I’m sitting in my practicum class at the UMSL ESL center watching students take a writing test. I’m amazed at the students who have only been here a couple of weeks or months and who already are grasping the language. I think it’s a good testament to the teachers here who all are very friendly and have fun ways of explaining things. I only have a couple of weeks of class left. I would only have one week, but I opted to take two extended free classes dealing with young learners and business professionals. I figure if it’s included, why not? I want to be armed with as much knowledge as I can get before I go. And I already feel more prepared, yet really unprepared at the same time.
In the past couple of weeks my friends who know I’m going have been asking a lot of questions, No. 1 being where my beloved dog is going. I don’t like to think or talk about that subject a lot because that’s the very thing that will make me talk myself out of doing this. As I said to my friend Jessi recently—he’s my every thing, but he’s my only thing. My relationships in life have led me to put all my faith in the little guy, and he never disappoints. A recent text by an ex, well we can’t even call him an ex since I sabotaged the relationship literally a half an hour into it, got me to thinking back upon my last 10 years of relationships in St. Louis. What a ride it has been.
In January 2004 I was packing up a Budget rental truck and preparing to leave my cats and husband in Phoenix and to make the long drive back to St. Louis. I hated Phoenix, and much like my mother who left before me, I felt trapped and was ready to run. Nick was a great guy. I can’t think of one bad thing to say about him. I married him for all the logical reasons, except one. I wasn’t in love with him. I simply got bored, and it didn’t help that I hated Phoenix. God—what a boring, hot, uneventful city with less personality than the cacti that sat in the desert. I loved Nick for sure, but as my best friend Tere knew long before I did, I didn’t feel that passionate spark that life-long partners would have. I knew I was capable of it, and drove almost 26 hours straight into the arms of the person who I always had always loved. Leaving wasn’t a mistake, but running back into the unhealthy pattern that would take over the next four years of my life was.
For four long, emotionally draining and exhausting years, we tried everything. We moved in together I think three or four different times; we fought like hell and I screamed and threw things, which I’ve only done in my life with him; we tried time apart; we got engaged; and then he got someone else pregnant and knew for weeks before telling me. He let us take gifts at an engagement party, watched as I put a deposit down on a dress, sat with me and booked our dream destination wedding, all the while knowing that another woman was carrying his child. Once she was five months along and while we were sitting in my future in-laws’ living room filling out gift thank-you notes, he looks up and said the unthinkable—I’m going to be a dad again. The neighbors got a show that day, which wasn’t unusual at that house, but probably one of the better ones they’ve seen. He tried the whole “we were on a break when she got pregnant” story so I stayed. Wow, how I’ve changed. The new me would never ever have done that. I finally ended it a week before Christmas, and I laid under my Christmas tree in a daze, not knowing how to move on from someone and a family I’d loved and dreamed about being a permanent part of since I was 16.
In our typical fashion, a couple of months later we actually started to see each other again (I know, jaws dropped on my end as well.) The night under the Christmas tree surprisingly turned out not to be rock bottom, just well under the surface. One night on his beloved boat, which I only liked in small doses but was forced to be on each weekend or face his wrath, I got the worst stomachache known to man. (We won’t even talk about the tantrums and manipulation that happened when he didn’t get his way. That would take up more time than I have in this class.) Thank God he packed toilet paper. I ran to the dock bathroom and to my dismay, the door was locked. I looked around in a panic. The water was foggy; the dock gates were locked, so I couldn’t even get to a tree because the fence was too high. My only recourse was the water. I took a long pause, and then I did it. My life had been reduced to defecating in a river in the middle of the night while mosquitoes bit at me for a person who completely controlled me. And, for the first time ever, I didn’t cry. I got up, wiped my ass, got through the night until the gates opened, and left. I left—physically, mentally and emotionally. Thirteen years later, I was finally really gone. A couple of years later he tried to start the pattern again, and it was such a profound moment in my life to be able to say, “I don’t love you anymore,” and really, truly mean it.
The next month I met someone on a plane on a connection from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. Two days later we got married. It’s the running joke amongst all of my friends. I don’t think anyone really understands where I was coming from in the course of those two days. I was fearless and was ready to actually fall in love with someone new, not have the false sense of security and comfort that the last four years had been. We walked all night talking about our lives, hopes and dreams, and he got down on his knee in front of the Wynn. We both knew it was crazy, but in the moment nothing else felt more right. I was shaking like a leaf when we took our vows, and being in that chapel is a memory I will cherish forever. After weeks of his family freaking out and the looming threat of his deployment to Afghanistan, I sadly annulled my marriage to Chris. By then all he could think about was the insurance money he would get if we stayed married. I choose not to think about the way it ended, but the magic in the time that it all happened.
I met the absolute love of my life two months after Vegas, and I have chosen not to talk about that or the torturous heartache that ensued for years after. It’s something that I want to keep close to my heart and not put out there for everyone to read. There will never be another him, and it’s a tough life lesson to learn that two people who love each other sometimes just can’t be together, but I will love him until the day that I take my last breath. All I can say is that a part of me thinks it ended so I could have the room in my heart to adopt Maddux three weeks later. And so I can go on this adventure. I find a little bit of comfort knowing that.
I don’t regret any of these past relationships, because as cliche as it sounds, they truly have shaped the person that I am now. Who can say that they are going to spend a year traveling, teaching and living in China? Because of the personal strength I’ve achieved since coming back to St. Louis in 2004—I’d never have been able to do it then. And now I can safely say that I know exactly what I want out of life and who I want, if he ever comes along. And if he doesn’t? That’s perfectly OK too.