regrets and apologies

I still think about it.

I don’t even know if it was real, but somehow I think it was. Somehow, somewhere in the universe, I think you still exist, and I’d like to say I’m sorry. 

That summer I thought you might have started to settle in I was scared. It sounds small, I know, and now I find myself amazed I could have ever been so feeble. I should have been stronger than that. I’m sorry.

He and I had been arguing for months. Over a lot of things, but mostly the turmoil and misery was all because of birth control. I didn’t want to be on it. I wanted to learn about my body and let sex be raw, stripped down and respectful of the way it all worked. He didn’t care much about that, but also didn’t want to take it upon himself to invest in his own version of “protection.” That was for high schoolers, and he wasn’t a high schooler. So it was on me to get it right, or else. 

Unfortunately, arguing long-distance allowed for an awful lot of terrible texts and calls and made the silent treatment all that more easily executed. The isolation was the worst part, when I was desperate for the yelling because at least he was engaged.

Then we were together again, the week before our wedding, and the arguments dissolved into nothing. He never acknowledged the fierceness, the screaming, the silence, the coldness. Even that conversation, just weeks before, where I told him I didn’t feel respected and didn’t think we should get married went ignored.

Did it even happen? Did I make it up? That night he held me and laughed and bought me a beer while we watched the Stanley Cup with his friends. It all got tucked into a closet, and every effort I made to find some kind of resolution got shut down.

Maybe it wasn’t real to him. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe it was just stress. Whatever it was, it followed me. It lurked over my shoulder, waiting to rear its head again when I deserved it. Probably when my plans failed and cycle tracking didn’t work or was too hard or required too much effort. 

We got married and I was extra careful. Better be, or else the closet would creep open and the clouds would sweep into our sunny North Carolina home.

One July afternoon he came back early from a work trip. Inconvenient for me- it was one day too soon for any care-free sex days, but we wanted each other. How nice it was to be loved and wanted by the sweet man I knew was there all along. Do I tell him it’ll probably be fine, and risk a pregnancy I could be punished for, or do I say no, not today, and risk adding another no to the pile of no’s I could be punished for?

We went with probably fine.

Science can be rather predictable, especially when it comes to sex. Turns out one day early bought me a period that was a few days late. 

Not super late, not enough that most women would even notice, but it was enough that I did.

My sister was in town that week. We went to the beach a lot, and I went back home to pee a lot, hoping and praying that this time would be the time my period would come.

I stopped taking my meds, the supplements I took to keep my mood stable and my cycle regular. Those ones I knew I’d need to keep taking if I wanted to keep a pregnancy stuck.

I should have been braver. And I know my doctor said that it shouldn’t have mattered, that the medication wouldn’t have made a difference that early anyway, but I still have the guilt. I’m sorry.

I should have stood up for you, and for myself. I should have been able to tell him that my boobs were killing me, and I thought I was a little late, and maybe I needed a pregnancy test. But then he noticed the way my bikini top fit and the off-handed jokes- you better not be pregnant – started making me nervous. It didn’t feel that funny. And I didn’t want to be alone again. I didn’t want to be blamed, I didn’t want to be wrong, I didn’t want to be resented, I didn’t want to be hated every day of the rest of our lives for the bills, and the sleep deprivation, for the mess, for the responsibility. 

Even still, I shouldn’t have chosen fear. I should have chosen you. 

There was an afternoon when I started to. We all went swimming on a friend’s boat, him and me and my sister. I dangled over the edge and somehow the way the saltwater held me up made me feel like grace could hold me up a little, too. I felt like I could really be okay. I would go to the store and just pick up the damn test and face the future like a damn adult. Face my husband.

But then we went tubing, and I think that might have been the problem. I’m sorry for that too. I wasn’t thinking. 

The next morning I had the most painful and terrible period of my life. Probably not a period, really. Probably you leaving, but I’ll never know for sure. Instead I mostly just hold onto the guilt. I should’ve been more responsible. Braver. Smarter. 

And I know I was in a manipulative, abusive mess of a marriage, but I still think I should have known better. I don’t think that should be an excuse. Or maybe it should be. I don’t know.

I don’t even know if you’re really real. If you are, a small product of the blip of time when he and I were in some kind of love, can you pray for us? I’m a little tired of always thinking of him, and maybe you’re there in heaven with endless light and grace and all the energy for that. And I guess he’d be your dad, after all. I’m sorry I never did anything good for you, but I still hope you’d be kind enough to help me here.

