I love the term gutted. When you think of something like a fish having its innards torn out, then it makes the term so perfect for when you’re feeling like a complete deflated balloon about your life.
Except the fish is already dead (one would hope). That’s a small consolation, but it matters. Whereas you are still alive, but someone has reached in and scooped out your insides, your guts still digesting the banh-mi you had for lunch and your heart fully beating.
Last week I had the floor ripped out from under me at the mediators’ office. They fucked up a spreadsheet, and as the Excel document recalculated the numbers, all the blood drained from my face. The amount I thought I needed to buy out my ex so I can keep our family home more than doubled. I hadn’t checked their math. I’d been elated at the number and found comfort in it. It wasn’t so bad. Until it WAS SO BAD.
In a simple computation, my entire financial future was gone. All the work I have done to reach the top, for nought. All that work, the work of getting over mySELF, owning my bullshit and fighting to improve myself so that I could function in the corporate grown-up world, today it feels like it was for nothing. Because I loved and enabled someone who was depressed and didn’t get proper help for years. And that person fell so low in their crappy half-hearted quest to define himself that now I will have to sell the farm to stand him up on his feet outside my home.
Years ago, when he had decided he would go back to school, I told him we would need a line of credit to pay for his schooling expenses beyond tuition, and the income he’d no longer be bringing in. But at the time, I was hopeful. I wanted to believe we were investing in a joint future. If I ever get into a serious cohabitation situation again, I will keep my money completely separate.
He balked at the line of credit and said we just needed some lifestyle changes and to get rid of our home phone. Maybe sell the car. So I calmly opened up my spreadsheet and eliminated the cleaning lady, the home phone, our vacation budget and the car. We were still short $1000 a month. “One person can’t do this alone!” he finally realized.
“Um, yeah,” I responded dryly, “Why do you think I’m so nice to you?” Because of course I’d run the numbers. I have journals full of how it felt to be completely neglected, how what he would say to me would cause me to second guess or—worse—hate myself. I’d run the numbers when he was supposed to be making movies but couldn’t get off the couch all day. I’d run the numbers when I caught him on Ashley Madison or when I found he’d watched porn but left all the breakfast dishes in the sink. We live in an expensive city and one person can’t do this alone.
On the flipside, I HAD been doing it alone. His income was always spotty. He had good years, years where he worked while I’d breastfeed babies on government assistance. Years where we made about the same or he’d even made a bit more. But they never lasted. I remember the week I told him I was pregnant with our first, calling him on a Thursday afternoon to find him out playing flying disc golf.
“You NEED to get a job now, do you understand? We’ve got a baby coming and the government is going to tax the $400 a week I get and it will not add up to my salary!” The fight was awful. He went silent, as he always did. His attempts to work always fell a bit flat. Nothing was ever right and to be fair, I wasn’t supportive of the post office job that had the phone ringing at all hours of the night (he was on call) when there was a newborn in the apartment.
Somehow, when the baby was six months old, we bought a house. You could afford to buy a house back then. In the big city, on the transit line. My job got us the mortgage, some money from his mom got us the minimum downpayment. It seemed fair. My maternity leave top-up from my employer was about to end, JUST as the first mortgage payment was about to come out of our joint account. That’s when he finally got an offer for a full-time contract job doing what he wanted to do.
It was shift work, but it had a cadence, a flow. We could plan weekends away based on the schedule, for example. We spent many nights and weekends apart, but it was OK. My memory is fuzzy, but if I compare it to what came after, I’d say it was manageable. But eventually, he felt stifled as an artist and started to hate working there.
The second child came two years later. The goal was for me to freelance write, so I could stay home with her and keep the older one in daycare part-time for socialization and preschool education. “We can make it work,” he’d said, “We just need some lifestyle adjustments.” But then I ran the numbers and it didn’t look like it. Not if I ever wanted to be able to take a vacation or fix the thousand broken things in this century home. So I took a job at a startup, working from home, thinking that the steady income and flexibility the job offered would work for me.
But it didn’t. You can’t get work done with a baby at home unless you are disciplined as hell. And I’m just not. I always felt behind. I was up in the wee hours and would fall behind on my deadlines. When I would ask family to babysit, I’d often get, “But you’re not going to an office” type responses. So I started going to the office of the startup, and sending my beautiful baby to my mother’s for three days each week, in order to be able to work.
