While the words spring break evoke feelings of relief or thoughts of revelry for many people, it produces a whole different emotion for me.
I have just passed the one year anniversary of one of the worst weeks of my life. Spring break.
I left the state of Georgia to seek asylum at my parents’ house in Michigan on January 15, 2016. Because my former husband is a school employee with spring break off, I invited him to come to visit and spend time with the kids. Though they already saw and talked to him on a nearly nightly basis via FaceTime, inviting him up gave him an opportunity to actually spend time with them.
As you can imagine, the prospect of seeing your spouse for the first time since having left him is not a pleasant one. I neither knew what to expect nor how to handle it. I had already cut down our communication to once a week and he had already begun to cut me out of his life, including changing his Facebook account to reflect his near excommunication of me. I no longer existed there.
He had been invited to stay the whole week, but chose not to. There was someone else he was seeing at that time and that impacted when he came up and left.
We invited him to stay in the apartment that is attached to my parents’ house. It is my grandparents home during the warmer months (they were in Florida at the time). My counselor advised me to leave for the week and let him be the parent and take care of the kids. My friends advised me to leave for the week as well. They all knew I was not ready to face him yet. The purpose of his visit was to be with the kids anyway.
Despite their advice, I stayed. I would like to try to explain why, but I am not entirely sure I can. Like a sleepwalker having to account for their actions during their nocturnal ramblings, the rationalization for the decisions I made during that time is not entirely clear to me, but I do know this. He still held a lot of power over me at that time. I had left him for his mistreatment of me and I knew he had been going out with someone else, but I was held in place by deeply rooted ideas of submission, obligation, deference, and yes even fear. To leave once was bad enough, but a second time? Unpardonable.
I had a plan in place however. I was going to go out for daily excursions. I would check on the kids briefly, let them know I had not abandoned them, and then be gone for hours at a time, maybe even the whole day. I felt good about my plan, confident. And so I stayed at my parents house that week.
It was a mistake.
It was awkward at first when he arrived. We hugged after he hugged the kids and I believe it was that moment that set the tone for the rest of the week. I should have kept my distance. I still lived in my cage at this point and was not very strong yet. No, I was not strong at all. Spring break proved that. That embrace seemed to flip a switch in his mind (almost). To him there was still hope. I had not given up and it seemed to renew his interest in not giving up either. You will find out soon enough why I say “almost.”
From that point on he wanted to act like a normal husband and wife, not an estranged couple whose marriage was in ruins. My goal had been to stay in my parents side of the house and give him space. Space and time to be with the kids. Instead I found myself constantly being looked for and beckoned. He had to send the kids to find me because we had set up boundaries for him, one of which was that he was never to be in the room where I stayed.
One by one he would send the kids to look for me. If I did not come a few minutes later, he sent another child. Again and again and again this would happen until out of stress because of the pressure this put on the kids, knowing they were stuck in the middle, I finally went to where he was. There was no escaping.
I have two sisters who lived within a few miles of my parents and I would have been more than welcome to stay with them. I had my own vehicle at my disposal and could have come and gone any time I wanted, yet I felt stuck, incapable of leaving, worried about his anger and displeasure. I went out a few times for just a few hours but felt obligated to inform him of my departure and return as he wanted to know my plans and whereabouts. I was back on a very short leash again. As I returned from those very few outings and neared the house I felt ominously short of air and an oppression that I am not sure I can fully describe.
I had made it clear that things were not okay between us. I tried establishing a boundary. I had asked him not to touch me. I told him I would hug him when he arrived and when he left. This was a boundary he did not keep. Besides constantly seeking my company, he continued to shower me with physical affection throughout the week. While it was not welcome I felt guilty because he was still my husband (even though I had strong suspicions of his activity at home at that time). I reminded him at one point that I had asked him not to continue pushing for physical contact, but his response showed no respect for my boundary.
“God forbid, the kids see us acting like loving adults.”
As a manipulation tactic this was particularly difficult to combat. To a woman who did not want her children to hurt this tactic went straight for a zone in which he knew I was sensitive. I struggled telling him to his face so I texted him, reminding him of my request. As indicated by his response, he felt no need to stop. He pressured me so much that I even agreed to sleep in the same bed as him, but I was sure that I could hold my boundary on no physical intimacy. My parents and friends were horrified and desperately tried to talk me out of it, but they did not understand the pressure I was under to do this. In the end they won for the most part (as you will see).
