Divorce is a death experience, a sundering of far more than a relationship. It is a preview of some aspects of that final walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in that it strips artifice from you and forces you to face dark and unwelcome truths. It is a severance, a wound, a move from one state to another, very different, one – analogous, in many respects, to that final move into an entirely new, and mysterious, realm.
‘Reader, I married him!’ I noted, in stunned joy, on July 28th 1997 as, five months pregnant and garlanded with freesias, I sat down to complete my diary account of the wedding. Did I entertain hopes? Of course I did! What bride doesn’t? Was I labouring under the romantic illusion of perfect love and soul-mate togetherness? Of course I was! How else was I to ignore the dark streaks already edging their way onto the canvas of the relationship? I was not the first woman to think that marriage and a child would fill in the gaps with love’s cement, nor will I be the last.
Unlike many, however, I kept hope alive and some semblance of romantic illusion simmering far longer than was healthy, constantly casting myself in the role of mad, dysfunctional, nasty witch in order to preserve the specious perfection, to believe in the wounded innocence, to empathise with the damaged soul, of the man I had married. I needed to see him as Mr. Rochester, blinded and hurt by a previous marital fire and scorching, because I did not want to admit that there was far more – and, ironically, far less! – to it than that.
Now, nine months after the Decree Absolute, I am numb, mourning, dulled, yet sparking – at some very deep level – with a strange form of grief. I do not miss the man himself, but I do miss the foolish, girlish hope and excitement (for it was, in its own way, addictive); I do miss the romantic-novel-inspired illusions; I do miss what could have been – even though I now know that it couldn’t.
But also I am saddened by a sense of failure – because I went into that marriage thinking it was for life, determined to make it work, committed to this man and, for reasons I won’t go into now, absolutely determined that I would never be unfaithful to him. It wasn’t for life. I could not, ultimately, make it work. My commitment to him wavered as a result of repeated emotional and mental abuse. And yet, and yet, for all that I could have taken other men as lovers, I never did. I couldn’t bring myself to cross that particular line, never even came close to it.
I do blame myself, though I am not quite sure why – except that the habit of self-blame goes so deep and is so pervasive that it has become like a default setting. I suppose I blame myself for not being the right kind of woman for him; for allowing behaviour which he claims I provoked; for being half of a situation which our child had to grow up in; for not being perfect, good enough, able to stand up for myself.
I had, in the end, to go No Contact – as the saying goes. It was the only way. And this I have adhered to: In the three months since I moved here, I have had no dealings with this man.
Perhaps the death of innocence has been the most wounding aspect of this whole sorry affair – and the knowledge that I read someone close to me so disastrously wrong; that I allowed good looks and charm to hypnotise me to such an extent.
But still it hurts. Still I feel that I have failed – as a woman, as a wife, as a sister, an in-law, a mother – because those fairy-tale words, ‘And they lived happily ever after…’ still have such sway over the silly, sweet, sugary imaginations of young girls, don’t they? And, as girls, I think we do feel that we have to be the cement that keeps the marital edifice in one strong piece: That it is up to us to make sure that our men do not stray, or get bored, or get angry or find anything to distract them from that which they promised as rings were exchanged and Holy Wedlock celebrated. And, as girls, I think too many of us are still brought up to believe that any crack in a relationship is our fault for being too wilful, insufficiently obedient and submissive; that we bring disaster upon ourselves by aping, at whatever level, the masculine role.
So: I mourn. I question myself. I ask whether I was too lively and loud, too fiery and frantic, too this, too that to be pleasing to a man. And I wonder, privately (as, I am sure, all abused women do at some point), whether I deserved to have my wings clipped; whether some defect in my character meant that I merited emotional punishment and constant control.
Parts of me are now fluttering uncertainly back to life. Other parts remain in deep hibernation, a kind of wintry faux-death. The tombstone of the marriage, with its dates of birth and death etched raw in the grey surface, taunts me. Its sad ghost haunts. I weep.