Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Life Story: Happily Ever After

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On the first day of June 2000 I got married.

The very second my voice agreed to the marriage I felt limp and lonely--like the very presence of God had left me. It was as though I had been emptied of all the blood in my body and I was white and cold.

I remember coming out of the temple into the bright June sunshine in a silent shock. I could see people talking and smiling, but I couldn't hear anything and my mind wouldn't catch up with reality. My mental capabilities were choppy--fast forward or slow motion. My friend Julie grabbed me by the arm and said, "I love your shoes!" I looked down to see my strappy white sandals and clung to a small slice of hope that I could still wear pretty shoes even though I had just done something very terrible.

I had married the wrong person.

Our problems started immediately with honeymoon on the cool beaches of Monterrey and Carmel. We fought and yelled. I often felt uncomfortable and awkward with his public demeanor--his way of treating me and others often embarrassed me. But if I were to ask him to tone it down or stop, he'd become angry.

The first week back at home in our apartment in central Provo we had another huge fight. I was so overwhelmed by the fear I felt towards my new husband I left our apartment and drove home back to my house. It was really late at night and because I didn't want my parents to think anything was wrong, I pretended like I needed to use their computer for school. When my mom went to bed I cried and wished I could just climb back into my old bed in my old room and start all over.

I was scared all the time. Scared of his reactions, scared of being embarrassed, scared of owning up to my actions, scared of what God--and people--thought of me, scared of telling the truth. And yet, a mixture of naivety and ignorance kept me from knowing the truth totally. I repeatedly felt stunned by my lack of clarity. I couldn't figure out what was going on. Something wasn't right, something was really wrong.

A few months into our marriage I started to wonder if I were going crazy. I couldn't cope with the psychological impact the relationship was having on me. Sometimes everything was bliss, he was kind and patient, handsome and charming,  bringing me flowers and presents, but then something would go wrong and he'd get angry and I'd blame myself. I called him too many times one morning asking him to talk a problem over with me, and he came home and took my phone so I couldn't call him anymore. Or call anyone.

I found myself doing odd things out of desperation. One time I pulled all of my clothes out the closet and left them in a huge heap on the floor next to our bed for the purpose of trying to feel something. I would daydream about people I wished I had married. I withdrew from other relationships because everything made me feel more lonely and more numb. I started lying a lot--mostly to friends and family--making up stories I wished were true about our marriage.

My body was constantly ill. My voice left me for a few months. I battled infections, painful and incurable it seemed. My lips bubbled over with fever blisters and cracked and peeled. My schoolwork was incoherent a lot of the time even though school was the best part of my life. I looked forward to my friends and classes every day as a break from my life. School was my salvation, it fed my feeble mind and encouraged strength.

And yet, I never processed anything. I could believe everything was normal. I wouldn't have called anything out of sorts. I would've never dreamed I was in an abusive relationship. I looked around me and assumed every marriage was this way, every wife was treated like this by her husband. Every woman was battling unhappiness. When he started staying out late until the early hours of the morning with people I didn't know, I assured myself this was normal too. The fights, the make-ups, the mental breakdowns, the fear I was having--surely all of those were a part of the rocky first year.

On a cold evening in the late fall we had a severe fight. All of our arguments started out by me asking for something he didn't want to give me and he didn't want to talk about why--he was frustrated when he couldn't control me. He pulled me by my hair out of the apartment and left me on our doorstep and locked the door. Our apartment opened up into a courtyard, a busy spot where people were coming and going. I was in nothing but my underwear and there was no place to hide except in a shadow I found near our door. I curled myself into a little ball hoping no one would see me. I begged and begged for him to open the door. Eventually, when I had begged long enough, he opened the door and requested my apology. I don't know if anyone ever saw me, I told myself they didn't because the shame would be insurmountable.

After that I feared my husband daily. I worried about getting in the shower because it made me vulnerable to attack. I was afraid to go out in public with him because he didn't seem to care who saw his behavior towards me. He would leave me in restaurants without any way to pay the bill. Sometimes I thought about making him mad enough he would kill me and I wouldn't have to live anymore. Or maybe he would leave me and I could crawl back to my old house and be safe.

And still, it was some sort of normal, in my mind. The only thing I couldn't figure out was why more women didn't talk about the dark side of marriage--why did no one warn me about this part? In my Mormon Lit class at UVU, taught by the best of men Eugene England, our final project was an essay on what we had learned about ourselves during the semester. I wanted to write an entire essay on my marriage, I wanted to reach out to someone who was safe and kind and ask him if I was okay--if this was okay. But I knew if my husband found out he'd explode and thinking about the consequences scared me. Realizing the trap I was in made me angry. Anger finally made me start talking.

One night I went to my parents house and found my them in their room. I curled up at the bottom of the bed and we started talking. My mom interrupted me and asked,

"What is going on? You are sick all the time and you never seem happy."

It was that question that opened up the floodgates and my stories spilled out. I told my parents everything, didn't stop talking until I was crying too hard to control my words. I think they were in shock, but I don't think they were surprised.

"You can't live there anymore," my dad said to me after some time.

But I was too afraid to not go home, so after I promised them I would call if I was in danger I picked myself up and headed home. That night my husband was out with friends until really late. I didn't see him until the morning. The next morning I woke up early and read my scriptures. Particularly I read about the ratification of Holy Spirit of Promise. This is a concept of grace, it means that if a person was not worthy to enter into a promise (like a marriage covenant) because of unresolved sin and the person makes a promise before God anyway, there is no promise. Meaning, if my husband wasn't worthy to marry me in the temple, our marriage wasn't valid in God's eyes.

That evening when we were together again, I sat down with my husband and asked him about his life leading up to meeting me, after we met, after we married and currently. My mind was filled with questions to ask him and I was digging at some of his deepest secrets. I could tell he was being honest with me--maybe for the first time in our relationship. Every question I felt I should ask he had a heart breaking answer to and I knew he had been carrying around heavy secrets for a very long time. These secrets and sins should've kept him from serving a mission, going to the temple and marrying me.

The realization of this washed over my body with quiet peace. For the first time in years I felt like we were two separate entities, my soul was no longer enmeshed with his, I was not responsible for him anymore. I remember feeling compassion towards him, his head bent, crying on the bed. And I remember feeling overwhelmingly that I could go. I could go and he would be all right and I would be all right.

The next morning I told him I was leaving. It had been only about seven months, but as I closed the front door behind me I thanked my God it hadn't been more.