Saturday, May 9, 2009

Chapter 5: Choosing Sides

After James left, I felt very alone. Too ashamed to share what was going on with the people I was closest to, I turned to the only people who knew the truth – James’ friends and family.

The first people who found out about our split were James’ brother and sister-in-law, Matt and Cammy. The first night back from our trip to Chicago, James packed a bag and went to stay with them. They had been through their own share of marital strife in their ten years together, and were working through their differences in individual and couple’s counseling. The four of us sat down on a few occasions so they could try to help us work things out, but James was adamant that he was leaving. When he tried to explain his reasons, it became harder and harder for Matt and Cammy to stay neutral. It was clear they found his explanations and accusations as absurd as I did, and tried to no avail to convince him to give me another shot. In some ways I found our talks with them more therapeutic than our sessions with the professional therapist.

After our impromptu therapy sessions, I felt closer to Cammy than I did the rest of the time I had known her. She and her husband were pretty private people, and quiet to boot. I called her regularly, and she was able to offer me great insight into my estranged husband’s actions, as her husband was definitely same cut from the same cloth as his brother. The treatment the boys received growing up verged on (or perhaps actually reached) psychological and physical abuse, and this had a similar effect on the brothers.

James once recounted an incident in which his father locked the boys out of their Queens apartment in their underwear as punishment for some misbehavior. James’ father was the youngest of many sons, and in his native Philippines he was regularly chained to the fence in front of the house or denied food while his older siblings were not. James attributed his father’s treatment as some sort of retribution for, or reenactment of, these past abuses. Despite being aware of the causality of his father’s actions, James (along with his brother) was profoundly impacted by them.

James’ mother was no picnic either, having fully emasculated her husband and run her eldest son out of the house for dating a black woman, she was left with only James to rely upon her. Her apron strings were a bondage to which James was only too willing to submit, as it meant never having to be accountable for his actions. James’ relationship with his mother was clearly in sharp contrast to his brother’s lack of one. Yet Matt and James remained close over the years because they shared the fraternal bond built in their turbulent formative years.

Cammy commiserated with my anecdotes about James’ behaviors and treatment of me. James, Matt and their father were all born under the astrological sign of Aries, which accordingly makes them all very headstrong. This trait seemed to be evident in their relationships with each other. It is also said that the Aries’ motto is “Ready, fire, aim,” meaning that those under this sign are prone to action without forethought. It is this curse of the impulsive Aries that caused Matt to up and leave his familial home in the first place and stubbornly stick with that decision for the following decade. As an Aries myself, I can think of many instances (with James or otherwise) in which I wished I could take back words or actions. Certainly with James I said things that, had I thought about it first, I should have realized would wound him.

As I talked to Cammy, who was successfully navigating a difficult relationship with my husband’s brother, I began to have hope that James and I could reconcile our differences. At my lowest moments, she offered me support and suggestions. I began to naïvely run “if only” scenarios in my head.

If only I could get him to see how sorry I was. If only I could apologize enough. If only I could start being nice to him. If only I didn’t get riled up when he picked on me. If only I could learn which of my actions triggered his anger, I could refrain from them. If only I could lose weight. If only I stop drinking. If only we could hang out and start creating new, happy memories. If only he would come and hang out at the apartment. If only we could have sex. If only I could change. If only these things could happen, I could get him back.

Cammy was as hopeful as I was, and at the time she was all I had so I went on believing it was possible.

Then I discovered the other woman in James’ life, and that was the tipping point. I told Cammy, and she was surprised, but not shocked. It helped explain to both of us that a line had been crossed and James would not be coming back to me, no matter how many “if onlies” I actualized. It meant that while something I did (or didn’t do) may have made James want to leave, nothing I could do (or not do) would bring him back. I slowly came to realize that by marrying a narcissistic Eeyore like James, I had set myself up for failure. Nothing I could do would ever be viewed as supportive, kind or loving. At some point in our relationship I had broken his trust, and unable to come back from that, he allowed every perceived slight to compound until I was the enemy.

Upon understanding this, I finally felt ready to begin outing myself to my friends and family as a future divorcée. In part I had held out because I hoped I could keep our troubles secret until they blew over. That now clearly was not going to happen. Less than a year before I had proclaimed before my friends, family and, yes, even God that I would be with James until “death do us part” and I still had a difficult time admitting to everyone that neither of us were in fact dead. I told my city girlfriends first, a pair who I am close with but were not amongst those who stood up for me in the wedding and therefore had a bit more distance and objectivity. Soon I told a few more friends, and eventually my family found out (when I removed “married” from my Facebook status, sorry Mom!).

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but of course all of my family and friends were extremely supportive. James had been so toxic as to convince me my friends and family were not the kind of people who would be there for me. James was generally on his best behavior around my friends and family, so they were certainly staggered by my news. James’ friends, however, weren’t nearly as taken aback. They had seen James’ true self, especially the way he’d been treating me.

In the months between my twenty-ninth birthday and James’ decision to move out, his treatment of me became so blatantly abusive that even his best friends felt the need to reach out to me. James worked as a bartender at his best friend’s family restaurant on the weekends. Dennis and James knew each other from high school, and Dennis was James’ best man at our wedding. One night after their shift ended at the restaurant, the three of us went out to some bars, along with Dennis’ girlfriend Shelly.