Even though we had discussed divorce as a probability, he pushed for intimacy all week and he was relentless. It is the one area I was able to hold my ground on. I cannot tell you how relieved I am for many reasons. It became important during the divorce proceedings but there are other reasons as you will see later.
Before his arrival, I had cleaned the apartment and grocery shopped for him. I cooked for him while he was there and did his laundry as well. He was nearly getting his old life back and he was content, almost. He was not sure he wanted me back he said. He said I made him feel guilty. Some part of him just wanted to start over. He told me if he did start over again he would never treat another woman like he treated me. He told my parents this as well.
I admit, I pressured him into apologizing to my parents. I told him to be a man. He didn’t want to go talk to them but when given that sort of challenge what other choice is there really? I asked my parents if we could talk to them. He and I sat next to each other on the couch and my parents in chairs not quite opposite us.
He started out meek and mild. Head bent, hands together, the perfect image of a contrite confessor. He apologized to my parents for all his mistreatment toward their daughter. Meanwhile he had his arm around me and kept pulling me toward him like we were a team. That is when he said it. If he did get remarried, he would never treat another woman like he treated their daughter. They did not react at the time. They were dumbfounded and could not even muster a reaction.
Then, after the repentance orchestra had played its last chord, his demeanor changed.
It is an image burned in my father’s brain. He sat back, raised his arms to rest on the back of the couch, the very image of confidence, and finished out the rest of the discussion. Contrition was gone. They had not verbally berated him. He did not feel the heat of any wrath from them. He felt assured of absolution. Apparently I was the only one who still believed him. They however were not fooled.
Every single boundary I had in place for the week vanished. Destroyed and trampled. I had held my ground on nothing but that one thing. I had even agreed to start talking to him again regularly upon his return to Georgia, though he was holding out hope all week that we would return with him.
I had not intended to spend nearly as much time with him as I did, but constantly compelled I felt the pressure. I tried to avoid being caught alone with him but was not always successful. We had a few discussions, one in which I wept to the point of hyperventilation. He got angry a few times as well. If I had seen as clearly then as I do now, I would have seen that his spring break “mask” had slipped off in those times. He was still in there, lurking beneath the surface, threatening to break free. He had not changed.
He was on his “best behavior” of course. He felt watched and scrutinized. He was angry with my parents though. They were just as culpable as me for my desertion. They had aided and abetted me. I cannot even imagine the depth of isolation from my family I would have been subjected to had I returned with him. Remember, he had said that he hoped the kids and I would return with him. I don’t know what he was planning on doing about his other plans, which would have been complicated by my return.
I did sleep next to him one night, the last night. And only with the kids surrounding us. We had a camp out on the living room floor.
He left two days earlier than he had to. We had had already gotten him to stay one day more than he had planned. Though such an early start was unnecessary, he got up at 5:30 a.m. Friday morning to go back. The kids and I got up with him to say goodbye.
We talked occasionally that day and he made the same comment several times to me. “I don’t know why I am in such a hurry to get back.” I did not know why either but I would find out. I will not go into all the details or even how I know, but he went from telling me he wanted things to work out and straight back to her. That night and many nights after.
At that point this was just the final nail in the coffin.
Spring break was a turning point for me in many ways. It was awful. I want to cry just thinking about it. I truly felt like a prisoner, helpless, unable to escape. The oppression of the week was unbearable. Unless you are in or have been in this kind of relationship, I am not sure you can understand. To those of you who were or are there, you know exactly what I mean. You are trapped in a cage that you cannot see but you can feel and it is very real.
In less than a week’s time I gave up nearly every boundary that I had set up until that point and held out the rest of the week basically clinging to my capsized boat and weathering the storm.
Spring break had been eye opening for me. It showed me how ill-prepared I was to stand up to him and how powerless I was at that point. Despite having people who were willing to tell me what I needed to do, I acted based on my feelings and guilt and his persuasion and manipulation. Despite his past and present behavior I nearly let him take over again.
There is a part in the book Pilgrim’s Progress that reminds me of this…Giant Despair’s castle.
But as this is long already that will have to come next time…