Yesterday the 5th would have been my dad’s 102nd birthday, had he lived another five years. It also would have been my 30th wedding anniversary, had I remained married to my first wife Kathy for the another 14 years. We divorced in 2000, after 16 years of marriage.
At the time we were getting divorced I felt a lot of bitterness and animosity toward her. I remember telling someone about my pending divorce then, I cried to almost anyone who would listen about what a bitch she was to replace me “like an old coat.” This guy patiently listened to me and asked: “How long were you guys married?”
“16 years,” I answered.
“Wow, 16 years. That’s a successful marriage.”
I wanted to hit him, smash his face in, how dare he declare my failed marriage as “successful?” Who the hell was he?
The guy, we’re still acquainted (notice I didn’t say still friends) has since married, had a child, and divorced the woman because he “wasn’t feeling it.” His choice. I guess if you learn something it’s a success.
I don’t think I could have done it, despite the fact that it was the right and sensible thing to do considering how much both Kathy and I had changed by the end of the marriage.
I was caught in a vortex of fear and insecurity, and the only way out was to ride it till I fell to earth, and luckily I landed on my feet. It could have gone the other way if I hadn’t gotten the help and support of friends and total strangers I met along the way.
We have a son together, Javier, and for his sake I was advised to go along with her demands and not create more conflict that would impact him negatively. He already had problems enough growing up with addicts for parents, something we can’t change, but at least we stopped being addicts time enough for him to lead a normal life as a teenager.
Kathy and Javier on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 90’s.
I think I didn’t know how to love when we were married, I had to learn to love my son; I never got the opportunity to learn to love her. Or maybe I have. I’ve accepted that what she did, no matter how painful and ego shattering it was at the time, was what she needed to do for herself following the state of our marriage and her sudden diagnosis of breast cancer.
Love means accepting what the person you love needs, and not standing in their way. It took me a little while, but I think I got it. I no longer feel anger and resentment when I think of her, and I have to say she was always a great, loving mother to our son.
Javier, the giant boy in 2009.
What I feel now toward her is gratitude and love. Gratitude that she pushed me to change, to grow; something I would not have done unless forced to.
Gratitude that she taught me how to love my son, and eventually, myself.
Gratitude that because of our divorce, I met someone who is a better fit, that I have a lot more in common with, and whom I love dearly, now that I’ve learned how to do it.
The lovely Danusia and I the first year we were together.
We’ll have been together ten years this coming August, and I have to say the past ten years have been the best years of my life so far, in terms of accomplishment and happiness. Danusia has helped me through things that only filled me with fear before: becoming a citizen, writing for public consumption, performing in front of an audience, and burying my dad.
Also learning to love myself. That’s important, because if I can’t love myself, how can I love anyone else? That was the basic flaw in my first marriage.
So thank you, Kathy, wherever you are, for setting me free to find a new and far more interesting life. Not that life with her wasn’t interesting, it’s just that that kind of interesting wasn’t good for our physical or mental health, and the both of us are lucky to have survived it.
If you are reading this and are in the middle of a painful breakup or divorce, know this: it will be OK. It will certainly be different, and whether it will be good different or bad different will depend on you and how fast you let go and move on to bigger and better things, because life’s out there if you want it.