I got married when I was eighteen and moved to Virginia because my husband had two years left in the Navy. He was at sea more than he was home, so it was a mystery why I could not live with my family. But he wanted me in Virginia, so I obeyed.
Another Navy wife befriended me and helped me acclimate. I joined a church and got a job.
My father had been against my getting married and had predicted troubles; his predictions came true.
After two years, I saw clearly what my life would be if I stayed married, and I told my husband I wanted a divorce.
He was shocked because I never stood up for myself. I had been timid, fearful and compliant.
After he left, I started thinking about moving home.
Then my father called and told me I was not welcome at home. He was angry with me.
Now it was my turn to be shocked because I did not understand his anger. I could not argue with him, though, because what he said was true—I had only been married two years, and I was the one who asked for the divorce.
My dad, with his dry sense of humor, claimed he had bought a billboard on I-94 that said, “I am still paying for the god damn wedding, and she is already divorced.” He told me I had made my bed, so….
There I was, stuck in Virginia with no family support. I felt I was being punished for breaking the rules.
I didn’t go home that Thanksgiving or Christmas, and by the new year, I was in a deep depression.
In February, my older brother cleared the way for me to come home for a weekend, and I jumped at the chance.
Frosty is how I described my dad toward me. He allowed me to enter his house, but he was unhappy about it. I was mystified by his anger. I knew he was disappointed about my not staying married, but this seemed so extreme.
When I got on the plane to fly back to Virginia, I was even deeper in despair. I remember thinking, “I hope my seatmate does not ask me who I am because I don’t even know my name anymore.” Then I started to cry.
Fifty years later and just days before my mother died, she told me that after he left Virginia, my ex-husband had come to talk to my dad. She did not know what was said, but I could imagine because I knew that my ex-husband had dished dirt about me to our friends.
Suddenly, my dad’s anger from fifty years ago made sense. He had believed whatever lies my ex had told him; he had thought the worst about me.
I was furious because I knew that my ex had not told him the whole story, he had blamed me and not admitted his part in the breakdown of our marriage.
I realized I had been keeping a secret, too—the secret of what my husband had done to me.
Terribly hard when your close family can’t or won’t talk openly and there’s extra stuff happening in the background you’re not even aware of.. how very distressing and drawn-out and difficult.
A friend and I both recently read A Fall of Marigolds; part of the story is a found letter and if the finder should share it with the intended receiver. As difficult as it was to hear my mother’s secret and to realize how different my life might have been had I known then what I know now, I am glad she told me. I am someone who believes it is better to know than not know, and I believe I can handle most anything as long as I know what I am actually dealing with. I think secrets, in general, destroy our relationships.
100% agree. I grew up with knowledge of a family tragedy, something that happened within my own family before I was even born. If I hadn’t known about it until I was older I would’ve been terribly devastated. It still hasn’t been easy but at least my understanding of what happened grew *with* me as I grew older, a relatively gentle process compared to if I’d suddenly been told about it at an older age. My parents were wise, I believe, in allowing me at a young age to hear them talking about what had happened in conversation with other adults.. in that way I absorbed the story for myself. I think it was the least painful way to learn about something so difficult, so I agree about it being “better to know” – as far as I can tell – although *how* one gets to know matters a lot too – the way I found out was probably the best in our particular situation.
I imagine that most families have some tragedy or trauma in their histories. Your parents were wise to let you know what had happened in yours. I wonder if you ever spoke with your parents or other family members about it. I was an insider on many family secrets, but we never spoke about them–I just carried the knowledge with me.
I’d very occasionally ask my mum something about it and that was ok. In my early 20s I initiated a longer conversation with my parents and now I’m glad I did. There’d been a court case + media coverage after what happened but that was before my time. People soon forget so I normally kept quiet about it but it’s always been a difficult thing to carry that knowledge with me.
My heart aches for you, Madeline. I understand all too well your words “He had believed whatever lies my ex had told him; he had thought the worst about me.” ❤️❤️❤️🙏
Thank you for understanding. Even after all these years–and my father and I had reconciled years ago–that realization was so painful.
That is the part that still bewilders me. Forgiveness and reconciliation don’t erase the pain. (((((Madeline))))) ❤️🙏
So true. Thank you
Liz, it sounds like a small stone in your heart. Perhaps the gift is that these things we carry can help us be more compassionate toward others whose lives have been altered by tragic events. Thank you for sharing.
That’s due to my care in only saying what I feel ok with saying.. but here goes. Before I was born my two sisters at a young age were fatally shot at home by their older brother, apparently ‘saving’ them from our father; he also tried and failed to get dad. I’m still learning how to live with that back-story. Christian family, evangelical. While new personal understandings can be gained (and do help) it’s a very heavy stone ~so I’ve zero living sisters plus 2 brothers who are close to 20 yrs older than me. It’s not really a secret but.. it pays me to be careful in sharing xx
Oh, Liz, I am so sorry. Such a heavy stone to carry! Thank you for sharing. I sometimes ask myself, “To what end?” whenI am sharing some trauma or tragedy, and I remind myself that perhaps one person can be helped by my sharing, by my being forthcoming with the past that has shaped my present. Such are the mysteries of life–and the healing mysteries of God (that sometimes, just by knowing that another has survived something similar, we have hope). Prayers for you.
Much appreciated Madeline, and also appreciated are the stories you share and the spiritual experiences and insights you’ve had along the way, and what you’ve learned. What you write about is always very interesting (and often helpful to me too). Thanks!
Men stand by each other. What a pity your mother didn’t do the same for you and not wait until her deathbed to tell you. Look forward to reading more. Thanks for the follow 🙂
Thanks Rosaliene, for your comment. My mother definitely valued men over women and protected men in our family and community who did not deserve her protection.