In a way I’m glad you aren’t around for this. This heartbreak would have been infinitely harder to have you suffer too. But then sometimes I think about whether or not you’d have curly hair or hazel eyes or dimples. I wonder what your name would be. I wonder if you’d have liked dogs and cozy jammies and bedtime books. If you’d have liked my sisters and Easter eggs and Jesus. And then I’m sorry. I’m just sorry. 

were you there

There’s a song that gets pulled out at church around Good Friday every year that used to give me chills. It’s lyrics lead the congregation through Jesus’ Passion in an uncomplicated but profound way, personally asking each of us if we’ve walked the journey with our Christ: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Laid Him in the tomb?

I heard it again last Sunday and it’s lyrics felt more personal than years before. I found myself in the same sort of sadness, but also somewhere new. It felt almost indignant. Don’t ask me where I was, Lord. Where were You? Were You there? Were you there on the nights I cried alone? Were You there for the panic attacks? For the abandonment? For the anger? For the confusion?

Were You there when I was coerced? When no didn’t mean no? When I was ignored? When I was the target of undeserved hatred? Were You there when I was made to feel less than wanted, less than beautiful, less than a woman? When the desires of my heart, the ones I begged You for, went unanswered, year after year?

Were You there when I had to hide my marriage from others, from myself? When I didn’t know how to explain the strange undercurrent of dread, dissatisfaction, loneliness? When I begged You to bring my husband back to me? Bring Your peace into our home?

When I trusted deeply and implicitly that everything would be okay-  were You listening or laughing? When I felt You tell me everything would turn out alright- is this heartbreak what You had in mind? When I prayed for him to know You and see me, did You know that would never come to be?

I think back to that pivotal morning I met with the priest. That day when we walked through the tortured turns of my marriage I was looking for advice, looking for someone to tell me again it would all be okay. Instead of something encouraging I could tuck into my pocket and casually take back home, he reassured me that, yes, it would all be alright, but no, things could not go on as they had. He said You wanted better for me, and I would need to be brave enough to step out into the world and away from my husband. It was the first time I was faced with someone confirming out loud a truth I had been hiding in my heart. I needed to leave.

Something settled over me when I finally faced that truth- a bittersweet mix of acceptance, relief, and dread. I knew what I needed, but, my gosh, the road ahead was going to be long. It was going to be brutal. Excruciating.

In the chapel afterwards all I felt was the Garden. The Garden Jesus wrestled His Heart in, begging God for the cup to pass. He saw what was ahead of Him and knew it would be Good, but oh, how terrible. The pain of a broken body and broken heart, rejection and suffering. It all lay ahead of Him, yet He still saw that the only way to the Glory of Resurrection was through Hell.

I was in my own small corner of that Garden that day. I was already exhausted and couldn’t fathom how I would be able to pull my heart into even more pieces than it had already been broken. A sense of real grief and no, I’m really not looking forward to this, let’s fast forward, let’s just not. It was easier to suffer in the silence and predictability of my life then rip it all apart completely.

When I walked out of the chapel, eyes swollen from tears, I found myself in the lush sweetness of a rose garden. A little slice of paradise. A little bit of beauty bordering my Gethsemane.

So maybe You were there. Maybe You meant it when You said it would all be okay. Maybe You were present and waiting to set me free the whole time. From abuse, from death, from sin, from fear.

It took me an awfully long time to get there, though, and I’m not sure why I found myself leaving a life I had prayed so hard to start. Why did we go this way? Why did we take this road? I wish I knew.

I’m trying to trust Your presence and grace. You’re writing a story for glory, a crown of roses from a crown of thorns. I’m trying to trust again with that same unwavering faith that You are real and You will heal. You will make paths straight and there will be life renewed. Life abundant.

I’d like to think that You are holding vigil while I hide in the darkness, in this small tomb of unknowing, and while I am waiting here You are sowing a garden. When these stones roll away there will be morning, and I will be met with new life.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

when you love the one you left

I still miss you. 

I’ve been having dreams where we’re together and I can’t quite remember why we were ever apart. We’re happy again until I wake up and I’m left feeling like I’ve been visited by your ghost and that old maybe-I’ll-let-the-shit-slide feeling starts to haunt me; the old feeling I used to use when I crammed everything else down. I did it because I liked you and it felt like too much to tackle anyway.

And because your eyes crinkled when you laughed. 

The ghost starts unraveling my day with memories of our sweeter life. And then I miss you more.

I miss rubbing your back while we fell asleep. I miss sitting in bed eating trail mix and laughing. I miss hearing you sing in the shower. I miss your wedding ring, slow dancing, your arms around me. 