On the way home I called in a pick-up order to our favorite late-night Chinese spot. When the four of us arrived back at our apartment with the food, James realized I’d ordered him a roast pork soup instead of the roast duck soup he’d requested. It was an honest mistake on my part as both were menu items he was likely to order, but it was an error that drove James into a rage. He began one of his typical rants about how stupid I was, how I didn’t care about what he wanted, and so forth. I offered to call the restaurant and have another soup delivered at my own expense and was on the phone trying to do so when he told me not to. He ate the other dishes he’d ordered, but didn’t touch the same soup he would have happily tucked into on any other night.

On another evening when the four of us were hanging out, Shelly pulled me aside and told me that Dennis had initiated a conversation with her about James’ treatment of me. The soup incident was just one example they’d seen, and they didn’t understand why he reacted so strongly. She wondered how I was holding up. I shrugged my shoulders and wrote it off, as I tended to at that time, as just James being James. In some ways I felt callous not taking his complaints seriously, but if I did drink his Kool Aid, it meant I was in fact a mean, stupid, uncaring, fat bitch who was not loved by her husband. It was easier to assume that these words, like so many uttered by an Aries, were in the heat of a passionate moment and forgotten in the next. However their concern touched me and reassured me that I was not crazy for thinking that James had become a bit unhinged.

I don’t know what Dennis and Shelly should when they found out James was leaving me. He failed to mention to them that he’d met someone else. He was upset with me when I told them as much myself. He claimed to be taking the high road by not badmouthing me to his friends and was upset that I was “gossiping” to them. My response was that it wasn’t gossip, it was the truth, and if he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, why would he be bothered if his friends knew about it? And frankly, I don’t think it would have mattered if he had debased me to his friends. Their opinion of me was formulated, and they had witnessed first-hand how he behaved. He was only insulting their intelligence if they assumed they would not judge him for his actions

In the months following James’ departure, I kept in touch with his friends and family. Cammy would check in via text message every now and then. James’ friend José, whose bachelor party was when James met Jacinta, lived near our marital apartment. When I was moving out, he gladly came over with his wife to help carry a few heavy things out. While they were there I plied them for information about my ex-husband. José had little to offer, telling me that James had all but disappeared. José and Dennis had tried getting in touch with him, but James didn’t respond. Bruno, James’ accomplice at the bachelor party had similarly been absent. I could only assume that James was in part so wrapped up with his new girl that he didn’t have time for his old friends and in part that he was so ashamed by his actions that he didn’t want to face them. I felt bad for an instant that I had in some way broken up a ten year friendship, until I checked myself. James made his own bed, and now he was lying in it (with another woman).

The last time I spoke to James’ mother when she came to collect a few remaining things from the apartment, she reassured me I would always be her daughter and if I ever needed anything, or wanted to visit the Philippines, to give her a call. I can’t say the same is true of my family. I was talking to my brother recently, and he recounted a conversation he’d had with my father. The two were talking about how disappointed they were in James, and my dad said that if he ever saw James again he couldn’t be responsible for his actions. My brother said he agreed with my dad, and the two used words like “lynching,” “broken kneecaps,” and “tied up and tortured in the basement.” My dad is not the most outwardly affectionate man, but I never felt more loved by him then when I heard he would handily rearrange my pretty-boy ex-husband’s face on sight.

Similarly, none of my friends have any interest in reaching out to James to inquire how he is doing. While he may have played a victim with me, they certainly don’t see it that way. To them, he is a villain to whom karma will come full circle.

José’s wife and Shelly regularly reach out to me to say hello, and while we have not met up in person, their electronic messages reassure me that I am not in fact a mean person, as James would like me to believe. José’s wife and I share the same birthday and traded wishes for happy returns on the day. When Shelly had her birthday party recently, she invited me and reassured me that James was not invited. It may be petty, but I feel vindicated that in our divorce I was left with all of our shared possessions, all of our friends, and most importantly, my dignity while his prize was the freedom to be with his female Doppelgänger.

The irony is that as I was writing this, Shelly instant messaged me, saying how she and Dennis missed me and we had to get together soon. After a few volleys of catch-up, my curiosity got the best of me, and I enquired after James. She told me she had seen him a few weeks prior when he went by Dennis’ restaurant to invite them to a party James was having at his place in New Jersey. That’s right, the same guy who refused outright to move to New Jersey, where I wanted to live, because he claimed his commute would be too long now lives even further away then I would have even wanted to. Shelly went on to tell me that James had moved into Jacinta’s place, which was no surprise to me. It made perfect sense that instead of getting his own place, as he told me he planned to do when he left me, he would move in with someone else who, like I and his mother before me, would take care of him.

Right about now James is getting ready to celebrate one year together with Jacinta. In that time, it took me five months to mourn the loss of our relationship and another three months for my heart to heal enough to let me open it up to someone else. In the process, I have learned so much about myself and who the most important people are in my life. When faced with the choice, I feel like the people I cared about sided with me. With their support, I am finally feeling optimistic about my prospects and beginning to believe what they have been telling me:

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“You are better off without him.”

“You seem like you are in a good place now.”

In my life I always find exes coming out of the woodwork at the most random times, so it will probably be my luck that since I, like James, am now dating a New Jerseyan, I will run into him in a mall or something. I hope when that time comes I am wearing my hottest new size 6 jeans, with my amazing boyfriend on my arm, and a smile on my face. I will be able to look James in the eye as I brush by him, knowing that I am improving my life not because of him but in spite of him.

1 comment:

Tico Nuevo said...

I really hate it when you talk about astrology as if it is anything but complete and utter b.s.

I always thought of Katie as being a very intelligent person, but then she mouths off about astrology having value, and it astounds me that somebody like Jeffery could think that way.

Ian J. Squires, I