“Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.”– Nicole Sobon
Six months ago I did something I swore I would never do again, much to my and my close friends surprise. I signed on the dotted line and became someone's wife once again. And while everyone gushed and fawned over us, I found their joy failed to penetrate the recesses of my heart which left me sad, angry, and confused. There are a barrage of personal questions after a marriage, “are you changing your name”, “are you going to have a baby together?”, “how does your husband feel about x, y, and/or z”, and with every “no”, “what does his feelings have to do with it”, or eye roll I dished out I found myself wanting to scream and run away.
Adjusting to a person in your personal space all the time is hard enough without the intrusion of society and their opinions and desires. I’ve found the transition from singledom to holy matrimony to be far more emotionally tumultuous the second time around. I know what marriage entails and I knew how I felt after my first go around, so I figured I could totally handle this. I was wrong. Generally speaking, I can and am handling marriage. It’s work, as it always has been and always will be, but a second marriage opens a Pandora's box of emotions I wasn’t ready for. And frankly, six months in I don’t believe I’ve even scratched the surface of them.
We all go into the phases and stages of our lives with varying degrees of expectations, these expectations are rarely based in reality because we form them from a place of hope and childlike fantasy. I knew going in that marriage is work, always and forever. What I didn’t expect was how much of that work would be processing my own feelings of grief and anger over having to start over again with someone who hasn’t had 15 years to craft a Rayven strategy guide nor the cynical bitterness of a failed marriage under their belt.
I didn’t experience a honeymoon phase this time around. I went from nervous laughter and smiles in wedding photos to sitting in a ball on my couch at two in the morning wondering if I should cry or scream. I have a good mate this time around and he genuinely wants us to work together to build a legacy that will last long after we've both parted this life. Whenever we discuss our future life together, in my head I see my two paths in the woods. On one sits the life I built during and after my first marriage. On the second road sits the foundation for this marriage. The grief and anger seep in when I remember that I have to tear down those old buildings so I can collect what’s salvageable and then begin on the new building. Brick by brick, I have to start over again.
I hate starting over. I’ll admit it, it’s not something I’m a fan of. Why? Because not only do we have to give up parts of our life we enjoyed but to some degree when we start over we must also own up to our failures. A number of my close friends and family will climb upon their soapboxes and proclaim that I didn’t fail in my first marriage. It wasn’t my fault. I, on the other hand, prefer to use the soapbox for kindling and pray that the fire manages to burn the what ifs and could have, would have, should haves from my mind because we all play our parts in the success and failure of our interpersonal relationships.
I failed at marriage. Then I spent the years that followed relying on myself to survive and when I was really lucky to thrive as well. While I had always depended on myself, during my singledom I also learned to love myself despite years of self hate and a closet full of horrible coping mechanisms. I had failed and started again, on my own terms, with all the bitterness necessary to ensure I never had to fail again. And then with a few simple words spoken in a friend’s backyard I put myself back in the firing range of failure.
I learned, as I spent the first month navigating a new marriage, society, and my own emotional baggage, that I’m not alone in my remarriage grief and anger. These feelings permeate across race, religion, orientation, and possibly gender (though to be honest I’ve yet to ask any men). These feelings cut right to the heart of our humanity, desperate to be loved and to belong yet shackled by our own fears, desires, and shortcomings. The grief and anger crawl into our hearts and challenge us to jump towards our tomorrows even if we aren’t sure the parachute will open.
While I’ve attempted to write this piece in my head for the past few months I’ve also struggled with the direction to take my public writing. There are a number of pieces that I’ve written over the past few years that have never made it on this blog for one reason or another. Usually, because I wasn’t emotionally ready to share it. While I haven’t reached a state of equilibrium, and I probably never will, I do want to share more. When I started blogging nine years ago it was a way to share my little slice of the world and the ramblings that rolled around in my head. Over the years, I polished the image of the homeschooling military family doing their best to bloom where they were planted into my own sweet delusion. I did such a fantastic job that everyone was shocked when that image blew up and that “perfect” family turned out to be another dysfunctional statistic.
There won’t be a perfect family this time around. Some days there won’t even be an OK family. So far in life I’ve learned the only guarantee I can make is that things will change and that it’s far better to be transparent than to live in denial. Life has changed. I’m no longer doing it all on my own, and that carries with it its own set of pros and cons. Sometimes I’ll share them. If you relate to them, great! If not, well I’m not cheesecake, I can’t make everyone happy.
Rayven Holmes Copyright(c)2018
It all started with a halfhearted promise. “I’ll make things better,” he said while kneeling in the muddy field. He loved me I told myself. He got a ring, he promised things would be better once we were married, so surely he loved me. Over the next eight months I inquired about wedding details, “I don’t care about that stuff” he would mumble before rushing off the phone. On my 18th birthday, I moved in with him. This was the beginning of the rest of my life I told myself. A life full of fantastic adventures with my best friend, or so I believed.
