I really, really tried not to panic. I mean, if he was OK enough to write a note, surely he wasn’t injured too horribly, or missing a hand, or passing out from blood loss. I threw my shoes back on and headed to the only hospital I could think of where he would have gone, the VA hospital attached to the base. Even though it was probably about 11pm, the ER waiting room was teeming with bleeding, vomiting, moaning, groaning, emergent humanity. I scanned the room, didn’t see him, and marched up to the desk, determined to find out where he was and keep control of the situation. X-ray. He was in X-ray. "Alright, I can handle that" I thought, "that could be anything, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a severed foot or a bashed in skull." His truck hadn’t been in the garage, I’d checked, so I figured he must have been mobile enough to drive himself, plus the note...all signs pointed towards something minor.
When I got to X-ray, he was sitting in a wheelchair, his arm propped up on a little tray on the side, with a towel covering what looked like a cantaloupe. I asked what the hell the huge thing on the tray was, and when he took away the towel, it was his wrist, swelled up to about 80 times its normal proportions. He had taken a header on his dirtbike, flipped over the handlebars, and landed on his wrist. Even an amateur could tell it was broken. And then some. This was the same husband who used my car title to secure the loan for the dirtbike, convincing me it was absolutely essential he buy one, using as a down payment some of the money he’d earned on his deployment. Feeling like he had a right to spend the money he’d earned serving in the desert on something fun for himself, I hadn’t put up too much of a fight, but the car title as collateral would come back to haunt me. He’d also, thankfully, been wearing a helmet. He hadn’t purchased one at the time he bought the dirtbike, saying they were “for pussies.” But, after I mentioned it to my parents, my dad sent him a hand-me-down motorcycle helmet that was really nice, and for some reason the Ex actually agreed to wear it. It probably saved his life, or at least his quality of life, that night.
I spent the night at the hospital, just sitting in the chair next to his bed, waiting...and waiting...and waiting. The guy in the next little curtained off area over was passing a kidney stone and it was the most godawful wailing I’ve ever heard in my life. “HOLYJESUSMARYMOTHEROFGODTHISFUCKINGHURTS.” It went on all night, punctuated occasionally with screams of agony and whispered prayers begging for a merciful and sudden death. Meanwhile, the doctor was hopping the Ex up on massive amounts of painkillers, ensuring that by the time we left I would be unable to get him in and out of the car, let alone from the car into bed. Eventually we made it home, and settled into eight weeks of middle-of-summer itchy cast-dom.
During the time he had the cast on I was basically relegated to a position somewhere between nursemaid and servant. When I pointed out that the painkillers shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol, I was told to mind my own fucking business. My raised eyebrow in response to his “cast modifications” elicited another remonstration to mind my own business. It was all I could do not to say “I know this will make me seem like I’m lording my intelligence and superior education over you, but I’m pretty sure when they put the cast on a certain way, they don’t mean for you cut huge sections out of it to make it ‘more comfortable.’” It was weird too, because during this time I remember thinking we were really starting to get along better. I could blame any crankiness or lashing out on his part on the fact that he was just frustrated with having to wear the cast, and I felt very needed, even if it was only to tape the plastic bag over the cast so he could take a shower. The summer was otherwise uneventful, and in my mind, I thought we were closer than we’d been in a long time.
The cast came off in mid-August, and to celebrate, we had a barbeque and invited all his friends from work. I was out of summer school, and fall semester of my senior year didn’t start for another couple of weeks, so I was just working and felt like I actually had extra time for once. We had probably 20 people over to the house, everyone drank beer and we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. It was fun and I basked in the glow of hosting a grown-up barbeque, with my husband, in my home...it was exactly what I had envisioned marriage to be. It was a Saturday.
On Monday I came home from work, put my stuff down, and walked into the bedroom to change. I was planning on taking advantage of not having to be at school and perhaps get some stuff done around the house...maybe even go to the mall and get some curtains for our bedroom. Now that we were getting along better, I thought it might be time to invest in some real decorations for the house, things to make it feel lived in, like it was really ours. I was surprised to find the Ex home, as I had for some reason thought he would be working.
He came out of the dreaded spare bedroom, walked right past me, and didn’t say a word. That seemed like a bad sign. I changed clothes and walked around the house until I found him, finally, in the kitchen, getting a hot dog out of the fridge from the leftovers of the barbeque.
I said “Hey, what’s up? I’m home, do you want to go shopping?”
And he turned around and just stared at me. I tried again, “You know, I thought maybe some new curtains for our bedroom would be fun, like maybe light blue or something?”
Finally, I said “What’s going on? Are you OK?”
He walked out of the kitchen and leaned against the back of the sofa, right near the front door, silently eating his hot dog and just staring at me with a look I now think of as “smoldering resentment.”
He said “Yeah, something is wrong.”
“What? Are you OK? Did something happen at work?”
“I got today off because I told them I had a family emergency.”
“Oh no, did something happen to your dad? Your brother?”
“Well, what happened?”
“I have to leave.”
“Where? Leave to go where?”
“Here. I’m leaving. I’m leaving you. Right now, today.”
