Finding a Full CirclebyJidoka©
I had spent a lot of time trying to relax. I had a myriad of emotions flowing through my body. Anger, regret, pain, jealousy, and sadness to name a few. But there was love, too.
I had loved Ann Marie Santos for nearly my whole life. I had loved her since I knew what love was. In middle school we were best friends. In high school we were boyfriend and girlfriend. In college we were lovers and when we graduated we were married.
I had known that I wanted to marry Ann Marie from our very first kiss. My mom and dad tried to get me to date other girls. They were very concerned that Ann Marie and I were too close at such a young age. I could see their point. But it didn't matter to me. I never felt like I had to hold back on or give up anything to be with Ann Marie. I suppose if I had we may have just drifted apart.
I had chosen the college I wanted to attend based solely on academics, it just happened to have the best options for Ann Marie as well. We had a lot of friends and interests that didn't involve each other. We spent plenty of time apart. But the best times were when we together. She was my very best friend and I married her.
Ann Marie was my exact opposite in many ways. She was outgoing, I was reserved. She was short, 5' 5" on her best day. I was tall, 6' 4" when my growth spurt stopped. She was emotional, I was calm. She had a large family, I was an only child. She was an athlete, and although I was always trim and in good shape, my interests were more academic. She was devoutly catholic. I believed in God, but I was skeptical of religion. I was reasonably good looking. She was very, very cute. I was no movie star and she was no model, but we were a good match.
I can't say exactly what caused our mutual attraction, only that it was real. When we were kids, she would gently tease me and I would pretend to know how a gentleman should act. I watched her games and she came to my debates. I was always so proud of her, no matter what activity she was in, and her smile always let me know she felt the same. We never made plans but would always find ourselves together. I never made her choose me over anything, and she never asked me to change a single personality trait, but we always ended up putting each other first.
And we could talk to each other. About anything. Dreams, fears, desires. We always shared everything. That is why it had been so shocking. That is why it had hurt so much. I wasn't sure that I believed in soul mates, but if I had, she would have been mine.
We were passionate and caring and considerate. It was far more than lust. When I asked her father for permission to marry his youngest daughter he treated me to a first class interrogation. He questioned everything about our relationship. I admit I panicked at first. I was bumbling through my answers, but then I saw Ann Marie, watching us talk on the porch, though the window. I knew at that moment I needed to answer honestly and forcefully. If I wanted her hand I was going to have to earn it.
I explained to him that even though she had touched my heart and aroused my passion, that I had decided to love her. I had made that choice. I convinced him I knew what that meant. Certainly for better, even for worse. No matter what. Whatever worse was.
Three short years later, worse had arrived and I had decided. I still loved her and I wanted her to be happy. Even if I wasn't. That is why I was sitting all alone, trying to keep my emotions in check.
She knew me well enough to know what my response would be. I am sure that she had considered that. Even mid-emotional frenzy she always knew how I would respond. This would be no different. In the past my predictability had been a source of strength for her. Now it would set her free. But how I treated her was entirely up to me.
She was late getting home from work. Again. Unfortunately, that had become the norm in our house during the past four months. It was that and her change in attitude that gave me my first clue. That she never smiled when she saw me hurt a lot, far more than finding out the details. It is devastating to see, with your own eyes, that the only one you love doesn't love you anymore.
She walked into the dining room quietly. I was lost in my own head but I still noticed her arrival.
"Hello, Gavin. Are you OK?"
"No, not really. Please, sit down for a minute, so I can tell you why."
I had rehearsed my speech and hoped I wouldn't have to deviate too far from my script. I wasn't sure I would make good decisions if forced and I wanted to do this right. I wanted to be brave and dignified in the face of the hardest challenge I would ever face...letting Ann Marie go.
"Annie, I love you with all my heart. I always have and I am certain I always will. I do not want to argue with you. I do not want to yell at you. I do not want to call you names or toss accusations at you. I want us to sit here and decide, together, what we need to do. OK?"
"Of course, Gavin. What are you talking about?"
Her eyes betrayed her attempt to hide her concern, however slight it may have been.
