Friday, December 04, 2009

Sad Times: A Confession

The farmers were in the fields, setting out tobacco plants, when I drove into what had been our driveway. Nervous, I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t seen her since I’d moved from Columbus County that February. We were no longer having much contact by then, our last meeting had been like this one was all business, signing our joint tax returns. If I remember correctly, he had prepared them. After all, he was a CPA. Besides, there wasn’t anything complicated with our taxes. Although we were separated before the year had ended, we filed jointly which had certain taxes advantages for both of us. The disadvantage was dividing the check.

She’d been expecting me and before I could put the car in park, walked out the door, with the check in her hand.

“Do you want me to drive, too?“ she asked, “That way, you won’t have to come back out into the country.“

“It’s no problem,“ I said, “reaching over and unlocking the door.” She got in and we drove into town, to the bank. We walked inside together, both signed the check and had it cashed. We split the money, I stuffed my share into my pocked, and walked back to the car. On the way back to her home, I tried to tell her I was sorry that things hadn’t worked out. Agreeing, she said something similar.

After I pulled back into the driveway, we sat talking for a while. She caught me looking at her belly. “Don’t stare,” she demanded, but in a teasing sort of way as she looked at me out of the corner of her eyes, “Yes, it’s getting bigger“

As much as we fought, I always liked the gentle way she teased. Five years earlier, when I stood waiting at the front of the church and she stood next to her dad, at the back, she stuck out her tongue. It was all I could do not to laugh. Then, as she came up the aisle, I noticed through the back of the door of the church my canoe go by, on someone else’s car. I was wondering what was up and couldn’t do anything about it. When we came out of the church, there was my canoe, on my car. The car was spotless, but the canoe had been decorated. She and my brother had set it all up.

Sadly, there had not been enough teasing in the past few years, just heartbreak. She was always threatening to leave, or so it seemed from my point of view. I was struggling with my job and with what I felt I should be doing with my life. We had no shared goals in life and, at the time, everything seemed to be a dead end. I wondered if I wouldn’t be happier with someone else or even by myself. One night I’d had enough and when she threatened to leave, I called her bluff saying, “I’d be out by Friday.” The next morning, before the sun was up, I overheard her on the phone with her father, telling him that I was leaving. I could tell her world was shattered and although listening to the phone call felt like a knife sticking into my heart, I’d made up my mind. I was out by Friday. Over the years, I’ve on occasion looked back and wondered what my stubbornness had cost me.

We talked a occasionally over the next few months. I went to a counselor, but I’m not sure it helped. We should have gone together, but we didn’t. It seemed that by leaving, I‘d crossed the line. We saw each other at Christmas, but she was distant and I‘m sure the same could be said of me. We sat for a long time in the car at her parents driveway, where I asked her where we went wrong. On the spur of the moment, I asked if she wanted to get together on New Years Eve. She declined, saying she had other plans. Although I have no idea when they started dating, I should have known then.

That February, I was offered a new position in the western part of state. With more responsibility came a larger salary. I called her and asked if she wanted to try again, suggesting she could come up in the spring, after she’d be done with the last of her classes for her Masters Degree. I was afraid of making the call, wondering what would happen if we got back together, but took the leap anyway, thinking it was worth the gamble. In the end, it didn’t matter. She quickly told me that getting back together was no longer a possibility. Then she said, choking up, that she regretted it wasn’t possible. I was confused, assuming she meant she could no longer trust me, but learned otherwise a few weeks later. Just a week or so after I made the move, she called late one evening and broke the news. She was pregnant with his child. I never felt so alone. Being new in town, didn‘t know anyone to call. After a few drinks, I went to bed and cried more than I had in my life. I was up early the next morning and call my friend Reuben, knowing he’d be in his office by 6 AM. Although he gave me some legal advice, there really wasn’t much he could say to comfort me.

