Tuesday, March 12, 2013
31 years ago today was my first wedding rehearsal. It was also my soon-to-be sister-in-law's birthday. She turned 18 the day before I married her brother. That means that Sue is 49 today. Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder where the years have gone.
I didn't have any sisters growing up, so when I inherited two by marriage more than three decades ago, I was over the moon. I loved Sue and Brenda and thought of them as family, pure and simple. Sue and I were pregnant at the same time, and actually delivered her first and my second within a couple weeks of each other. I thought our kids would grow up living near each other and sharing a close cousin bond.
But that was not to be. After seeing my husband through the end of his undergraduate degree and all through seminary where he earned his Masters of Divinity, we embarked on an exciting adventure...one I believed was attached to a divine calling for me as well as him. We moved into an old house in the country, owned by one of the two churches he pastored for the first couple years after seminary. It stood alone in a large yard, virtually unprotected by trees or windbreaks. Now that I think about it, that house was a metaphor for my life at the time. I felt very much alone and isolated living in that house in the middle of what seemed like nowhere.
After a year in there, we moved to the house owned by the other of the two churches we were serving. This one was closer to town, and sat directly next door to the church. It had two bathrooms, not one, and both had showers. The first house had a claw-footed tub, which though it was charming, was cumbersome to use for myself and our first daughter, especially once I was pregnant with baby number two. We settled into the second house, and it seemed we were finding our rhythm in this life, until I noticed a shift in my husband. The once steady, usually unemotional man I married, was pulling away from me, spending more hours at the church in the country, and more time with one of the key female members of that church, who was herself, going through a difficult time with her husband.
I broached the subject of the time he spent with this woman once it began to make me uncomfortable. I reminded him that we both knew that appearances were very important. That people, especially emotionally vulnerable people, could misinterpret his kindness and compassion for something more. That he needed to protect himself and his ministry from taint. He became increasingly defensive (which should have sent red flags waving madly for me) and accused me of wanting to take away his "friendship" with this woman. I told him how uncomfortable it made me, and asked him to consider my feelings as well, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.
Then, when our second child was just six months old, I became pregnant with baby number three. Not long after, we were invited to interview at a church a couple hours north of where we were living. We went, met with the people, smiled, and made nice, all the while, they had no clue of the growing chasm between us. He left me to sit in the church nursery with our girls, while he shmoozed with the district superintendent and the church leadership. When he was around us, he only acknowledged me
if he had to. That day, he promised the church leaders, who had recently experienced deep hurt at the hands of a previous minister, that we would commit to be there for at least five years and provide a stable force for their congregation to heal.
When we got home, it all hit the fan. I told him I didn't know if I wanted to go with him if things didn't change, and he told me he didn't want me to go with him. Then we both wept and held each other and asked ourselves how we got to this place. That was one of the last expressions of love we shared. He agreed to counseling, but after going once, he stated that it wasn't working and he would not go anymore. Once we moved, things really started to crumble between us. I later learned that he was making multiple daily calls to her from the church office, and she to him. I do remember him buying her something for her birthday that year (at the end of June), but buying nothing for mine (mid July). Without going into the minutia of that horrible summer, the one thing I asked of him during this time was to remain at the same address at least until our baby was born. He did. He was present for the birth of our son. Then he moved out one month later.
What it took me a while to understand was that he didn't just affect himself and me when he left. He profoundly affected the lives of our very young children; they were three and a half, sixteen months, and one month old when he moved out. He took with him the hopes and dreams I held dear for my life. He robbed me of what I believed was my calling. And he tore me from the people who had become as much my family as the one I grew up with. The sisters I had grown to love and with whom I had thought I would spend the rest of my life sharing relationship, were no longer my family. For a few years we were able to stay in contact and even enjoy a visit or two. I have realized since, that the only reason they allowed me access to them was so they could see the kids. Once the kids were grown, they didn't need me anymore, and I was told by one family member that they were keeping "the past in the past." I became persona non grata.
I have since spent more than twenty-three years with the best man I know. He has been a true dad to my children and he loves me more than I ever thought possible. I feel the same toward him. He is my dearest friend. Life is good. I remember the past, but it doesn't sting like it once did. But I do regret losing my sisters. I think about them and wonder how they are and miss talking and laughing with them. I wonder if they ever think about me. I wonder if they ever miss my presence in their lives. I wish them every happiness. If I could, I would tell Sue, "Happy Birthday!" today. And I'd bust her chops that her next birthday would be her 50th. Of course she'd remind me that I'll always be older than her. That's what sisters do.
Those are my thoughts on this rainy March morning. I'm not sad. I'm nostalgic. And I am immensely thankful that I have a warm and cozy home to go to this afternoon, and the love of a good man whom I adore. Life has been sad at times. Tragically so. But today, life is good. And I am a blessed woman.
Until next time . . .