"Annie, the thing I want most in my life is for you to be happy. I don't know why. It has been the foremost thought in my mind from our very first kiss. Even though it hurts me to say, in ways you can't possibly imagine, I know you are not happy with me."
There were unshed tears in her eyes. It was oddly comforting to know that throwing me away made her at least a little bit sad.
"I am really not interested in going over any of the details. I am afraid knowing too much will only cause me pain and will keep me from being able to move on. I don't want you to think I am a coward, but if we could just agree that I do know, for certain, that you are not happy with me I would appreciate it very much. You do know what I am talking about right, Annie?"
She barely whispered her response, "Yes, Gavin. I know what you are talking about."
"Thank you, Annie. You not denying it does help me to believe that I am making the right choice. Annie, I want a divorce."
Miguel Santos had an internal strength that I had always admired. He and his wife, Maria, had raised four sons and four daughters in a small three bedroom house in a less than an ideal neighborhood. His 5' 9" frame was home to a physique born in the streets and hardened by manual labor, with the tattoos and scars to match. I am sure, pound for pound, he was one of the strongest men that I had ever met. That was impressive, too. But it was the loyalty and devotion with which he treated his wife and had raised his family that earned my respect. Because of that, I felt I owed him an explanation and a heads up regarding my decision.
We had been sitting on his back porch chatting over a few beers, when he finally forced me to tell my tale.
"Miho, are you going to tell me what you came here to say?"
"Yes, I would like to, but it is more difficult than I thought."
My simple hope was that he would stay calm long enough for me to tell the whole story.
"Sir, I have loved no one other than your daughter since I first saw her. I promised you, on this very porch, that I would always put her needs above my own. I have come here today to tell you that I believe that is exactly what I am doing.....even though I am leaving Ann Marie."
The aftermath went about as well as I could have expected. He was angry with me. There were some choice phrases for sure, in two languages. He wanted an explanation. I could not give him one.
"Sir, I can only say that I love your daughter and that some things will remain private between her and me, unless she feels it necessary to discuss them with you. It is heartbreaking to have to sit in front of you and admit that I have failed in my marriage with your daughter. But I believe this is for the best. I only ask that you respect that I came to tell you face to face, because I believe you deserved to hear it from me."
After a while, he had calmed down enough to let me go through some of the details. When I left he was confused and upset, but he let me leave without more harsh words.
Ann Marie never cried. She was on the edge of tears for a few minutes, but they never came. She didn't argue with me and she never took a shot at my manhood. I was glad for that. But silently, I hoped that she would beg me to stop and reconsider. She never did. I felt better knowing my decision to walk away without a fight was the right one.
The only time she flinched was when I mentioned my discussion with her father.
"I spoke with your father this afternoon. I explained to him what I am about to explain to you. I simply hope that, out of respect for our time together, that we can part ways without a long drawn out process. I do not want to have to deal with the possibility of financial ruin along with all the rest. I plan on leaving as soon as our divorce is concluded. I have had the papers prepared; there are several options for dividing our limited assets. Most important among them is your decision about our home. Please look them over with whomever you wish and let me know by the end of next week."
"OK, Gavin. I'll look them over."
I can hear the groaning now. Why didn't I go all special forces on my wife and her lover using my super secret ninja and spy skills. Number one, I didn't have any of those skills. The last time I had been in a fight was my sophomore year in high school, when a senior tried, unsuccessfully, to get a little fresh with Ann Marie. I was enraged when I found her crying in the school parking lot. It was pure luck that I didn't catch up with the kid on school grounds. I would have been expelled for sure. My father grounded me for a month.
I thought I was also lucky when his parents decided not to press charges against me. I found out years later that I had Miguel Santos to thank for that. He convinced the boy's father that letting the matter drop was the best choice for everyone involved. No one would benefit from me being charged with assault and battery or his son being charged with sexual assault.
