Five Years Later: Remembering the Night My Marriage Died

March 16, 2022
Five years.

It strikes me as a seemingly odd measure of time. Five trips around the sun. Twenty transitions between calendar seasons. Sixty cycles of the moon, spanning each of her glorious phases and back again. Two hundred and sixty (give or take) mid-week Wednesdays, most of them remarkably unremarkable.

Five years ago tonight, on March 16th 2017, I sat down for a wary conversation with my (now former) husband. I settled my butt into a favorite booth at Panera Bread, a location I’d frequented countless times before that particular evening.

Though I’d known my husband for 12 whole years at that point, I remember the profoundly awkward, implicit awareness that the restaurant in which we sat felt more familiar to me than the man with whom I was seated.

Five years ago tonight, I lifted my green eyes to meet my husband’s blue ones—for (what turned out to be) the last time ever.

Five years ago tonight, it was the last time I heard his voice. It was the last time i touched his hand. It was the last time we sat within the same four walls, breathing the same air, sharing the same time and space and presumptive circumstances.

Five years ago tonight, it was the last time we were “we.”

Our meeting that night was, mercifully and maddeningly, both unceremonious and short. It began with one initial, inquiring gaze; it ended with one final, insightful and game-changing exchange.

Minutes later, I forced myself to stand. I managed to maneuver my body between the tables of oblivious strangers, absorbed in their own lives and smiles and sorrows. I tripped over my feet as I stumbled to the door. I somehow made it across the parking lot, found the key that unlocked my car, and moved my body into the driver’s seat. I somehow maintained consciousness while my soul began to crumble and quake and implode all at once. I managed to keep breathing, in sync with the roar of my pulse, pumping its way through my skull. “Breathe in,” I silently begged myself, through the deepening, blinding, echoing pain. “Breathe out,” I dumbly answered back, through more of the the numbing, dizzying throes of defeat.

Five years ago tonight, I sat in that car for nearly three hours before deciding I could safely drive home. During those three hours, my body and soul were wracked with sobs, the kind that I legitimately could not stop. (Trust me, I tried.) I cried so hard I choked and gagged on the force of my tears. I cried so hard, I saw a galaxy of stars swirling above me and beneath me and beyond me. I cried so hard I hemorrhaged the blood vessels in my left eye, bruising a whole swath of surrounding tissue, leaving my face a bludgeoned canvas of black and blue and disbelief.

Five years ago tonight, without invitation or indication or inhibition or intervention, two simple expressions sank their truth deep into my soul “I’ll look back on this moment and know,” my heart quietly stated, “that tonight is the night when my marriage died. This very moment is precisely THE moment, the one wherein my marriage drew its last tortured breath.”

Five years ago tonight, I sat down for a simple conversation, opening my mouth to sound an uneasy concern. When I stood up five minutes later, I did so in sheer self-conservation, closing my mouth to silence an unyielding continuance of perpetual trauma.

Five years ago tonight, I sat down as my husband’s wife. Five minutes after that, I stood up as my husband’s widow.

From “wife” to “widow” in five minutes flat.

Sandwiched between that final hello and that final goodbye, I lost my identity as a woman fighting like hell to save my marriage. As I watched that cherished part of me slip through my trembling fingers, I knew that I had never (and would never and will never) stop fighting like hell to save myself.

Nights like this one get me sentimental, and I’m pretty certain that’s not a bad thing. I’ve determined that it’s important to let myself feel ALL of the feels, and I honor my love (and my losses) by allowing myself the entire spectrum of complexity involved in such reflections.

When all is said and done, my transition into this proverbial “widowhood” thing has NOT been easy. Frankly, it’s the kind of hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone—including the darkened souls whose choices brought me to that fateful night of marital demarcation. Mine is indeed a saga of survival and revival, but it’s also one of obtuse surreality. Healing involves calling this stuff as I see it, in all its exquisitely unwieldy and uncomfortable truth.

Five trips around the sun. Twenty transitions between calendar seasons. Sixty cycles of the moon herself, and two hundred sixty (give or take) mid-week Wednesdays.

This one just happens to be a tad more remarkable than most.

💚

PS: I grabbed a yummy sandwich from Panera Bread for dinner tonight, while navigating through the Salt Lake airport at the end of a marathon day. In my world, we call that perfection. We also call it good eats, poetic justice, synchronicity and “talking back to trauma.”

For more writings by Gaelyn Rae Emerson, click here or email gaelynrae@womeneverafter.com.