Version One: In June, 2002, after twenty-two years of marriage, I began dismantling it. Over the next two years, in fits and starts, I left my wife, alienated my children, and made most folks around me miserable; those that weren’t miserable were uncomfortable, to say the least. Then, in the spring of 2004, I came to my senses, left the young woman (37 years younger) for whom I had created this mess, and began a process of reconciliation with my wife that her best friends thought, I am sure, ill-conceived. This version is basically that described in my wife’s powerful essay, “Chapter Four You Break up: A Journal,” which she published in the book she edited in 2006, Cut Loose: (Mostly) Older Women Talk About the End of (Mostly) Long-Term Relationships (Rutgers University Press). I recommend that you get the book, not only for her essay but for the others therein.
Version Two: This version has yet to be written but will be pursued here. I undertake to do that because 2014 is the tenth year since my wife and I came together again after the events sketched out (somewhat one-sidedly) above. We have stayed together and it looks as though we will make it to the “natural” ends of things as we are both now in our seventies. I have wanted to give an account of those two difficult years from my perspective, not so much to correct “the record” (although some of that will be done) as to examine some assumptions and to give voice to experiences that have not, to my mind, found their way adequately before an audience.
Preliminary: Before I start, I have to admit to some reluctance to take this on, for several reasons. One is that this blog has been considerably more personal already than I had intended it to be and I don’t want to seem self-indulgent or solipsistic. Another is that my wife’s essay is so well-written, so pitch-perfect in tone, and so painful (for me) to read, that I need to avoid any suggestion that I disagree with its fundamental evocations of loss and fear. How to write my own account with as much skill without seeming to be “answering” hers is daunting. And finally, I don’t know how much I want to say. I don’t want to open old arguments now long settled. I don’t want to force unwanted memories to the surface for my wife or my children (at least two of whom read this from time to time). Nevertheless, I want to try to do justice to those years, so let me begin, actually, near the end. One scene and then we will begin in earnest at the very beginning next time:
On the afternoon of March 9, 2004, Sue (a pseudonym) put the last of her things in the car she had borrowed from her brother. She took the comforter her mother had made for her to bring into our shared apartment and she took the new rice cooker. Except for a few books and clothes we had boxed up together, everything else had been taken away by her brother days ago, while I was at work. It was raining slightly, I think. Memory is tricky. Maybe it wasn’t raining; in literary studies we are told to beware the “pathetic fallacy,” that unfortunate tendency of the less-talented writer to make Nature respond to the protagonist’s emotional state. As a young student I was told to appreciate Flaubert if for no other reason than he made the sun shine and birds to sing at Emma Bovary’s funeral. Rain or no, we cried and then Sue left, as I had asked her to do. I never saw her again.