Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The problem, as I see it, is conviction.  Or, rather, my utter lack of it.
What I have to do in the next few days is to overcome my intermittently intense fear of driving to drive, by myself, a total of 15 hours over the course of two days, through mostly unfamiliar country. But this isn't the heart of it, not really: this is to be directly preceded by saying goodbye to my husband, in a way that's somewhat more final than I often estimate myself to be able to endure. Tonight, and the next night, I'll lay beside him in a large bed in a cheap motel room, and then, with much less ceremony than the moment really warrants, we'll both leave wednesday morning: he, to work at his latest traveling assignment, and me, home, to New England. Where he doesn't live, anymore.
I cover my wet face with my hands and sob, then breathe in so heavily that it sucks my palms against my face, producing an odd noise, like the air being vacuumed from the room in a bad sci-fi movie. It's observations like this that keep you grounded, I guess-- and then a knock at the door. Zack, back from picking up his rental car.  I feel relatively certain I can’t keep going writing this with him in the room, and I feel strongly that I need to continue: I’ve been wondering, lately, if the lack of this kind of outlet, or, rather, my sudden, odd unwillingness to use this outlet, has contributed to the series of panic attacks I’ve associated with the growing tempest of my life lately. It’s not like things haven’t been rough before: any reader of this will gain all too much insight into the specifics of that, as well as all the evidence they would need to understand that my marriage, as it was, maybe never had a chance at all. But, until this time, no panic attacks. I probably should have been writing all along, despite my reservations.
To regain my privacy, I carry the laptop outside, to Zack’s confusion. There’s a new, white Hyundai Elantra in the parking lot-- his rental, I assume, and it’s parked next to the older, silver model that he and I just drove across country, that I will drive the rest of the way, alone.  I sit, and I continue.
Conviction. That’s what I was saying, before.

Somewhere, in the next thirty-six hours, I have to find the conviction to actually hold him for the last time for an inestimable spell, sob into his shoulders and dig my fingers into the back of his head, his hair, his neck. I have to let his tears fall into my skin as mine fall into his, let him feel the pain as I do, and fight every instinct I have to quell it: to tell him, as I have so many times before, that it’s all going to be all right, that no matter what, he has me.  
And somewhere, in the time directly following that, I have to let go.
We’ve been driving five days, getting cramps from sitting in the same position in the packed car, driving through deserts and july heat so searing that the air conditioner can’t touch it. Battling with GPS signals that get lost and wrong turns, and each other. Bad food, bad feelings, and no good prospects.  Soon enough, I will make the last leg of the journey alone, facing anxiety and fatigue and, eventually, the town he and I grew up in, met in, fell in love in-- the town that was home because he was there, and he won’t be.
Still, somehow, all of this is the easy part, in comparison. How will I ever survive that one, impossible moment where I have to let go?
Conviction, again, is the trouble.  Strength is what I need to get through this, and no one can say I don’t have that much.  No one would dare say that what he and I have been through hasn’t proven that we have strength, as individuals, and that our love has strength.  But what gave our love strength, through all the struggles that are too long to list, and entirely beside the point, really-- what gave our love strength, and what undermined it when it was gone, was conviction. The once unshakeable belief we had-- somewhere in our guts, somewhere deeper than the petty doubts-- that we were supposed to be together. 
Now that we’ve decided that we need to be apart-- and it was decided, to the degree that it has been, nearly a month ago now-- I could conquer any fear, regret, or sadness in my way, fire-forged as I am, if not for this incredible doubt.  There are moments of certainty-- many of them, in fact. Moments upon moments upon moments where something happens between us, and we’re both there-- marinating in that miserable silence of uselessness that we’ve come to know too well-- and I know, beyond a doubt, in that moment, that we can’t go on hurting each other like we have. That, lacking major change that almost certainly can’t be accomplished together, given our current circumstances, we only serve to make each other worse. We weaken each other, we do irreparable damage.
There are moments, so many moments, where I know that, in my heart.

