Within a couple of days I found out he was living in the dorms on base. At first we talked on the phone, trying to figure out who would get what, who would call a lawyer, where we would each live. We were going to have an “amicable” divorce. A “friendly” divorce. I stayed in the base house, in the spirit of amicable-ness he told me to stay as long as I needed to until I found a place to live. After all, my senior year of college was starting in just a couple of days.
I was exhausted. Every day I would get up, go to work, try to be brave and stoic and not look like the emotional trainwreck I actually was. When I got home I would stand under in shower until I was lobster red, crying myself hoarse, missing him so bad it filled up my lungs until I felt like I couldn’t get any oxygen. At night I would sit in front of the TV like a zombie, totally alone. I had always made friends pretty easily, being an outgoing and gregarious sort of girl, but I had spent all my time and energy focusing on my marriage and I had just sort of neglected to make friends. Besides, no one wants to be around the couple that is always fighting, or even worse, the couple who isn't fighting but isn't speaking either. Or, God forbid, the long-suffering martyr of a wife, smiling through the pain like some kind of demented Lifetime Movie Network downtrodden victim.
I didn’t want to burden my parents. I still thought we might get back together and I didn’t want to create a situation where they could never forgive him for what he’d done to me. So, I sort of suffered in silence, just me and the TV. I slept on the couch, not wanting anything to do with our bed, or our bedroom...so many memories there. The most special thing about marriage to me had always been sleeping next to someone, all warm and safe, and the bed was the symbol of that ideal, that wish for stability and security. I would avoid it until I got so tired that I would just crash down, usually during a weekend day, and sleep for hours, waking up groggy and sweating, twisted up in the sheets and even more tired than I had been before my sleep.
At times I would get so depressed I worried for my own safety, and that’s when I would call my parents or M., first pretending to be fine and eventually having total breakdowns that went on for hours with me sobbing hysterically and them gently trying to tell me it would be alright.
School started back the week after he left me and for once I was happy to be working during the day and going to school at night, the less time I spent at home alone the happier I was. I threw myself into my schoolwork, determined not to get terrible grades just because of everything that was going on. I had been on the Dean's List every semester and academic success was one of the few things I had that was all mine and that I felt like I deserved.
We went and saw a lawyer. He wanted a $1500 retainer just to do a simple uncontested divorce which I thought was total bullshit, and I ended up finding us a female lawyer in a seedy office downtown who was willing to do the whole thing for $272. What a deal. I typed up a sheet of everything we owned and we agreed for the most part who would get what. I remember just sitting and boiling over with resentment that HE was leaving ME and I was having to do all the paperwork, find the lawyer, and pay for the goddamn divorce!
He got the brand new VCR because he had won it working at Best Buy as a bonus for some employee of the month thing. He didn’t have time to come by the house and get it, so on the appointed day I took it over to his dorm room to drop it off. When he opened the door he looked great, like he was on vacation. He smiled at me, welcomed me in, showed me around. Like we were the best of friends. The whole time I just held on to that stupid VCR and tried not to do anything embarrassing, like have a complete and total nervous breakdown right in front of him. Finally he gestured to his desk and told me to put the VCR down and when I cleared away the papers and books, a small Polaroid photo sort of scooted right out from beneath his stuff on the edge of the desk. A girl. In lingerie. An Air Force girl that I knew from his unit, bad skin, bleached hair with dark greasy roots, and, apparently, a taste for Wal-Mart lingerie. I immediately put the VCR down and bolted for the door. He grabbed my arm and threw out a line I had heard before -- “It’s just a joke! She gave that to one of my friends and he thought it was funny so he passed it me! She’s a joke!” When I jerked my arm free and started to open the door he reached around me, slamming it shut. “I thought we were going to be friends! I thought this was going to be ‘amicable!’” I must have looked like I had swallowed my tongue because he just stared at me for a minute like he couldn’t believe I was really upset. Finally I pulled open the door and said something really profound like “Well, clearly not as good of friends as you and she are!” The one time in my life I didn't have a witty retort. But hey, what can I say? I was tired.
The separation dragged on, well, not really, it was only a few weeks, but it felt like forever. As it did, the divorce became less and less amicable. While we waited for the paperwork to go through, he started calling me, starting fights and disagreements over petty things. One day he called me 17 times, finally telling me I had one week to get out of the house because it was base housing and he was the military member and he alone had the power to decide my fate as far as housing issues.
I’m not sure what made that day different, normally I might have taken it from him, just going along and trying to keep the peace. Maybe it’s because he was out of the house and already my soul was starting to heal, being the resilient little creature that it is. But, I hung up on him, called my dad, a full Colonel to his Airman, and said, very calmly, “He says I have to be out of the house in a week. I just paid my tuition and books. He bought a computer on my credit card less than a week before he walked out on me, so I don't even have any credit. School just barely started. The divorce isn’t final, and I have no place to go.” And my dad, bless his heart, said, very calmly, “Hang on one minute.” And then he called the housing office at our base, told them who he was, and let them know I would be staying in base housing. As long as I wanted. It was spectacular, but not without a downside.
First came the visits. Because we were "friends," the Ex thought it would be nice to drop in and visit. Whenever he felt like it. So, there I would be, in the shower, or sleeping, or eating, and he would use his key, let himself in, turn the TV on and just hang out in “his house.” He took to running radar for speed traps from our driveway. That way he could use the bathroom in the house and play nintendo on his frequent breaks. He would even have the nerve to ask me to get him a Coke or bring him out a snack.
