Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Life in the Third Degree.
Snippets of conversations sometimes come back to haunt me. Rarely are they words I’ve spoken myself, so it’s not a matter of regretting something I’ve said or done.
Vicki tells me that middle-age spread is a direct result of eating your own words and all those “I will nevers” from one’s youth. But in this case, it’s not my words but words I’ve heard, words that still echo in my ears, that occasionally rise up to tug at my skirts like needy children.
“You won’t be happy without me because you can’t be happy.”
I’m not sure if I heard my ex say that to me more than once or if it’s simply replayed itself in my head every time I have a doubt. But I’ve heard it a lot, and it’s always my ex’s voice.
The first time I heard it, though, was almost a year ago. Right after I’d told him I finally knew him for what he was and no longer wanted to be with him. Right after I went to the bathroom to throw up.
Early on, when reconciliation was a priority and he desperately needed to convince me to stay married to him, he made lots of promises. I’d begged him to see a marriage counselor with me, yet he’d deemed that a “last resort” and ignored my pleas until the day I filed for divorce and then suddenly counseling became a foot in the door to keep me from closing it hard. But the trips to the therapist were too little and too late and did nothing to repair the years of damage that had been done. In fact, those trips were used to bludgeon me emotionally when I was already fragile.
He said he could be in the 1% to fix his problems of the 1% of abusers who actually recognized their problem. But it was just a promise. He never fixed anything. He got tired of looking at his shadows before he had a chance to shine light on them and disperse them.
He promised, too, not to contest the divorce, to let me go, if that’s what I wanted. It was what I wanted.
And yet, when legal papers were answered, he contested it, citing his belief that our marriage really wasn’t over and we really could reconcile. It was just another way to control, to keep his thumb on me. It didn’t matter how badly I hurt or wanted some space away from him—he didn’t want to let go, and it was another couple of months before he finally moved out, just before my pitbull of a lawyer chewed his butt with the judge to make him go.
It was during one of those times that my ex told me oh-so-politely that he hoped I’d be happy if I got my way and ended the marriage. Then he said he didn’t think I’d be any happier with him gone than I already was with him present, despite the fact that I’d spent several horrible months on Effexor anti-depressants to get through the days with him and Ambien sleeping pills to keep from sobbing alone all night on the front doorstep for the lack of love I felt.
Of course, that was his natural arrogance, that I couldn’t be happy regardless, that nothing was his fault, that I just wasn’t a happy person and that’s why I was doing all this. I do believe that he was sincere when he said so often in those last months of marriage that he wanted me to be happy.
But he wanted me to be happy being what he wanted me to be and not who I was.
So can I be happy without him? Can I be happy being alone? It seems that way. So far.
Even with the tough times of the past year, I am finding joy in little things and in new relationships, both with men and women. There’s no having to defend my thoughts or actions.
I’m driving the kind of car I want to drive, in the color I want, with the bumper sticker of my choice on it.
I’m loving my house and decorating how I want, painting the walls in various colors of jewels and hanging my swords where I want.
I can spend my evenings talking on the phone with long-distance friends or working on my latest novel or taking walks under the starlight, all without apologies or questioning looks.
I invite my friends into my home regularly, and I play the music of my choice without consequence.
At times, I’ve been told I was too happy to be newly divorced. This is the external pressure, most often from my generation or one older or from Christian friends. I’m supposed to be in deep despair, or at the very least, desperately searching for a man so I can be complete. I’m criticized for being okay with being alone.
So can I be happy? That’s the internal pressure. I’ve just emerged from hell and somehow I think I should be happier than I am. Bouncy and buoyant. Almost as if I need to be smiling every moment. Considering how much better life is now than a year ago, I should be ecstatic, right?
No one else is responsible for my being happy, and I’m responsible for no one else’s happiness. If I choose to share my happiness, so be it, but it doesn’t depend on anyone else. No one else can make me happy and if someone else makes me unhappy, it’s up to me to correct the situation so I can be happy again.
But am I really happy now?
Maybe it comes down to defining happiness. I have moments of great joy, moments of simple pleasures I’d forgotten from long ago. I have moments of sadness and longing, not for what I had in my marriage but for what I never had.
I have gleeful moments with my daughters and tranquil moments in my home. I have intense moments of conversation with new men and enlightening moments of discovery with new friends and old.
I have disappointing moments of discarding that which no longer is good for me, whether it’s old friends or projects or expired cans of food in the pantry. I have mostly moments of transformation and change and becoming whatever it is I will become.
The moments aren’t all brainlessly fun. They’re a mix and a balance. I don’t know if all these moments could be considered happy, but whether the moments are shared or mine alone, the moments are mine to live the way I want.
And that makes me happy.