I would like to say that being without him got easier right away. But it didn’t. It was not, at first, a clean break. He would call me at work, just to “check and see if I was OK.” Eventually he got my home phone number, I think through my friend on base whose husband worked with him. The first time he called me at home was on a weekend night. I was out with some friends I had made at work, and when I got home it was late, we’d stayed until last call, and the messages on my machine were sort of reminiscent of the movie Swingers.
“Hey, it’s me, just wondering what you were doing tonight, hoping you’re not at home all upset or whatever.”
“Hey, it’s me, I hope you’re OK, I’m worried about you. Call me as soon as you get home.”
“Hey, it’s me, where are you? It’s really late! I can’t think of where you would even go out this late. Maybe if you had wanted to do fun things while we were married we wouldn’t have ended up divorced.”
“You fucking whore. The only reason you need to be out at 2am is because you’re fucking some guy. I’m glad I divorced you because you’re just another dirty slut like I always knew you were. You bitch. Don’t call me, I never want to hear from you again!”
Inevitably, I would get a phone call at 4am, the Ex calling to “apologize” because he had been so worried he had just lost his mind. And by “apologize” I mean “check to make sure I was home, miserable, and not sleeping with anyone.”
And then the drop-in visits started. Unlike the visits at our old house, at the new place he didn’t have a key. But, at least once a week he would be at my apartment door, crying and knocking and begging to talk. After about three such visits I finally asked what he wanted, after all, we were divorced – HE divorced ME, why was he still hanging around?
That’s when he dropped a line on me that might be my all-time favorite, even better than accusing me of talking fast to confuse him. “I just thought if we got divorced it would be sort of a clean slate and we could start over. You know, start dating and just forget all the things that happened in the past.” I don't even think I had a reaction at first, all I could do was stare at him and wonder how I had ever married someone so stupid. Strangely I vividly remember saying to him "Are you kidding me? You already GOT to date me! You already GOT to marry me! You didn't want me and now you do? I can't even talk to you about this!" Thus was born my policy on clean breaks, when it's over it's over...it's worked for me ever since.
But, probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life is tell him he needed to go home, and close that door behind me. I cried for hours, not sure if I had done the right thing. I was going for longer and longer periods feeling pretty good, but every time he came by or called I would be plunged back into depression like I had just heard he was leaving me for the very first time. Eventually I told him he had to quit; I needed some space to heal. When he put up a vigorous protest I placated him by promising that “some day” we could be friends.
I didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks, autumn started fading and the days were getting shorter. We ran into each other at a local bar on Halloween night. He had gotten his tongue pierced, a BIG TIME no-no in the military, and he was holding hands with the dirty skank from the picture I had seen in his dorm room. He had on a shiny silver disco shirt and had dyed his hair blond. It was a country bar and if she hadn’t been there I probably would have laughed at how ridiculous he looked, trying to be “hip” in a definitely unhip city at a definitely unhip bar. She smirked at me, he looked guilty, and I cried into my gin and tonic until my friends took me home.
Before Thanksgiving he called me out of the blue. He wanted me to know that his “friend,” the girl from the Christmas card I had found in his car, was his new “roommate” and if I saw them around he didn’t want me to think “anything bad” was going on. I reminded him we were divorced and tried to brush it off, telling myself I didn’t care what he was doing without me.
And then one day I went to the bank that we still shared. Unfortunately for me he had used my car title to secure the loan on his dirt bike, and until one of us paid enough money to the bank to cause them not to need collateral anymore, I couldn’t get my title back...and between the divorce and tuition there was no money. He had also cleaned out our savings account to pay off “our bills,” however, the only credit cards he paid off were his own, and then the money was gone and I was fucked over all over again. Since it was clear he wasn’t going to pay to get my title released, and I wanted it back before he did something to really screw me over, my parents gave me the money and I trooped on over to the bank to try to get out from under our last shared pre-divorce obligation.
And there they were. I walked into the bank, digging through my purse for something, or maybe putting my keys away, and when I looked up they were sitting in the loan and mortgage area. She was tiny, with dark hair and wearing the same kinds of jeans that my mom wears for God’s sake, the ones with a yoke in the front, and a braided brown leather belt. She looked like a tiny perfect soccer mom who was just molting out of her high school cheerleader cocoon. Her arm was around his neck and they were sort of...nuzzling...definitely not in a “there’s nothing bad going on here” way. Immediately my mind went twenty different directions. Should I run? Why were they in the mortgage section? Were they BUYING A HOUSE? I walked over to the other side of the bank and paid off the portion of the dirt bike loan that needed to be paid, got my car title back, and skulked towards the front door, tears silently streaming down my cheeks. And then he saw me. He sort of half stood, and put his hand out as if to say “Wait, it’s not what it looks like! We’re just FRIENDS!” She of course ruined it for him by looking me right in the face and hanging on to his neck as he tried to get up, thereby ruining the illusion that she was anything but “something bad going on.”
