Chapter 1: Hitting Rock Bottom
“I want a divorce.”
I know I wanted him out of my life for many years, but answering my phone and hearing those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Only a week before, we had agreed to go to counselling.
We had been separated for almost a month, and I took the day off from work with a terrible head cold—so you can imagine that I was not feeling my best to begin with. As I sat on the kitchen floor unpacking and organizing cupboards in my new apartment, I remembered his cutting words again and dissolved into a mess of hysterical tears.
Why am I reacting this way? Why am I so shattered?
What bothered me the most was not my involuntary and sudden reaction, but that my daughter had to witness her mother having a level 5 nuclear meltdown. I had always worked so hard to avoid subjecting her to the extremes of my emotions, and this was humiliating.
Once I finally composed myself, my phone rang again. It was him—Andrew, my soon-to-be-ex-husband.
“Where do I get one of those divorce kits? Can I get it from the bookstore?”
“I don’t know, Andrew,” I replied. “You’re on your own for this one.”
Half an hour later, he called me a third time. He was at the bookstore now and wanted help deciding which divorce kit to buy.
True to his lazy and immature self, he had the audacity to ask me for advice on how to get a divorce. Now he was on a mission to divorce me as quickly as possible. So, contrary to what my strong skills as a researchologist would prompt me to do, this time I had no desire to share my knowledge or opinion with him.
I spent the next few days reeling under waves of emotion. It was completely perplexing and illogical to me why I felt such an extreme mourning sensation after living so many years in misery with my husband. My only explanation was that, no matter how bad a relationship is, a couple will still cling to one another for any sense of comfort and security, however twisted that may seem. My incoherent sobbing on the phone with him at two a.m. a few days later was probably my lowest point.
Gawd. What is wrong with me?
I remember the first time I found out about his lies. It was a month before our wedding and I tried to call the whole thing off because of it.
It stemmed back to a few short weeks into our relationship—on my birthday actually. I drove excitedly to meet Andrew at his father’s house (where he was living temporarily after separating from his wife) to see what spoils awaited me. My stomach was doing flip-flops, and my palms were sweating. Andrew had already proven to be so sweet and romantic, that I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me. Gone were the days of “Oh, is it your birthday today?” attitudes from previous partners. I was finally with a romantic. A true romantic.
I pulled up and was greeted with the most passionate kiss hello, but rather than being pampered and spoiled because it was my day, I ended up being ushered down to Andrew’s bedroom and informed that he couldn’t go out until he cleaned his room. What? Are you kidding me? Being the spineless jelly-fish that I was, I wholeheartedly dove in to cleaning Andrew’s bedroom while he gave my van an oil change. (I guess that was my gift.) During my cleaning frenzy, I found a long string of condoms in an empty suitcase. Considering his life before I came along to be his business, I only advised that he find a better place for them before his religious and controlling father found them. He laughed nervously at that, and said they were a gag gift from his friends. Although I assured him that I didn’t need to know details about his past relationships, he insisted he was telling me the truth.
As the months passed, there were never any other indications that he was being anything but honest with me, so I slept well at night with him by my side. Or so I thought…
Fast forward—one month before our wedding, I discovered that he had lied to me at the very beginning of our relationship. The condoms I found during my birthday cleanup actually came from a woman who had shown up unannounced at Andrew’s father’s house one night (on his birthday, no less) and begged Andrew for sex. Normally this wouldn’t be any of my business, but that woman had since been quite involved in our life through Andrew’s business, and repeatedly contacted him after hours asking for the same business advice each time.
Although I didn’t know what had happened between the two of them, it was obvious to me that she was in love with him. During the few short months we’d been together, I asked him multiple times if they had been in a relationship. He swore up and down that he had never been involved with her and even seemed to physically recoil at the mention of it.
The day I found out about his indiscretion was on the heels of defending him to his two closest friends. Although I didn’t care much for this couple—they were young, immature, and not the type of people that I would normally associate with—I was forced to accept them into our wedding party because Andrew had been the best man at their wedding. Every time we were with them, they made sure to tell me all the tales of dating and cavorting from Andrew’s life before and after his separation and subsequent divorce. They constantly referred to him as a “ladies’ man” or a “player”. I would have never spoken to someone’s girlfriend like that, so my assumption was that they were just bullies trying to make me feel bad about myself. Finally, I got so fed up with having Andrew’s past pushed in my face that I defensively blurted out that he hadn’t been intimate with a woman since he left his ex-wife, and continued to naively sing his praises. Little did I know that his friends were very close to the “Happy Birthday Mr. President” condom woman in question and knew the truth—as did four other couples that we dealt with regularly, both through business and social events.