The trouble of it is that I’d be lying if I told you there were no moments where I was sure of exactly the opposite: that I am not the type of girl to leave my husband, that I love him more deeply than could ever be thwarted by however many obstacles, that we should stay together.  These moments are fewer in number, but impossible to completely ignore. Conviction is about absolutes: it’s not about gathering marbles of belief on either side of an argument and weighing them against each other. Those marbles will scatter, mean nothing.

Far more common than the moments of certainty on either side is the more day-to-day reality: Zack and I are fine most of the time. Not sublime, very often, but fine. Fine at the grocery store, talking about whether or not our lettuce has gone bad. Fine, sitting down to eat as we watch something on Netflix. Happy when we wake up in the morning and, perhaps, two of the most compatible people in the world when we go to the Zoo, or Sea World, or a movie we both really like.  Most of the time, there’s this overwhelming feeling of “what’s really so wrong here, that we can’t get through it?”

But the answer, when it comes, is never subtle.
There’s this joke Louis CK makes about how divorce is never a bad thing, because people with happy marriages don’t get divorced. It’s amusing the way he delivers it, but it belies a bitter truth. Some marriages are hybrids: four parts happy to one part interminably miserable, with little in between.  The fact of the matter is that you can get to a point where you can’t continue to live with that last fifth. Even if the other four were everything the foundation of family-- of forever-- is supposed to be.
Conviction. Try feeling absolute about ending a marriage where you still love the other person, every bit as much as you did the day you married them.
In lieu of it, we’ve done this all in pieces.  A pre-trial-separation separation, which started several months ago: me in Maine, him in his various work locations. Explained to those who enquire with an incomplete truth: I really can’t stand to be in San Diego alone while he’s constantly traveling.  When he came to New England for a visit, it became clear we had to take the next step: a real separation, likely to lead to divorce. We took off our rings, and talked logistics. Then we flew back to San Diego, together. I said goodbye to the city and gathered my things over the course of a few weeks, readying myself to make a cross-country drive not entirely unlike the one that we made in September of last year, except reversed, and deeply, deeply sad.
Before I could manage that, though, I had to put my wedding ring on a necklace, where I’ve worn it for the past six days.  I play with it idly, in weak moments, and cling to it desperately in weaker ones.
There’s another part to this story that I struggle to put into words; the part that has been, perhaps, the driving force behind why I haven’t written about any of this, publicly, until now.  You know, in some form or another, the when, the where, the who and the what-- Tomorrow, in a cheap motel room in Norfolk, Virginia, Zack and I will release, at some point, from a semi-final embrace.  But of course, you want to know more than I’ve alluded to, as to the why.
Well, if you have to know, it’s a million reasons, like I said.  Incompatibility, circumstance, and raw pain.  It would be a great disservice to the truth to say it could have happened under different circumstances: if my marriage hadn’t been as sick, and brutalized, and brutal as it was, then I wouldn’t have been able to fall in love with someone else.

Because that’s the power of conviction.
There’s this whole defense I want to mount, this whole explanation that screams in my mind.  But I find that it’s not really true to this piece of writing, it’s not really all that relevant. Whatever the facts are, I did fall in love with someone else, I am in love with two men. One of the men, I am married to, and the other...
For those who are reading who might be compelled to be utterly offended by all of this, let me simply state that, in all of this, there was no deception, no infidelity-- as it’s classically understood-- and no betrayal.

Except for the betrayal I feel of the promise I made, one day, nearly nine years ago: to stand by him always, to be a better person because of him, to make him a better one, because of me. The betrayal I feel, when I imagine myself getting round with the child of another man while he loses his faith in the dream of having children of his own. The betrayal I feel-- against the man that I love more than perhaps anyone else in the world-- when I can’t give myself to him as a consolation in all of his greatest pains, at the moment when his pain is greatest.

The betrayal that I feel when I think of the end to that sentence, from before, which I couldn’t bear to write: not without explaining how sick it makes me feel to think it. One of the men, I am married to, and the other can make me happy.
It sickens me how readily I know I believe that. The ultimate betrayal: to believe that one man can make me happy, and it is not him. And I do believe I can be happy-- I have conviction.
That is, if I can ever get over having let go of it, the first time.

On with it.