I had found my way back to the closet. My heart was pounding and my head was hurting. I felt like I was struggling for breath. I look at the wreckage of that huge closet, the dirty clothes, the pile of clean clothes needing to be put away, the shelves piled high with stuff I had yet to find a home for in my new home. In that moment of hysteria a glimmer of normalcy crept through as I thought about how thankful I was for that room sized closet that housed all the ugliness of my life that I had nowhere else to put.
I crumpled to the floor. The panic was rising in my chest. I lay on a heap of clothes and began sobbing. I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. The fear was making my chest hurt. The adrenaline was coursing carelessly through my veins making me shaky and hysterical. The cool tile under my legs felt foreign and hard. My life felt that way. My love felt that way.
I’m not sure how long I lay there before he walked in. It was a while. He looked at me there my own messy heap laying on a pile of dirty clothes. He stared at me for a moment. I closed my eyes. I felt him kneeling beside me. I could smell his familiar breath as he gathered me up. I could feel his familiar arms as he enclosed me in them. I could hear the beat of his heart as he pulled my head into his large chest and began stroking my hair. I could hear his voice whispering in my ear, “It’s going to be okay. We will figure this out. Stop your crying. I’m here.” I could feel each stroke of his hand through my hair. I could feel myself melting into him, believing the promises and I could feel my heart settling. Slowly my breath came back to me. My heart settled into the place it belonged. I felt safe and protected, for that instant, it was all I ever needed.
I opened my eyes and realized my mistake. He was still standing over me, his height blocking the light, staring down at me with contempt from eyes I no longer recognized. My sorrow was instantly replaced by dread. The cold feeling I had become so familiar with consumed me, the heat of my sorrow was instantly replaced with ice.
“What is your problem?”
“I’m scared. I don’t know how to do this.”
“Do what? I told you we’re fine.”
“But we’re not. Nothing is. I don’t know how you’re going to find your way back to me.”
“I’m here, what else do you need?”
“I need who you were? What happened to you?”
“Shut up. You’re so dramatic.”
“I just don’t know how to undo this life. I don’t know how to keep it together. I don’t know anything. Why can’t you hold me? Why can’t you find me? Why do you hate me?”
Nothing changed on his face beyond a slight flicker at the edge of his lips. He kicked his foot out and struck me lightly on the bottom of mine as he walked out the door. I lay there. Cold. Unmoving. Imagining my dream, that I was in his arms as he helped calm the storm around me. What happened to that? Where was he?
The tingling in my arm alerted me I had been there a long time. I slowly pulled my body off the heap of dirty clothes and stood. My now long hair was matted from the tears, a feeling I hadn’t grown used to, long hair, brushing my face, getting tangled in my tears. I brushed it annoyingly out of my face. I took a breath and as I stepped out of the closet door I said the words I never allowed myself to say before, “My husband is gay.”
I stood in the dim hallway deciding whether to go right or left. I took a turn to left and headed to the bathroom where I stood facing myself in the mirror. I looked at my sunken eyes, darkened and hollow. I stared at the mop of hair it had taken me so long to grow. I looked at the cheekbones of my face and the small dimple in my chin. Nothing felt right. Nothing looked right. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I had last slept more than an hour. When did I last eat? The sour taste in my mouth made me constantly sick.
All the thoughts of the last month that had been tumbling dangerously and carelessly around in my head started to make sense and become organized. The missing hours, the excuses, the anger, the mean words, the vacant expression in his eyes, the secrets and lies. He had already told me. I watched him sob as he promised to cut off his new relationships. I watched as nothing changed. I watched him sleep peacefully, more than he ever had before. I watched as the life we had worked so hard for became a joke to him. I watched every single piece fall apart, the pitcher that represented our lives, full of the things we had poured into it together, shattered on the ground. It happened in slow motion, each and every fracture and break seemingly took hours as the dreams of our lives spilled out and were absorbed into the dry ground. I was there watching it, kneeling beside it, desperately trying gather up the dreams as they slipped through my fingers.
Five words escaped my lips that day, “How do I do this?”
Nearly seven months have passed now from that day. I couldn’t forsee this day. I couldn’t imagine it. I didn’t know how to. That day in the mirror I was stuck in my fear and longing and anger and sorrow. I didn’t recognize myself or my life or the man I gave everything to. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it any differently than how I had always seen it.
Each step I have taken these last seven months have led to freedom. Somedays the freedom is hard fought. Other days it comes easily. I can breathe. I can dream. I can hope. When I was with him I forgot that I could do those things. I lost sight of those things for so long, years and years spent in fear and in pain and in wondering. You see, I knew. Even when I couldn’t acknowledge it. Even when I didn’t want to see it. Even when it was right in front of me and I chose to close my eyes, I knew. And because I knew, I fought. I fought with everything I was. I fought for that man. I went to therapy and learned to love differently. I apologized for my mistakes and forgave him for his, even when he didn’t want it. I continued to hope and dream and fight, believing if I kept pushing and moving and pushing and moving that he would be okay. That he would be enough. That I would be enough. I lost myself though. I lost who I was supposed to be. The fight was all I knew. I lost relationships and pushed people away. I was angry. I gained weight, and more weight. I started looking down. Eye contact hurt because I was terrified other people would see my private pain. Even before his own words of acknowledgement, I knew. My world was small and closed and dark and terrifying and becoming more so. The people who loved me so much saw the changes. Because of that, I pushed them away. My fear was all I knew.
Those very people were there when I finally fell. They saw the fear and darkness and were helpless against it. So was I. The prison of my life was a private hell I can’t begin to express with the right words. The day I reclaimed my freedom was the most scary and dark day of my life, but because I did, each day has progressively gotten lighter and easier. The fear, the aching hole inside me, the sorrow, it’s gone. And so is he. Until I left, I couldn’t correlate the two, it felt wrong and ugly. Today, there is no question the two correlate.
My life is so full now. It’s full of unexpected people and surprises. It’s not everything I dream for it to be, but it doesn’t matter because I’m on the path and I’m only looking back when it serves to teach me and grow me. I look in the mirror now and I still feel unrecognizable, but it’s because for the first time in my life I like what I see. My eyes are no longer looking down, they aren’t sunken and hollow, they are bright and constantly looking for growth and change and opportunity. My entire soul is aching for that.
Today, I feel fall in the air. I feel the promise of crisp nights and cool mornings. I watch as the light outside changes. The air is ready for change.
So am I.