecoming was amazing, I thought – the passion intense and love stronger than ever — and this is the beginning of how I could see something that totally isn’t even there.
Within a couple of days, he talked about R&R with some friends. Absolutely, I thought. Here are my keys, take my car – gosh, enjoy. You’ve been through enough.
It wasn’t until after he was gone for a few hours that I started wondering how obnoxious my letters must have been to him, and went into the closet to grab them out of his C bag and have a laugh. What I found should have sent me packing – anonymous letters to soldiers – worst idea ever. A batch of letters to a new pen pal, who happened to be not too far away, and talk about meeting upon his return, and two and two quickly added up and my shaking body was picking up the phone to see if this was really happening. It most certainly was. I gave him my car to do it. I stranded myself so that he could do this to me …
And someone should have said (again), “here’s your sign”.
Not me, no. The fighter in me surfaced. I knew we were supposed to be together. Right. Gosh was I naive. Come to think of it, I still am. But I digress. That was a battle in which I allowed him some play time, confident that he would see the err of his ways. But that was an err on my part, because obviously it’s not a time I’ve forgotten. And it’s possibly not even a time that I’ve forgiven.
Regardless, he still had another tour to do over there. It wasn’t long before he shipped out again. This time, however, I wasn’t so committed to the relationship. I only wrote him back when he wrote me. I went out, I partied it up, I enjoyed California with friends. I was relaxed and carefree and behaved as a single person – until I received that letter in the mail addressed to me — with his last name in place of mine.
I should have known. Looking back now I can see it – he knew he was losing me and was grasping at straws to hang on. The girl who always fought for him, wasn’t doing it anymore. Action had to be taken. I get it, now. I don’t know if that was love. I wonder, was love in our relationship then? He wrote that he wanted to marry me. Time to think, and all that. I kindof didn’t buy it until after his return – not as eventful a time in my memory, until the day I opened up the junk drawer and saw the phone number to a wedding chapel just minutes down the road.
Our marriage, December 21st, 1991, took less than 10 minutes – I won the bet, and he owed me dinner.
Oh boy. What did I just do? Good Lord, I should have started writing a book back then.
I should rewind. In the midst of all of this, he had divorced his first wife. I found out he had a child with her. I also found out he had a child with someone else. I was okay with all of that, life is life, you know? We all have “stuff”, and besides, “love conquers all”. Except no, it doesn’t. But I didn’t know that then.
We were married now, so his stuff was my stuff, and we brought our collective stuff back to his home town so that he could be near his son and be a dad. But he wasn’t. Getting out of the military did a number on him; his childhood dream was to become a retired military veteran, and that all vanished because of his relationship with me. I should add, there was some guilt on my part. When he was helping me become a potential Marine, he inadvertently sabotaged his own military career. Really, my stepfather did the dirty work – because he saw all those flashing lights and tried to stop the train wreck he saw coming. Looking back, I did feel heavily responsible for that. I still do.
I still loved him though. I did. I was in it, I made the commitment, and I was going to see it through. The fighter in me, and all that.
Except, all the sudden, things got bad. And I don’t remember why – but I know there was drinking, and smoking, gambling, and possibly some girls — and I was probably overbearing, or demanding, or pushy or something. I had to be, because people don’t just sit in a dark room and not speak for days on end. And one day I woke up and couldn’t take it anymore, so I left. And he enjoyed himself at my expense, because I moved back home with my mom, got a job, and made the mortgage payments on a house he lived in – and he did whatever he wanted to do.
At the time, I was talking to an attorney. Months went by. I began dating a man whose company I enjoyed immensely. Oh come on, he DANCED with me. We talked for hours and hours, we laughed and hung out with friends and WHY DIDN’T I SEE IT THEN, that was how it was supposed to be?
One morning, my mom called me and said “He called. He wants to talk to you.” and so I called him. From my boyfriend’s apartment, I got a lecture about how I was a cheater and how we’re married and our promises and vows and the guilt – OH the guilt – but so long as he wanted the marriage, I could not give up. Right? And so I broke the heart of a man who showed me what love is supposed to be, and came back to a marriage out of commitment.
Once again, I’ll take “here’s your sign” for $200.
I realize I am painting him as a monster. That’s not true. Really, if he wasn’t a good man, if his heart wasn’t in the right place, if I didn’t think for a second that the guy that I fell in love with was in there somewhere, I would have stayed gone. But as you know by now, I’m a fighter. God if someone I loved like this were on life support, their body would wither and die from old age before I gave up hope. I am FULL of hope. My hope overfloweth. And to be perfectly honest, I had to be at fault too. I had to accept at least partial responsibility for driving him mad to begin with. It takes two.
So I came back. I got a job. Things were going well. We bought a boat, spent time on the river, went fishing. I really enjoyed my job – and I started hanging out with guys all the time. That was one of the perks of my job. And I felt pretty! Because boys are boys and when you have 40 boys and 1 girl, the girl feels pretty. I think that’s just nature’s law. But it filled this big gaping hole of ick that I still felt, and I was nearly strong enough to really put an end to this dysfunctional marriage when I found out I was pregnant. And then I gave up all ideas of leaving because, well, we were gonna have a baby! Deep down, I thought that would cure all of what ailed us.
