The Perception of Reality

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I knew I was happily married because my husband told me I was. I knew that my husband loved me because he wanted to know where I was, every moment of every day. Who had I talked to? What was I wearing? What had we talked about? I truly believed that this was true commitment. Oh course my husband loved me; he was so involved in every single facet of my life. No time for friends of course, dedication to my marriage required every waking moment to spend together, whether I like it or not.
Everyone’s marriage was just like mine. Wasn’t it?
I met my husband in the summer of 1993. I had just graduated high school. I was dating someone that always kept me guessing. Was he going to call? Was he going to show up? Matt seemed so stable by comparison. A recent college graduate working full time at an electronics store, he seemed the one to tame my wild ways. Although, at 18, wild was relative. A casual smoker and drinker, I spent an occasional late night with friends. But Matt was going to “fix me”, and get me on the path to the straight and narrow.
It all started innocently enough. This was before everyone had cell phones glued to them at all times. All I had was a pager. If I was with friends, my pager went off. If I was at work, my pager went off. Why didn’t I call back right away? What was I doing? Who was I talking to?
Two years later, Matt decided we should get engaged. When I hesitated, he told me that there was no point in continuing our relationship if it wasn’t headed towards marriage. Because I didn’t want to lose him, I agreed. When I told my father about my plan, he simply indicated that he, at age 21, he had felt too young to get married and didn’t want me to make the same mistake. The voice inside my head said “Please tell me I’m not allowed to get married, because I’m too scared to tell Matt myself”. Instead, I mumbled something about being an adult and making my own decisions and quietly left the room.
We married in September 1997. By then, we were living in a rental apartment and Matt was gone 3-4 nights per week on business. With all that freedom, you’d think I would have been living it up! Instead, I had to go home straight from work every day, so that I could ensure to be home when he called. Because if I wasn’t, I’d have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do.
Then the migraines began. His, not mine. His father, the ever helpful pharmacist, offered out bottles and vials of never ending pills. If one pill was good, two were better. If two pills were good, four were better. There was never a shortage of pain killers in our house. By no coincidence I’m sure, Matt lost his job and suddenly home. All. The. Time. Now, I had no respite. Everything I did, everything I said was a sure sign that I was disloyal and unfaithful. There was simply no escape.
We had the same argument over and over again. I argued that he was addicted to drugs. He argued that I was a shrew that caused his headaches and made him take the pills. And besides, if his doctor prescribed them, it couldn’t possibly be wrong. Never mind the fact that he routinely took his neurologist to Major League baseball games.
I decided that only way to save my marriage would be to have a baby. Of course, this was the solution! It would be the wakeup call that Matt needed to change his ways. It would give him another outlet for his attentions. Surely he couldn’t continue to abuse drugs if he had a child.
In August 2002, our daughter was born. When Matt came to pick me up the hospital, he was high. The nurses that discharged us were so careful to ensure that the infant car seat was installed correctly; they failed to notice that I ended up driving myself home from the hospital. Matt had insisted on buying a stick shift car, knowing full well I was unable to drive it. I drove in first gear the whole way home, too miserable to care about the transmission or the other drivers.
Quickly, I realized what you are all thinking to yourselves right now – of course having a baby doesn’t save your marriage! It’s hard, arduous work. Usually, it’s made easier by a second pair of hands. But when those hands keep drooping as your husband slowly passes out from drugs, you realize that keeping the baby as far away from him is possible is the safest thing for your baby.
Miraculously during that time, I managed to stay with a job I loved. It was a field based sales position, which gave me the flexibility I need when Matt was too high to pick up our daughter from day care. Eventually, I wanted to move up in the company, but kept getting passed over for promotions. One day, I requested a skip-level meeting with my Regional Manager. He told me that I had the knowledge and the skills needed to be promoted, but simply put, nobody like me as a person. You have to socialize more with your peers, he said; get to know them as people. Let them know you care.
The voice in my head said “But if I go to happy hour, Matt with think I’m cheating on him”. He’ll accuse me of abandoning our child. Plus, I can’t trust him not to get high around our child”.
Out loud I said “Of course, that makes perfect sense. I’ll start working on that immediately”.
I went home and told Matt about my plan. He immediately questioned the authenticity of my story. But I stood my ground, while quavering on the inside, and firmly told him this was happening.
And I did. I started socializing with my peers. I even started seeing my friends again. The calls and texts from Matt while I did were constant. The harassment that I was abandoning my child to go out was a constant rhetoric. But I did it.
Six months later, my Regional Manager demoted my manager at the time, and put me in a management role. Elated, I rushed home to tell Matt. He sneered and asked what I “done” to my Regional Manager to get him to promote me. Although, but this point I shouldn’t have been shocked, I was completely speechless at this latest accusation. I paused for a few moments to collect my thoughts and inside my head; I heard an audible click, like a light switch being turned on. I realized, finally, I was done.
I filed for divorce 3 days later.
It seemed impossible then to get through the process of a divorce. For the first time in my adult life I was truly standing up for myself and making decisions about what was best for me and my child. Every discussion turned into a battle over control. I feared for my personal safety and once found that my car had been tampered with. Restraining orders were merely pieces of paper, they had no true impact.
Eventually, we came to an agreement over visitation. I had fought hard for supervised visitation with our daughter, but lost because the drugs being abused were prescription, not illegal and the courts simply didn’t see that my daughter was in danger. Not even when he totaled his car with her it, ironically right outside the county court house that stored our divorce decree.
I valiantly found to protect my child, enlisting the help of Child Protection Services and any other advocates I could find, to no avail. My case worker couldn’t be bothered to make a home visit, because she had more important matters to attend to, such as physical therapy for her leg. Protecting my child would simply have to wait.
One day, at age 4, my daughter returned home from a weekend visit with her father. “Guess what!” she said proudly. “Daddy left me home alone!!” When I questioned here, she assured me that it was ok, because Daddy said that the cat would be there to keep an eye on her. His reason? It was too cold to bundle her up to go get breakfast.
Back to court I went. By now, we had moved to a new town and been assigned a new CPS case worker. This one finally made a home visit and discovered what a disgusting sty Matt had been living in.
Finally, I won my case in court. Supervised Visitation!!
But now, the real torture began. Constant threats via text message and e-mail about how I was taking his child away from him. Insinuations that he would make up lies about ME having a drug problem and reporting me to my boss so I would lose my job. The child support payments stopped and I never saw another dollar from him ever again. But it was worth it. My daughter was safe.
The visits had to be supervised by one of 5 agreed upon people. “His” people – his brother, his sister, his father, his friends. Until his siblings decided that they no longer wanted anything to do with him, and the visits were predominantly supervised by one friend. An older gentleman, Ron, the father of one of Matt’s friends, I trusted him implicitly. He knew Matt was still using drugs, but took care to ensure that my daughter would be safe. I knew it would only be a matter of time before Matt finally succumbed to taking so many drugs.
Each time Ron called to coordinate a visit, before he spoke, the voice in my head said
Matt’s dead.
But each time, it was just another request.
It would sound something like this…
Matt’s dead. Matt would like to see Amanda on Saturday even though he’s not supposed to.
Matt’s dead. Matt would like to take Amanda out to dinner.
Matt’s dead. Matt would like to take Amanda for a barbeque.