Our first attempt to get married a few days later was deterred by the incorrect birth certificate on my part, because there is a big difference in a certificate of live birth and a birth certificate, apparently. I slunk home depressed in my pretty floral spring dress. He looked relieved and eager to get out of the khakis I had requested he wear because “It’s our wedding day we should look nice”. “It's a waste of time”, the words lingered in the knots of my hair I had spent an hour fighting with. He thought it looked a mess. But, I knew he loved me, so I simply needed to try harder next time.
When the proper certificate arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later I was thrilled, he was annoyed. “When do you want to go get married”, the words danced from my heart and oozed through my lips. “I don’t know”, he replied. I shook off his indifference. Another couple of weeks passed before we had a discussion about expectations. I had no desire to shack up for an undisclosed period of time and needed to know if he really wanted the same thing I did. Blame my Catholic conservative Christian upbringing. Blame personal standards. But after a month, you’re either buying the cow or getting your milk elsewhere because I refuse to play house. After some grumbling, he lamented that he did want to get married and we agreed on a Friday afternoon. He didn’t want to wear anything nice or take pictures. I granted his wish with the hope that we’d have a nice wedding one day. I spent that Friday on edge. My heart and stomach jumped, jived, and wailed with each tick of the clock. I had to remind myself to breath as the hours turned into minutes and those minutes into the moments that would define the rest of my life.
The judge who married us was buried in a sea of child support filings and petty crimes when we walked in. The defeat of his day shone on his face as I slid the marriage certificate onto his desk. Immediately, he became animated and leaped from his seat with the joy that only the creation of marriage and new life can illicit in humanity. He retrieved his crisp black robes from the nearby closet and announced our impending nuptials to the collection of depressed bodies that were waiting their turn to plead their various cases. Then the judge reached for his phone and attempted to contact a buddy of his who worked at the local paper. He had no luck. My groom squirmed in his seat at the thought of having someone from the newspaper present at our nuptials. Even a small wedding announcement had been out of the question. After hanging up the phone the judge asked if he could read a bible passage during our ceremony. Still being some version of Christian I had no problem with this but, I turned to my groom to ensure it was ok. He nodded in that dismissive way only someone who is indifferent can and the judge smiled as he opened his bible. Clearing his throat he asked us to rise, I jumped from my seat attempting to catch my heart as it leaped with excitement and turned to my groom. He was still seated.
My mind always slows this moment down. I’m sure it was less than a minute, but in my mind, it becomes an eternity. An eternity of chances to run. An eternity to dance through the reel of what actually became a 12-year marriage plagued with abuse, infidelity, and loneliness. An eternity to live again.
An eternity to see every player clearly. The judge with his confused and apprehensive glare. The groom’s parents exchange of knowing looks for they kept his secrets better than he did. The groom’s disdain as he willed himself from the seat and my wide-eyed naiveté. As the reel plays in my mind, I always freeze this moment and stare at the child giving away her youth to someone who didn’t want to stand next to her. I look through the eyes of a woman at the life of a girl who simply wanted to know she was loved, and I know she never was. The woman knows that which the girl can not. She knows of the lonely nights ahead of the girl, whose tears will stain every pillow she would ever own. She knows the pain of her husband’s hands pressing against her pregnant belly. She knows the way his words will hang heavy in her heart for a lifetime. She knows the way laughter sounds when she’s in pain. The woman can never save the girl.
No matter how many times I play this reel over in my mind, no matter how many times I reach for that young girl, no matter how many empty bottles I attempt to watch it through; I can never save the girl. She always stands there eagerly awaiting her groom. She always takes his hand. She always says her vows with sincerity and passion as her brown eyes bore into his hollow blue eyes seeking confirmation that his heart beats as fiercely for her and her’s does for him. She always signs her name. She always stays after he pushes in her stomach and gleefully declares that hopefully he killed their unborn child. She always runs interference and handles everything as to not upset him. She always fixes the holes and stops asking about the stories that don’t mesh up. She always makes sure the children believe they're loved by their father. She always makes excuses for his noninvolvement, for her tears, for the sadness that hides behind her brown eyes. She always stays. Until she becomes the woman who doesn’t. The woman with the movie reel in her mind and scars upon her heart.
Divorce is easy. You pay someone to file paperwork and fight with your spouse’s paid henchman/woman on your behalf. You sign some papers. Then a judge, worn and weary from a life dedicated to law, declares you free from the shackles wrapped tightly around your left finger.
Healing. Now, that’s the hard part. Accepting your part in the chapter that was your marriage is hard. Acknowledging your ex-partner for who they were and always will be is hard. Stitching the holes in your heart with the rusty needle you find in the pile of your belongings is hard. Getting up each day and putting one foot in front of the other is hard. Smiling when you want to cry is hard. Living in spite of the pain is hard. Fighting your demons by yourself and realizing there are far worse things than being alone is excruciatingly fucking painful. The healing is hard and the tunnel to the light is long. But, there is beauty in the struggle. Even if we can’t always see it right away.
