Stumbling in the Dark
I married in my early twenties, thinking that I was doing the responsible thing by settling down and having children. Donavon and I were both soldiers trying to escape the small, but different hometowns we came from. Although the first few years of our marriage we struggled with money, I can truly say that it was a happy time for both of us. We ended up having three children and, in my mind, we would grow old together and look after our grandchildren.
We may not have had the white picket fence, but we had each other. Donavon and I both loved being parents. We took family trips to the zoo, and to the park. We read stories to our children, had family game nights, and regularly attended school functions. Donavon taught our kids how to shoot using paint ball guns. Even video games were done as a family.
I left the military first after my contract ended. I started pursuing nursing and supported Donavon as he continued in his military career. Over time though I seen a dramatic shift in his behavior. The man that once upon a time would sit and have tea parties with our daughter was no longer interested in being a father at all. He withdrew completely from our family, spending all his time playing video games. He would snap at the children and I if we got too loud. He was no longer interested in going to the zoo, or the park. I grew to be resentful, but still I wanted our marriage to work.
After speaking with a few very close friends Donavon agreed to see a doctor. We found out that he has suffered a traumatic brain injury that had caused frontal lobe damage in his last deployment. This caused a shift in his personality. Even with the diagnosis I was convinced that with counseling I would get my husband back.
Four years later and not much had changed. Donavon was medically retired from service, we moved to a bustling city, but he was still withdrawn from our family. By this time, our children were older, and they were growing resentful towards the father that was no longer acting as a father should. I cannot blame them for their feelings, because even I was growing resentful.
I considered myself still young, but too old to start over. We were a family, and families were supposed to stick together through the good and the bad. Being married to someone that barely speaks to you, and never touches you was doing considerable damage to my self-esteem. My depression grew and I started gaining weight. I tried counseling, and they wanted Donavon to come with me, but he refused. I felt trapped in a modern nightmare. Donavon did not help clean house, or care for the children. I was working multiple jobs, then would have to come home, clean, and cook meals for the family.
I tried several ways to bring the Donavon that I had once loved beyond reason back to me. I supported him when he wanted to purchase a motorcycle. I supported him when he wanted to pursue making video games. I supported him when he wanted to be an artist. I made sure that I complimented him at least once a day, and I tried very hard not to be a nagging wife. All this was doing was making me more depressed and piling more debt on me, and none of it ever brought back the man that I had loved.
Finally, one night I watched the man that held my heart break down. He confessed that he did not want to live anymore, that he had imagined thousands of scenarios of how he could kill himself. Donavon went into detail telling me that he imagined finding him dead in the bathroom, and another scenario where he purposely wrecked his motorcycle into a semi-truck. He told me that he hates the city we were living in and wants to return home to his mother. He told me that living this far away from his family was what was causing the majority of his depression.
I believed his lies fully, mainly because I was also a long way away from my family and I missed them terribly. I was raised in a very tight knit family unit, with lots of siblings and cousins. Being separate from them was an issue that I had also dealt with, so I understood his want to be home. In the back of my mind I knew that it was not fair of him to ask me to move even farther from my home, but I never allowed those thoughts to come forward. Still I was convinced that Donavon was my soul mate, we had children together, and it was my job to keep our family together no matter what.
After my husband’s chilling confession, I packed our stuff up. Went into debt to take out a moving loan and uprooted my children once again to move them across the country. This is the one move that looking back now I can truly say I regret with all my heart.
My little family was headed to Oregon, a state literally across the country from my family. A state I did not know anything about. A state my children knew nothing about, to be with a family that never really liked me to begin with. In fact, Donavon’s mother had cried at our wedding, and had told him that he was making a huge mistake.
I held on to the miraculous hope that this was the solution that was going to fix my husband. Getting him back around his family would surely spur him back into being involved with me and the children. It had to; I was gambling literally everything I had that this would work. Despite my gut feeling that this was the wrong move I sadly said goodbye to my life in Dallas, Texas, and headed north to Oregon.
I would love to say that the move fixed everything, but like I warned you about this is no fairy tale.