I sat in my car for a long time, crying in huge racking sobs, feeling totally abandoned and alone. It was one thing to see the letters and card, to know that he was probably cheating on me, even to know he had probably been cheating on me LONG before the marriage ended...but it was an entirely new ballgame to see a new girl in MY place. All of the sudden it was real. He was living with her. She was having sex with him. He was kissing her neck and telling her he loved her and curling up with her on the couch to watch a movie and taking walks with her. He had betrayed my soul, and I really thought I would never mend sitting in the bank parking lot. Finally, someone tapped on my window and asked if I was OK and I was so humiliated I said my grandma had died and pulled away as fast as possible to go back to work.
But the bank, as it turned out, was the turning point. As I pulled out onto the road to go back to work I realized that if they walked out of that bank and were walking across the street, I would feel an overwhelming urge to hit him with my car. I was angry, and it was the best feeling I’d ever had.
I finally started to feel like a person again. My parents noticed it first and commented that I seemed “more like my old self.” I have always had sort of a bitingly sarcastic sense of humor (you may not have noticed), and suddenly it was back in full swing. I went on some dates. I got a haircut. I bought new clothes. I got back into school and made some friends my own age who I could do stuff with. I got rid of my horrible pot-smoking roommate that I hated and got my own tiny tiny place. But it was mine and I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do, ever. No one was the boss of me!
I took swing dancing lessons, golf lessons, boxing lessons, and started competing in running races. The real start of my running was then, the winter after the divorce. That is also when I applied to become an Air Force officer and was told I would be perfect except I was still too overweight. So, at the gym where I had taken boxing lessons, I signed up for a membership. And I have to credit the coaches at that gym with performing the single greatest physical and emotional transformation of my life. I had A LOT of pent up aggression, as I’m sure you can imagine, and I took to boxing like a fish takes to water. Between that and the running I lost about 50 pounds in a matter of months. And more importantly, I changed on the inside. None of the girls would do the focus mitts with me at the gym because I hit so hard I left bruises on their delicate little girly hands, so I started working out with the guys. I jumped rope, learning fancy steps and impressing even myself with my newfound coordination. I went to heavy bag classes and hit and hit and kicked and kicked until I couldn’t stand or lift my arms and I was covered in bruises from the bag. My coaches were impressed with how I had changed and commented often on my “inner strength” which thrilled me; I hadn’t even known I HAD inner strength!!
I was also running about 10 miles a day. Now, there’s probably an argument that I was overdoing it and had replaced one bad thing in my life with too much of another good thing. And that might be true. But, at the time, getting back my self-esteem and my ability to just be able to DO the things I wanted without feeling awkward and self-conscious was a dream come true. I also passed all my final Air Force weight checks and, after a couple of months living with my parents before Officer Training School started, went off to start a new future as a military officer.
I’ve said before that Officer Training School was really, really tough. And I’ve also said before that what helped me get through it was knowing that I had basically already been through the most physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding period that I could ever experience in this life. Who can complain about not getting enough sleep or getting yelled at for not marching right when they’re just happy not to be randomly running into their husband at the bank with his mistress sitting in his lap? Or coming home to find an empty shotgun box on the floor and worrying about a domestic ambush?
Perhaps the most satisfying part of the whole thing was that, on the Tuesday night before I left my college town for good to head to Alabama for OTS, I came home from the gym to find the Ex on my doorstep, wanting to show me his new "race car," an Acura he planned to take around the West Coast and drag race (something I had never "let" him do, being controlling about things like $60,000 cars on a $17,000 a year salary). He was shocked at how much weight I had lost, and my new short haircut (he’d always liked it long), and, I think, my inner confidence...now he could respect me because I wouldn't let him push me around, but I had far too much self-respect to ever be with him again...funny.
He begged me to come back to him. He explained to me, in vivid detail, all the problems with The Other Woman. She didn’t like sex. She nagged. She wasn’t fun. She was controlling. I just sat there, mouth agape; shocked that he couldn’t see that these are the exact same things he was presumably telling her about me while trying to get her to become his mistress! Funny how the grass wasn’t any greener. Anyway, it was Tuesday and unbeknownst to him I was moving away to start OTS that upcoming weekend. When I had mentioned joining the Air Force during our marriage he had laughed in my face and told me I was way too fat and out of shape, I’d never get in. Now I was off to become an officer and I desperately hoped I would run into him again someday and he’d have to salute me and call me Ma’am. I left without ever telling him I was going. No forwarding address, no contact, no nothing. I made a clean break.
During the week my friends came over and helped me move the few belongings I still had into storage. On Saturday morning I drove East out of my city, heading cross-country to Alabama to start my new life. My good friend from work had made me some mix CD’s for the journey and had even bought me a CD player for my car. It was my first cross-country drive alone and I loved every minute of solitude I had. I sang, stopped at truck stops, drank Diet Coke, watched sunrises and sunsets, stayed at nice hotels, and reveled in the newness of me and my life and where I was. It was such a great awakening, a few days on the road without anyone else, just thinking and driving and feeling. For the first time in a long time I was happy with what I heard in my head, and I was comforted. I hadn’t achieved inner peace or anything, and I don’t think I’m the type that ever will. But I could hear myself again, and it felt good to know I was still there.