The second factor that led to my decision was my own mental health. I had been a wreck for weeks. I was having trouble sleeping and I was one more mistake away from getting fired at work. And, most importantly, I had no one to turn to. My mother died of breast cancer my senior year of college, just before graduation. My father turned to the bottle to cope with his grief and had never been the same. He had moved to Florida six months after her death and I hadn't heard from him in almost four years.
I would need a fresh start, quickly, and I needed to get away from my hometown. To do that, I needed money. What little I had was Ann Marie's, too. So I needed her to cooperate with my decision, get divorced and start over. I was only 25 years old and I had a plan. If my luck turned around at all I might just survive with my sanity intact.
Revenge was the furthest thing from my mind.
Two weeks after my conversation with Ann Marie, we were sitting in our lawyer's office. Ann Marie had decided to give up the house so it was going on the market. We would split the checking and savings accounts, my meager retirement account would be mine. She would keep our newer car and the payments that went with it. I would keep my 10 year old truck. And that was it. Signed, sealed and delivered with the exception of the 90 day waiting period.
The next thing I did was the only action I regretted during my divorce. I lied to Ann Marie.
"Where are you going to stay, Gavin?"
"I leased a small apartment near the office. I will be there until I can figure what to do next."
"OK, well I guess we will see each other when the house sells...at the closing at least....right?"
"Absolutely. See you soon, Annie."
Our attorney had my power of attorney for the closing. My truck was fueled and packed with my clothes and laptop. My wedding ring was on the kitchen counter of what was once our home, on top of my last message to Ann Marie. The note read, 'Goodbye, I'll always love you. Be happy.'.
I stopped to say goodbye to Miguel Santos on my way out of town. For years he had meant much more to me than an above average father in law.
"Mijo, you and Ann Marie should be together. Anyone can see that. Neither of you will speak about what has happened. Can there be no forgiveness? Do you remember your vows before God and your family? This is all too much and too fast, yes, too soon."
"Sir, I have found it in my heart to forgive. I love your daughter and I want nothing but the best for her. Now, I need to find peace."
Maria Santos hugged me at the door in a manner that indicated that she understood more than she was letting on. When she finally let go she placed her hand on my cheek, closed her eyes, and stood silently for a moment. When she opened them again she spoke in a voice that only I could hear.
"God bless you, mijo. I will miss you."
I had to leave before I broke down.
When your spouse is clearly upset with you, it helps to know the reason why. Me, I had no idea. There were the petty things that popped up from time to time: put the toilet seat down, pick up your own socks, and load your own dishes in the washer. But we hadn't even had a petty argument in months.
I thought she may be under some stress at work. They were clearly working longer hours. I asked her about it. She said she was working harder but everything would be fine.
So I did the only thing I knew wouldn't get me into more trouble. I started doing more than my share of the domestic chores. I started cooking more dinners and washing the dishes right afterword. I did the laundry, folded towels and sheets. I dusted furniture and washed windows. I tried anything that she might notice, anything to melt her icy behavior toward me.
After several weeks I broke down and started in on my least favorite task, cleaning the bathroom. If I hadn't done that it may have been awhile before I found out. I know I would have never emptied the bathroom trash. I know I wouldn't have seen the box for the pregnancy test. That had piqued my curiosity, and led to my digging in garbage until I found the positive test. That led me to the medicine cabinet and her full birth control pill dispensers. And that led me to thinking and my terrible conclusion.
We had not had sex in at least seven weeks. Almost two months of excuses about not feeling well, too tired, too stressed. It was by far our longest dry spell but I had not been worried about the possible implications. I had to be mistaken, but I knew I wasn't. Another man had impregnated my wife. But who?
That question didn't take long to answer. I called Ann Marie prepared to ask a painful question. Her direct extension was forwarded to the reception desk. I asked to speak to Ann Marie and was informed that Ms. O'Conner had left for the day. I decided not to leave a message.
Her car was still in the parking lot when I arrived at her office about 20 minutes later. My slim hope that she had been in an accident and someone was frantically trying to get in touch with me came crashing down. Thirty minutes later all my questions were answered.
Her boss, Michael James, pulled his car in right next to Ann Marie's. She got out of the passenger door and walked around to his side. I saw her smile when they were done kissing, out in the open without a care in the world. My smile, given freely to another. It was all I needed to know.
