Four years ago I spent the Academy Awards alone, in a hospital room, nearing the end of my stay, live Tweeting the festivities out of boredom and a need to connect with the outside world. I may have thought I was more clever than I was due to large amounts of steroids and some painkillers too.
I still have some PTSD from the events, which I’ve written about before. This piece however, I performed at a storytelling evening on stage in Los Angeles. On this most unfortunate anniversary, I thought I’d share here too.
Note: This is, of course, my own version of the events. I didn’t fact check them, I took them from memory and personal experience. I’m sure others involved in this story would disagree.
I will never forget the stunned and horrified looks on the construction workers faces as they watched, frozen, while I attacked my husband’s Ferrari in our driveway with a beach chair. Then I swung at his vintage convertible, all the while hurling insults at him and screaming like a banshee.
I’ve heard that many women become their best selves in the moment of crisis. They harness their inner strength, pull themselves up, and start fresh like a phoenix rising from the ashes. I, instead, chose to lose my shit. My husband of twelve years, partner of fifteen and father of our two small boys, had just announced he was leaving me.
Six months earlier, we’d argued over the fact that he wanted me to keep our boys, three and five-years-old, completely silent on a six hour car drive the day before Thanksgiving so that he could be on business calls with his family undetected. We fought the entire trip, which led to him moving out and looking for his own place. After a few days away from our family home, and a heart to heart, he came back and we decided to try again. As a “lets start fresh” gift, I made a Thanksgiving dinner from scratch, to make up for the one we ruined with fighting on our trip. He gave me a $10,000 Rolex.
The watch was beautiful, but so not me. I wore clothes from Old Navy and drove an American SUV. He, who rotated European luxury cars and had a personal shopper at Barney’s, loved his Rolex. After our wedding, when we’d had to return gifts for cash to pay rent, we’d dreamed of having money. But over the years he became much more about having a lavish lifestyle.
Meanwhile, I was just trying to get through life as a stay-at-home mom to my boys. I appreciated not having to worry about money. But it wasn’t the most important thing in my life. I became very involved in a local charity group and the kids schools. He enjoyed the grand gesture of dropping large donations and getting noticed. We were growing apart as both people and partners.
Our reconciliation was visible daily on my Rolex’d wrist, if nowhere else. We weren’t fighting or arguing, we were just co-existing with a passing interest in our kids and dogs. I wasn’t in love, but I wasn’t in hate, either. I was too young for my husband to be a passionless roommate. I thought about leaving, just getting in my car and driving away. But I couldn’t leave my kids and couldn’t really imagine being without him. Life with him was familiar, even if it was far from loving.
One morning, a couple of weeks after a perfunctory Valentine’s Day dinner out, my nose started bleeding, a condition of my recently diagnosed rare autoimmune disease. The bleeding didn’t stop for over 18 hours. The next morning, surrounded by a pool of my own blood, I told my husband to call 911. He thought I was overreacting but eventually relented.
In the emergency room I was hooked up to an IV bag of blood, the first of six transfusions, and my husband was pleading to go back to work to meet a deadline. I told myself that there wasn’t technically anything he could do.
I spent a week in the hospital. He came back twice. I rationalized his absence, thinking he couldn’t babysit me all day and get work done. But still, I knew. He didn’t even pretend to care.
Once released, he dropped me at home and returned to work within an hour. I felt abandoned and scared but didn’t want to come across as needy. I wanted him to take care of me because he wanted to, because he loved me now, had loved me once or at least because I was the mother of his children. We were family.
On Cinco de Mayo, my rheumatologist called with lab results while I was running errands, declaring I was at risk for a brain bleed and needed to go to Cedars-Sinai. Immediately. A native Angeleno, I knew better than to go to Cedars on a drinking holiday. I was also sick of being a victim to my disease, so I went home. My less alarmist hematologist felt I’d be ok overnight if I stayed in bed and kept my blood pressure down. My husband, meanwhile, carried on with his party plans, but just to be “safe,” he taught my five-year-old how to dial 911 in case I needed help, then left. I felt less than human, but it’s hard to find the strength to walk away when you can barely stand.
Two weeks later, just after our twelve year wedding anniversary, I’d finally gotten around to moving forward with the legal division of assets that my lawyer husband had drafted and hounded me about for months. I was starting a new writing venture that could make me vulnerable to lawsuits and he wanted to make sure our family was protected.
I expected it to be a list of who owned what and for things to be moved around so they’d be protected. We technically both owned everything together since we’d started out with nothing. Instead I was shocked when what I read was not a document designed to protect our family but actually was a post-nuptial agreement meant to destroy it. I was being screwed over.
If I signed, I’d be waiving my legal rights under California law. I realized he was planning to leave me and he had been for months. And he probably thought I wasn’t smart enough to notice. But I was, and I did.
I called him, hysterical and yelling “This isn’t a division of assets! This is setting me up to divorce me to your advantage!” He called me paranoid. I refused to sign it and hung up. We cut wide paths around each other at home, not talking. After five days of this, he told me he was in fact divorcing me and moved out forever.
He tried not only to cheat the children and me of what was legally ours with his underhanded post-nup attempt, he also tried to cheat the system by underreporting his income. He declared he made a mere $50,000 per year, an eighth of what he actually earned as the head of his own large law firm, but he still showed up at mediation in his Ferrari. Getting half of that, I wouldn’t even have been able to pay my sons tuitions. It took a forensic accountant weeks,but he was finally able to prove that my husband had lied about his earnings.
My husband also did the more traditional kind of cheating. My “lets start fresh” Rolex from after Thanksgiving was actually a guilt gift after he’d taken up with the woman who’d shown him apartments months ago.
He stole my future, my family, my identity. I felt like I’d just wasted nearly two decades, and my children had been cheated of an intact family and everything they were promised at birth.
There were so many lies. Ironically, the biggest lie in the marriage meltdown was the one I initially told myself: that I lost everything when he left. Yes, he lied, cheated and stole. But I’d done those things to myself for far longer. In fact, though it took me months to realize it, my divorce was the best thing that could have happened to me. Thank God he had the guts to leave. I could have never gone through with it and I’m grateful that he did.
I lied to myself all those years when I thought I couldn’t live without him. I cheated myself of a loving, respectful relationship. I stole my own dreams and goals, settling instead. I was both the victim and the perpetrator in my empty marriage and it’s long overdue ending.
When he left, he took his clothes, his cars and his wine. I kept our kids and everything else. Within two years he was remarried and had a new baby. I spent two years thinking about the life I wanted next. I was thinking about me for the first time in a long time. I didn’t need someone to rescue me. I was saving myself this time.