I would have nightmares that the baby was lost in the ether, that I’d left her somewhere when I was supposed to pick her up, but I didn’t know where. In the dreams no one knew where she was and I was a horrible mother, trying to make a living instead of taking care of my baby. I was still half nursing her during this time, which had its own issues. I was also going crazy.
When I went to the startup, my ex came home one day and said he was taking a contract job at a big national broadcaster. The hours were unclear, but the content was great. And we dealt. For years he would work from 2-10pm or 3-11pm and every single weekend, while I was working 9-5 and coming home to take care of two very small kids, alone. I’d have two evenings a week to decide what to do with my time: Hang out with him or maybe do something social with others. On weekends I would do the kids’ swim, ballet and soccer on my own. My family was a great help to me during this time.
While home during the day all alone, he would do the grocery shopping once a week and he’d do the laundry while he watched TV. I’d have to go back through old journals or emails to be sure, but I’m pretty sure that not much else was going on. I know I would ask for things to be done and they wouldn’t be done, or I’d email or text him throughout the day and get no response.
When you email or text someone during the day, this is called “turning towards” in relationship counselling circles. Other “turning towards” things are like saying, “Hey guess what happened at work today!” Or, “Did you hear about what Trump did now?” “Do you want to watch Game of Thrones together?” “Do you want to see the new Cohen Brothers movie next weekend?”
Partners that know how to maintain a loving relationship turn towards the other, even if they are in the middle of a juicy article in the New Yorker. They acknowledge the other partner has made an effort to engage them, even if it’s just, “Yeah, that sounds lovely. Let me finish what I’m reading and then let’s talk about it while you have my full attention.”
He was home during the day, alone, and would watch the series we were supposedly watching together and get so far ahead that I couldn’t catch up. I’d just give up. He was home during the day and if he’d respond to my questions, it was clear he hadn’t read through the email thoroughly and wouldn’t actually answer me. He would never initiate a date, never ask me to go anywhere unless his friends invited us someplace.
Then at some point, the grind of the contract work and the crazy hours caught up to him. I urged him to try something else, urged him to align his work with our lifestyle so we could all be home together more often. So he did. He tried a Monday-Friday, 9-5 situation, but the work wasn’t creatively fulfilling. And he started to sink that summer, slowly but steadily, like a boat with a leak.
At that point, I’d been working for about a year in a fancy job that would set me on the career trajectory I’m on today. I’d just won a big industry award, my first, and also started singing in a band for a magazine article. Here’s something I wrote during that time:
“A dozen years ago, I sat in my parents’ kitchen with all my girlfriends around the vinyl floral table cloth. No one was saying it, but we kept eyeing the stovetop clock. “Well it’s five hours ahead there,” someone suggested. “Maybe he’s waiting to be the last person to wish you a happy birthday.”
The evening grew to nighttime and then to midnight. And it was no longer my birthday. He never called.
I ignored his calls for a few days after that. Oh wait, no, he actually never called. A card never arrived. I finally gave in called him, upset, in tears. I told him our long distance affair wasn’t working for me. I told him it was over.
For weeks after, my phone was littered with messages. “I heard a Spice Girls song and it made me think of you.” “I saw a pair of blue shoes, and I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
Finally, I returned his many calls. He told me he was coming home. Coming back to be with me.
We were engaged months later, and married shortly after that. It was mostly blissful. Then kids came along and things became difficult. But we worked on it, believing that there must be something worth saving under the wreckage.
Today I’m 38. It’s almost noon. Technically I wasn’t born until 4:30pm, so technically I’m still 37 for a few hours. He still hasn’t called. Only he’s not all the way in England this time. He’s at work.
In the last year, I got a promotion, won a prestigious award, battled my demons and got on a stage as the lead singer of a band. I should feel satisfied. But it’s like he barely noticed.
I have a cozy house, a good job and two amazing kids. I have a “community” of friends, as was mentioned to me yesterday. But I still don’t have the one thing that has eluded me for years now.