I beat her home by minutes. It wasn't hard to hide my feelings from her that night. She barely looked in my direction.
It had only taken me a little over two hours to discover my marriage was over and why.
It was a twenty hour drive to Las Vegas. I made it in four days. I drove across Nebraska and into Colorado on the first day. I took my time driving through the mountains of Colorado and Utah because I enjoyed the serenity and calm I found crossing the great divide and because I wasn't sure if my truck could handle the terrain. I started out worrying about the engine but by the end of my trek I was more worried about the brakes. At the end of day four, I laid my head down on an uncomfortable mattress in an off-strip hotel. I slept for the next 18 hours.
It didn't take long to register, buy my books and fill out my housing forms. Less than a week earlier I had been a gainfully employed 25-year old new divorcee with an adulterous ex-wife and no family. Now I was a first year law student living in a one room dorm room with a shared kitchen and bathroom. I was on my way to a new life.
I wish I could tell you about my newly found sexual exploits and dating prowess after my return to college life. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I had no experience in dating, ever. It had always been Gavin and Ann Marie. I had no idea where to even start. I can tell you that I never had a single date while I was in law school. I didn't even have any close friends. If any female even indicated that they were interested in me, I missed the signals.
Instead, I used school as an escape and I put my full effort into my studies. I spent the next four years working towards my JD/MBA. It was not that crazy of an idea. I had been a 4.0 undergraduate. Ann Marie and I had discussed me returning to school as soon as we were on more sound financial ground. When I decided I needed to move on with my life, taking the LSAT and filling out applications was the first thing I did. Why Las Vegas? They were the first to accept me with a full scholarship and grant package. I knew nothing else about the school or the city other than they had a degree program I wanted and they were far away from my hometown.
About once a month I sent Mr. and Mrs. Santos an email telling them about my studies and filling them in about my life as a graduate student. It was a habit I developed with my own parents when I was an undergraduate. Maybe it was the routine, or maybe I was hoping that someone out in the world might actually care about what I was doing.
Thirteen weeks in to my first semester there was a package waiting for me. I now knew the exact dollar amount. My love and heart were worth $7,642.18, after fees and expenses of course. It was perhaps the 3rd most depressing day of my life.
Periodically, every few weeks or so, I would receive an email response from Miguel or Maria Santos. I never told them where I actually was and they never asked. They would provide an update about one of their seven other children but never had any direct news about Ann Marie. It let me imagine that I had a family who missed me. I have no idea if it was healthy or not but it made me feel less alone, so I kept our conversations going.
For the first six or seven months there was always a hint but never anything blatant. Forgiveness, reconciliation, fatherhood, responsibility. They never came right out and said it, but they never failed to strategically place a hopeful anecdote. Then suddenly the reminders and hints stopped.
I never had any doubt that Ann Marie would keep her baby. But I did wonder if she would tell her parents the truth before the baby was born and it could not be hidden any more. I also wondered if Michael James would divorce his wife, abandon his three other children and do the honorable thing for Ann Marie. I would have to wonder because I didn't have the courage to make any inquires. But I did know the there was little chance that a baby fathered by a black man would resemble my lineage or inherit my light brown hair, fair complexion or green eyes.
I felt like a bit of coward when I had the flowers, balloons and gift basket sent to the James' residence, wishing Mr. James and Ann Marie congratulations on the birth of their child. I had a duplicate set of congratulations sent to Ann Marie, at her office, care of the company president. I had promised myself that I would not lower myself and intentionally try to hurt anyone, even Michael James, but the pain was still too raw. I needed to do something. I hadn't started any vicious rumors, just relayed a message of congratulations. In reality I was legitimately happy for Ann Marie. She had always spoken of her love of children. We talked about having a large family and lots of kids and hopefully grandkids. She was working on her dream and I was happy for her. It wasn't lost on me that her happiness came at the expense of my pain and not knowing what actually happened after my gifts arrived allowed me to imagine a devastating outcome for Michael James, however unlikely that actually was.