As I said near the end of my post As sick as our secrets “I have to trust that more answers will appear as I'm ready to apply solutions.” Always the lesson appears when the student is ready. There have been a strange series of events that led me back to the time my last husband left. I spent years trying to understand what triggered strange behavior from a man I knew so well. My mind kept returning to Libby’s post Surviving the Unrecovered Borderline Parent and the comments I read there. It’s that thought at the back of your mind but you can’t put your finger on it. The other night I remembered the post where I was still struggling with why he left. A year after we had that meeting he came to visit me and he still didn’t know, he started to cry when holding me and said he was sorry he ruined all our lives. I was too afraid to let him back into mine, I had shut down. I may have posted what I wrote about that meeting but can’t look back right now, I have to get through this. As I wrote about the meeting we had in my post The princess and the pea, I said we were too alike, I had no idea how true that was when long ago I wrote those words. The Cowboy was like me.
When he left I struggled to understand, was it was the stress of moving from the farm to the LA area? It wasn’t just crowding that was hard, he was dyslexic which was overlooked in school when he earned them all the trophies. Zipping by freeway signs he couldn't read was a nightmare, he would get lost looking for job sites, feel helpless and frustrated. Or our disagreement over a motorcycle and the only time I ever said no because I was terrified he would be killed. Or perhaps a mid-life crisis, or just missed his brother too much. Nothing about what led up to it, the way he left or why made any sense, after 11 years he just stopped being him.
While my dad was dying, and in the weeks after, everyone looked to me for decisions and answers. I struggled and slipped again into old behaviors and instead of doing what was best for me I made mistakes. I missed The Cowboy, I wanted to call and lean on him. Where do you get your needs met when everyone needs you? Even the strongest of us need someone to lean on, my youngest was there but strong as she is, she's still my child. The Cowboy heard me even when I said nothing, he knew what I needed and what I didn't, if I said just his name he'd know I wasn't okay. He was a safe place to land and rest, always on my side, always my support. I miss his soothing words telling me I would be fine and everything would be alright. With him I felt safe all the time, he was available and he was strong, he promised little and gave all he could. Every day I wanted to call and lean on him again.
With recent chaos my mind returned to him to borrow courage from who he chose to be. I never had heroes growing up, didn't look up to many but I admired him. I think about the horrors of his childhood and how he shaped himself. His mother who adored her children died when he was 3. His truck driver father who couldn't read let them go to her relatives based on promises that would never be kept by people who were shallow and selfish. Being separated from his older brother and sisters as he was shuffled from home to home. Finally adopted by an old aunt and uncle who hated his father but "took him in because they were good Christians," his replacement mother's words, not mine. I remember his passionless description of some of the things that were done to him for being a bad little boy no one else wanted, one who kept crying even though they made so many sacrifices to take him in. The sainted mother was the driving force and her husband's role was to agree and behave. Her saintly martyrdom oozed out of their mouths like sacred treasures. Except if he interrupted her, then her halo slipped and she smacked him in the back of the head and calmly said "shut up Howard, I'm talking."
I remember the first time I met them how they put him down for running off to join the rodeo (ruining their dreams of a son in the Olympics) down to the most trivial things, they saw it as what he did to embarrass or disappoint such wonderful parents. Everything was about how they felt and how they looked. They took credit for all his swimming trophies and how they’d sacrificed to push him into being a champion. They were not in the least bit embarrassed to send us to sleep in the unfinished basement where his childhood bed still lay, as well as a spare bed in another area for me. Not embarrassed that the rooms that once belonged to their own children were left empty the years he lived with them. I think of how they bragged about themselves and sought pity for their struggles or illnesses and then complained of the burden of his and how good they were to be so long suffering. Half lies and illusions were in all their words. Of course he was forced to agree. That's how hostages stay alive, they agree with their captors. I couldn't wait to escape.
I think about the years he went to school two hours early each day to swim. In his sophomore year he was state champion, beating every high school swimmer in the state of Utah in the breaststroke. As his coach trained him in hopes of sending him to the Olympics, he swam dreaming of escape. I think of him dragged to church every Sunday by people too selfish to love anyone, and too ignorant to know they weren’t superior beings. I think of a small boy lying alone in a dark basement crying silently for his mom and siblings. I think of his shame as he told me of his childhood, as if he was the one who should be ashamed simply because they shamed him. I think of his embarrassment as he apologized for them and told me that was why he’d arranged to stay only one night. I think of the fine man that little boy raised himself to be and how he sheltered others. I think of how his inner strength sustained him as he waited to escape.
At 16 he ran away from those people, he left them with their dreams of being parents of an Olympiad. He left them to their self-absorbed adult children and went into the mountains to ride fencelines for ranchers and live alone in line cabins while still a child. He learned to ride broncs and then bulls. He was far too tall to be a bull rider, so he did it anyway and won purses and a buckle he still wore. On another ride he took his wrap, they pulled the flank strap on the bull, and the gate on the chute jammed. The bull exploded inside the chute and his hand was trapped in his wrap. A few weeks later he left the hospital and walked away from Rodeo. When we were settled in our new home he unpacked a large box he brought from his old room, it was filled with trophies. He casually threw them all out as I protested, and told me that was then. He was a champion before he ever learned to swim or ride, he knew who he was without any trophies and never felt a need to tell anyone. He was content knowing who he was. Or so I thought.