One evening, when they were over helping with the bombonieres for the wedding, it started again. I took Andrew into another room and lost my cool. I told him I was sick and tired of all the things they were saying about him and the lies they were telling about his past. He finally broke down and told me about his indiscretion with his business associate.
I was devastated. I dropped to my knees and sobbed. Everyone knew except me! I had defended him in one way or another to each and every one of those people over the past few months and, in the end, felt completely humiliated and betrayed by all of them. More importantly, betrayed by him.
But then, the anger set in. I told him that the wedding was off and I wanted him out of my house immediately. I couldn’t stand the thought of spending the rest of my life with someone who could look me in the face every day and lie to me. I also didn’t think I could stand the humiliation of what everyone knew, and what a fool I had been over the past few months.
He begged me to stay with him and promised he would never lie again. His justification for lying so far? He wanted to “protect” me because he felt the truth would be more hurtful. As devastated and betrayed as I felt, I was so deeply in love with him that I truly didn’t want to call off the wedding. His promise seemed so sincere that I pushed aside my feelings of doubt, humiliation, and anger and agreed to become his wife as planned.
The lies continued for almost a decade. I got to a point where I could no longer look at him or stand to be in the same room with him. Each time I uncovered a new lie, I would die a little more inside.
Why do I hate myself so much that I continue to live this way?
I loathed who I had become. I spent every day miserable and distrusting, with a hard knot in my stomach. Daniella (my daughter from my first marriage, but legally adopted by Andrew) couldn’t stand him anymore either, but for different reasons. She was tired of being barked at, of being treated like she was both his mother and his slave when I wasn’t around. His tirades of verbal abuse towards her were epic. One day he saw her eating the last piece of leftover pizza from the fridge, which he wanted as well, and he blurted out, “I hope you choke on it and die.” Even though he may have said it as a childish joke, his message stung my poor eight-year-old. He berated or criticized her in some way every single day. Each word beat her down deeper and deeper.
When she told me about the incidents and I confronted Andrew, things only got worse for her. She, in turn, stopped confiding in me. One morning, when Daniella was about nine, as I was getting ready for work (ironically on Mother’s Day), she became hysterical and said she wished she was dead or had never been born. I left the house devastated and sick to my stomach that I had to leave her.
How could a nine-year-old be feeling that way? What the hell have I done to her?
When I arrived at my job at the local steakhouse, I was hit from every angle with the whining and complaining of my coworkers, that they were “pissed” that they had to work on Mother’s Day. I did my very best to hold my head up high and be the bigger person, but after the eight millionth complaint from a twenty-something-year-old, I finally lost my shit all over them.
“Are you all for real? Look around you! Have you noticed that I am the only one NOT complaining? Yet, I’m the only one working who IS a mother! Did any of YOU have to leave your child—your reason for BEING a mother—at home while you pander to the likes of a bunch of ungrateful customers all night? I didn’t think so. So can we give the whining bullshit a rest and just go back to work please?”
Needless to say, the staff began to work rather diligently that night.
For four more years, Daniella and I remained his emotional hostages.
Andrew’s childish and irresponsible behavior continued to mount and he made it clear that he was the victim—the third wheel—in this family. There was one situation that sticks out in my memory that summarizes his behavior marvelously:
We were at his father’s having lunch with some visiting relatives. There were about ten of us there that day, and his stepmother made her delicious lentil soup. As she served everyone, Andrew turned to Daniella and said, “You have my permission not to eat that.” The reason he was offering his “permission” was because Daniella was forced to eat everything he served her, even if he knew that she didn’t like it.
“But I like this soup”, she said to him meekly.
“Well, it’s disgusting. So you have my permission not to eat it.”
I replied to him incredulously, “Andrew. She likes this soup.” And everyone else at the table chimed in as well.
Andrew shoved his chair back and, like a five-year-old, blurted, “Well fine! Be that way!” and literally stormed out of the room. We all sat in shocked silence.
A few minutes later, he came back and said, “Where’s the pizza. I want my pizza now.”