A few weeks after splitting our tax refund, the divorce was final. She remarried the next day. It was late May or early June and I was in Florida at a conference, having already signed and notarized the papers and mailed them to her attorney. I was with people I didn’t know and no one knew, as we went out partying night after night, how much I was hurting. That summer, I directed camp and began to date again. At the end of the camping season, Reuben suggested we meet in Damascus, Virginia and for two weeks, we hiked north along the Appalachian Trail. Four years later, I’d complete the trail.
I’d written a rough draft of this a month ago, not sure if I was going to post it, then read the opening chapter of Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. The book is a sequel to his Great Railway Bazaar, which is based on his travels by train through Europe and Asia in 1973. Thirty-three years later, he decides that he’s going to take the same trip. He begins the book telling us what he didn’t write in his first book, about how his wife was angry about the trip. She didn’t give him a pleasant send off and while he was away, brought a lover into his house who played with his kids and slept in his bed. But, as Theroux admits, he was partly to blame. In writing about my Appalachian Trail journeys, I’ve left out a major thing that had happened in my life. Three years before the journeys I've been writing about, I split up with my high school sweetheart after a rocky marriage that saw us through college and her almost through graduate school. Writing about the trail, where I had many dreams about her, has brought some of this back and is why I decided to write about this uncomfortable time from my past.
This time period in my life has inspired me to write several other stories:
A humorous story about oysters from my time in Florida
My last week at camp
Camp and the ultimate punishment
The woman I dated that summer


  1. No comment other than to say I'm sure it was difficult to share this. Those early lessons are sometimes the hardest.

  2. Brought me back to my own divorce. A tough time in a life. You wonder what happens and you never quite know.

  3. Sage
    I loved your oyster story in Florida ..... bet there was a chuckle raised in heaven also!

  4. Randall, yes they are hard, but are lessons learned ever easy?

    Charles, "You wonder what happens and you never quite know..." So true.

    Sleepyhead (aka Eutychus), 20 some years later, I still can't believe he ate the oyster!

  5. That, was awful.

    You asked are lessons learnt ever easy. The answer is yes. You see, it's ok to have hard lessons, or easy, heck, or both; but seeing another man and carrying his child while still in a marriage is simple wrong, more than wrong, it's plain evil. Look, if one is totally unhappy with one's spouse, it is perfectly to walk out, end it, and the minimize the hurt. It becomes nothing but evil when one has to cross the line and hurt someone else so badly! Dude you are so much better off without a person like her in your life!

  6. Wow. I have no smart alecky remark.

    I'm not quite as stringent as Mother Hen and obviously it is better to be honest and you are better off but it's also a two way street. I just watched a movie tonight that made me think about this very topic. In it, it is reverse but he tells the wife that he slept with another woman. The wife gives him the opening to leave...but he doesn't...but yet he doesn't break up with the other woman until she breaks it off with him shortly after. The wife then ponders her role in this: things she might have done to contribute to it, things she could have done differently, etc. I think that's a true and honest thing to think about. No one cheats when they are happy.

    Like the wife in the movie, did you reflect on your past actions and how you could have done things differently? Do you remember them and make a point of doing it/those things this time around?

  7. Mother Hen, I was the one that left... She was the one that got pregnant.

    Murf, No smart-aleck remarks? I don't know how to respond. I've done more than a lot of reflecting around this...

  8. You are obviously a strong man of courage and understand what it means to partake in all of the positive travels in your life that have been responsible for bringing you meaning. There have been breath taking vistas, trails, rivers, buildings, people and events many of us might not experience were it not for this Blog. I felt sorrow over this honest reflection of loss and admire you for sharing it. In so doing, others will identify with the fact that life is very difficult. However, along with this I see many adventures yet ahead and much happiness for you, my friend! Well done.

  9. That is such a sad story. I think it takes us all back to that time in our life when we feel like our heart has been ripped from our body.

  10. I can't seem to find the words I want to say, except for wow. Thank you for sharing this very personal story about your life.

  11. This is a very sad story but Sage I could relate

    Sometimes couples let miscommunication or communication in general get in the way of a very good thing

    Wonderfully written

  12. I, unlike you Sage, know exactly what happened. Knew it right from the moment I walked home from work to a house that was totally empty up to and including the roll of toilet paper that had been on the holder.

    It got easier after I sent the last child support check after 19 years of sending them.

    Now it's just *shrug* She made a good life with her husband and me and my old lady are happy.

  13. I'd need a beer and a warm fire to really ponder such things- both what you've written and my own experience. Not easy to share such personal, meaningful events in one's life. You do it well.

  14. While I'm sure this was hard to write, I know I usually feel better after I get something like that off my chest. Hopefully this is just a memory that comes back from time to time, nothing something that haunts you constantly.

  15. A very honest post. Thank you for sharing and may your wounds eventually heal.