Megan Wildhood

All Of It, Not Clear But Solid

                There is no fun in leaving your husband. But there is, evidently in saying goodbye to a city you strove to make your home for the last 12.5 years, which is almost your whole adult life, even if you choose that city at random—you were there on one of its five sunny days when you were 17 on a special father-daughter road trip. So much fun that, the day my best friend arrived from Texas to help me tie up all the loose ends of my life in Seattle served as a memory flasher: everything I had ever minorly enjoyed about this city blared over all the reasons I had made the choice to leave. It abruptly made no sense what I was doing, what I was asking my diamond of a friend, who you’ll know as Doctor for the remainder of our time together, to help me with. Pick up things I’d left at my job. Check my mail for the last time. Double check my apartment to make sure I’d really gotten everything out since I couldn’t count on my husband to be cooperative after I was gone—in my absence is when he took his true actions. Return my copy of the key to the only apartment I had moved in at the same time as the guy I’d married six years before.
                I had only felt this big of an emotional switch after it was too late to reverse a decision once before because I am a stridently logic-oriented person who gives zero hoots if the truth hurts your or my or anyone else’s feelings. At least according to the personality tests. The Only Other Switch was after I moved to Washington from Colorado, but it wasn’t this potent, this physical. It was more “I better make friends or go back home” than “what the fuck did I do? No! No! Make it stop!” And the first one went away. I settled here. And now I’m releasing my two purple suitcases, part of a four-piece set my aunt and uncle gave as a wedding gift, to the baggage folks at Southwest so they can get to Columbus? As the few people I remained close enough to in Seattle to share the real story with said, heads cocked, “Ohio?” My two most supportive friends had been assuring me that my tiredness and all-over-the-placeness and fragility was because I was making a huge decision with several huge implications; I did not feel that hugeness until I couldn’t reverse it.
                My cognition got hoarse enough at the airport on the last day of January 2019 that I couldn’t hear it anymore. Reasons for relocating to Central Ohio? Ending my mockery of a marriage? Starting over in a place that isn’t hell bent against community? No match, any of it, for my erstwhile nonexistent love for Seattle. The plane bounced on the runway in Denver for my layover five hours later and I knew I’d fucked up my life forever. I’d been excited the entire month of January and then I had to say goodbye to my therapist.
                It was only a partial goodbye—we’d still Skype, though it would only be every other week even after I got a job because health insurance only covers in-person sessions because even insurers know Skype is not the same—and still, it was the hardest damn thing I’d had to do at that point. I cried more over leaving his physical presence than I have yet to over the end of my marriage, which either means I’m a monster or I’m actually capable of attachment and connection if the conditions are right. Getting on that plane quickly hit first place as hardest thing ever. Only three people knew why I was doing that—Doctor, my friend who’d be picking me up in Columbus, and God.
                When that friend, Longest Friend, in Columbus first told me a couple months before that she’d found a place for me to stay near her in Ohio and would pay my moving expenses, rent and some of my living expenses until I got a job after a season of rest and let me drive one of her cars for a while, I had been convinced that leaving Seattle and ending my marriage was the worst idea ever. Or at least that I wouldn’t actually do it. It wasn’t that I knew yet that I actually loved Seattle, it’s that I keep my word. I’m strong. It’s not that bad here. I can get anything I need without a car. The weather occasionally doesn’t bother me. There is ice cream made of Chaga mushrooms and fudge. There is big water that lusters even in the oppressivest of fogs. Compost is compulsory and plastic bags are banished. I have an adrenal-fatigue-promoting but service-oriented job like I’ve always wanted and I only get gaslighted when my supervisor’s on shift. Friends I see sometimes. Wizard of a therapist it took me half my life to find. I can do this until the change my husband, Mr. Christian to you, has articulately expressed verbally and in writing multiple times he knows is necessary comes. God hates divorce. Does a decade-plus count for nothing? It’s not that bad here.
