My Great Shutdown

I stood outside of the courtroom after the hearing was over, shaken and upset. Not ten minutes before, the mediator we sat before recommended the ending of our marriage, bringing a legal end to a relationship first started February of 2007. My mother and my best friend had come to the hearing, offering their emotional and mental support.

I wanted to say something–anything–to my now ex-wife, free from the vows which, truth be told, mean absolutely nothing in these current times. She was, to quote the popular trope, free to “live her best life”, away from a relationship that had grown both emotionally, mentally, and physically toxic. I wanted to wish her the best in her life, and to give her some kind of final bit of support. Perhaps I was looking for my own bit of forgiveness from her for the wrongs I had committed against her, even in the face of so many things she and her family had done to me. Some closure, even.

After my ex-wife’s lawyer shook my hand and wished me well, I turned to her and called her name. That would be the only thing I could say to her, as she and her parents walked right past me, as if I wasn’t even there. I turned towards them as they left, shocked and hurt at their rudeness. Once again, I was denied forgiveness. Once again, I was denied closure. The silent treatment I endured for four months before the day we separated continued, clearly unabated. I sat down in the hallway, my mother at one side, my best friend on the other side, and cried uncontrollably. The regret, shame, disappointment, and even rage was on full display through my tears. I cried so loud, a Baltimore Sheriff came over to make sure everything was okay.

Needless to say, everything was not okay.

♣                         ♣                       ♣

This would be the third time I cried hysterically over our marriage. The first time was right before we made the horrid decision to to move in with my ex-wife’s mother in January of 2013.

From the beginning, I was completely against the move. I just started my first semester of college, hoping to begin a new career in journalism. Writing is a passion I have had from a very young age. Some who have read my previous work have had very positive things to say about it, and at the age of thirty, I decided to pursue my degree in journalism. On the surface, it seemed like a very good move. But having lost yet another full-time job selling cars three weeks before our wedding day, I was having a lot of difficulty finding new work. The only job I could get at the time was driving limousines, which was only part-time. Mainly on weekends.

Unbeknownst to me, my ex-wife had gone to her mother with her concerns about our situation while I was in the middle of my first semester. She came back with a proposition from her mother. The offer seemed like a no-brainer: we would move in with her, live rent- and utility-free. The idea was to save money, clean up our credit, and get things together so that we could get a new apartment. Maybe even buy a house.

Almost immediately, I said no. I wanted to get things together on our own terms, and maintain the apartment we were in at the time. After all, when we were living together in New York, we were able to solve our problems as a team, without interference from her parents, or anyone for that matter. I made my concerns known to my ex-wife, even to the point of her telling her mother about our business.

Her response?

“Where else are we going to live?”

In that moment, I realized something very detrimental just happened. My opinion and thoughts about the decision that had been made for me would not matter. Five months after our nuptials, we were moving in with her mother, and there was nothing I could say or do that would change the course of action decided for us. Over time, I would develop a sense of resentment, and a feeling that my manhood had been taken away from me. Throughout my life, I had been raised in the traditional values of a man being a provider and rock for the family, and suddenly, all those things were rendered null and void.

I never imagined my world would come crashing down the way it did. After moving out of my parents’ house at the age of 21, I always took the effort to make sure I had a place to live, never wanting to be in the position of having to move in with parents or in-laws. Sometimes I wonder if it was foolish pride or a display of what people now call “toxic masculinity.” There may have been good intentions somewhere in the offer to let us move in, and it probably would not have stung so much if my ex-wife had simply talked to me before going to her mother. In marriage (or any long-term relationship, for that matter), spouses should discuss such major life decisions before going for help on the outside. When my ex came to me after going to her mother, there was a level of betrayal I never really got over.

Moving day came, and the feelings of devastation were unbearable. With the help of her parents (which would become a common theme throughout our marriage), we packed all our belongings into a storage unit. My best friend offered to help, and in the privacy of his car, I cried hysterically. I felt undermined; stabbed in the back by the woman I pledged to love and honor “till death do us part.” I felt like my place as head of the household meant nothing anymore, and once the move was complete, I shut down. I just quit.

And so, in January of 2013, my nightmare began.