Don't think him brutish or a redneck because he was rugged, when he broke the completely wild filly we bought he was gentle and consistent. On his ex-wife's ranch he did wildlife rehab including raptor rehab for Duschenes County. A few years into marriage I asked him if that's what he did with me and he just smiled. Lest you think I'm too sweet, when his parents came to visit I always had the urge to get a bat and beat the living shit out of people in their 80's, and possibly kick them a bit too. We are all more complex than a few words can describe.
One day I found an old drawing book filled with beautifully detailed pencil drawings, he said he used to draw because he liked it. He learned trades on the move because he couldn't read well, body work, mechanics, every area of construction. He taught himself to airbrush artwork for motorcycles to make extra money, and somewhere in Wisconsin there’s a big white and blue bike with a dark skinned brunette painted on the back fender. I laughed when he told on his trip out to visit me, I didn't mind, he kept me the way he could. He didn't blow up, he didn't complain, he didn't turn into the abuser. He did everything he could do to get something done, if he couldn't do it, he moved on. He could build anything you asked for, draw remodeling plans from words and hand gestures of customers and fix anything that broke.
The day before he left me we fought, raised voices for a couple of hours. I know how awful he felt being furious and hurting my feelings, I felt awful too. Sometimes our standards for ourselves are too high, sometimes we don’t get the tools we need in childhood and don’t know how to fix ourselves. I wish to God he'd been able to fix himself. But even the strongest men fall, or break, and it doesn't make them any less. I have to remember that even the strongest women fall, or break. It doesn't make me any less.
Now after recent lessons and posts, I look back at what happened when he took me to live near my parents. I remember the first time he saw the illusion slip and my father had one of his tantrums, and my mother's superiority veiled in martyrdom became clear. Soon they began to treat him the way they treated me, the rule is if you love me and want to be loved, you’ll keep our little secrets. I was shutting down again, soon our needs and feelings didn’t matter, it was all about pleasing them and he began to meet their needs too. We lived over a month with them in their gorgeous home, he couldn’t wait to escape.
One day he put his arms around me and said he never told me but he hadn’t believed me about my parents, they seemed so wonderful when they’d visited us. He was unable to see that their Religion was Financial Success, and even when loans made are repaid, it was never repayment they sought. Though you can't repay the forgiveness the Saint grants you the price you pay by being the inferior is the same. Our needs and thoughts were either foolish, wrong, poor judgment, or something less than, or, never even considered. Anything they did for us was because they were magnanimous and Successful, anything they needed from us was their due for being wonderful to those beneath them.
There is never sharing from a superior being, only charity to the less fortunate. The vehicle is different, the driver is the same. I see now the triggers he and I both shared, I hope I never ignore those alarm bells again.
Again he was living the lie and he became a hostage too. Though he tried to please and impress them he was poor Doris' husband who was a nice guy, but not sucessful or literate, they were (condescendingly) kind to him. I don't think he connected it to what happened to him in childhood, or the unhealed wounds that caused him to shut down. I wrote this in my Secrets post “Some instinct told me that keeping the secret was staying in the cage.” He left because he couldn’t go back in the cage and pretend he liked it, instinct caused him to revert to an old behavior to survive. I get it, I've told my kids if I disappear I'm dead, I'll fight to the death rather than be held hostage. Being trapped is too like my childhood and bad marriages, I would truly rather be dead.
Though I haven’t been a victim of rape, I shudder every time I see a show where a victim recounts a rapist forcing her to say he’s wonderful and she likes what he’s doing to her. It is the same with these parents regardless of what disorder they have or which one has it, every boundary must be stripped away, you're needs are of no interest to them. You are just an accessory for their gratification and image control, not only must you submit, you must say that it makes you happy and you're grateful. If not, the problem is you, you're inferior or defective, and ungrateful. If you don't give them what they want, they will explode or you will be shut out. Little do we know that shut out is a blessing, but it never lasts, they will relentlessly return and be shameless, no matter the persona they wear, they can't see their real selves. My parents and his only had different lives, the behaviors were much the same.
I think he remains shut down, we have talked over the years but not in a few. Though he lives near them, when I called my former sister in law last year, she says they still hardly see him and he has been engaged to the same woman for about 6-7 years. I'm sad for him each time I hear that. It broke my heart to learn from my step-daughter he stopped contacting her and his grandchildren. My youngest still has a relationship with him and said he's different now. Can we ever break free from our childhood chains?
This is what happens when you can’t live the lie anymore, eventually you break. Back then I didn't know any of these things, and though I learned about myself in the past few years, I never thought about his childhood and the triggers he responded to until now. I'm grateful to understand what happened and finally be at peace with it. I was angry and hurt that he left but never felt bitter knowing he did all he could to protect me from pain, just like always. I can't blame him for running, he never learned any other way.
With all my heart I hope he heals, I pray that answers and solutions be sent his way, and that he opens himself to them. All I can do for him is pray. My only job is still to fix and change me.