A Hellish Year, Part 3: On the Stories We Tell Ourselves

I met a man once who left his wife a few years before I knew him. Now despite being just as broken by his actions as I suspect his poor wife was, he was still searching for answers for why he did what he did. But instead of simply accepting that he made a mistake, that he acted badly and had to deal with the aspects of his character that led him to that moment, he fabricated a biblical fairytale about his wife and the woman he left her for to justify his actions.

Now this man was brought up Catholic and his story reflected that. He cast his ex-wife as the saintly, virgin mother who everyone loved but was sexless. She had no need for him. There was no room for him in her life. She was a nun, he told himself. Because he made up his mind that she was untouchable, a lovely, frigid statue of a woman, this justified his turning to his Mary Magdalene/Eve: the younger woman who epitomized the forbidden, who was smart, sexy and showed him things he had never dreamed of.

His was a story of a weak man caught between these two mighty archetypes, neglected by the superior soul of the virgin, tempted by the lascivious apple of the other. What’s a man to do?

When he was telling me this story (which he did repeatedly), I kept wondering what his wife’s perspective was. Did she feel like a nun? Would she have agreed with his characterization of her? Did she feel asexual or was it perhaps the toll of taking care of young children and an ungrateful husband that made her seem cold? And what about his Eve? Did she see herself in such a tainted light?

I highly doubt it. I would bet money on the fact that these women would not recognize themselves in his narrative, or if they did, that they were grossly misrepresented, taken out of context. This was the story he told himself to make himself feel better. I am pretty sure it did not resemble their version at all.

Now this is nowhere near J and my story. I don’t think anyone would ever mistake me as saintly. Except for that one time when I was 16 on the bus in Rome when a guy got up in my grill yelling Santa Maria! Santa Maria!, but I suspect that was to distract me from the fact that his friend was picking my pocket at the moment. It didn’t work. They didn’t get my money the bastards.

But it is indicative of how easy it is to weave a tale to rationalize our behaviour and then get stuck in the quagmire of our own narrative.

I want to make this very clear (if it isn’t already): these last few blog posts have been my story and my story alone. I have been trying to write as honestly as I can about the kinds of issues J’s rejection has churned up, the stuff that has laid buried in me for a long time but needs to be dealt with now or I will drown in this sad, closed down version of myself. The narratives that I have been telling myself for so long that I thought were keeping me afloat but are in fact quicksand.

As you can imagine, my story is very different from his story. I am trying very hard to stick to my own feelings without going the endless route of speculation and hypothesis of why he did what he did (and believe, I have spent countless hours in this fruitless endeavour and have come up with has many theories as Scheherazade came up with stories).

The wonderful Rebecca Solnit (my favourite writer these days, but more on that later) said this about the end of love in her very personal essay entitled, “Two Arrowheads” in the book A Field Guide to Getting Lost:

“A happy love is a single story, a disintegrating one is two or more competing, conflicting versions, and a disintegrated one lies at your feet like a shattered mirror, each shard reflecting a different story, that is wonderful, terrible, if only this had, if only this hadn’t. The stories don’t fit back together, and it’s the end of stories, those devices we carry like shells and shields and blinkers and occasionally maps and compasses. The people close to you become mirrors and journals in which you record your history, the instruments that help you know yourself and remember yourself, and you do the same for them. When they vanish so does the use, the appreciation, the understanding of those small anecdotes, catchphrases, jokes: they become a book slammed shut or burnt.”

My story is one of lack of agency. One where I did not have a voice or a say in the disintegration of our marriage. It took me completely by surprise. I woke up one morning and discovered our marriage lying on the ground in shards with no idea how it got there.

That is not to say that I had nothing to do with it, that our marriage was perfect. Nothing and nobody is perfect. I have my own patterns of behaviour that are less than stellar and that I am trying (partly through writing about them) to change. But, and again, this is the part where I am stuck because it differs so greatly from his version: none of it seemed big enough to justify ending the marriage.

As far as I can understand my own story, of where I possibly went wrong (and I so desperately long to have been told what it was that I was doing wrong so I could have done something about it) was behaviour fueled by my need to make everyone happy, my reliance on routine and the fall out from being overwhelmed and tired, which did not leave much room for anything else and which made me probably react in desperate, harsh ways. But that is the problem. I was never told. And now it is too late because I can’t do anything about it. I feel trapped and muzzled, and well, fired without just cause.

My talking about these issues in such a public forum is an attempt to regain my voice. It is a tightrope act between being as honest and truthful as I can about my own feelings and my own destructive patterns and respecting that I have no right to try to portray his side of the story.

This is very hard. Actually this is one of the hardest parts – accepting that the other’s story doesn’t match yours. And when I say accepting, I don’t mean sacrificing one version for the other, but simply accepting that the other person has a different perspective. J feels that this was necessary. I do not. That is the big point where we diverge and which is the most painful thing to accept.

Many of the things he says clang dissonantly in my head (not in a good, Schoenberg kind of way but mostly in a six-car pile up on the freeway kind of way). I am constantly restraining myself from trying to talk to him about it, to hash it out until we can come up with the same version. Because this fork in our stories feels like violence. It feels like a re-writing of our history, like a messing with my memories and my sanity. His version feels like a violation of everything I thought I knew about my life.

It feels like stepping on shards of broken glass.

I am sure my version of events feels the same to him.

So I am trying my best to accept that I will never know what really happened. I have to accept that I probably played a part in the disintegration but I will never be allowed to know what that was. I have to accept that though I thought our marriage was solid, full of love and ultimately worth fighting for, he did not.

I know this was not an easy decision for him and that he is just as traumatized by this last year as I am. I know that. I don’t mean to portray any of this lightly. And I certainly do not mean to revile him, or cast him as the evil villain. It is complicated and hard to understand for the both us, I think. I don’t wish him ill and the thought that he might be suffering does not make me feel happy or vindicated, but very, very sad.

But that is his story. He is the only one that can tell it and hopefully come to terms with it.

All I can do is focus on deconstructing my own thoughts and feelings so that I can hopefully move through the next half of my life with more freedom, wisdom and compassion.

In short, I hope to move forward as a lighter version of myself, one who is a lot less full of shit. Because shit is heavy and I don’t want to carry it anymore.







One thought on “A Hellish Year, Part 3: On the Stories We Tell Ourselves

  1. You are regaining your voice–maybe even finding the voice you never fully possessed-and you are moving forward. Bravely.

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