And then one day,
Matt’s dead. Matt’s dead.

Wait, what? For the first time, the voice in my head matched the one on the phone.
He was gone. He was really, really gone. He had been found dead in his room at the group home he had been living in after no one had seen him for several days.
And I was terrified.
For years, my go to response had always been, “I’d like to, but I can’t because of Matt”.
As in, I’d like to relocate to a different area with a lower cost of living, but I can’t because of Matt.
Now, I could really, truly, finally be free.
And I had absolutely no idea what to do.

But first, I had to tell my daughter her father was gone. We sat her down and delivered the news. She got upset and asked to be excused to her room. She came out moments later and stated rather ironically, that the goldfish she had won in a previous weekend had died too.

So what happened next?

Life. Life without fear, Life without looking over my shoulder. A life with a family who trusts each other and demonstrates it through honesty and love.

Shortly after I had separated from my husband, I had reconnected with a man I had known through work. Someone I was too afraid to talk with too much, for fear of arousing suspicion. Someone I had always wondered, “what if?”
We began to date and eventually moved in together. We became engaged in 2009 but never really made any real plans for a wedding. Why? Together, we never saw the need. But maybe a small part of me equated marriage with unhappiness and I didn’t want marriage as I knew it to tarnish our relationship.

And then, with Matt’s passing that all changed. I realized that I wanted a complete family. I wanted to make a commitment to the man that I loved, and who loved me and my daughter.

A good marriage is based on two people who want nothing more than the best for one other. And I finally found someone who wants what’s best for me. The wedding plans are currently underway.

It took me a long time to understand that control does not equal love. It took me even longer to realize that you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself.

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