Our lovely girl was born in 1996. By the fall of 1998, I was a puddle on the floor of the living room with a 18 month old on my lap and a husband that was so unhappy with me, I couldn’t even breathe. I can’t remember what it was all about, “my side of the story” is that I made more money, and he felt like crap because of it – I think he also wanted out. I let him out.
I filed for divorce that time and actually did sign the paperwork. It was official.
First he sent me flowers, apologizing.
And then he hated me.
And hated me some more.
And he nearly abandon our daughter, too, out of hatred for me. But I couldn’t allow my girl to suffer the way his boy had, so I forced myself on him, forced him to be a dad. In fact, I wanted so much for him to just BE a dad, that I relinquished all child support in order to retain custody and not have him thinking that all I wanted was money – because that’s how he felt about his first divorce. We talked – it was painful, but we did. She spent time with her dad. I was so happy about that. He actually let go of the hatred and we started to get along again, we even became friends. He was spending nights at the house with us, on the couch – but he was here, and it made me think that his heart was changing, that he really wanted us to be a family again.
Early in 2001, things were moving along really well, I thought. We had been happy for a while, we had talked about getting re-married.
Who does that? Divorces and re-marries? We do. Because our love conquers all. We rock like that.
Next thing I know, I’ve missed a period, and I’m pregnant again. But we’re not re-married yet, so now we’d better get a move on with those plans. We wed again in June of 2001. It was a sweet backyard wedding, in which he rented chairs, a little trellis to be married under, and twisted streamers around the fence line. It was cute, and he loved me. I knew he loved me. And I even loved him back. I have pictures to prove it.
We welcomed our little one into the world, traumatically, that September. 4 weeks early, bed-rest, a week in the NICU. I was overwhelmed. That was an intense and trying time. When it was time to return to work, we weighed our financial options and decided that it would be cheaper if I just stayed home and took care of our girls. And so I did. (And also, I was laid off when I reported back to work. That helped with our decision.)
I got a little bored, between naps and feedings I lacked the people connection I once had. I started drawing again. Painting. It was fun, I enjoyed it. Someone suggested I sell them on ebay, and the artist in me was reborn. I had done some drawings for people over the years, but never really thought I could do it for a living.
And my husband was proud. He was an encourager. He bragged about his wife, who stays home with our girls and is an awesome artist.
And then he rejoined the Army National Guard. And then, within months, his unit was activated and he was deploying to Iraq. I didn’t know that rejoining was on his mind. If he said it, I didn’t hear – don’t recall, have no idea. I just remember one day he said he was going to go swear in and join the Guard. Wow. Okay. What could I say? His lifelong dream was still his lifelong dream. I was a supporter. An encourager. A fighter. You go, with your bad self. I’ll stay home and take care of our girls.
18 months. That’s about how long he was gone, when you total up in-country training, the actual deployment, and coming home and decompressing – or whatever they call it.
The first 6 months training in country – I became pregnant yet again. Christmas Eve, I woke up in a pool of blood and miscarried that day. He was home for a week or so at the time, so he was here, it was hard, he was a good husband, and then he left.
The next 12 months were hard. Harder than before. More stressful. He was in the heart of it all – but I didn’t know how bad it was. He didn’t tell me. We talked via webcam – boy, technology sure had come a long way. I was forced into single parenthood. I was stressed beyond belief. I didn’t even remember how to support him, other than that he liked care packages and loved my brownies – and that’s what I did. Sent care packages and made brownies. The girls and I made arts and crafts, we tried to keep him connected to home, but I often wondered if that made things easier, or more difficult for him.
There were trials during that time – did he love our family enough to ignore the inbox messages from the very first ex-girlfriend who I battled with so many years ago? Yes. Did he love us enough to come home and try as hard as he possibly could to integrate back into the household as a normal person again? I think he tried his hardest.
We had an immediate family vacation upon his return. I even threw a vacation donation party here on my site, where I painted certain size portraits for donations up to x-dollars. Raised enough money to get us to Disney. It was so awesome. I was so happy to have him home. And then – I don’t know. Something happened.
The unit was reactivated, only this time they went to Afghanistan, and he was elected as a stay behind. He spent months on an uncomfortable couch and I was alone, again. I think I may have started to get a little detached, then, and things started to get a little troubled. I was irritated at the tiredness when he did come home. I wondered if he was thinking he’d rather be over there with his guys. In fact I expected that he did.
I think at that point, I was resentful. I had become a single parent, and he was slipping away.
The guys came back and he stayed on as a recruiter at the Armory. Talk about full circle – he was a recruiter when I met him, he was a recruiter the day he retired. Yes, he met his goal – 20 years in and he is a retired military vet. At what cost? He doesn’t even receive pension or benefits until he’s of retirement age. He still has to “work for a living”.