                And then one day, nothing changed. And then again. And another day. It kept happening. Nothing kept happening and, as Longest Friend persistently but gently pointed out, it would continue to, reminding me of the many things I’d told her over the last ten years of this relationship: before we were married, breaking up with me in the name of God because of a “prophetic word” he got from a woman in the church who had made it known upon my arrival that she did not care for me; “I felt no love for you on our wedding day,” which Mr. Christian said during one of our fights about why he desired to reconcile so quickly with our pastor after our pastor had told me he’d had feelings for me and that it was my fault; “If it wasn’t for Jesus, I would have left,” which Mr. Christian said on Christmas Day 2015 when we were visiting his family in California; “One date night a month is too much,” which Mr. Christian said during the lunch break of the first day of the marriage workshop put on by the Gottman Institute we paid $600 to attend in 2016; “I’ve been thinking about divorce for a while,” which he informed me of during a fight prompted by him showing up at one of my poetry readings after he had learned of my suicide attempt earlier that week in 2018, abruptly ceased communication with me, contacted my therapists and didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day until the poetry reading. Sprinkled throughout the time between these greatest hits: “You’re too intelligent/articulate/smart/ emotional for me. Go find someone else,” which Mr. Christian said only sometimes in fights.
                His template of handling conflicts between me and others is that after he learns a conflict has occurred, he doesn’t ask my side but instructs me that the other party is correct and that I need to seek more information, even if this is one of those opportunities for standing up for me he has recently acknowledged is “crucial for the health of our marital union.” His template for commitments: verbally state his intentions to do something, not do it for two years, pity himself as he subjects himself to my suggestion of a to-do list, recommit, pattern repeats even with a running list. Sex was difficult for me because I have various sensory and emotional issues with physical touch: I pursued therapy and read all the books and articles I could find because that’s what I do when I have a problem: I read all the things. He gave up.
                If the emotional damage of leaving the room whenever your wife is crying isn’t enough, Mr. Christian has committed property damage – public and his own – before in unexpected bursts of anger. He’s thrown his bike against a lamp post and into the street, he’s slammed a glass bottle onto his laptop and onto concrete in public, but they were never directed at my physical person until after the first day of the second marriage workshop ($900) put on by the Gottman Institute. The fight was over him not wanting to spend the $20 each way on a car2go, which would get us home in a third of the time and 100% of the warmth public transit would on a weekend. He didn’t ask if we could talk when we get home or pull over, he just swerved to switch lanes, causing the car behind us to slam its brakes and almost get rear-ended by the car behind it. Then he merged aggressively and clipped the bumper of the car in front of us. He’s a helpful, courteous person, of course, so he waved and pointed to the shoulder, ready to pull over and exchange information with a stranger, but the other car didn’t stop.
                Mr. Christian repeated “I don’t know what to do” almost as often as I clearly and directly, hint-free, repeated my needs, which was apparently so often that they, like a word said over and over again, lost all meaning (to him). He initiated our first separation on the first Valentine’s Day after our wedding. He didn’t tell me where he was for three days and then informed me of his plans by CC’ing me on an email to a couple on the elders team at the church we had just left asking if he could stay with them for a while. That one lasted 11 months. I called for the second one after the comment about Jesus being the only thing keeping him with me because staying with someone only “because of Jesus” is not about Jesus or the person you’re claiming to stay with because of Jesus; that’s about you and your ego.
                Then there was the squadron of therapists. Margaret, who we saw for five months during our engagement, blamed all our issues on my failure to manage anger (she didn’t specify whether it was mine or his or both). Juliana (ten sessions during our first separation) was impotent because she only saw what everyone else saw: the surface dynamic of Big Bully Megan kicking Poor Puppy Mr. Christian. Danny (four months after our first reunion) wouldn’t shut the crap up and judged me the way most men have: emotional, irrational, high maintenance and needy, which translated to invalidation and dismissal the way only white-male-ego-powered Christian therapy could. Kathleen (eight sessions just before our second separation) might have worked but Mr. Christian didn’t do anything she suggested and I tired pretty quickly of doing the relational work for two people. Helen (almost two years during the end of our second separation and into our second reunion) told me not to take Mr. Christian’s actions personally and wanted to help me move my feet out of Mr. Christian’s way so he wouldn’t step on them rather than teach Mr. Christian how to dance. Actual dancing is something I loved and longed to do, as were a number of things I don’t at the time of this writing remember because what Mr. Christian pursued with me was sketching me, which meant me sitting still for long stretches of time or risk ruining his work as if he would have otherwise not resentfully and constantly complained about how terrible of an artist he was (he was not and everyone could see it but he would take influence from no one), hiking, which I did learn to love, and camping, which left my scoliotic back in breath-stealing pain for days and triggered my Reynaud’s syndrome worse than single-digit temperatures: I hadn’t gotten symptomatic in my toes before. To top all that off, when I told him I was moving out, he never asked where I was going or clarified what that meant for our relationship and has not attempted any sort of reconciliation. The main point, Longest Friend got me to realize, was that, the whole relationship with Mr. Christian, which started in September of 2007, felt like his promise at the altar to stand by me was more of a “standby.”
