This is my second marriage. It’s funny how even though I’m very happy in this second marriage, I still feel inwardly like I failed at something to even have to admit it. I was young. Was it a mistake? I wish I knew. The first marriage failed despite our best intentions, because of slow-acting poisons we took voluntarily.
My first wife was my closest friend in high school. I was able to talk with her about things I could share with no one else. My family was undergoing my parents’ difficult divorce at the same time I was growing close to her. I needed her friendship badly. She taught me how to swear. She made me see the importance of protesting against war. She knew about Eastern philosophy, and had read hundreds of books I had never heard of. The authors I came to know and love because of her included Albert Camus, Anais Nin and ee cummings. She sang in a beautiful soprano voice, and taught me my first chords on the guitar. She was without a doubt one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known.
Because we shared an interest in volunteering, we both became counselors at a local Crisis Intervention Center. We shared the same group of intimate friends, most of whom were originally hers. There wasn’t a whole lot I could teach her, but I did have a better sense of humor. We had sexual chemistry. We would do it until we were too sore to continue.
Things didn’t always go smoothly. She had deep periods of depression. She suffered from migraines and something called “polyneuropathy”. She took antidepressants and other medications that made her act very odd at times. Her parents were immigrants from Sweden and Yugoslavia and they were just…plain…weird. No matter. Mine were weird too. It became another reason to be allies.
We married within a couple of years after high school and she was immediately pregnant. However, she didn’t want a child. She also didn’t want an abortion. So she hid the pregnancy from me as long as possible, and denied it when I noticed, saying it was water-retention. I had always wanted a child. She knew that. But she didn’t want one, with me or anyone else. She felt she would ruin a child’s life for some reason. She really believed it. Nothing I could do or say ever changed her mind about that.
Late in her term, when it was no longer possible to deny the pregnancy, she presented me with a terrible choice. I could have her, or the child – not both. I needed her so much. She was my best friend, the best I had ever had by far. I was not as strong a person as I am now. I agreed to put the child up for adoption.
At the hospital, they treated us like we were criminals. The very idea that married people would give up a healthy, white infant (they are called “billion-dollar babies” in the adoption trade) was repugnant to the doctors and nurses. I was in agony because I still deeply wanted to be a parent. When I asked the doctor after the birth if I might be allowed to see my son, he said, “I don’t think that’s necessary.” and walked out of the room. I can’t remember any moment of feeling more worthless and despicable than I did alone in that hospital room. My shoulders slumped and I went to the floor on my knees. I was too broken to cry.
In those days, there was no such thing as an “open” adoption. Once you signed away your rights, you were allowed to leave a letter for the child and/or the adoptive parents, and that was it. No further contact would be allowed, ever. It was thought in those times that it was for the best. My wife and I moved on. Things got slowly better on the surface. I got better-paying work at a film-manufacturing plant. We got a nicer place to live. We had a fulfilling life in most ways. I learned to adjust to the ache. I had a child who was growing up, but I would most probably never know him.
By the time we had been married five years, I had changed a lot. I had been unhappy in high school and had dropped out from an attempt at college before I was married, but I had become more confident. I enrolled in Community College and loved it. My wife, who had also dropped out of college, seemed unhappy that I was enjoying it. She began to complain about friendships I made at college. We had the money, and she didn’t want to go. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t bring myself to believe she was jealous about the time I was spending apart from her. In fact it wasn’t that simple. The problem was that I had been unsatisfied with who I was and was changing, and she was basically satisfied with who she was and didn’t want to change.
By the time I had gone to college for a year, things between us got very tense and angry. We had shouting matches over things like how much time I needed for homework. We asked for help and advice from more experienced married friends. We tried our pastor. We went to several different counselors. Nothing worked. A lot of things came out in the sessions, though. The lack of any clear resolution over the loss of our child was under the surface for both of us. The lack of trust I felt from her about my new ambitions had reawakened those feelings of loss in me and I hurt. I could feel the closest friendship I had ever had dissolving and slipping through my fingers like sand. We had once fit together, and now we didn’t.
Unfortunately, fatally, she continued to insist in the counseling sessions that I stop seeing new friends. She said I was wrong to be ambitious, and that I should be happy with what I already had and be grateful for it. I WAS grateful. I was also excited because I was learning new things, and life’s possibilities were opening up. My wife kept threatening divorce, over and over – for months. One day I just cracked, and took her up on it. I walked out, taking only my clothes and a few things I could toss in the car.
My wife tried to delay the divorce process by legally compelling me to continue the counseling sessions which had become extremely painful and a dead-end to me. Looking back from my position 30 years after, I can understand how desperate and afraid she was feeling. We had once fit, and then we didn’t. Neither of us knew how to change it, or how to accept it.
I did eventually remarry. She did too, to a very nice guy we both knew. I also met my son when he was twenty, and we have friendly (though infrequent) communication. I’ll always wonder if I shouldn’t have made the other choice and raised him by myself.
It’s my greatest regret.