♣                       ♣                     ♣

Just after 1 A.M. on July 17, 2014, my car, a Cobalt Blue 2008 Volkswagen Passat Komfort, was being put on the back of a tow truck in front of my mother-in-law’s house, being repossessed a second time. My ex-wife was in Las Vegas at the time with her best friend, having a good time after having getting her Master’s degree in education earlier in the year. I helped her get her degree by writing all her papers for school, a small thing to do for the woman I truly loved.

Here we go again, I said to myself. I had been laid off from a writing job I started in January on Memorial Day weekend, on our way back home from a trip to Virginia Beach. The car payments had fallen behind again, all due to my negligence and excessive spending. I had even started drinking more than usual since the move. Furthermore, my own time in college was coming to a disappointing end. My grades were sinking, and I had been removed from my editor-in-chief position at the school’s student-run newspaper in a very hostile takeover, by a student I hired originally as a photojournalist, then as the PR director for the paper.

By this time, I’d lost so much of myself in the time we lived with my ex-wife’s mother. The writing job was the first real job I’d worked in months; before this, I had been working as an activities assistant at a nursing home northwest of Baltimore City, making a paltry $10 an hour for part-time work, along with the limousine job I worked on the weekends, not nearly enough to make a car note near $500, plus insurance. Such was my life back then: mental, emotional, vocational, and financial instability.

I called my ex-wife, who immediately lost it. She began cursing at me, telling me she was done with me, venting so much of her anger, frustration, and panic over the latest hit to our financial picture. When I offered to pick her up from the airport on her return from Vegas, she angrily declined, asking a co-worker to pick her up instead. To her, I had lied to her, broken a promise, and wrecked her credit. At that time, there was nothing I could do to make things right.

My car got repossessed the first time two weeks after we moved in with my ex-wife’s mother. It compounded the pain and hurt I was already feeling, because in Baltimore, it’s almost absolutely necessary to have a car, unlike where I live now. I explained the situation to her parents, shamefully unable to lift my head. Her parents paid the money to get my car back well before the car went to auction, and I was able to drive again. They understood it as a mistake, and paid the money, no strings attached. I promised my ex-wife that another repossession would not happen again, and would work to make sure of it.

About a week or so after the car got repossessed again, my ex-wife called me on the phone. She had gone to her parents yet again to ask for another bailout for my car. Acting as her parents’ representative once again, she gave me the details of how the second bailout was going to go.

They would pay the money to get the car out of repo status, but once the car was back in my hands, I would relinquish the keys and license plates to the car, and place the vehicle in one of her father’s friend’s storage lots, and he would continue to make the payments on my car until they found a buyer for it. According to my ex-wife, I didn’t deserve a car after I had messed things up so badly.

I refused the offer, explaining to them I needed the car to find some kind of work, and to travel to said job once I got one. They stood firm on what they wanted to do, and I told them thank you, but I would get the car back myself. Almost immediately, I was accused of being “disrespectful” to her parents, which would begin a four-month period of silence from my ex-wife’s parents. In the four months before our separation, I was shunned on a regular basis by her parents. Without warning, they ignored me on every occasion they could. It was probably the most hurtful thing ever done to me, seeing as I at one time looked to them as a second set of loving parents. My ex-wife had her own way of making her feelings known those last four months. Along with berating me for the repossession, ignoring me (and complaining about me to her mother behind my back), she pursued her hobby of running races and marathons, something we had started doing together, with more fervency. As she ran more, the weekends we could have spent together were erased. There were many weekends where she would be gone, and her mother would be upstairs in her room, placing me in what felt like solitary confinement.

In a state of desperation, I started a GoFundMe to get my car back, writing a piece explaining why I needed the money. When my ex-wife found out about it, she immediately undermined it, saying it would make what should have remained private a public matter. But what else was I supposed to do? At the time, I was only working part-time driving limousines. My ex-wife reluctantly sacrificed her time on some occasions to pick me up from my job. When she was out of town on her running trips, I used her car to get to work until I eventually got my car back.

Despite all I did, nothing seemed to make it through. I tried very hard to stay committed to doing the right things, but no matter the gesture, my ex-wife adopted a theme that would be repeated constantly, even after the separation: nothing will change, no matter what I did to the contrary. She had found other commitments other than our marriage, and I began to lose hope.

