My Aunt J’s birthday is next week and I thought it was time to rerun her story. She gave Chump Nation the powerful line: “The walls in your house will sing.”
She wrote this for the blog six years ago. Since then her husband has developed dementia and she takes care of him 24/7. Not in a sad way, but in the same sort of kick ass get-on-with-life way you’d expect of the exceptionally mighty. I’ll see them at their granddaughter’s wedding in September. Yep, Aunt J still road trips with M. (She does all the driving, though.)
Let me add another note to this story — Aunt J’s cheating, alcoholic first husband left her, it’s true — but he would not divorce her. Because cake. Because it was okay for HIM to screw around, but he didn’t want the mother of his children to date. (And he was upset when she married M years later.) It was the 1970s and she could not afford a divorce lawyer because women were not allowed credit then. Read that sentence again and again and again. And if you’re not a feminist, smack yourself with your keyboard until you get it. Women. Were. Not. Allowed. Credit. They had to get loans co-signed by their husbands or credit cards in the man’s name. (This did not change until the U.S. Senate passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974.)
My aunt initiated divorce, finally, when she got her boss (a man) to sign a loan for $5,000 so she could retain representation in Chicago. (Her ex was a successful attorney who later argued in front of the Supreme Court. I’m sure he never imagined chumpy J would out gun him.)
Her new life was hard won. And she’s always paid it forward. This same woman showed up 30 years later in my driveway when it was my turn to throw out a cheating, alcoholic attorney.
I love you, Aunt J! Here’s her story, for all the newbies. — Tracy
Ladies and Gentlemen (because men have cheating wives), life does get better after you get through the horrors of a cheating spouse. My second husband and I both had cheating first spouses though our stories are not exactly similar.
My first husband had a hardscrabble childhood with his dad’s early death, a mother who couldn’t cope, foster care for a while, living on the “wrong side of the tracks,” being told he was stupid and couldn’t go to college, then enlisting in the Navy before he would be drafted in 1953. The Navy changed his life because he did well, discovered he had a brain, and after four years in the service, put himself through college by working three jobs and carrying a full academic load. We met in science classes, married five days after my graduation (he was six years older than I), both worked a year, he decided to go to law school and began right after our first daughter was born.
Success followed in law school and in practice in Chicago. Because of health problems, his mother moved in with us and stayed until her death 7 years later. Initially, it wasn’t easy, but after a few months, we had a really good relationship and the girls adored her (second daughter was been born 6 years after the first). However, the lure of the fast-moving, big boat sailing crowd in the city in the early 1970s took hold with its ethos of drinking, bedding younger women, and partying (I know not everyone in the sailing world is like this…he just happened to find the group that was and enjoyed every minute).
He traveled constantly for the firm and after seeing him in action at sailing parties, I realized he was lying about his trips. I snooped in his briefcase one night after he had passed out — and found a return flight ticket from Savannah when he was supposed to have been in Washington. I confronted him, he had no reaction, just walked out.
A few months later he decided he didn’t want the suburban life, raising two daughters and having a wife. He moved out, bought a condo in the city, and went his merry way, sort of. Our girls were 14 and 7 when he left (freshman and second grade). They were devastated, but I was beyond devastated and asked all the same questions everyone does: What did I do wrong? Wasn’t I good enough? Did I not do all the right things? Should I get counseling? (I did, he wouldn’t, and it was the best thing I could have done to understand the dynamics of the marriage, such as it was at that point.) What will our friends think? (They all saw it coming and were thrilled for me because he was such a bastard the last couple of years.) How do I tell the family? (My brother and I, according to my sister-in-law, were not programmed to fail [she was correct] and I had failed in the most important relationship ever.) What could and should I do?
Well, let me tell you, I had been beaten down psychologically and emotionally but didn’t realize it. Over the years, my whole personality had changed. I definitely was an enabler for his drinking because I was afraid not to be. He wouldn’t have abused me physically because he wasn’t all that big, and I probably could have easily defended myself. Psychological and emotional abuse is just as destructive, in some ways worse because it is insidious and not obvious to outsiders. For 18 months I was completely afraid to hire a lawyer because I couldn’t gauge his potential reaction and I feared he’d stop supporting the girls and me. I was working part-time but didn’t earn nearly enough to keep the house and stay where we were. His lawyer was one of his partners. After 5 years of inaction or bogus but effective delays on his part, his lawyer finally said he’d have to give me the house and pay sufficient spousal and child support, or he’d drop the case and he’d have to start over. Ultimately, I gave up all claims on his pension, investments, boat, two condos, and future income so I could have the house and spousal/child support. To his credit, over the years he was always good about money and did put both girls through undergraduate college.
