One year ago today I left my house for the last time. It was the darkest day of my life. I was terrified of being alone, of having something go wrong with my van, of the horizon-less unknown, of not having enough money, of some unimaginable disaster crashing down on me, of ultimately having nowhere to go. I had been betrayed by someone I trusted and should have been able to trust. I was lied to, cheated on, threatened, and bullied. I was disoriented to the point of suicidal depression. I, who never met a meal I didn't like, completely lost my appetite and 20 pounds in the space of a few weeks. I was thought so little of that I was not worth telling the truth to. He was so eager to get rid of me that he was willing to pay nearly anything to see me go, except the price of the truth.
That was then.
I talked to my very good friend in New Jersey recently, the one who said to me last year, "Kathleen, he's lying to you" over and over until it penetrated the immobilizing blankness of my mind. When I talked to her last week she asked me what I was going to do to celebrate my anniversary of going on the road. Celebrate?! Was she serious? Indeed she was, and her question turned my attitude from dread to thoughtful.
Much has happened in the last year, but not one thing, not one bad thing to hobble my slow but steadily forward progress. I've had hard days, sure. Sometimes a sadness sidles up softly (funny, I can "see" it and it never comes from behind or head on) and settles in my heart like a weight that will never be moved: why wasn't I good enough? But as softly as it comes, other thoughts of how much I like my life just the way it is nudge their way in. Twice in the past week people have told me that I look younger now than I did ten years ago, and that I've never looked happier in all the time they've known me, so something must be going in the right direction. I must be doing the healing things.
So I've been reflective since my conversation with my friend and have concluded some things, the woulda, coulda, shoulda, and the dids.
What I would have done differently:
Been smarter about all the evidence staring me in the face. I trusted and I shouldn't have. He'd cheated on me twice before that I know about and I was blind to the signs. What an idiot.
Gotten a better lawyer. If you live in North Kitsap and need a lawyer, let me know and I'll tell you who to avoid. I had to tell this guy how to do his job, he still didn't get it right, and it ended up costing me money.
Kept the motor home we had instead of buying the van. I wanted to avoid towing a car because it was so hard to put the car on and off the trailer. What I could have done instead was buy a small manual-shift car that could be towed flat without a trailer. That would have saved me a lot of money. I know this in retrospect but at the time it seemed like the right decision.
Not pulled money from my IRA for a purchase I shouldn't have made. Not only did it reduce my nest egg it cost me a bundle in tax. I told the ex-husband of my hesitancy and was bullied into doing it anyway.
What I did just right:Snooped his email when things were just not adding up. Yes, I did, and a darn good thing; I otherwise would not have learned about the girlfriend, his Mei Chi, his "I've been looking for you for 40 years." Whatever.
Got a lawyer, even a lousy one, when I found evidence of the girlfriend instead of trusting him to do the right thing about everything I was to be "given."
Found a five-month volunteer job in my field, in a great location, with wonderful people around me. It let me rest my heart and my mind and build some confidence again. It gave me a place to "be" in more than one sense of the word.
Denied him financial assistance when he asked for it. His overextended finances are not my problem.
Lived frugally but not miserly. I have no debt and my vagabond life has allowed me to actually save money.
And finally, the things I've done or not done that I'm proud of, even though they may seem insignificant.
I have done nothing I can't hold my head up about. I have cheated no one and/or on no one, lied to no one, been more courageous than I ever thought I was capable of, and feel pretty steady on my feet.
I have been productive even if not for money, as he rudely pointed out. I have volunteered nine months out of the last twelve, for more than 1100 hours, and I wasn't just twiddling my thumbs.
I have traveled about 14000 miles since I left my house, through 18 states, and have visited 30 national parks, if I've counted right.
I have pulled a 31' trailer with a 6-speed manual transmission pickup (I sold the van last year when I picked up a hitchhiker) through Kansas City mid-day construction, through Houston, the highway to the Florida Keys, up mountains, and across deserts, shifting about 7000 times.
I have snorkeled in the Caribbean, camped in the desert, and hiked hundreds of miles. At the end of long days I've parked the rig in the woods, along the road, in too-expensive campgrounds, in casino and church lots, and at Walmart.
I overcame the catatonia-producing terror of the early days through sheer grit and pride.
I have stopped every-damn-where I wanted and never had to explain, rationalize, or apologize.
I have allowed myself to love and be loved by someone who will never cheat on me, never cause me to have to edit what I say or do; someone who supports, encourages, and pushes me out the door to do the things I want and need and have to do; someone who challenges my brain like I've never been challenged; someone who delights in being with and doing things - anything - with me; someone who loves the woman who was buried for a long, long time.
The ex-husband doesn't have a lock on finding that one someone after looking for 40 years; I just had the grace to wait until I wasn't married anymore. My hitchhiker, my fascinating, loving, thoughtful, gentle, and kind hitchhiker was the bounty on the other side of the barren land that was last year. My life has been changed to wonderful.
Thought of the day:
People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them. - George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren's Profession
P.S. Among the flow of lies from the ex-husband's mouth were two inadvertent, glimmering diamonds of truth. One, that he is a bad person. Two, that I deserve to have the kind of life he couldn't give me. Yes. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah. Can I hear an Amen!