Ruminations on a drive, a decision and a transformation 20 years ago this week

We drove down to London to visit my family a few weeks ago. It was a grey, blustery November sort of weekend, and while the boys were plugged in to their various devices to pass the time, I had some quiet time in my head to reflect on another long drive I took to London, one that changed my life forever for the good. It followed one of the scariest, hardest and ultimately best decisions I ever made: to leave my first husband.

Rainy day

I was sixteen when I met him. A year older than me, he lived in Sudbury and had been visiting his cousin and my friend one March Break. We kindled a long-distance romance between London and Sudbury through the end of my high school years, and I was blissfully oblivious to ridiculously obvious warning flags like him dropping out of school, moving erratically in and out of his parents house and losing a string of low-wage retail jobs. We got engaged while I was still in high school and moved in together in Ottawa the weekend after I finished Grade 13, ostensibly so I could go to Carleton, but I had applied only there because he was already living in Ottawa with his family.

My poor mother. She asked only that I live with him for a year before deciding to get married, which I did. We were married the month I turned 20. By then, I had quit school to work full time at Zellers. I’m surprised to this day that my mother still speaks to me.

It was a long time ago, and re-hashing those five years serves no real purpose. There were good times and bad, and some horrifically bad choices were made. Eventually I realized that not only was he lying to me and cheating on me, but he was rather relentlessly abusing me as well. On the eve of his best friend’s wedding, his marital advice was “Keep putting her down until she stops fighting back,” which pretty much sums up the last two years of our marriage.

Even though it was now fully two decades ago, sometimes I want to go back and shake that girl. I was so stupidly obtuse to my own situation that I had no clue up until the month before I left him that there was anything amiss. My friends could see it, and eventually worked up the cajones to tell me, and my family could certainly see the effects of the situation on my shrinking, fading personality even if they didn’t know the details of what was going on. Somehow, though, I rationalized some things and overlooked other things and willfully ignored still other things. Hindsight may be 20/20, but I was legally blind to my own situation at the time.

When awareness finally dawned, I did not waste much time. I remember being obsessed with a single thought: “This is how it’s going to be? For the rest of my life?” And that’s what motivated me. I remember calling my parents and asking, “Would you be angry if I were to get divorced?” I found out later my mom did cartwheels around the kitchen, but at the time she was remarkably stoic. “Of course we wouldn’t be angry. Why don’t you come here for a week to get some space to think?”

And that’s exactly what I did. I packed up my little Mazda hatchback and made that long drive back to London with my tail between my legs, with the idea of “trying on” not being married anymore. I felt a strong sense of failure for not being able to make my marriage work – at the time, I still had no sense of how ridiculously one-sided the apportioning of blame really was. I was also astonished at how happy all our mutual friends were to see me “trying on” being unmarried. At the time, I thought it took me until the end of that week of safety and breathing space in London to make my decision, but really, I think my mind was made up the minute the car was packed, and it took me the rest of the week to let the idea settle in.

It was a longer drive back to Ottawa, but I was lucky enough to have a friend to share the ride and distract me from my anxiety. I never went back to the apartment that was “the marital home.” Instead, and more than a little ironically, I moved in for a couple of months with the same friend who had introduced me to my now ex-husband, until I could sort out a place of my own.

I was all of 24 years old and pressing the “restart” button on my life. It was, to this day, one of the scariest and best things I have ever done.

Over the years, and with a little bit of therapy, I’ve come to terms with what was a pretty dark period in my life. It took many, many years to let go of the anger and resentment that brewed after the fact. He still pops up in my nightmares when I’m feeling particularly stressed, but I finally feel like I’ve matured enough to let the negative feelings go.

I saw him on Facebook through a mutual connection recently, and for just a moment my fingers hovered over the keyboard as I contemplated sending him a friendly message. Twenty years is a long time, after all, and we were in love once upon a time, however misguided that love may have been. Altruism aside, I can’t deny that I was more than a little bit motivated by the idea of showing off how wonderfully my life had turned out without him. The impulse passed, though, as I recognized that I had nothing to gain from sparking that connection. It was, like leaving, the right and obvious choice.

What were some of the transformative moments in your life? Did you realize their significance at the time? Did you make the right choice?

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

5 thoughts on “Ruminations on a drive, a decision and a transformation 20 years ago this week”

  1. Wow Dani! Talking about your past is never easy but I am glad you made that decision 20 years ago. You are better off without him and you have a handful of handsome men to show for the best decision you ever made.

  2. Nothing about your current accomplishments, confidence, and enthusiasm resembles even a shadow of the past that you describe here. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Hi There,
    What a great story of courage. I heard about this blog during a meeting I attended in Manotick this week and I am really glad I took the time to read it this morning. Your sincere rendition of your journey through a very difficult time in your life is very inspiring. Eloquently told, your story may motivate other women in a similar situation to change their course in life for the better. Thank-you.

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