I offered to create a joint account, which was an idea she had when we first moved in with her mother. We initially agreed to put our income into the account, from which all our bills would be paid. My ex-wife agreed to this, and I set an appointment with a bank to open the account.

The day of the appointment came, and I woke up to get ready. I told my wife the appointment was that day, but she went back on her word, repeating that same mantra that nothing would change by the joint account being opened. I was both hurt and shocked at how quickly she turned against we agreed to do as a couple. About a week later, we went to open the account, but the whole trip was full of strife, arguing back and forth about whether or not things would really change.

In September of 2014, I took a day to look for work in the DC area. I had decided against going back to school while things were so chaotic, and looked for full-time work wherever I could find it. Before I made the drive down, I went to the bank to check on the status of our account. I asked if my ex-wife had linked her direct deposit to the account, as we agreed to do.

The teller told me there was no record of her doing so.

I confronted her about it, barely being able to keep my cool. Needless to say, I was very angry. My ex responded by saying the HR coordinator at her job had been out with an injury, which was why she had not set up her direct deposit yet. I believed her, and relented. The whole time we had the account, my ex did not contribute a single dime to the account, sometimes taking money out of it and not putting it back.

At this point, I could feel the emotional and mental stress starting to bring me to a breaking point. There was only but so much I could stand. I had been with this woman through some very difficult times in my life. She had stuck with me through years of being in and out of work, food stamps, and the death of my beloved grandmother. I could not understand where all this was coming from. Perhaps the constant disappointments of our relationship had caused her to reach a breaking point of her own, for which I take full responsibility. But now, she wasn’t just expressing her belief that our situation was not going to change; she was actively sabotaging any attempt I made to that effect.

The end was fast approaching.

♠                   ♠                    ♠

I remember sitting in the waiting room of the counseling center, shaking and crying. Mentally and emotionally, I was spent, desperate for relief and peace. I was tired; tired of the arguments, the lack of respect, and the general feeling of despair that hung over my head every day. My ex and her parents had broken me. It was bad enough that I felt like my manhood had been take from me when we moved in with her mother; my ex and her parents were making clear their intentions of breaking me.

After the second repossession, my ex would say some very mean, hurtful things to me. Over the years, and progressively over the years, she would say some things that were completely devastating, like threatening to throw herself down a flight of stairs if I ever got her pregnant (then claiming it was a joke), and constantly telling me that, despite us having been together for years, I only wanted her in my life for sex. She would say this whenever I wanted to make love to her, which at the time was already awkward being in her mother’s house. She once told me that her father, a contractor in Baltimore who did lead abatement, was “a man’s man”, with total disregard to my feelings of inadequacy. One time, I walked up the stairs to use the bathroom, and heard my ex and her mother slandering me behind my back, her mother telling her, “Well, he ain’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing.” In a conversation we had in her mother’s basement, my ex told me that she had been my “ride-or-die”, and repeated her accusations of broken promises (the car), adding that “men in general” had the habit of shitting on women who would do everything for them, which stung especially since I had never once cheated on her, remained loyal and faithful to her, and did everything I could to make clear I truly loved her, more than any other woman I’d ever been with. Her love gave me purpose, I told her, and I was working harder than ever to make things right.

I was surprised, though, when my ex told me she was open to the idea of marriage counseling. Of course, I was the one who had to set the appointments, and work things around my ex’s schedule. Our first attempt at therapy was to see a woman in Towson, a town north of Baltimore. The initial consultation was strange; it seemed composed enough, but the therapist expressed her desire to see me on my own first, before working on the two of us together. Not understanding what that meant, we later agreed to see another counselor in another part of Baltimore county. But by this time, much more had happened in between our sessions. I was lashing out more, both at her and her mother, who was interjecting herself into our marital business uninvited when she wasn’t coldly ignoring me. There were even times when I would be confronted about my failings by my ex and her mother at the same time, which I didn’t take well at all. They would always issue empty threats to call my ex’s father on me, as if to threaten violence on me.

