One night in bed my wife looked over at me with a frozen face…a face that morphed her into a stranger wearing a mask.
Then she said: “I think I want to be single.”
“You mean you want to be with someone else,” I said.
I knew she had a crush on our neighbor. Probably more than a crush. I was hoping the attraction would dissolve in time. My crushes—I’d had two in our time together—had.
We’d been together so long. I didn’t know who I’d be without her.
I cried like a wild animal had pinned me down and was tearing me open. I cried and cried and cried all night long, and she held me.
Then she left me.
Our 15 year relationship was over.
One dark morning in our living room, I swayed like a ghost on the Colonial style rocking chair that my parents bought the year after I was born. My life was torn apart.
How could it be that after all we’d been through, after 15 years of being together—after a legal marriage, even—she wasn’t willing to try marriage counseling? How could it be she cheated, lied, and left me? Hopelessness punctured my heart.
I must have drifted off because when I opened my eyes, a thought suffused my brain like the remnants of a dream. A robotic calm engulfed me.
“I wonder which knife is the sharpest? I wonder what kinds of pills in the bathroom cabinet are the most potent?”
Killing myself made perfect sense. It was the next logical step.
Then suddenly, as though an intruder barged through the door, terror swarmed me.
“Oh my god, I could really do it. I could really end my life.”
I reached for my phone and dialed the operator, asking for the Suicide Hotline.
Months later, now living alone in an apartment, I rooted through a box and pulled out a photo of me wearing my graduation regalia. And another of my best friend and me from 1983 at a Christmas dance. Here was one of my parents, sisters and me in 1969, the Grand Canyon multihued behind us. And me at a writing conference, standing next to two of my literary heroes. I rooted out an acceptance letter from a magazine for a story I published, and two synchronized swimming first-place ribbons.
My accomplishments, my passions, my life having nothing to do with my soon-to-be ex-wife.
I pasted them carefully on butcher paper, and hung the collage on my refrigerator.
I recalled how, at my meditation class, the teacher talked about the ending of long-term relationships. Eyes closed, we were to envision a time before we knew that person existed on the planet.
What if I had never met her?
And it came to me, washing over me like a warm wave: I’d still have journeyed the past 15 years living a meaningful life. I’d still be me.
All my life, I could now see, I’d sought a relationship to complete me. That was why my darkest times in life came during the dissolving of romantic relationships.
I’d idealized love. I’d believed someone else could make me whole. And when that failed, it was as agonizing as having a limb hacked off.
When I was a girl, I listened over and over to a romantic album by the band Bread—baby I’m a-want you—fantasizing that the singer was singing to me, mooning over me. The belief that I was valued because someone longed for me had been planted deep in my young psyche. It was time to root it out.
Now, when love songs came on the radio, instead of turning them off in disgust, I started singing them to myself. Lyrically I promised myself I wouldn’t go breaking my heart. That I would love myself to the end of time. That in my eyes, I was complete.
I sang how wonderful life was because I was in the world.
I vowed no matter what, even if I fell in love again, I would always sing love songs to myself. I vowed that no one’s love for me would ever usurp my love for myself. I promised myself I would never again consider taking a knife to my beautiful wrist.
It was time I embraced my one true love: Me.
Author: Kate Evans
Editor: Renee Jahnke
Image: Thea Bee