#7 in my ongoing book series; original post September 6, 2013
I never liked the sticky suburbs of Washington D.C. My ex had moved us there from New York City years before. As I was boxing up my three-bedroom Virginia ranch and my life during my divorce, I got a call from a girl friend in Southern California who was gravely ill. When her hair fell out, her husband served her with divorce papers (attachment was not his thing).
Due to the treatments, she couldn’t remember what happened on a given day in court, so I flew out to help. On my first trip, all I saw was courtrooms and hospitals. On my second trip, I stepped out onto Newport Beach and the beauty of the area hit me hard between the eyes.
“Why not me?” I thought, looking at the ocean, the sailboats, the rows of green palms and red Spanish tile roofs sweeping into the bright blue distance. Why should I move down the pike in the dreary Old Dominion, shoveling ice and snow to commute the rest of my life — when I could move across the country to a beautiful place like this? Back to Virginia I flew, now boxing up a storm, with the song of a warm sun, a rolling ocean, and a new life in my heart.
Trouble is, divorce doesn’t come with the warning it ought to have from the Surgeon General’s office: “Caution: Rebound Affairs Can be Hazardous to your Health.” Why didn’t the counselors and lawyers at the women’s center tell us? Why didn’t they tell us that 75% of divorced folks end up in a second divorce?
Why? Because divorce hurts! It hurts a lot! So the natural tendency in divorce is to medicate, and many people do medicate, until they learn the hard way to stop. Medicating includes alcohol, drugs, food, or other substance abuse, workaholism, sports, video games, internet fixations of all sorts — anything which changes the subject, anything to avoid facing up to the emotional pain of the loss of an entire life.
Take my sudden Country & Western music jag. Hindsight stinks, but clearly I was having a profound emotional crisis, emotional pain at a level which I’d later recognize as “break-through grief.” Suddenly, La Soprano Classique can’t bear classical music, but she’ll bang on the steering wheel to Toby Keith for hours on end? A clinical case of medicating with music.
At the top of the medication list is the feel-good of a new romance. But when that’s done on the rebound–
without a time-out to understand what went wrong in the first marriage, or to take concrete measures to heal from such a major wound — then both parties come to the table with a lot of buried hurt burning up their hearts. Character discernment goes out the window, mis-matches are legion, and even the best people –- each in intolerable pain of their own — eventually project it wrongly onto their unwitting partner. As they lash out, eyes wide shut, it ends in another divorce, more hurt piled on hurt.
Who knew? “Whu Nhu? He was the Prime Minister of Burma before U Thant,” was again my tag line. I certainly did not know. “Whaddaya call a blind doe? ‘No Eye Deer’,” was my other refrain. I did not get the memo, because for one thing, there was no memo. Another reason for this book, ‘cos a memo on divorce and the dangers of the rebound sure is needed.
I Thought I Was Dead
In July 2006 when I left home, I had been left “home alone” for dead for so long by my ex, that I thought I was dead. Larry moved us from New York where we met and married, to Virginia, then left the house one morning, and never came home until past midnight. For about 15 years. There was no breaking bread together, no “How was your day?” emotional connection to soothe daily hurts, and for the last 15 years, no physical contact — and no children.
We didn’t have time for that stuff; how could I have kids on airplanes? We were above all that, we had to save the world! So I furiously trotted the globe on business, organized conferences in Tokyo for diplomats from several nations in three languages, and devoured great music in another few languages.
When I turned 50, a perceptive friend actually asked me if I’d ever thought I’d live past 50, which if you think about it, is a shocking thing to ask a female gym rat as healthy as a horse. “No, I guess not” I blurted without self-editing, “Is it so obvious I’ve been burning at both ends?” I’d been lost in East Berlin in the rain on the wrong side of the Wall, and deep under the Korean DMZ in a miner’s rail bucket. I’d been to so many places on so many adventures that a co-worker asked, “Kathy, is there anything you haven’t done?”
Well, er, it turns out there were still a few things, and by Murgatroyd I was going to do them all — and now, starting with a lot of Pacific Ocean water sports. I really never thought I’d make it to 2010 alive, which encouraged a certain devil-may-care attitude. (That’s me in red.)
Larry was so callous for so many years that by the time I left, my view finder was filled with nothing but the sheer relief that I was no longer banging my head against his wall of indifference. Just to be breathing felt like a party. Just to see the sun and the ocean and the odd palm tree, to be free of the constant adrenaline panic of deadlines, was a breath of air so fresh it made me want to dance, and so I did.
I danced a lot of two-step and wailed to hard rock; I sang a lot of country; I raced sailboats; and ocean kayaked; and hiked; and dated up a semi-tropical storm. I had no intention of not doing the right thing. Fun appeared to be the only intensely rational thing to do.
Fact is, I’d taken such an emotional hit with the divorce that I was numb. I had so much pain from all those decades of being left alone, that I didn’t even know I had pain. ( The technical term is dissociation.)