Sometimes you made me feel wanted. Needed. Special. Loved.

I think about that night near the end of it all when I sat on the side of the guest bed. I had started making you sleep in there. You didn’t understand at first and it was a stab in my heart every time I had to remind you and remind myself that I was leaving you. We shouldn’t be in the same bed anymore. Please go stay in the other bed. Over and over I told you. 

Then that night you were in that bed and I was just out of the shower, sitting on the edge in a little nightgown and crying. 

What a strange crossroads. How easily I could have just put it all away and invited you back to our room. How much I wanted to. I wanted you back where I remembered you, back where you wanted me and we could love each other. Instead, I was there crying, and you were telling me I was doing this. 

I guess in a way you were right. I was doing this. I was the one that was leaving. I was the one walking away. And I guess I didn’t have to.

I wish I didn’t have to. Too long, though, I had forgiven and forgotten and pushed and shifted and smashed things under the rug. It would have been easier to let it go again, and again, and again, and fall back into the pattern of life where it was good and I was holding my breath for the moment it wouldn’t be good anymore. 

Instead I’m waking from dreams of you to April mornings in this new life of mine, and I drift back to those springs that built our old life.

It was the last spring of high school when we started dating. It was a season of milkshakes after school, hikes in melting snow, runs in the park when the sun set late. It was kayaking and kissing, talking and star-gazing, Malibu in Coke and long rides in your truck. You were quiet back then. You were the strong, football-playing guy who secretly just wanted to hold my hand. You were sweet and you listened and your sturdiness made me feel soft. 

We got engaged on a late May night four years later. You were driving me home from college when we stopped in a park where you bent down with the ring I’d picked out a month before. The crickets chirped their congratulations and we got lost on the way back home. 

Our wedding was the spring after that. It was beautiful. Somehow, still one of the most satisfying, full, lovely days of my life. There was joy and flowers, all the people I loved in one place, and so much dancing I ruined my dress. It was heaven. Our whole hopeful lives were ahead of us, and when we smashed cake into each other’s faces I didn’t mind a bit. I loved the way we could make each other laugh. And then our honeymoon was the loveliest, laziest, stickiest week in the jungle I will never forget. It was you and me, alone on the planet, soaking each other in with the sun. There were rocking chairs and seafood, walks and sunburns and as much sex as we could manage. We belonged to each other.

We bought our first house last March. You made a joke about being stuck with me when we signed for the 30-year mortgage. Not so funny now, I suppose. We had plans for that house, though, ideas for the deck and the porch. You built a workshop in the garage and I was beside myself with the joy of a functional washer-dryer. 

Your family came to visit that spring and the week we spent with them might have been our last good time. You were easy to be around with your family there. It was safe for me. I felt at home with them. We swam and played cards and enjoyed the breezy California bloom. There was a lemon tree the kids loved and wine for the rest of us.

It’s hard to come to terms with these two versions of our marriage- the one where you were sweet and strong, and the one where you were angry and absent. The times where I was seen and the times I was invisible. 

I used to walk into the future holding on to these Springs of the Past- the easy, bright days full of hope- until that night on the guest bed, when I sat and cried over the place I’d finally put you in. I knew I needed to let the bad come out from where I’d hidden it and let it be as real as the good. I knew I needed to choose a future where I didn’t have to hide secrets or live hurt. That night I had to hold our marriage in my hands and cry, because I knew that when I chose to walk away from the darkness, I would leave behind a little light too. 

It’d be easier to pretend it never existed so I could just hate you. Instead, I’m here, in this first spring in this new life of mine, and I’m realizing I really only said goodbye to the man that I left. I need to say goodbye to the man that I loved.

So, goodbye to you. 

Goodbye to the boy who walked with me in the woods and carved our names in the tree.

Goodbye to the writer of my love letters, to my prom date, to my football-watching, dog-walking friend.

Goodbye to your arms and the songs you sang me. Goodbye to your lips. Goodbye to my rocking chairs and your cigars and country-music summer nights. Goodbye bonfires and dancing. Goodbye car rides and long talks and sharing families.

Goodbye to the part of my heart I gave you. Goodbye to my hopes for our future. Goodbye to our imaginary children playing in their imaginary yard and the way I thought you’d look when you held our babies. Goodbye to Christmas mornings and Sunday coffee and Game Night. 

Goodbye to your laugh. Goodbye to your smile. Goodbye to those moments where you made me feel safe.

Goodbye, friend. I love you.