Bad News

Since the night of the 2016 election we have lived in a smothering blanket of bad news. The bad news is relentless. Just when you think Trump World can’t get worse, it gets worse. No day is better than the one before. Day after day the despair grows deeper– until it permeates every tissue of hope in my body.

My body is suffering enough in my own small world of despair that I don’t need the dismal distraction of our national catastrophe. I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds over the past four months, and this week was diagnosed with a stress related skin condition. Let’s not even talk about inside my head!

One’s home is meant to be a safe haven, a place of refuge from all the bad news outside. Since February I have had no such refuge.

And in my conception of marriage, one’s partner is also a kind of refuge, a safe person with whom to share the vicissitudes of life, to deflect some of the outside bad news; a partner to love and who loves me in return no matter what’s happening. I have no such partner today. In truth, my wife was never a safe refuge. It’s a description and role that she would reject anyway regardless of her feelings towards me.

My home today, the house in which I’ve lived since I married my wife, is simply where I sleep, prepare and eat most meals, and otherwise daily pack up my lifetime accumulated belongings in order to move out at the end of August. The bad news in my house—or rather, in my wife’s house—is more than enough to fill me with unhappiness. Adding all the atmospheric bad news is insult to injury.

Every day there’s less of me evident. Empty bookshelves. Empty drawers. Pictures off the wall. Slowly but surely my presence is being erased. My wife replaces what I take down with her own pieces. And our life together, such as it is, goes on within this peculiar diminishment—as though packing up and leaving is normal, the expected thing. Only occasionally do we talk about it and then it quickly gets ugly and we make a truce to not talk about the situation just to get through the remaining weeks together. Countdown time.

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I’m like a broken record my wife says, and so I am. (Is that, too, a divorceable crime?) To call it quits, without so much as a real conversation about what it would take to save our relationship, to not have the slightest interest in saving our marriage, is a terrible failure. It’s a moral failure of commitment and compassion. It’s wrong.

Would I want to stay in an unhappy marriage simply because my wife feels sorry to leave me? Would I want my wife to stay in an unhappy marriage simply because she feels too sorry to leave? No. But to end the marriage unilaterally, without trying to see what it would take to turn unhappiness into some kind of happiness, is an injustice–an injustice to the vows we made.

My wife calls it clarity of vision.

Her idea of marriage—as much as I can discern since she refuses to articulate it, and it’s so clear to be at variance with my own—is a kind of co-habiting business transaction. Neither of us were too comfortable discussing finances so what was left unsaid became an issue. Late or insufficient payments got penalized after the fact.

She has said she hoped to have someone with whom she could travel, which we did: first close by to Mendocino, then the Oregon Coast, Big Sur, Yosemite; later to Ireland and the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador. On each successive trip little signs—some not so little—appeared—words, actions– that should have been warning signals to me that all was not right.

Later, when my wife decided to go to Easter Island with two of her work colleagues, she didn’t feel it necessary to even tell me. I overheard her tell a friend at lunch. Although months before the 9th of February—the day she told me she no longer loved me and wanted me to move away (“…perhaps you could rent a room in a house somewhere”)—I was already being written out of the script. Still I didn’t read the signal, didn’t register the true intent. Love might be blind, but this was cognitive stupidity. Or was I refusing to accept what was plainly in front of me–refusing to accept the failure of my marriage.

Today I gave our little dog Bebe the last bath I would ever give him. I’m glad he doesn’t understand this. It’s hard enough for me. He’s without exception the most affectionate dog I’ve ever known. He loves us both and sticks to us like Velcro. When I say goodbye to him it will have to be forever. I don’t want to put him through whatever doggie anguish he would experience with infrequent reunions. It wouldn’t be fair to raise his hopes—or mine—only to leave again.

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In response to my saying how much I regret losing my dog, my wife has told me a dog is not a possession; that one doesn’t “own” another sentient being. I’ll keep that response in mind when I’m missing Bebe after I’m gone.

Of all that I’m leaving behind, I may miss Bebe the most. I will miss his innocent, trusting affection, his sweetness, his constant attention, his soft fluffy face, and his eyes that only ask for love. He has never let me down.

Will I miss the house? Not particularly. It was by design never mine, and while we combined our households in an equitable fashion—my wife was completely fair about sharing her space and we did our best to meld our possessions into a coherent whole—but our tastes and styles were not the same, resulting in each of us feeling only partially satisfied. There were her things, and my things. Never were there “our” things.  I will miss our upstairs co-owners, good friends–but we will remain friends.

I will miss my wife. I will miss the love I had and still have for my wife. I will miss her companionship. I will miss the memory of the love we did share, for a time. I have already missed intimacy for the past three and a half years so that won’t be so poignant now.

I will miss being married.

 

Sad

I’m sad tonight, sad my marriage is ending, sad that what we once had together is gone. I’ve spent the day packing. I’ve been going through old photos, some very old, some of my wife and me in happy times. There were happy times, times when I know she loved me and I loved her. I still love her.

It’s tough, living together, acting like our life is normal, preparing and eating meals together, making small talk—nothing serious, nothing personal, nothing touching on the dissolution of our marriage. I don’t want to go, and yet am going. I hear my wife in another room, talking to a friend on the phone, and my heart aches. There is nothing about this that makes sense.

I ask myself: Am I so bad? What did I do that was so grievous to warrant my wife falling out of love with me, warrant divorce? I know what she says, and as crimes of marriage go, my sins seem minor. To me—but not to her.