By the time it was over, I had regained my personality, strength, zest for life, and relationships with friends and family who were always supportive and “on my side.” I had started to date toward the end, after my lawyer said it would be OK. (OK for him to cheat and have women but I better not date.) I really didn’t want to date at first because I was too wrapped up in my own problems and wouldn’t do that to my girls, who still thought maybe this was a passing fancy on his part. Once I did start to date, turns out they were not big fans of the two men I dated at different times.
Then, about two months before I signed the final papers (on Halloween no less) I had a phone call from my mother. She and my dad had moved back to the town where I was raised after my dad retired. My high school sweetheart (M) and his wife had separated. We’d stayed in touch over the years, exchanging Christmas cards and photos of our children. She and I had been friends from the age of 8, long before I met my sweetheart in high school. We were all friends, ran in the same crowd during school; he and I dated exclusively after sophomore year until we broke up just before graduation. He and she began seeing each other and were married after college. According to my mother, his mother said M was the aggrieved party, she had been having an affair with the priest from her church, and wanted a divorce. Everyone in town was shocked because they were the quintessential perfect couple to the rest of the world. He had the house, the family’s summer cottage, and their two children, aged 14 and 16. Yes, she was leaving her husband and children for an alcoholic, cheating priest!
M was a wreck, according to his mom; my mom simply said to me, “Do with this information what you will.” Took me a while and right after I signed my own divorce papers, I wrote to M, expressing my concerns, I knew what it was like to be cheated on (he’d known for a while and despite her protestations that the affair had ended, it didn’t), to be left with all the responsibility because the cheater obviously didn’t want any of the issues of raising children, etc. My only words of advice were to avoid bad-mouthing her to the children. I tried not to do that with my ex to my girls because that can really totally disastrous. Children are far more perceptive than we realize; they figure it out eventually. I didn’t hear back from M right away but when I did, it was like we were 16 years old again.
Our high school reunion was scheduled for the next summer (this was now November) and he asked if I planned to come or would I be coming home before then. I was planning a trip with the girls to visit my parents that Christmas. I did visit, M and I saw each other and the 25 years melted away. I think we both knew at that point, we would eventually be together. He had to wait until the next fall for his divorce to be final, but in that time, we saw each other when we could despite the distance, my girls adored him right from the start, and we were married about a year after his divorce was final, when it was a good time for me to move my younger daughter after she finished 8th grade (older daughter was in college).
Our children are now all in their 40s, have children and we have a wonderful relationship with each other. We have never thought in terms of “step”; as far as we’re concerned we have 4 adult children and 7 wonderful grandchildren. They all get along, we have marvelous times together.
We still see his ex when she comes to see her children, we get along with her; her alcoholic priest husband never comes with her on these visits. The fact that we get along makes it so much easier for the children and grandchildren, no conflicts and actually, we all have a good time.
My cheating, ex-husband died of alcoholism nearly 20 years ago. He never remarried. After a heart attack and open-heart surgery, he would not stop drinking and drank himself to death. He was 60 and had several opportunities to get off the booze and reclaim his life. He couldn’t/didn’t and ultimately committed a slow form of suicide, which was very sad.
Yes, folks, life does return after a cheater is caught and either leaves or is thrown out. (I never had the courage to do that; in retrospect, the best thing he ever did was leave me, though I didn’t think so at the time). Have the strength and fortitude to rid yourself of a cheating spouse. It took me a long time to adjust to my situation, but when I did after 18 months, and finally took action, the relief was palpable. One friend said “the walls in your house sing again.”
I started moving ahead for my sake and for the sake of my daughters. They are well-adjusted women, who came to terms with their father, his actions, and especially his alcoholism, over the years. My husband’s children have done the same with their mother. Don’t give up hope because better days do follow the agony and tears, humiliation and hurt, stress and strain, and attempts to hold everything together. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.
I realize not everyone hooks up with a former sweetheart, but decent men and women are out there, people who will respect and love you and who will honor the marriage vows. We’ve now been married 27 years, longer than either of us was the first time around. I like the old Sinatra song, “Love is better the second time around!” Yep, it is! Don’t rush into another relationship, give yourself a chance to adjust, figure out who you are and what you want. When the opportunity presents itself, you’ll know and you’ll know whether that person is the right one for you. Until then, smile through the tears…you can do it and good things will happen.