I almost fell down, the weight of his words hit me so hard. “What do you mean, you’re leaving me?”
“I want a divorce. I’m leaving and I think we need to get a divorce.”
Immediately I sat down on the chair near the sofa and just sat there, empty, feeling like my soul had been ripped out through my throat. “Can’t we talk about this?” “No” he said. At the time, I actually remember saying, “I didn’t even know anything was wrong.” Which, of course, I did...even if I hadn’t admitted it yet.
I’m so ashamed, because I begged. I literally got down on my knees and clawed at the leg of his jeans, pleading with him not to go. Making promises. I could change. I would change. I would do anything. I would be anybody. I would lose weight, quit school, get a different job, anything, just please please please don’t leave. I cried, huge round silver tears that made the side of his pants leg wet where my face was pressed against it. I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe, I hyperventilated, finally ending up in a ball on the floor, forehead resting on the cold tile, shoulders hunched over, chest heaving, holding on to his shoe. And the whole time, he stared at me, impassive, eating a leftover hot dog while my world ended.
Finally he shook his foot free, like he was trying to dislodge an errant piece of gum, and put his hand on the doorknob, the cue that he actually was physically going to leave right that very minute. I felt like time had frozen, I couldn’t move or speak or take any positive action to stop him, and as he walked out the door I just sat there on the floor and watched him leave. When the door slammed behind him and I heard his truck start up and then pull away I slowly got up and walked over to the phone.
I picked it up and for the first time in almost two years, one week before the start of my senior year of college, 21 months into my first marriage, at the age of 21, I called my parents and told them I wasn’t OK.
As soon as my mom picked up the phone I sank down onto the floor against the wall, sobbing uncontrollably, not even able to speak.
“E. Spat? Sweetie, is that you? What’s wrong? Are you OK? What’s wrong?”
“He left me. He left me and he wants a divorce. He left me.”
“Oh, oh God, wait, I need to get your dad. Oh no, he’s at the carwash, I’m going to get your dad and we’ll call you right back.”
“No..no mom...” ***click***
About five minutes later the phone rang, and it was my dad.
“He just left and he said he wants a divorce, I don’t even know where he went. I don’t understand. Where did he go? Why is this happening to me? Why? He just left me. Just like that!”
“Honey, we love you, do you need your mom to come out there? She can be on the next plane.”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand what’s happening. How can he just leave? I’m his wife. He lives here, how could he just leave? He wants a divorce.”
Eventually I calmed down a little bit, and it was so much worse. Once the hysteria passed I felt like I had been hit by a Mack Truck. I shivered and cried and rocked back and forth and cried some more. I cried so hard I threw up. My entire life was over, the one person who I loved more than anyone else on earth, my soulmate, the man who was to be the father of my children, my companion and protector, lover and best friend, had walked out the door without even a word as to where he would be, telling me he didn’t want to talk about it, his mind was made up, we were over. Just like that. Over. I had left my family and friends, my full-ride scholarship to a good university, the job that I loved, and moved cross-country to be with him. I had given up everything and he was leaving me. I remember my parents asking me if I could call someone to come over and be with me and I couldn't think of one person, my world was so small, in fact, it was one person, him.
We decided my mom wouldn’t come out. I called my parents probably eight times that night, sobbing into the phone, just needing to feel like there was somebody there. I went to work the next day because I thought if I stayed home in the empty house all day I might go crazy, or worse. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened because I didn’t want it to be awkward for them if we got back together and this was all just a phase he was going through. I waited by the phone, my breath hitching sharply every time it rang. He didn’t call. When I got home, some of his stuff was gone, but he wasn’t there.
He finally showed up that next night, wanting to pack up his work stuff and the things he needed to get through the immediate future. I stood around, trying to look nonchalant, dying inside. Which was strange, because I hadn’t thought I could die anymore, but, as it turned out, there were still tiny pieces of me full of hope and life, struggling to break through to the surface, but they wouldn't last long, it was a harsh environment. And, when it was time for him to go I said “So, you’re really leaving?” This time, when he turned around he had tears in his eyes, “Sometimes I really miss you. Can I get a hug?” So I gave him a hug. He whispered into my ear, “I really do miss you, sometimes.” And then his hand lingered on my back, sneaking up the back of my shirt, “I miss this.” A tentative kiss, a lingering kiss, exploring the possibilities, exploring my pliability to his needs.
And I gave in. No, I didn’t give in. I gratefully accepted what he was willing to give. This was my power, the thing I could do for him that no one else could. Of course that wasn't true, but I still believed in true love. In soulmates. That if we made love the simple transcendence of the experience would remind him of how we could be magical together. We went to the bedroom and afterwards, as he got up and started to button his jeans, I patted the bed and sleepily said “You should just stay here. You don’t need to leave now, everything is going to be fine. It was just a fight, and I know you weren’t happy, but we can fix it! We can go back to counseling and learn to communicate and everything can work out the way we dreamed it would.”
He stood there, no shirt, top button of his jeans still undone, and said “This doesn’t change anything. We always did have great sex though, huh?”