Auld Lang Syne
New Year’s Eve has not always held happy memories for me. In an old life, one that now feels very far away, a succession of New Year’s Eves pushed me over the edge, pushed me to finally break free of my weakness, and set me on a new path. For that reason, I consider this the anniversary of my freedom in many ways.
In my first marriage, it became tradition to spend Christmas Eve at my mother’s, then drive down to my husband’s mother’s for Christmas Day. On New Year’s Eve, we would head back to the town my mother lived in and stay with friends, celebrating together. As our relationship deteriorated, the last three of these trips became progressively more difficult, more painful, and the last one, unbearable.
By the final trip, we were teaching at universities several states apart, legally separated, but still making half-hearted attempts to see each other. After fifteen years of marriage, it was all I knew…I didn’t know how to stop trying. There was another woman in the mix, a friend whom I knew had become much more than just a friend to my husband. Though she was a symptom and not the cause of our crumbling marriage, she was certainly a painful part of the equation.
My husband flew to Birmingham and we drove together to Florida. The drive was tense, as he made it clear that while I would be staying at my mother’s, he would be staying with his ‘friend’ during the last part of our trip. I was devastated, as I honestly thought this vacation would be a time for us to be together, to see if we could salvage the marriage. I have always been pretty good at denial.
We did the usual, going to Mom’s on Christmas Eve, then driving south to visit my mother-in-law, someone I love to this day. The whole trip was uncomfortable, filled with tension and frequent arguments. On New Year’s Eve, I and our two dogs were deposited at Strawberry Ridge, the retirement community where my mom lived. My husband left to party the night away with his friend.
I lay awake all night, crying, tossing and turning, beside myself. By dawn, something inside of me broke free. I had finally had enough- my decision was made. I got up and told my mother I was leaving, heading back to Birmingham. I felt so sad to lose this time with her, but I could not let myself be in this position for one more day. I had to go home to a place where I felt strong, felt in control.
I called my husband, telling him that he had made his decision, and I had made mine- I was leaving, and offered to buy his plane ticket home. He seemed flabbergasted, as I had always been meek and submissive in our relationship. While I made many mistakes of my own, I was always the peacemaker who never stood up to him. I was amazingly calm on the telephone, which surprised me- the tears were gone, and I could feel something new growing inside of me. Strength born from the ashes of sorrow.
While I was deeply sad to leave my mother, I can’t begin to describe the feeling of liberation I felt as I loaded my dogs in the car and headed home for Birmingham. The previous three years of frustration, hurt, anger seemed to fall off of me with each passing mile. My husband called me soon after I began the drive, still amazed that I had truly followed through with leaving. I remained calm, though the butterflies in my stomach were going crazy. Every mile gave me strength, gave me hope. I did not hesitate, I did not look back.
As I reflect on what happened, I realize that I had to experience such a horrendous end to my marriage, or I would never have been able to let go. I thought you just had to make it work, and I tried. I tried my best. Now it was time for me to find out who I really was on my own, for the first time ever.
Even though it was the most painful experience I have ever known in my life, I am thankful. From the pain and hurt I learned so much about myself, most importantly that I am much stronger and more resilient than I ever dreamed. It forced me learn what I will and will not live with. And it taught me to never give up on the dream of being happy. Ever.
Tomorrow night, I will celebrate my eleventh New Year’s Eve with my husband, Dan. Dan is my heart, and I am thankful for every experience I had that brought me to him. We will ring in the New Year quietly at Chez Gainey, enjoying the beautiful view of the city, along with Dan’s amazing fish tacos and a bit of champagne.
I will nod to the past, an old friend who taught me a great deal. And I will embrace the now, grateful for life and love. Here’s to a very happy New Year for us all.