When you’re single, alone, and have young kids, Halloween isn’t always the carefree experience it looks like in magazines or on TV. There are challenges. Real challenges. Kids running off in opposite directions. Kids running, period. Uncomfortable costumes. Costumes the kids thought they would love but on the day of didn’t. Fighting. Someone feeling left out. Cold weather. Shorter days, bringing with them an inevitable race against the clock before nightfall. And in the worst-case scenario rain to make everything else that much more challenging.
For years, I dealt with more than my fair share of the above, minus one critical detail: I wasn’t single. In many ways, however, I was living as if I was, except for the part where I admitted it to myself. One Halloween stands out in particular. My kids were young, elementary school age. Halloween had fallen on a weekend, so I naturally assumed we would all go trick-or-treating together. I was mistaken. As we were all getting ready to walk out, my husband complained his foot was sore, leaving me no choice but to go without him. So I did.
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I was disappointed and annoyed. Beyond that, I never thought much more about my husband’s absence, on this day and countless others, which included back to school nights, doctor appointments and hospital visits (mine and the kids’), and many hours spent at home without him. Even as his career advanced and my husband began spending less time at the office, I often felt when he was in the house he was there in body only, not in spirit. Still, I never asked questions. That was my life, even though I didn’t always like it.
A few months after that Halloween, my husband left, giving me full physical custody of our three children, and what was intended to be a temporary work-related living situation 8,000 miles away became his home. I was devastated and became even more overwhelmed than I already had been. The little emotional support I once received from him was now gone completely and has stayed gone. Though today my ex-husband plays a significant role in our children’s lives, the miles and time difference create limitations that no amount of phone calls and FaceTime could ever overcome. Even so, we make the most of the situation, co-parenting our kids as best we can from far away.
It has been almost six years now since my husband and I first separated. During this time, I have thought back a lot to the last Halloween we spent together, wondering how I could have missed the obvious: my husband had long since checked out of our marriage. In many ways, I had checked out, too, having over the years gradually redirected most of my attention away from him to our children. Of course, I rationalized, they were young and needed me. The trouble was, so did my husband and me him. But when I increasingly didn’t get the support I wanted or needed, I became resentful and distant.
We grew apart. It was a vicious cycle from which we could never break away. Gradually, we began living parallel lives, as business partners in the business of running a household that on the outside looked like the American dream but, in reality, was as stable as a house of cards. When that house of cards eventually collapsed, it should have come as no surprise to me. It did, and then some.
Getting married when I was 22 with practically no dating experience behind me, I had little idea what a healthy relationship, let alone a healthy marriage, was supposed to be. Growing up in a house with parents who were unhappily married was not helpful either. It was there I learned to accept situations that weren’t good for me to maintain the status quo. After all, that’s what I watched my mother do. As an adult, ignoring my needs or not prioritizing them became a matter of course, especially when I felt doing so would benefit someone, anyone, else more.
If I had listened to my gut, perhaps I could have spared myself years of monotony in an unsatisfying marriage or focused on creating the one I wanted.
From time to time, I think back to the last few years of my marriage, when my husband and I were “going through the motions” (his words), doing what we each believed we should be to create the facade we eventually had. And, in so many ways, what a fool I was, worrying about the petty nonsense I did such as whether the house was perfect and whether I abided by some arbitrary schedule I created for myself. In retrospect, I behaved this way as a misguided effort to regain some sense of control of my life, one that had long since spun far out of my control.
When I replay scenes from my marriage in my mind, I remind myself how silly victims in horror films sometimes look as they engage in the exact behaviors that eventually lead them to their demise. Why don’t they know better, especially when it seems so obvious they should not open the door or take that shortcut through the woods at night alone? The answer is, they’re not listening to their gut.
For a long time, I didn’t listen to mine. If I had, perhaps I could have spared myself years of monotony in an unsatisfying marriage or focused on creating the one I wanted. Instead, I let fear paralyze me. I was scared to admit we had a problem and even more afraid where addressing it could potentially lead, especially if it meant being divorced and alone. So I played the victim, oblivious to what was going on around me, right down to a husband who looked and acted like he didn’t want to be there, including on Halloween. Fortunately for me, some victims finally get away, even when the person they had fallen victim to most was once themselves.
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