One day I came home from work and there was an empty box on the floor for a shotgun. Empty. My stomach twisted into such a complicated knot I probably could have sold the design to the Navy. “Great” I thought, “I’m going to be ‘that girl,’ the one who gets blown away by her abusive husband when she’s not even wearing good underwear and she’s 50 pounds overweight and everyone will remember how horrible I looked before I died and how I cried all the time and always had a runny nose and had to put lotion on eyes like some kind of scaly freak.” As it turned out, he was going to “store” the gun in “his house” because it wasn’t allowed in his dorm room. Into the spare bedroom it went, joining God knows what else in the Closet 'O' Doom. He also started calling my work voicemail and hanging up. Often I would get into work in the morning and hear this – “You have...THIRTY SEVEN...new messages...BEEP.”
Around the end of September I found a girl at work who needed a roommate. I was finally ready to move out, so I set a date and let him know that he should notify base housing that I was moving out of “his house.” He called me back and told me that before I moved he needed me to go through all the rooms and boxes and separate out his Air Force stuff because he didn’t want me to accidentally take it. He also needed me to make up a uniform for him for the next day because he had an "important meeting" and all the stuff for his nice uniform was in the dread spare room. He would be by in the morning and he expected a uniform to be ready.
I took every drawer and every box that was his, dumped it all into three Hefty bags, and left it by the front door in the morning. When I got home that night there was a message on the answering machine. “You complete fucking whore. You bitch. Because of you I had to go before the promotion board without my nametag and medals on my uniform because I couldn’t find them in the fucking bags you put my stuff in. I TOLD YOU to put my stuff together for me. It’s the only thing I’ve asked you to do during this whole thing and you’re such a complete fucking bitch that you had to screw up the one thing in my life that was going good, you took away the only thing I had going for me. I hope you’re happy you bitch.” And, honestly, I was. Kind of. A little scared too, but secretly sort of satisfied, finally I had hit him where it hurt.
The last week I was on base was tense. The Ex, true to his frequent threats, had convinced some of his fellow cops to harass me, just a little, just to let me know he knew where I was and what I was up to. I got pulled over every time I came home, and then I would patiently sit while the cop pretended not to know who I was, ran my license, and eventually let me off with a vague warning about “watching my driving on base.” In the morning, the Ex would call, ranting and raving about how I was making him look bad with my reckless driving and didn’t I know that my actions as a dependent reflected on him and wasn’t it bad enough that I’d cost him a promotion, now I was trying to get him kicked out of the military.
Thankfully not all his friends bowed to his requests to make my life miserable. The one girlfriend I had on base was the wife of a friend of his, and thankfully her husband actually came over and helped me move. It was an act of kindness that I’ll never forget, this friend of the Ex’s taking apart our bed and hauling the mattresses in his truck to the dump while I piled boxes into the U-haul truck, trying to get over the emotional hurdle of needing to take things because I couldn’t afford new stuff, and not wanting to take anything because it all reminded me of him, or us, or our life together.
I settled into the new place. I bought a treadmill and started running and walking while I watched TV. I called up a guy I had worked with at the runaway shelter who I knew had a huge crush on me, and then I slept with him on the first date after four gin and tonics for courage. It felt so good to have someone tell me I was beautiful, to have someone new and different in bed. It only happened a couple of times but it temporarily made a world of difference in how I felt about myself, even though the guy was, frankly, probably just as big of a creep as the Ex. He just wasn’t my creep to deal with, and that was nice.
Unfortunately, after the inital heady pleasure of my own little mini-sexual revolution, I was crushed by thunderous waves of guilt. I was an adulteress. I had slept with someone besides my husband while I was still married. I was pretty sure they stoned women for that in the Bible. In my naive mind I had been all, "I can separate love from sex! I'm a modern woman, I can do what I want and not get hurt because I know the difference!!" But, really the problem wasn't separating love from sex, the problem was putting them together in the same act. In fact, that might still be the problem.
The morning that we had to go sign the divorce papers the Ex called me and said he wanted us to ride down to the lawyer’s office together. He thought we needed the closure, we needed to have one last time to talk as a married couple. He picked me up at work in his truck, and, in one of the most surreal moments of my life, he got out of the truck, handed me a single red rose, opened my door for me and then waited until I put my seatbelt on to shut the door behind me. He’d never been that considerate while we were married, often having bouts of road rage that would have terrified the Hells Angels, but apparently he was pulling out all the stops for the divorce. We signed the papers and I have to admit I was a little shocked at how easy it all was. You walk in married, sign your name a couple of times, and walk out divorced. If I remember right it had been just a matter of weeks since we had made the big decision and it felt like a whirlwind, I couldn’t believe it was already done. On the way back to my office I finally took off my rings and put them in my purse, staring at the white indented flesh on my ring finger, silently rubbing it, wondering how long it would take for the telltale mark to go away. A really long time.
He dropped me off, came around and let me out of the truck in the exact reverse of the pre-divorce door opening ritual. I left the rose in the truck, got out, stiffly endured an overly friendly hug considering the situation, and went back to my office, right back to work like I had just had a leisurely lunch with friends instead of signing away my claim on eternal love. When I left work that day the rose was on my car, stuck under the windshield wiper, wilted in the hot southwestern sun, with a note that said “I love you.” I crumpled the note up and threw it away, right on top of rose, already black from the sun and rotten around the edges.