For reasons too complicated and boring to explain, I had to organize my family’s digital photo library. I moved a whole bunch of photos from one device to another and organized them by date. They were mostly photos I had taken in the last 2 years but there were also a number of Carol’s photos mixed in with mine, going back for years.
The job was irritating as it was because I let too many years pass and had a lot to sort through, but now it’s more difficult to look back at the past, a past that now feels like a lie.
Not all of it was a lie. Now there is a before and after.
Here’s an interesting observation: I suspected this over the last few years, but looking back at our old photos, I now know it is true. Carol is more beautiful now than she was when she was younger. Her face changed shape, wrinkles have developed, her skin tone seems to have changed, and somehow it’s all made her even more pleasing to look at.
Younger Carol was not done growing into the beauty that she’d become in her 30’s but she was still undamaged. Or maybe she was always damaged by some long ago trauma that she will not tell me about, something that eventually lead her to do what she did under the perfect storm of bad environment and worse people.
Fast forward to photos from last summer, after the Incident, and Carol’s inner damage is visible on the outside. Her face is pale with sunken cheeks. She has clearly lost a significant amount of weight too quickly, off of a body that was a healthy average size to begin with. An outsider may guess a serious medical issue was happening with Carol starting in June of 2018 that continued until the Fall of that year.
On the other hand, there was a significant increase in photos of myself during that time period. Selfies for social media and dating sites. My face didn’t tell a story of suffering but I think if you looked carefully at the eyes in some pictures, you might be able to see the signs of emptiness and a fragmented soul.
Before and after.
Further after is family that is whole again. Jack’s clan going on adventures. A broken husband and a broken wife and two children yet to be broken by this world. All I can hope for them is that they learn to be stronger than I am, so not only do they come back stronger from the traumas and betrayals, they will also still feel whole and connected to the world around them, so they can still feel joy and let love in, instead of the indifference their father feels so often.
But I’m sure I won’t feel so fractured forever. My heart is guarded right now, that’s why I feel so distant. I say this but I don’t quite believe it yet.
During is a time I wish I could erase but I can’t. There is a whole family there. Jack’s clan, growing and going on adventures together. Jack and Carol, smiling at the camera and all looks right as rain. No hint of unhappiness, just a happily married couple next to each other. No sign that one of them is apparently single while the other, unaware, keeps his vows.
All those years of missing out on good times with other women because I wasn’t made aware that my marriage was null and void. All those years of trying and fighting for my family while she didn’t. I don’t get those years back. They were stolen and now they’re gone forever.
Our 10th anniversary trip was magical. I still cling onto that memory as a ‘real’ one as we were awesome together. The problems of her work and him were an ocean away. That should’ve made her realize who the real enemy was but she didn’t. The memory is bittersweet anyway. It’s one where I know he wasn’t there, but it’s wedged in between times where he was there.
Sometimes it feels like my whole marriage was a lie. Look at before. Even that’s a lie now. The vows we exchanged must have had an asterisk by them that led to fine print that said *in the event of desperately seeking approval of the stupidest, most pathetic person you’ve ever met, these vows are inapplicable.
I couldn’t help but look back at before again, looking at her pregnancy photos. I stood by her and cared for her through both her pregnancies. I was the best a husband can be toward his pregnant wife but that wasn’t good enough for her. But do you know what is good enough for Carol? Being terrible to her. Cruelty, unhelpfulness, laziness, and incompetence were apparently what she needed in a man. I, with my effort and support, didn’t stand a chance. Nice guys get nowhere. No wonder I don’t like to show that I care anymore.
Before and during. They’re both ruined.
What about after?
After is a family being held together by I don’t even know what half the time. I love Carol and I hate Carol. She doesn’t deserve me but she’s with me. I am reaping the benefits of being with someone who desperately wants to keep me, and maybe that’s all it is. A broken person being wanted, needed, and cared for by another broken person. Maybe I’m just a sellout that way. For once, she feels that she needs me more than I need her. The power has reversed and I like it. Maybe that’s what she needs as a person, someone to have power over her. The old me was too kind and considerate. The new me has something on her: moral superiority. She let him have power over her at her job by making sure she was as corrupt as him. He had something to hold over her head. Something to keep her in line. And I wasn’t good enough because I treated her as my equal. That made her begin to treat me as her lesser. She didn’t like that power dynamic. Maybe she gets off on being scared and uncertain, that there’s someone above her that can take everything away from her in an instant. Maybe I’m the one to have my hand on the switch because I use my power responsibility. For now.