His stepmother, bless her heart, calmly replied, “Well, if you’re not going to eat the soup, then there is no pizza for you.” You could hear a pin drop as he stared at her in disbelief. He then, stomped his foot (no, I’m not exaggerating), spun on his heel and stormed down into their basement to watch TV. Again, the room fell silent, until his younger brother began to giggle. The giggle broke the tension and then one of his relatives turned to his stepmom and said, “Bravo. Bravo.”
His sister turned to me and said, “I don’t know how you live with that.” I just shook my head. Another epic Andrew moment.
On other occasions, similar comments were made by his family to me. His slovenly behavior was usually one of the common discussions.
Andrew refused to put his dirty laundry into the hamper, and I stuck by my rule of, “If it’s not in the hamper, it doesn’t get washed.” I learned the hard way with him because I was the one to iron his work clothes. He would bring his wrinkled clothes to me all the time and, like a dutiful wife, I ironed them to his exact specifications. After the umpteenth time of passing the iron over the armpit of a shirt and smelling musky sweat and deodorant, I realized that I was ironing a dirty shirt—again. I stopped ironing his clothes altogether. You can imagine the pouting and foot stomping that occurred whenever he was running late in his usual Dagwood Bumstead fashion and realized that he had no clean work clothes… or underwear, for that matter.
The childish behavior was not the worst part of it all, it was the emotional tirade against Daniella. It was a text-book school-yard-bully situation. Andrew was so insecure, that he had to prey on the weaker of the pack in order to feel like King Shit. He wasn’t the dominant lion king that he thought he was, he was the pathetic hyena with the bulgy eyes and tongue hanging out. (Sorry, I think I’ve watched Lion King way too many times over the years.)
Andrew was a very scholastically-intelligent person, so I did lean on him considerably when it came to Daniella’s homework. His way of teaching though, left so much to be desired. He spoke to her like she was an idiot, and expected her to understand everything when he used complex formulas and explanations. When she didn’t understand, he wouldn’t take the time to explain it to her in a more-simplified manner; he’d just bark it at her and ask her if she was “stupid or something.” It was because of that behavior, Daniella would immediately put up defensive walls whenever I asked him to help. Her grades began to slip and her self-esteem began to fall through the floor.
What I once thought was a beautiful blending of souls ended up being the culmination of Daniella’s suicidal thoughts. He proved correct of my tongue-in-cheek saying, “Parents these days don’t need to save for their kids’ education—they need to save for their therapy fund.”
Daniella’s negative feelings were also fuelled by how cold I was towards Andrew as well. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I used to be so good and putting on a good face when she was around, but no more. I couldn’t hide my disgust anymore. Daniella and I both lived with the attitude of just trying to get through each day with him, but now, four years later, we had finally escaped that misery. Now Daniella and I were gathering up the broken pieces of our hearts and embarking on our new future together—man-childless.
August 2006 (two weeks before school started up again), I found a place for us to live. Our new home was about fifteen minutes from where we had lived with Andrew. I could hop on a bus that would take me right downtown to my new job. I would be saving on car expenses and could get home quicker to spend time with my daughter. Because Andrew had left me in a huge amount of debt and didn’t pay a dime in child support, cost effectiveness became my middle name.
The months that followed were filled with so much sadness and self-pity that I didn’t think I’d ever be capable of moving forward. I found a well-paying job I didn’t really care for, but it helped to validate me again as a person because I had stopped believing I had what it took to be successful in a professional career.
The hours were long and the responsibilities numerous, but I was starting to feel a little better about myself as a businessperson. Unfortunately though, the long hours caused an imbalance in my life with my thirteen-year-old daughter. Despite my goals to get home faster and spend more time with her, I barely saw her; yet she was always so gracious about my absence—she knew I was doing it for our betterment. What an angel. But still, I was very aware that thirteen was a crucial age and that I needed to be there for her as much as possible.
After about six months of separation, friends started talking about dating. Dating? Oh, my gawd! I couldn’t even imagine it. I was in four relationships during my life: a long-term high school boyfriend, a fiancé, a husband, and a husband. I knew them all before becoming involved with them, so there was no dating per se. I never had self-confidence, so when a man showed interest, had ten fingers, ten toes, and no sign of a serious nervous tick, I figured he was good enough for me.
Am I even ready for this? This idea of dating?
The thought of it overwhelmed me and I pushed the idea out of my head. I was definitely not ready to put myself out there so soon. So you can fully grasp why I was so gun-shy about dating again, I will offer you a window into my past love life.
This is the part where I stare pensively at the ceiling as soft harp music fades us into the memories of my past…