                But weren’t relationships hard? There’s no perfect mate. You don’t find the one, you make the one. Plus, there were plenty of ugly things I contributed, too: a hot temper/quick to anger/impatience, being not always truthful about big things, moodiness/Major Depression, a propensity to hide/a desire for more privacy than is appropriate in a marriage situation, selfishness/laziness, a recorder for a brain, which can look like and sometimes become a craving to keep a record of wrongs, a need to rehash old incidents whenever a new one in the same vein transpires, reluctance to apologize, black-or-white thinking/rigidity/demand to follow rules, as Mr. Christian put it, a lack of natural nurturing ability—and, as I put it, a lack of desire to perform/fake such a task.
                No, Longest Friend said. No. This is not okay. This is abuse. Emotional neglect is abuse.
                She’s about the best person to walk you through something like this you could ask for because she’d been through something similar with her first husband. Still, I wanted to be surer than it seemed I was going to be, so it was hard to press ahead with cross-country moving prep.
                And then one day – the last day of a mini retreat I’d planned for myself in the middle of January to get through my last two weeks of Seattle, Mr. Christian noticed suspicious charges on our bank account. He split our joint savings, checking and money market accounts, which had been depleted by these mystery charges to much lower than our previously agreed-on amounts, to accounts that, he wrote in his explanation email, only he controlled. “I’m not willing to be vulnerable to not having money in our account when I need it.” Then, after he’d moved the money and left me with the accounts still being overdrawn by fraudulent charges, he asked me not if I’d initiated these charges, but to confirm that I had. I had not. But one thing I did have then was the certainty I’d forgone about leaving. I couldn’t wait to leave.
                A few days before the leaving, I dropped in on an old professor who had long ago become a surrogate pastor and papa to me and answered his questions, which are famously good for sparking introspection and self reflection, with astonishing confidence.
                “Are there people there who will listen to you the way you need to be heard?”
                “As far as I know, at least one. But technology makes it so that the people who can hear me don’t have to be in the same state, let alone the same room.” We still don’t have the technology that helps people in the same room hear each other yet.
                He nods, satisfied more with my courage to go find out than the number of people I can for sure count on. “How much of this is escape and how much of this is testing your wings?”
                “Thirty and seventy percent, respectively.” I was actually sure those percentages weren’t reversed at the time, sure enough to convince Papa Bear who’d known me a decade.
                And then, onelastFedExrungoingawaypartyatworklastdayofworklastnightinapartment-lasttherapysessionflightchangeastworkoutinmyhomegymmushroomicecreamruneyeglassespickup time-unit later, I was no longer ready to go, just as convinced that I should stay as I was days ago that I was ready to peace out. How in any actual hell do people make decisions? I wish I’d known sooner about this endogenous discontent that binds us wretched humans to only love a receding thing or, as Counting Crows sings, don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone? Or maybe it’s the possibly displaced grief over breaking a commitment to Seattle. My longing for longevity is a way the image of God shows up in me, but what happened to me that I think time is all it takes to ratify realness? Just like time does not heal all wounds, time alone is not enough for commitment. Maybe I had spent more of mine in Seattle and in situations that weren’t good for me out of inertia rather than intentionality. Also, waiting for something shows your commitment to it; making someone wait for something you promised them shows precisely the opposite.
                There is no philosophizing away these feelings in this body, though. This is the bright rock of grief, which may be a diamond, but how would you know if it stays lodged in your guts? Plus, I find diamonds glinty and pretty but, as center stones, overused, the easy way out. Mr. Christian got the symbol of his commitment to me—the ring, if little else, right: a sapphire that is different shades of bright purple in every light. The wedding band curls like a Puget-Sound wave around it, seed diamonds halfway around each white-gold circle because little things are never little things.
                Doctor, who traveled a time zone to help me carry out the plans I made for leaving knows what’s up, not just because she witnessed the close of my time in the Pacific Northwest, but also because she’s wise – wise enough to have not the slightest inkling as to how wise she is. She understood that the last month of Seattle was anomalous – I was saying goodbye and I was with people and I had a huge project. I didn’t want to say goodbye because I forgot that I usually experienced quite the opposite of the sense of community I felt as my colleagues gave me a goodbye party, as my friends took me to Thai food multiple times because, let’s be honest, the farther you get from Seattle, the worse the Thai food is, and plant-based ice cream and other favorites I didn’t normally do because I lived there and could do them anytime.