Instead I found myself in a foreign state, with no family remotely close to me. Donavon’s family which had made claims to help support us in this move were absent for the most part. Occasionally there would be a birthday party, or special occasion get together, but that was it. Even during these special get togethers it was us that had to come to them. Not once did anyone in his family visit our home. Donavon became even more reclusive in our new house. Using a sunroom as his office, he literally shut himself out of mine and the children’s lives.
My resentment towards Donavon grew every day. Since he wanted to move so badly, we had gone into a considerable amount of debt. Donavon also refused to work, and his disability pay from the Army was not great. Oregon had a higher cost of living, and once again I found myself working multiple jobs just to keep a roof over our heads. To make matters worse I soon found out that the woman that had raised me had terminal cancer, and I now had no way to get back home to even say goodbye to her.
I am not a Saint, and I will willfully admit that by this point my resentment of Donavon had grown to the point that the love I once held for him had turned sour. I hated that he was not involved in our children’s lives. I hated that I was living in his home state and was not close to my own family. I hated that he did not work. I also held it against him that I could not be home when the woman that had raised me died. With bill collectors knocking on the door, and my depression at an all time high I finally told Donavon that either he needed to start helping, or I was going to leave him.
This ultimatum would eventually come back to kick me in my ass. Little did I know that this would be the moment that would ultimately lead to the breakup of my family. Donavon made the decision to go back to college, except he wanted to attend the larger university that was farther away instead of the local community college. I agreed because the Army would help pay him during his time in school. I was desperate for any kind of financial help at this point.
For awhile the arrangement worked out great. Donavon would attend school, I was down to working only two jobs, and even though he was still not an active participant in our family life, I firmly believed that things were looking up. My depression lifted a little, and I was even able to lose some weight.
Like all things that go up in this world, eventually they come crashing back to the ground. Donavon was soon making excuses to stay with his Aunt in the town that he was attending university. He started spending money but could not tell me what it was for. Far too quickly I felt like a single mother. He would sometimes go a whole week before tearing up in the driveway on his motorcycle.
Its important for you to know that at this point Donavon and I did not have a physical relationship. In truth it had been a year since we had done anything sexually. Not for lack of trying, because Lord help me, I did try. Donavon always said he was too tired, or his knee hurt, or his back just could not take the movement. I hated that we were not romantic anymore, but still I soldiered on. I was utterly convinced that it was my job to hold this family together, no matter what it cost me.
It was June, less than a year after I moved to Oregon that she showed up at my door.
“Hi, um is Donavon available?” I was confused by her question, this girl looked like she was in high school. She was a smaller blond woman with wavy hair, perhaps five foot seven inches at best. She had big doe eyes, a round face and seemed kind of nervous.
“Do you mean Levi, my son?” I had a growing sense to dread as I stare at this young woman. Surely, she must be here for my teenage son, there is no way someone as young as her could know my husband.
“No, I am looking for Donavon, he hasn’t been to class lately, and I really need to talk to him.” She is even more nervous now, looking as if she is going to break down in tears at any moment. Alarm bells are ringing so loud in my head the longer I look at this young lady. I notice she has a slight bump in her stomach, and somehow the alarm bells get louder.
“How old are you?” I felt stupid even asking this woman.
“Look I’m sorry I really am I just really need to talk to Donavon.” The tears have started flowing down her cheeks, and now there is no doubt in my mind why she is here. For some unknown reason though I needed to hear the words, I needed for her to confirm that my worst fears had come to life.
“How do you know my husband?” My voice is cold even to my ears. It is obvious that this woman knows who I am now, but I can not help but wonder if she knew I existed before now.
“Look I am sorry; I did not mean for it to happen. I just it was stupid, it was at that party. I am so sorry. He is not answering his phone, and he has not been to class.” She is tripping over her own words, sobbing on my front porch.
I hold my hand up to stop her rambling. I need a moment to process everything. Not only is this strange woman pregnant, but I had also found out that Donavon was not attending class and had been at some party. I find it odd that I am strangely numb. “I am only going to ask one time, is that my husband’s child that you are carrying?” She is sobbing so hard now that she can not make out the words, instead she nods her head yes.
For me it is almost as if time has been frozen. I do not move, I do not speak, and honestly, I am not sure I was even breathing. Finally, the young woman in front of me had calm down enough that she could speak.