Maybe I do love her. Or maybe I’m getting fucked too often and too well to realize that I don’t. I had given up on the idea of sexual satisfaction as long as I was with her. I had resigned myself to a life of scheduled, bi-monthly if I was ‘lucky’, boring, just-get-it-over-with sex. I don’t live like that anymore and it’s intoxicating. I don’t think I’ve had this much sex in a year in my 20’s, and it’s only been 8 months. In the last 3 months, I’ve had double the sex that I had in all of last year. Trust me, I keep track because I can hardly believe it. She keeps me satisfied but sometimes I wonder if it’s a distraction, for her to keep me from thinking of leaving, and for me to keep myself thinking that I love her and can learn to forgive her.
It’s not just her pleasing me though. I give her what she wants and I do it happily. We please each other and it really does keep us closer. It’s fun and exciting, and it doesn’t feel like a chore anymore. We chat, we share, we spend time together, we complement each other and now we have plenty of sex together. What more do I want in a relationship?
How about one without the great trauma in its history. How can I look at this trauma as anything else but the cost for this great relationship? I sure as hell wouldn’t agree to such a payment upfront.
Last night, I made her cry by avoiding her again. Then she was even more upset that I left her to cry. After a while, we talked. I told her I don’t cry anymore. I told her I’m angry all the time. I told her I still don’t care about things like I used to. She said that she’s doing everything she can to be a better wife. I didn’t tell her that there’s no making up for what she had done and that I feel like she’s being fake. She told me that she wishes she could take it all back. I didn’t tell her that she had plenty of time to realize what she was doing, that her decision to create permanent damage in all she cared for in her life was done over and over again, for years, and seemingly with intent. I warned her that there is a lot that I don’t think I can talk to her about anymore so I stuff it deep down where it can sit, unresolved, and turn into more anger. I told her to come to bed. As I lay in bed, a panic attack threatened. I stuffed it deep down too.
These are the things you do when you don’t want the hurt anymore. You stuff the feelings down and turn them into anger. You stop the happiness and love. You willingly give yourself to the monster inside because the anger feels better than the hurt.
I need to express my feelings and I need to cry but I guess I’m afraid to, so I don’t.
Later – April 17
Carol got home from lunch to see me standing in the driveway. I stared into her car, curiously, half expecting to see a passenger. I had already tried the front door to the house to ensure it was, in fact, locked. I don’t know if I’ll ever open my front door again without testing it to see if someone has already unlocked it. I don’t know if I’ll ever enter my house without quietly listening for signs of occupancy first and looking to the floor for unfamiliar footwear. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that feeling of tightness and anxiety as I approach our house and our driveway starts to come into view.
In the car was Carol, alone and looking miserable. She exited her car and approached me. She said, “you came to see me,” and pulled me into an embrace.
“Yeah, I got us lunch. Which would you like?” I asked, providing her the options I had for us. The food I picked up was from the same restaurant I got my food from on the way home that day, the day I bought food that I never ate because before I could eat it, I saw something that made me feel as if I’d never eat again.
“I just want to hug,” Carol replied.
And we hugged. She cried.
“It’s been an awful day. I really needed this,” she said.
We ate lunch together. We spoke of nothing important. She rested her head on my shoulder. I put my hand on her leg. I rubbed her back. I did this to reassure her. I know I’m not always this distant. I know I’ll cycle back to loving her again. I know we need to talk again. There is no saving it for the marriage counsellor now. It’s up to us to address things. But, good God, it’s hard to start these conversations, and it’s always up to me to start them. I’m trying to spare her discomfort by not talking about things and it’s only making me resent her more and become more angry. Last night when I said I feel I can’t talk to her about things I need to talk to her about, she gave no opening for me to express any of it, so I sat in silence for a long while.
I must break the silence. I must say, “Hey, I’ve noticed a, b, and c, and it’s got me thinking about x, y, and z. I need you to tell me about it.” Then, I can hold the monster at bay for a while.
It’s such a predictable cycle at this point. Talk, feel better, don’t talk for a while, feel worse, finally talk again, feel better. I get all these bizarre and horrible ideas in my head, and strange ideas about her motives- then and now. Then she’ll start to comment on my ‘grumpiness’ and I’ll lie about it. Then I become more angry until my coldness toward her upsets her. Then I’ll say something a little bit closer to the truth. Then she’ll open up a bit and tell me a bit about what’s going on in her head. I’ll find it reassuring and it’ll calm the beast for a while.
I’m driving myself up the wall with my flip-flopping. I feel then I don’t, I love then I don’t, I care then I don’t, I have hope then I have none. If this entry looks like a contradictory mess, then it’s accurate. But lately I’ve flopped hard into the no-love side, harder than I have without a major discovery triggering it.
My next appointment with my therapist is next week. It can’t come soon enough. Maybe I should see if she’s free tomorrow.
Hang in there, Jack.