                The thing is, Doctor guided me to realize, I don’t normally enjoy the quirks and truly awesome things about Seattle and I don’t normally have the sense of belonging I needed to stave off despair and meaninglessness. And I wouldn’t if I stayed. Seattle would indeed be a rockin’ city if it got its shit together on community, but I truly did try so. many. things in the name of finding my people: joining groups, being there for others, taking classes in subjects that interested me, joining a gym, attempting to attend church (I tried seven after leaving the one I loved) alone despite my fears of weaving myself into a community that my estranged husband wouldn’t like once we reunited—which was not the reason it didn’t work any of those seven times. It didn’t work because, if you want a welcoming at church, it’s DIY anywhere in this city. I still felt new, socially speaking, after spending my whole adult life there – in a way I grew up with Seattle and frankly, I think I turned out better – so I really do know how things roll here. It’s clear as rain; nothing – not people’s words, not relationships you spend years constructing, not anything else you try to build either – is solid.
                Before I got that I was mistaking the activity and human connection of saying goodbye for the norm of my experience there, I spent my last night in the only apartment Mr. Christian and I had moved in together – as in, at the same time, like not after one of our separations, as in, apparently what folks who get up before God and a hundred and fifty people who pledge to support and uphold each other for life do on the regular. We had been dwelling in the same space for over a month, sleeping in the same bed even, and he hadn’t attempted to speak to me once. I’d told him on December 29th, 2018, that I was moving out by February 1st and he never asked where I was going.
                I spent the next night, the night before Mr. Christian’s birthday, at a chic condo where two friends from my seminary jag live, ate lunch at a mind-blowing Mexican joint with Whidbey friend and met Doctor back at the condo to pick up all the possessions I had left in Washington State: those two suitcases, a purple hiking backpack and my alto saxophone. All but the saxophone would have to be Tetris-ed and re-Tetris-ed in only the way Doctor could and even so, she had to take a box of my stuff back with her to ship to me later. The twenty-four containers carrying all of my other earthly wares were in each of the states between me and Ohio the last time I checked the FedEx tracker thing. I’d memorized the tracking numbers before I realized you could store them in the site and just hit refresh every eight seconds; I’ll be able to recite each of them indefinitely like I’ll bet you can your parents’ landline.
                Doctor drove me around the city I didn’t at that point remember I never completely felt Home in, paying for four ferry rides from Whidbey to Seattle to check my mail one last time, get a second pair of glasses, visit my gym, see Therapist for our last session and a short goodbye meeting the next day, pick up something I left at the crisis center I’d worked at for the last nine and a half months, at one point through 25-foot stretch of evaporating fog on an island I suddenly regretted I had not frequented more. She talked me out of such Möbius strips of arguments like I don’t want to let go of Seattle because what if I want to come back someday? My vast powers of caustic logic in action, folks. She rubbed ridges of pain out of my back when my very old neck injury flared up, as is its tradition during high-emotion times. She trusted I was strong enough to ask for support—a long hug—when she needed it after accidentally spiking herself into anxiety in a coffee shop and she healed a gash from Mr. Christian when she said later, “I like that you’re not afraid to show physical affection in public.”
                Doctor also was a witness. The day after I’d left my apartment for the last time, Mr. Christian had rearranged the remaining furniture to suit his preferences. There was no confirmation email that I was actually gone. There was just the stuff I was sure I wanted to leave in the never-see-again way, rabbit-sized plods of dust from my months-long inability to do much beyond hold down my crisis-center job and exercise enough to stave off chronic pain, let alone perform my chore of sweeping the newly renovated linoleum flooring, an overflowing compost bin, clouds stern as concrete overhead, the simultaneous conviction that staying would kill me and leaving would kill me and someone, my deep friend Doctor, who finally saw with her own physical sight even more than what I had been using the whole of my good strength to look past. There was just all of it, not clear but solid.

Megan Wildhood is an MSW student and neurodiverse writer in Seattle who writes poems, stories and essays about mental and emotional wellness, disability and various aspects of justice and its failure. She is the author of a poetry chapbook Long Division (Finishing Line Press, 2017) and her work appears in The Atlantic, Yes! Magazine, Mad in America, The Sun and elsewhere. You can learn more at meganwildhood.com.
previous page     contents     next page


Post a Comment

<< Home