“Look I am sorry; I was at the party I was drunk. I am not keeping the baby, I just wanted him to know.” I still can not speak I just nod my head at her words.
Finally, my voice comes back to me, although it is almost as if someone else is answering her. “Donavon went to visit his mother. I would suggest you call him. Do not come back to this house again, my children live her. Whatever you and he decide to do now no longer concerns me.” With those words I robotically take a step back inside and close the door. I can hear her sobbing as she walks off my front porch. I turn around but my legs fail me, and I fall to the ground.
I end up propping myself up against the back of the door. My chest is heavy, like there is an anchor resting upon it. I do not cry though. Why was Donavon staying with his Aunt if he was not attending class? What was this party that he had gone to? How could he have sex with someone else? I can not say how long I sat like that, but eventually the ringing of my phone pulls me out of my stupor. Looking down I see that it is my work calling me. I do not answer, I can not even think about work right now.
My daughter comes and asks me about dinner. Absently I make some remark about ordering pizza. Excitedly she runs off to let her brothers know. Steeling myself I know that I need to think of my kids, I shakily get to my feet. I can not stay with Donavon anymore. Rationally I recognize that my marriage was over long ago, but at this point I can not stay with him any longer.
After I am done ordering the pizza, I sit in the living room. I borrow one of my kid’s notebook and start writing a list. It is a list of every reason why I can no longer stay with my husband. As if he knows what is going through my mind Donavon starts calling me. I stare at my phone, not really sure if I want to answer.
“Yes” the ice in my voice is cold enough to freeze Antarctica.
“Noel do not hang up. Look I am headed home right now we will talk this trough. I am sorry.” I can hear the desperation in Donavon’s voice and there is a huge part of me that wants to pull the wool back up over my eyes and say yes. I look down at the list though, and I know that if I do not do this now, I will be miserable and lonely forever. Trapped in a loveless marriage that was not going to get better.
“Actually, Donavon you should stay at your mother’s tonight. I need some space after finding out that you’re a cheating liar.” I am surprised that my voice is so calm. If the words were different you would think that I was having a pleasant conversation with anyone.
“Noel please listen it was a mistake. I never meant for it to happen.” I think that Donavon is crying at this point, but I simply do not care.
“Which part are you sorry about Donavon? Are you sorry that you went to a party that I knew nothing about? Are you sorry that you were drinking? Are you sorry that after ten years of marriage you screwed some chick that is young enough to date our son? Are you sorry that she is pregnant, or are you simply sorry that I found out about all the lies?” I do not normally get angry. In fact, I have a very docile personality. So, to hear the venom dripping from my words is strange to me. Evidently it was strange for Donavon too, because it takes him a while before he responds.
“I was stupid, I made a mistake. Just so you know she is twenty-one, which is way too old for our son.” The fact that Donavon tried to make a joke in the middle of this conversation sparks an inferno in me. I can feel the utter rage scalding my body from the inside out.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME” now I am yelling. I can no longer contain the rage that is bursting and flowing from my lips. All the resentments from the last four years spill out and I am not even sure if I am making any sense as I scream into the phone.
I do not know how long I was screaming but four years of frustration, anger, sorrow, and self-pity came out quickly. It was like a dam had burst free and I could not make the water flow stop even with the hand of God. It was like I had word vomit, and it had to be purged out before I could stop. When I was done there was silence on the other end. We stayed like that for a few minutes, allowing me time to catch my breath and gather myself. I wipe my face and realize that sometime during that purge, the tears had finally come.
“I think I will stay at my mother’s tonight.” Donavon finally breaks the silence. I say good and hang up the phone. Oddly exhausted by the exchange and my day. The anchor that was on my chest earlier has somehow grown. I stumble over to the couch and finally slip into the warm welcoming embrace of sleep.
My nap is short, due to nightmares. I felt refreshed though and started rummaging for boxes. I was determined in my resolve. I had essentially been operating as a single parent for months now, it was time to put an end to the nightmare. The kids had eaten their pizza and were happily playing video games with each other in their rooms. I walked in my husband’s lair and started packing up all his video games. I would call him in the morning and let him know that I was done and wanted a divorce. My heart broke a little as I moved the Legend of Zelda figurines into the box, but I knew it was time.