Sure, he lives with me. He’s an amazing dad, and the kind of partner who will pick up the pieces on weeks where I’m busy, someone who has made great sacrifices recently to try to make our homelife a bit more stable… but I keep looking for Him, the real him, and I can’t find him. I keep waiting for the day where he emerges and sees me again, for the incredible person I have become. There are glimpses. A day here, a week there, but mostly, I live with this new person who broods in his head and criticizes everything I say or do in the presence of the kids.
He lives with a new person too. One who is more confident and doesn’t need to hold his hand anymore to try new things. One who has a new awareness and acceptance of her shortcomings. One who doesn’t need to have a feisty argument, and has grown up a bit, or so she’d like to think.
But I miss my old friend. I miss sharing our dreams. I miss laughing effortlessly and just enjoying being in one another’s presence. I miss my lover, my soulmate. I miss holding hands and looking longingly in his eyes.
I guess I can get over the fact that he’s not here. That I’m cleaning and cooking on my birthday because I asked for a BBQ that no one’s around to help coordinate. I can get over the fact that he hasn’t called or even texted a birthday greeting yet (after all, that precedent was set years ago). I’ll get over the fact that I made him a weekday breakfast in bed with the kids on his own day and he’s working on mine.
But I don’t know that I’m going to get over the fact that I no longer have a lover and a best friend. I’m seriously unsure about what the next year will bring.”
Everything went downhill after that. In the fall of that year he told me he was smitten with someone at work. By new year, I’d caught him on a dating site for adulterers. He was home a lot, depressed and watching YouTube and Netflix all day, leaving breakfast dishes in the sink and not picking up the kids until the final minutes of daycare, not starting dinner until way too late.
I’d written it off as a midlife crisis at first, and when he turned 40 and got into a university program to retrain himself, it briefly seemed like the cloud had lifted. And I worked. It was all I knew how to do. I worked and got promoted and each promotion was a punch in the face to a man who felt unmanly because his wife was more successful than him. We were a total fucking cliche.
I tried to hold myself back so that he could catch up, but he was headed in the opposite direction. When the depression was at its worst, when I felt like I was living with a ghost, I urged him to get help. He refused his doctor’s prescription for happy pills and wouldn’t take the fancy mood-boosting vitamins I’d bring home. The answering machine was full of missed appointment calls for much-needed counselling.
I held on. I told him that he could push as hard as he wanted, but I wasn’t leaving. I was there for him. I was his wife and I would do as promised. I would stay no matter what. In angry moments, when it was so clear he wanted this burden of marriage to be over, I would tell him that what he envisioned would not happen, that he would not get to stay in this house with the kids, while I fucked off somewhere and just enjoyed my success alone. Hell to the no.
I yelled that I wished he would grow the fuck up. “That’s harsh,” he said. He was so fragile. One night I yelled that he wasn’t the one that was oppressed, that I had creative dreams too that were unfulfilled, and I was shoving them down deep so that I could keep a roof over our heads.
It continued to get worse. I’ve written about it a bit here before. And now, just in this last week, just when I thought my latest promotion meant I could keep all the balls in the air and keep that roof over our heads, BOOM. Like a toddler kicking an epic LEGO build, it all came apart.
The amount I have to pay him to keep the house doubled and I doubled over. I have a medium-sized line of credit, which I could use to pay him half the total amount now. And then I will have to hand over my bonus to him each year until my debt is paid. The carrot that keeps the fight in me, that pays for a grand vacation each year, or fixes the roof over our heads, that carrot will be eaten by him each year. Getting my head around this has left me gutted, and him, not even realizing that he’s holding my insides in his hand.
I am bereft, not only at losing a husband and a partner, not only at losing all the dreams I had for our future, but also all the dreams I had for my new future. I will be in debt until I’m 90, just to make this work. I will have to give my all, even more than I do now, just to make this work. Again he had the gall to say, “You just need to make lifestyle adjustments,” as though getting rid of the cleaning lady and my taxi budget are just things I’ll adjust to as a single mom who works as a director of a department by day.
His poverty consciousness has kept us in this limbo for far too long. I am fucking done with his inability to understand how this world works. I need to cut the fishing line I’m caught on. Toss me back into the sea with my insides and bank accounts emptied out. I will fill up with fresh energy, cleanse myself, heal and swim again.
Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.