I know, I know. It’s not entirely me. It’s as much her—so many people have told me this I need to believe it. They tell me it’s her history. She doesn’t stay with her men. But it doesn’t help.  I’m still the one rejected, leaving, packing up, planning a new life without her. I wanted to be the exception.

As one friend of hers said to me, “she’s tough.”  I know.

Maybe when we’re no longer together the hurt won’t be as deep, as wounding as it is tonight.  It’s all so evident now, in my face. I might as well be a roommate moving to a new job in another city. That’s what it looks like, though not what it feels like. It feels like hell.

I have asked my wife not to be in the house the morning I leave. I want to be alone for the night, and leave in the morning without her there, without our dog Bebe there, too. I could not bear it. I don’t think she understands the gravity of this request. If she refuses to leave I will go to a hotel and come back the next day to take the clothes and books I’ll need for the autumn before moving to Boston in January.

An emotional farewell on the doorstep, our dog barking as I leave, me crying, will not happen. I cannot let this happen.

Sometimes while I’m packing I start thinking about how I’ll arrange a new place. Despite the downsizing I’ve been doing—five more shopping bags of books left the house this week—I still have too much stuff for the smaller apartment I’ll need to rent. Too many papers. Postcards saved from a hundred museums around the world. Hotel stationary from everywhere. Why do I save all this ephemera?

This afternoon I threw away over five hundred old business cards, saved in spiral notebooks for decades. The notebooks went in the trash, too.

Cards of people I’ve worked with since the beginning; cards of shopkeepers, restaurants, hotels, bookstores, antique shops, friends. Cards from more than a dozen countries. I saved a few…how could I toss out James Laughlin’s card, or Lincoln Kirstein’s, or my boss in Paris, and friend, Mercedes Erra?  Easily I’m sure, but into a box they went. On some other day, some time in the future, I’ll let them go, too.  Too much is going now.

Letters next, letters I’ve also saved for years and years. My “important” correspondence all went to the special collections at the University of Buffalo before I got married—the Jargon Society correspondence–hundreds of letters from Jonathan Williams, Paul Metcalf, Guy Davenport.

Today it was letters from my Uncle Albert, lovingly saved—he was my only regularly corresponding relative; letters from friends from Ireland; a few letters from my father, letters that I didn’t open and reread.

I saved one letter from my wife, written so sweetly, when she did love me. It’s the only evidence I have.

I am very sad tonight, and lonely though my wife is only in another room, watching television. These moods fall down on me like the wet fog outside.

Love fled…

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

 

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Little Deaths

“Endings are like little deaths. We forget that they can be entrances to the beginning of a new life.” 

I came across this quote in a New Yorker article and it struck home. Unwanted divorce is like a little death. It’s the death of romance, of companionship, of a shared life. It’s the death of one particular future. It’s the death of a dream.

But it’s not the death of me, and as the quotes states, it can be the entrance to a new life.

I have been rehashing the events of the past three months, and all my turned-upside-down emotions, in more than a dozen past posts. My wife hates these. I realize that nobody is truly happy to be someone else’s creation, to have their actions and words noted.  Yet this is my chronicle of an experience I didn’t foresee or agree to.

My wife says that whatever she does or says to me, I own my reactions and emotional responses. She has not caused them. She has not made me feel miserable. I feel miserable on my own. I choose to feel miserable she tells me.

[On the other hand, she’s told me that our emotional conversations upset our dog.]

Perhaps if I were the Dalai Lama I might successfully separate my being from her acts and words—let them bounce off me like beams of reflected light.  I’m not.  I’m an ordinary man feeling badly and resentful that my life against my wishes is being upended: that the decision to dissolve our marriage is unilaterally hers, however right it may end up being.  No one likes decisions being made against their will.

It’s a repudiation of vows we made to one another.

I’m resentful, too, that my wife is reconstructing her old life, as it was before she ever met me, in advance of my moving out of her house. She says she wishes me no ill will, but her actions don’t conform, at least to my feelings.  Yesterday she asked that I remove a painting from the dining room, in order for her to hang her own artwork. I asked couldn’t she wait, just a month, until I had a chance to pack it properly. She said no. For the past month, every time I pack a picture, she immediately replaces it with what was once there before.

Erase Niland as quickly as possible, while he’s still in the house.

Resentments come too easily in situations like this. And resentments aren’t healthy. Despite her protests to the contrary, my wife’s life is returning to where it was before our marriage. But for five years passing, and the emotions associated with those years, it will be exactly as it was. My life on the other hand is dramatically shifted, up-ended, physically changed.

Little things of only financial and logistical consequence: when we married and I moved to my wife’s house, I gave away my printer, toaster, three beds and mattresses, a sofa, all my chairs, five lamps, a food processor, blender, toaster oven, coffee bean grinder, three cabinets, dozens of other household items, not to mention giving up an apartment I could afford that is today nearly three times as expensive, in a city that’s become unaffordable. Just stuff that can be replaced (except for the apartment)—but it’s an annoyance and expense.

Let me put that aside, however, and think about an entrance to the beginning of a new life. Perhaps starting over at sixty-eight is life enhancing!  Re-inventing my life instead of settling in to comfortable later years.

What does this future hold? Four months in Oakland will be an adventure in discovering an unfamiliar part of the Bay Area, a chance to decompress from the agony of this divorce, and my former shared life, before the big move across the country.  I’m grateful to my friends who are making this possible. I’m grateful to my many friends for supporting me.

I’m facing many unknowns looking ahead to the Boston move. None are particularly scary. The foundation of my son Sam and his family, my friends there, and the familiarity of a city and region that I love are comforts to celebrate.

It will get better.

It will be better.