It was the shock of it, I think. The surprise of learning my high school sweetheart-turned-husband had cheated and was promptly leaving our family that propelled me to drop to my knees and plead for my marriage. I became a hypocrite. A fool. I had always been crystal clear. I had issued the warning like so many women do: “Cheat on me and you will be out on the street.” I talked a good game all right. Until that moment arrived and there I was, pathetic, begging a man who had shown me the utmost in disrespect to give our marriage another try. Even so, no matter what I said, and no matter how convincingly I said it, he never wavered in his decision. Not once.
“There’s too much water under the bridge,” he repeated over and over in a vacant tone suddenly foreign to me.
I thought I was going to die with each unfaltering denial. It didn’t seem real regardless of how many times I heard the words. So I stopped asking for that chance. I didn’t understand anyway. What did he mean? What water? How much was too much? We had a life together. Children. A home. Dreams. A future. Or so I thought.
The months that immediately followed are a blur to me now. A fog of tears, nausea, more tears, weight loss, self-deprecation, and depression. I could see no end in sight, only a lifetime of dreariness ahead.
But that was not to be my journey.
Somehow I slowly found my way. Little outings that, at the time, felt monumental: a trip to the supermarket, coffee with a friend, a routine dental appointment. Until one day I was living again, insignificance and significance all wrapped up into one solitary existence. Being single was possible after all, and the prospect a little less loathsome with every step I took.
My ex and I are on pretty good terms these days. We are able to joke around when we speak. Admittedly, we still have our moments of discord, mostly stemming from my criticism of his chosen residence thousands of miles from our children. As I watch my kids struggle with the separation, I often fail at staying silent. But this Friday when we celebrate together our eldest daughter’s graduation from middle school, followed by a dinner with my extended family (we are so progressive), I will hold my tongue. Though it angers me he doesn’t spend more time with our children, and misses their school functions and sporting events regularly, I feel my children’s longing for this man they love so dearly, and I long for his daily presence in their lives.
“But do you miss him?” a friend asked last week of my ex husband as I updated her with our present bi-continental living situation. Interestingly, no one had ever posed that exact question to me before, which is surprising because it is such an obvious one.
I paused, not sure how to answer, not confident if I at that moment yet knew the answer myself.
“No,” I finally offered matter-of-factly. “I don’t miss him. What I miss is the life we once shared together.”
But I am well aware no number of family vacations, nights spent on the couch watching television alongside one another, and Saturday nights out with our other coupled friends could ever fill the void created by a loveless marriage, cure the years spent drifting apart, set all of the wrongs of our past right again.
My ex husband was correct. There was a lot of water under that proverbial bridge. But he was wrong, too. It wasn’t how much water there was under the bridge that made me no longer want him. It was how far off into the distance that bridge stretched, and how difficult a trip it was to reach the other side.
But I made it.
Today there’s no way I could ever go back. Nor would I want to because, frankly, the view from the far side of that bridge is, to put it mildly, awe-inspiring. Much like a scared young bird that spreads its wings for the very first time, I realize now I am no longer afraid of heights and am finally ready to soar.