How was I to know I was serial-medicating a whole landslide of pain with all this partying? Whu Nhu? I just thought: “I’m no longer banging my head against the wall! Let’s go dancing instead.” But reality was that I was in so much pain that I just walked out on Newport Beach and proceeded directly to medicate.
In particular, I thought, love is simple. “I married a bad man, he was mean to me. Now I’ll find a good man to love me,” I told myself. Famous last words.
The Singing Nun
I knew the global financial markets, but after a 30-year hiatus from dating, I was like a nun out of a cloister on the ball field of romance. As I was boxing up a storm in Virginia, a statistical fluke hit; at least, I thought it was a fluke. It was to be the first of many. I found myself picked up and dumped into a vat of the ultimate pain medication.
For almost 20 years, every Sunday in August I’d gone to my local pool where everyone knew me as Mrs. Larry. First Sunday in August 2006, while living in my best friend Sandy’s basement, I went to my pool, only to find it padlocked, due to be bulldozed for the construction of a furniture warehouse.
I was weeks from moving to California, and wanted a tan, so across the river I drove to the next pool in Maryland 20 minutes away. It was an innocent family spot where I’d never set foot in my life and in a few weeks would never set foot again; I’d be 3,000 miles gone.
So it was that three weeks out of my home, I was minding my own business in spades, secure in the glum knowledge that Larry found me completely unattractive and certain that no man would ever look at me again as long as I lived. It was 90 degrees in the humid shade and I was half asleep in the pool holding onto a ladder, when he hailed me: “Hey, ladder lady.”
I thought he wanted the ladder, so I swam away.
I was amazed when he appeared minutes later at my lounge chair, a wiry fellow with burning blue eyes, hitting on me like a ton of bricks (not that I knew the term “to hit” at the time). My jaw must have dropped a foot but he wasn’t looking at my jaw. Later he said, “When I saw you, the first thing I noticed was that you weren’t wearing a ring. The second thing was the bikini. I wanted to just eat you all up.”
He chatted awhile, and handed me his impressive business card, which indicated he managed billion-dollar equipment as head of air traffic control at Washington National Airport. “Come to my house for dinner,” he urged. “I’m moving to California,” I said point blank, “I’ll show you my car trunk full of boxes to prove it. It’s pointless.”
I had been with one man for 30 years (including before marriage) and hadn’t dated since college. I was like the Singing Nun out of a cloister, or a dead ringer for Wilma Flintstone with a bone in her hair, from a time capsule out of pre-history. To say I needed to learn about men was the understatement of the millennium (ok, it had been a short millennium so far).
My ex hadn’t touched me since forever and I was a top contender for Loneliest Gal in the Old Dominion. I was already road kill before this truck hit me; I was chum suitable to be tossed to the sharks. I had no tools to handle anything remotely approaching this.
Dan Heller*, for his part, had one heck of a tool box, and was not a man to be deterred. Three Sundays at the pool he came back at me, “Come to my house for dinner.” He had beautiful eyes, and knew how to use them. Finally he figured out that I was fascinated by construction projects and air travel after working on all those Third World development plans on the other side of the world. He guessed correctly that I wouldn’t be able resist a “back stage tour” of the airport.
That next Wednesday at 5 p.m. I met him outside the airport office. We climbed into his official Jeep and roamed far and wide, examining the great soaring machines which move people and economic equipment all over the world from angles a mere passenger never sees. We toured the extensive supporting plant and fuel tank farms, acres of new construction, numerous hangars with aircraft of every variety, and I learned the difference between a taxiway and a runway.
The coup de grace was a ride to the top of the new Air Traffic Control Tower which was 99% complete but not yet in service. The control room at the top had a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view of the entire airfield, the great runways stretching to the horizons, the glorious landscapes for miles around, and a layer of fresh-smelling sawdust from final woodworking in progress. We were alone way up there at sunset, Dan was in his element, and I leave you to imagine the rest.
On the fourth Sunday, I folded.
Walking into Dan’s Maryland farm house for dinner, we entered a great room all of pine with a two story vaulted cathedral ceiling, an acoustic I was sure would be terrific for Mozart (if I could bear to sing it again). I sang a few bars; Dan looked bemused. There was a bay window with a sunset view of the lake, and a promising grand staircase. “Ah built this house with mah own two hands,” he drawled, having somehow acquired a killer Southern accent, and proceeded to show off his construction photos.
He was from southern New Jersey, I was from southern Long Island – and I was toast. I had no idea what goes on in the real world. I thought he was looking for True Love.
No, Virginia, there is no Santy Claus, and he sure wasn’t. He had a closet full of hunting rifles and camouflage, and he was looking for a deer to take. Once he had the carcass, he was going to lose interest in that deer real fast. But of course, Ms. No Eye Deer was blind to the obvious.
*All names, except for mine, have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, and any resemblance they may have to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
This is part three of Chapter One of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder – How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.
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