So, when the day of our second initial session came along, I sat in the waiting room of the therapists’ office, a broken and destroyed man. The stress of my failings to get through to my ex; loneliness, and constant state of pain had wrecked me. I saw this second attempt at marriage counseling as hope that the pain and suffering was about to end, and that we would work to becoming a loving couple once again.

That all shattered once we got into the therapist’s office, who asked her what her concerns were. She told him she was unhappy in the marriage, and basically was there because I wanted to be there. She said she was willing to give things a chance, but was not convinced things would change. From what I remember, she expressed how disgusted she was about everything that had happened, from the repossession to events after I got the car back. The therapist then turned to me, and asked me what I wanted to get out of therapy. Almost immediately, I started crying uncontrollably. I told him all I wanted was peace in my home, and for my ex and I to be a happy, healthy couple again. The shaking and emotions wouldn’t stop, and the therapist expressed his desire to see me on an individual basis, even going so far as to “diagnose” me with both attention deficit and an as-yet unspecified mood disorder.

While shocking, I wasn’t totally surprised. I had expressed concern I was going through a form of depression. If depression was what I had, it was no doubt triggered by all I had been put through those months after the repossession. The therapist’s expressed concerns about a possible mood disorder answered many questions about previous instabilities with work and my overall behavior. Individual treatment would begin immediately. Marriage counseling would be put on hold.

I was disappointed. This would be the first of three total attempts at marriage counseling. All of them would not get past the initial stage. It was cold comfort to begin my own treatment for what I was going through, but I wanted to get things right with my ex-wife. I wanted us to leave her mother’s house, and get back out on our own. I wanted to rediscover our ability to be what many people considered us to be: a power couple. In times past, we worked through difficulties together.

Never again would we ever get that chance after November 17, 2014.

♠                  ♠                    ♠

That night, I came home from work, tired and hungry. My ex was home, and I was looking forward to possibly spending some drama-free time with her. Or, at least attempt to.

Instead, it was more of the same. Yelling at me about the same things we constantly fought about. The car. Her feeling hurt about everything. The usual insults and assaults on my feelings as a man. There was unnecessary taunting, and other general disrespect, much more than usual.

She began yelling at me from our room on the second floor, while I was in the basement. And suddenly, the pain that had built in my heart over four months came to a head. I had grown tired of constantly being made to feel like less than everything; belittled to a point to where I just couldn’t take it anymore. The weekends I spent alone. The campaign by her parents to render me both invisible and silent.

I died on the inside that day.

And quietly, calmly, I uttered these words.

“I am so tired of you talking to me like this.”

I went upstairs to our room, and there, I committed the greatest mistake I ever made in my life. I broke my promise to keep her safe, and what should have remained a war of words took a very physical turn. The details of which, I will not share on here. Towards the end, I grabbed my ex-wife’s hands, placed them on my face, and said to her, “I am a human being. Why do you treat me the way you do?” Scared and in shock, she left her mother’s house, crying loudly and painfully.

I left the house as well, driving all the way down to my uncle’s house, screaming and crying hysterically. In letting all this pain explode, I had reduced myself to less than a man. Nearly four years later, the shame of it all is something I still deal with on a daily basis. After I left my uncle’s house, I went to my own parents’ house, where I was welcomed with forgiving arms, and tears that flowed as strong as my own.

In committing such an act, I became yet another man with a case of “toxic masculinity”, where the rejections by a fed-up woman should have been something I simply “manned up” and gotten over. But, in all sincerity, that’s never been me. I have always been a very emotional man. At one point, I loved hard, and was able to love very deeply. After that day, my ability to do the same has been severely impaired. My descent into despair had been completed, and the end of my marriage had come via an explosion of anger, rage, frustration, and loneliness. I feel as though I’ll never be able to experience love on that same level ever again.

After November 17, 2014, my pen fell silent.

♠                       ♠                     ♠

The effects of my actions were felt long after that night. My cousin, who was helping us in an attempt to stay together, was the first person my ex-wife called. He did his best to calm her down, and told her he and the rest of my family would hold me accountable for my actions. Miraculously, the cops were never involved, a courtesy I truly did not deserve.