On Sunday night, I made a prediction that on MLK day my newsfeed would be full of “feel good” MLK quotes and painfully silent to the current issues affecting the black community the day after. Naturally, I was right. My newsfeed was alive with King quotes. Or was it? There were plenty of quotes about choosing love over hate, which follows King’s philosophy but, I was curious to see how accurate those quotes were. I set out Googling the quote I saw the most, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”. What I found was interesting. The quote in question is a cherry picked sound bite from his 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?”. Those two lines aren’t even sentences or part of the same sentence. The full quote is as follows (with the sections of the aforementioned quote bolded):
“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”
The cherry picked quote conveniently ignores that King was speaking about a specific kind of love. A love that is strong and demanding, which links back to the point he was making at the beginning of his speech when discussing love and power:
“Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”
He wasn’t speaking about some magically warm and cozy love where we all take hands and skip merrily down the street. He was speaking, as he often did, about love that got its hands dirty and changed the world. A love that demanded justice for every human that walked this earth. Even if that demanding love brought you discomfort because he knew that in discomfort we create change.
As MLK day fades into the Facebook memory banks of cherry picked quotes and feel good posts that sanitize the man’s legacy, stop and think about the love you put into the world. Is it really a love demanding of justice, are you actively working to end racism, homophobia/transphobia, sexism (for ALL women), classism, and every other fucking -ism and -phobia out there? Or are you absentmindedly sharing more noise without thinking further about the actual context of the words spoken and continuing to remain silent about the oppression of others all while happily patting yourself on the back for being a “good” person?
Where Do We Go From Here Speech
Cognitive Dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
“We have a term for that, it’s called cognitive dissonance”, the words excitedly leaped from my therapist's mouth. Some days, I believe people who work in mental health get more joy from being able to label a behavior, than those of us they are labeling get from finally having a term for our mental state. I sat there, digging my nails into the delicate Styrofoam cup rim, leaving evenly spaced indentations of anxiety behind. Cognitive dissonance. The words swirled in my mind as she went on. I’m familiar with the term, I’ve used it to explain unyielding and illogical religious beliefs. Surely, I'm immune from such a label, I thought. But I’m not. In at least one way, or another, we all fall victim to cognitive dissonance. For me, it’s been my marriage and the repeated belief that if I waited long enough, and loved hard enough, the man I married could and would change the hurtful behaviors he exhibited. In the process, I ignored my own harmful mental gymnastics.
When it came to religion, I could easily examine the inconsistencies and toss the breaks in logic into the wastebasket where they belonged. Eventually, leaving nothing but godlessness and unabashed skepticism. With love, oh love, it hasn’t been that easy. If there was a disconnect between words and actions, then I clearly wasn’t seeing it correctly. A belief supported by my spouse. I simply needed to look at everything differently. To be patient. To hold on. Give him time and trust. Always more time and trust. I could do this. To give superficial change, that quickly faded, more weight than years of peer-reviewed data. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” We rarely do, though. Why do we do this? Why do we allow our hearts to cloud our logic? How can we observe years of behavior, and at the mere notion of change, throw all our chips in and declare this time around it will be better?
This isn’t a post with answers. Because, frankly, I don't have any damn answers. So, if you’re waiting for that you’re going to be shit out of luck. I’m still tracing the rim of a Styrofoam cup attempting to make sense of this one life we’re given and fighting with the cognitive dissonance emotional attachments create.
I’ve spent months dissecting why I allow myself to distort things until they are easy to swallow. Instead of, accepting them for what they are and cutting the cord.
He says he’s never hit me. So, despite everything else, I should be happy. True, he’s never hit me. But, when did that become an acceptable bar to reach instead of an universally unacceptable behavior? And why is physical abuse the only recognized form of domestic violence? Do the words and actions that don’t leave physical scars not count? And if they don’t count, why do I have to do mental gymnastics to reason them away? If this is a person I can feel safe with and trust, why does simply typing this fill me with soul-crushing fear? I’m doing wrong by sharing the truth. Is love when the truth is an act of rebellion?
The emotional part of my mind says yes. It also wants to say people change. It wants to believe the fantasy.
You’re not seeing it clearly, Rayven. His words. Or are they mine? It’s hard to determine whose words they are. I can only determine that they suffocate me. They whisper in my mind, “you’re not perfect, how can you expect so much”, “calm down, you don’t see things how they really are”, “no, you’re just crazy”, “it’s not control, it’s concern”, “I love you”, “so much of this is your fault”, “you’ve brought this on yourself”, “just fix you, try more, bend more, give more, you don't do enough" "learn to take a joke", "I'm only kidding", "stop complaining this is the best you'll ever get”, "no one would want you anyways", "it's not settling, it's being smart", "don't be selfish", “don’t you see how it’s all your fault”. The words work to choke out the discrepancies. The discrepancies exist because of me, I deduce. This notion makes my mind an Olympic performer in mental gymnastics. Always in search of a reason for the unreasonable.
Therapy works to give the discrepancies the oxygen they need to breathe, so I can acknowledge them and move forward. But still, I sit rubbing the anxiety indentations in my cup, waiting for the oxygen to reach my lungs so I can finally breathe, too.
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