Something in him changed from his time in Iraq. And a guy like him is not a guy who thinks you can tell an outsider what happened and they can take that pain away or fix it. They haven’t done it, so they have no idea what it’s like. No one could possibly relate. Somewhere along the line we disconnected. I wanted more, I wanted to be happy – and he probably just wanted a nap. He was having nightmares, that I didn’t know about because he couldn’t tell me – or wouldn’t tell me. Wives don’t get counseling, you know. Wives don’t get to know the things that really go on – unless the husbands decide to tell them. Otherwise, we just fill in the blanks as best we can.
Gosh – it’s been a long time. To sum it up in one little story like this – fast forwarding through the years. It feels surreal.
It’s been a battle the last couple of years. Finally on medications, but not receiving counseling. Attending church, quit smoking, quit drinking, and we are on a better path. Or so I thought. I still thought we had a long way to go, and unbeknownst to me, he thought he’d gone way farther than he ever intended. I did want more. I absolutely did. And I pushed and pushed and pushed, and I’m starting to see know that I was the big bad wolf who huffed and puffed and blew the house down.
And now I’m sitting here, in this broken home.
Facebook, be damned. Putting a loner like him on Facebook when he is not getting what he needs from his wife who isn’t getting what she needs from her husband is a recipe for DISASTER. Because really? No one cares about the sanctity of marriage. When it all boils down to it, the only ones who really care are the parents, who don’t want to see their kids and grandchildren go through the hell of a divorce.
Women get in the middle and plant their happy little butts in front of their computers in the middle of someone else’s marriage and chat with the men and get them thinking that the grass is greener on their side. Then the men stop taking care of their own lawn, if you know what I’m saying. Men subsequently give up. Women do it too, for sure. Because when the husband isn’t present, they want someone who is. I talk to other men, too. I dream about a man who talks to me and calls in the middle of the day. I lost that man a long time ago.
There has been a complete deterioration of our marriage. It took 22 years, and I’m told that he’s done. He snapped. He changed. He changed only because I couldn’t figure it out – honestly. He changed because I didn’t know what the hell to do. He changed because ultimately, he viewed me as the monster and I viewed him as the man who doesn’t really care about my needs. I would still fight for our marriage, because that’s what I’ve always done. That’s all I know. But as I sit here and type this out, I think, why? Why, after all of this — why.
I guess writing it out helps. I’ve learned some stuff here over the past 22 years.
I’ve learned that you can’t force someone to love you the way you need to be loved. You have to say what you need out loud, and pray they care enough to meet your needs. You have to be nice about explaining your needs.
You have to care more about the other person than yourself, and that only works when the feeling is mutual.
You have to reach out when your sad or troubled. You have to say how you feel when you feel it. You can’t hold it in, you can’t wait, you can’t try to stuff it for the sake of having peace. Duke it out, get it out there, and get past it. If your spouse doesn’t seem to “get it”, say it a hundred ways until they do. Nicely – because if you don’t do it in love, you’re doing it in “a condescending tone”.
Have goals. Have family goals. Dream. Make plans for 5 years from now. Start working toward it.
Don’t be disinterested.
You can’t love someone out of PTSD. You can’t medicate PTSD. You can’t be a wife to someone who has PTSD without counseling.
You can’t be a wife to someone who doesn’t talk to you or think of you as a friend, first and foremost.
You can’t be a husband to someone who doesn’t feel loved or confided in.
You can repair your brokenness, but it takes two to repair it. I thought we were getting better, while he thought it was the same or worse. I had none of those indicators. Communication is MANDATORY.
Do NOT turn to another woman or man to help you through it. The only thing that comes of that are feelings for the other man/woman. I don’t think we can help that, I think we are so sorely misunderstood that the first person who understands us gets the gold star and also, possibly, free lawn care. Because their grass is obviously so much greener. Like the saying goes, if you think the grass is greener, maybe you ought to water your own lawn. So true.
I don’t know what else to do. I can’t fight for it anymore, because he’s beyond that. I get that. I guess I’m never beyond anything. Is it perfect? No. Do I dream of something better? Absolutely. Would I keep on keeping on? Probably. It’s the fighter in me. It’s really difficult, after 22 years, to see this all come to an end.
It’s difficult to look in the mirror and think “I did this just as much as he did”. It’s difficult to think that I couldn’t even fathom moving on with another man, and he is totally ready for it. Men seem to be like lamps – if you can’t turn it on, change the lightbulb. All better. The only thing I can fathom is taking care of my girls and growing the business I’ve sorely neglected for the sake of spending too much time online or busy or whatever I thought it was – I should have kept on working. At least that made him proud to call me his wife.
It’s difficult to think that I contributed to the state of mind that thinks “I’d rather be alone”, “I’d rather talk to someone else” and “I can’t be myself”. Oh how I could beat myself up for that, for being a person who causes someone to think that way. The truth is, I feel the same way, too. Not because he’s a horrible person, but because I suffer from the same deterioration that he does.
Ultimately, there is no “his side” or “my side”. It is “our side”. It is “our story”.