Reflections on My Last Year – Collateral Damage

Their anger hurts my ears
Been running strong for seven years
Rather than fix the problems,
they never solve them
It makes no sense at all

Stay Together for the Kids – Blink 182

Last April my wife of 18 years and I separated. She moved into an apartment and our two kids stayed with me in the house. I agreed to resign from the church that I had led for the past 11 years and thus my career in ministry was over. I was burned out, broke, spiritually bankrupt, out of shape, depressed, unemployed and unemployable and alone. I entered the spring of 2009 a jobless single parent during the worst economic period in recent human history. But that was only the beginning.

There are many things that you never want to explain to your children: How babies are made, the death of a pet, the contents of a hot dog. All of these dulled into nothing that Sunday our kids learned Mom and Dad were getting a divorce.

They had heard their parents fight many, many times. Rolling their eyes they would disappear into the corners of the room or seek sanctuary in the television, outside or in their bed rooms. I look back on all of our arguments and I roll my own eyes. When I reflect upon our donnybrook’s, it’s strange, because I don’t see her; I can only see me.  In a moment I am there, observing us at the epicenter of every argument as if they all morphed into one single fight. Or worse; that they were all essentially the same argument repeating itself in different times and places in some Groundhog Day of insanity. I recall being an ass most of the time and petulant like a child. It was never physical but always violent. Sometimes there was shouting, a drawer would get slammed and on rare occasions something would get broken. The worse fights, however, were when there was much silence. Is there anything worse than the silence of rage? We were two polite and stubborn ambassadors from warring countries, our voices kept calm and steady but our eyes blazed at each other with furor. We were civil but there was nothing calm or gentle nor civilized about us. Like chess masters we would adroitly choose our moves. Cold, deliberate words, carefully constructed to pierce and slice were delivered with surgical precision in quiet tense voices through pursed lips. Words designed to exact maximum carnage with little sign of entry. Poisoned darts of sarcasm and hollowed point bullets of narcissistic logic fired with calm arrogance and devastating accuracy.  There we would be, unloading every complaint and recounting every shortcoming we could think of until every grain of misdirected bitterness and every dram of psychological transference was extracted. Like vipers who’s venom had been milked into a test tube, we would slink away to neutral corners, emotionally spent and wondering what the hell just happened. Every argument revolved around the same basic thing. Every fight had this single central concept that would ignite and around which we would be willing to go to our graves to defend or destroy. However, for the life of me, I have no idea what it was.

On that Sunday, there was no argument and there was no fight.

That Friday she had been confronted.  That Friday I offered a second chance. That Friday she proclaimed she was “in too deep.” That Saturday, it was settled. I had to preach Saturday evening, so that Sunday, our kid’s lives changed forever as well.

There are a few extreme circumstances in which one person would give up their life for another. This was one for me. I would have easily surrendered my life to save my daughters from hearing me say, “Honey, I have something to tell you. It’s serious. Mom and Dad aren’t going to make it. We’re going to get a divorce.” All the other words that tumbled from my lips in that moment simply echoed like a fun house mirror of twisted sound in their ears. Their eyes, empty with panic, darted desperately over my face seeking comprehension as their psyche smoldered from the friction caused by the collision of logic and feeling. The room momentarily began to spin, but quickly righted itself as a torrent of tears streamed down the flawless faces of our fragile little girls. Latent, tiny muscles began to quiver uncontrollably around their lips cheeks and eyes. My oldest buried her face in her hands in resolution. My youngest, her beet red face contorting in horror and disbelief, cried uncontrollably.  We filled them with assurances and peppered them with promises. Nothing ultimately would console them. Just as they had experienced the news – in order to believe it – they would have to experience the hope.

In the story of this year, the kids are really the heroes. It really is true that children are very resilient. But ours will never be the same. There’s a hope that they may not be worse, but there’s no taking away the hurt. The pain they experience is real, and it’s not going away for a long time – if ever.

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About johnmusick

revealist, writer, speaker, consultant, life-coach, polymath
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One Response to Reflections on My Last Year – Collateral Damage

  1. Tina says:

    Wow, John, I am so impressed with this, and by your ability to see and acknowledge the experience of divorce from your children’s eyes. Many people get so bogged down and stuck in their anger at their partner that they don’t see how devastating the experience is for the children (or their parthern for that matter). Your children are lucky to have you as you all continue to get through this.

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