My ex didn’t talk to me for weeks. However, she did reach out to me first. We agreed to meet at my uncle’s house for a party he was having, to attempt to talk about what happened. When I extended my hand to shake hers, she retreated from me in fear. In shame, I realized I deserved it. I had left an imprint in her mind that I was something to fear, a truly understandable position.

I have apologised to myself, and to others, for the actions of November 17, 2014. That I am able to write about these things as if they took place yesterday is proof I have not even come close to forgiving myself for what I did. What I did was in contradiction to all the liberal values I had just begun to stand for. In spite of my having been raised conservative, I’ve always believed in a woman’s complete autonomy. I view women as much a human as myself, without any equivocation. I believe in a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. I am elated when I see women doing amazing things in business, traveling all over the world, and running for elected offices across the country. Furthermore, there is nothing I love more than a Black woman. All the women I’ve dated or married have been Black. Misogynoir has no place in my life, and never has.

But when I committed that act of domestic violence, I became what I hated. It felt hypocritical to speak out on things, and as a result, I stopped writing. I felt I couldn’t write with the same bit of moral clarity I had before because of what I’d done. This compounded the discouragement I already felt from the setbacks I experienced in the pursuit of my career in journalism. I had been fired from an unpaid internship with longtime Baltimore Sun op-ed writer Dan Rodricks’ now-defunct radio show over a tweet about Right-wing asshole Dan Bongino, who was running for office at the time.

Anyways, my cousin privately asked my ex what she needed to see from me in order for things to be better and stable enough for us to reconcile. She told me I needed to get a better job, and hold it for longer than a year. She said I needed to be far more responsible with money than I’d been, and above all else, to keep my temper in check.

As time went on, I checked off all the boxes she had created, and I felt like there was a lot of progress made between us. However, for reasons unknown to me, she kept moving the goalposts, changing the rules of engagement at nearly every turn. We continued in our individual therapies, and kept things cool between us. In February of 2015, I received a letter from the company who would become my current employer, asking me to come up to New York to complete the paperwork for my new position. It was a job I had waited seven years to hear any word from, and finally, the day had arrived.

I hoped against hope my ex would come up to NYC with me. After all, ever since I took the test for the new job, I expressed to her that this new job was going to be the way we returned to New York, the place she loved so much and was living when we met in 2006. I spent so many years trying to give her what she felt was lost in 2010, when we moved back to Baltimore, and in five years, that dream would collapse. So, there’s guilt there, too.

So when I offered her the chance to move back to NYC, my ex flatly refused. She had grown roots in Baltimore, both vocationally and with her mother at home. We had become nominally closer, but every time progress seemed to be made, there were always multiple steps backward.

I deserved all of it.

♠                      ♠                        ♠

Since June of 2015, I have been living alone in New York City. My mental health has improved, and I am doing better, for the most part. I’ve been on my new job over three years now, recently receiving my very first promotion. I have learned so much about myself these last few years, discovering more and more how strong and resilient I truly am, including overcoming homelessness, learning how to live with myself, and keeping my mental health under close control.

Safety and stability are what define my life right now, after so many years of the opposite. There is absolutely nothing I would not do to get that day back, and to reverse the damage I did to a woman I truly loved. Writing about this experience is perhaps the toughest thing post-divorce I’ve ever done, because it involves overcoming the shame and guilt I constantly feel.

But despite these feelings of self-hatred, and the constant lack of self-forgiveness I’ve felt these last nearly four years, part of me wonders if I was pushed into doing what I did. I had an explosion of anger that should have never happened, but I have openly wondered if that was the result of months of emotional and verbal abuse, on the parts of my ex and her mother.

I’ll probably never know fully. But as I continue to rebuild from my experience, I am able to speak my truth in a way I never thought myself able to do again. I hope my ex-wife is doing well, and that she is able to recover from the events of that night. I hope she is living her best life, and that she is enjoying her time free of marriage–and me.

But for now, I have the opportunity to get my own self together. Here’s to hoping this will open up new dimensions of healing, happiness, and refocus.

Nulla tenaci invia est via. 

“For the tenacious, no road is impassable.”

–From the Spyker Cars logo

 

2 Replies to “My Great Shutdown”

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