Reaching up and grabbing the cord, I pull down the trap door that has the steps attached to the attic of my mind and heart. Unfolding the steps I climb up slowly, into the dark hole above. When I reach the top step I gently wave my arm above my head and locate the pull string to turn on the light. Just like the cobweb filled, dusty top level of the house, this attack contains memories, all boxed up, and stacked in rows. Many contain happy thoughts and mental images of life for the past 47 years, and some contain things that are not so pleasant and others will be down right painful to open. I scan the rows, fingers lightly running across the writing on the containers, bringing back snippets of days gone by. I don’t linger over these, today I am searching for a particular one, its contents difficult to face. Finally I spot it, there in the corner, away from all the other cartons.
I approach this particular trunk with much dread, as while the contents are usually few, they are not things that are happy, pretty or fun. These are things that fill me with regret, things waiting for me to face and let go of so that they can be placed in a different container for unpleasant memories somewhere else in my mental attic. The lid creeks as I lift it, and gently tip it back. Light shines forth from the inside of this trunk, as facing its contents is the key to moving on in life as a better person. But light can pierce into the darkness, and be painful to the eyes that have existed in the darkness for any period of time. But today I am ready… Peering inside I see it, the one lone item. It is that something I need to forgive myself for, just waiting there for me to face it head on. I’ve not been ignoring it, I do struggle with it and examine it from time to time, but in the past I’ve always placed it back in the trunk, closed the lid and moved on. Not today, today this needs to be faced.
For 24 years I was fortunate enough to be the significant other to a very special man, and for just shy of 23 years I bore his name as his wife. They were not always happy years, our marriage road the choppy waters of life’s storms, some that were of our own making, but most came out of no where and caught us off guard. Neither of us can claim to have been stellar sailors through those waves, we each fell short time and time again. But we weathered them and I always felt came through them better than we had been when the first dark clouds had approached. With each day and each crisis I loved him more, my heart embracing my Prince Charming. Oh I knew he was not a true Prince, in fact in many ways he fell far short of the mark, but he was mine and deep down to the core of my heart and soul I loved that man with every cell in me. It did not matter that he was not perfect, he was Pete, my soul mate, my knight in shining armor, and the dents and tarnished areas, though often what would annoy me about him, were also things I truly loved about him.
I was far from the perfect wife, mom and woman. In his eyes, at one time, he must have seen something in me that he wanted. I remember one time waking up from a deep sleep to find him sitting next to the bed just watching me sleep. I asked him what he was doing and he said just looking at me, marveling that I was all his. It is one of the most beautiful memories I have of him, a time when he looked past my faults and could see inside and see something and someone of value, someone he treasured. I was someone that he wanted to spend his life with, have children with, and grow old next too. I wonder how we got from those eyes looking at me in wonder and love, to the eyes that looked at me before we entered the court room for our divorce, now filled with such hatred and disdain, that tore at my heart leaving fresh and painful wounds.
I am a woman that feels all emotions deeply. My love is deep, my happiness runs deep, my pain runs to my core, as does my anger. I could go from zero to 120 in a split second, erupting like a volcano spewing destructive lava all over. At times I even took pride in the fact that when I was mad I went for the emotional and mental jugular on the target of my outbursts. I got angry over silly, small things to extremes that left folks around me scratching their heads as to why something so insignificant would make me SO upset, and other things would not. There was no pattern, no way to know what would set off the dynamite and bring forth a very ugly me. For years my Prince would tell me that I needed to get a grip on my anger, but I didn’t listen. Others around me helped me justify it, telling me that I was just overly tired and stressed out.
They were correct, I was often tired and under a lot of stress. For years I carried the financial weight of our family, while dealing with his medical issues that nearly killed him on 3 different occasions. The pain and sleep deprivation, combined with narcotics that made him a bear to tolerate. We went through a period where we were charging our groceries on credit cards just to feed our kids, anyone around me could understand me being stressed out and angry. SO many things year upon year that put much mental and emotional weight on me that were convenient excuses for my vicious moments. But all the while Pete was telling me that I needed to get control of my temper. He is not a great communicator, I’ve always known this about him, but if ONLY I had given more attention to what he was saying. He wasn’t able to put into words that I was ripping his heart apart at times, driving him away from me. And I wasn’t able to see it. After all he was one person with one view, and I had a lifetime of who I was, a family with 3 siblings with comparable tempers, and a host of folks telling me that I was just stressed out. Tempers are a given in my family, I always assumed it was the strong German blood lines with some Hungarian and Irish thrown in to add some sparks to our fires. My sister and both brothers can match me notch for notch in the outbursts, it was all I knew from childhood on! But if only I had listened.
In recent years I stepped across the lines and went beyond what my husband could forgive. On 2 separate occasions he lost 2 friends. One died around the time our marriage was hanging by threads due to indiscretions of Pete’s, things that hurt me deeply and broke my trust in him. One night I lashed out in anger, going for his heart, and told him I wished he had died and was rotting in hell like his friend, Tim. Tim died after suffering burns when a grill blew up that he was lighting. I drove a stake into Pete’s heart that time that he was unable to pull out. Then a little over 2 years ago, a fellow fire fighter, coworker and friend, perished fighting a fire, and that hit Pete harder than anything I had ever seen affect him. On 2 different nights, alcohol induced (a very bad mix with my temper), while in a rage so intense I didn’t even recall saying it the one time, I made the mistake of telling him that I wished it had been him, and not Brian, that had died that day. In those moments I finally drove the knife so deep in his heart that Pete was no longer able to forgive me and love me. For the next year and a half he went through the motions, pretending to love me, trying to love me, and unable to do handle it. What is sad is that during that time a friend made the comment that we were retarded in love with each other, the way he looked at me and I at him, never could anyone have guessed Pete was putting on an award winning performance, there was no longer any love there. So good was his act that I didn’t see it, in fact I had never been happier, never felt more adored and loved by him as I did during that time.
He told me in tears that he wanted out, on January 8th of this year. Regardless of what others tell me, and there are many sharing information, that there was another woman near the end, the bottom line is me. IF in fact he had someone else, which he still says is not the case, it is my fault, I had killed what was there for me and if he sought comfort and love else where I have no one to blame. I have been to the doctor, learned I have a serotonin imbalance. My brain releases more serotonin than needed, and the cells that should absorb it cannot take it all in, so the releasing cells re-uptake the excess, which they should not do, and this seems to be the root of the problem. That is where the intensity comes in to play. I take medication that is a re-uptake inhibitor and that keeps the balance. I am still angry, but can process the anger now. I’m relearning how to react to situations and people, and able to not get fixated on something and just blow off the steam until it is gone. I’m in control now.
For so many years in his imperfect ways he tried to tell me. I now give myself permission to forgive ME. I forgive myself for not hearing him, for not seeing that there really was a problem, for not listening to the person closest to me instead of others. I forgive myself for falling short of that woman he watched sleeping, the one he at one time adored. I forgive myself for not being perfect and not being able to be who he needed me to be. For being less than the mom I could have been. I forgive myself for not being the one he will grow old with because of my own stubbornness when at some point I could have fixed me. And I forgive myself for any pain I brought to him, me and our children over all these years when I could have sought help and made things better. I forgive me for my part in what should have been forever.
This has been a difficult thing to come too, but it is also freeing. The trunk is now empty again. It is painful, no doubt about it, facing and forgiving me. But it is done. I close the lid, walk to the steps, reach up and turn off the light….