The thing is, that when you live a very long time with someone that you have given your power and trust and love to and they use that power and love and trust to diminish you—well you strop trusting in everything and everyone becomes a stranger.
It begins slowly. I remember the first time I realized that I had changed. It was many, many years ago and I was talking to someone at the coffee shop I used to love.
Serrano’s was this magical space that I went where I wasn’t HIS wife. I was just Shanyn and whatever anybody thought of me was based on what I presented and how I acted. Most of the time, I went there and just sat, sometimes writing, but most of the time I would watch and listen to people. They all seemed so confident and happy and everyone look so well put together. Most everyone. And by well put together I mean they all wore clothes that represented who they were and who they wanted to be and this made them look good.
It was here that I would steal away for a few moments here, a few moments there. Sometimes, I would bring the kids because I wanted them to feel this vibe. It was the closest I could get to raising them in a diverse environment because this is THE VALLEY and things here are locked down. It is conservative at its core and I never did feel really at home here. But, in seeking places that would allow me to feel a little bit of solace I found Serrano’s with its crazy art on the walls, its excellent coffee, and its multicultural vibe. It was here that I felt closest to my roots and that was as I was going to get.
It was also here that I realized the person I thought I was, the person that I thought existed when I got married had either disappeared or she was missing in the deepest sense of the word.
I would talk to people and I had made quite a few friends. My definition of friends at that time and for a long time was probably not theirs or yours. Friends were people that I presented a carefully drawn picture and it was rare that I let anyone past that façade. When the mirage wavered because the reality was too much too bear that day because the trauma was too hard to hold. I would seek anyway possible to regain stasis by going to a place or a person to find the image that I had crafted and carefully try to don it. Sometimes it worked, a lot of times it didn’t, so more and more I just didn’t go anywhere and I stopped reaching out.
Anyway, one day on a regular day I was talking to someone and amid saying whatever thing I was saying, I stopped talking. Right in the middle of my sentence. I then stuttered out an apology begging their forgiveness for overtalking, taking up too much space, just basically apologizing for being alive.
In my head I was writhing. I had made the unforgivable mistake of thinking someone thought what I had to say was interesting or important. I was off kilter. They had been looking at my face, into my eyes, and I wasn’t used to that kind of interest in me.
You see. I was used to someone never looking at me when I spoke. I was used to someone cutting me off or just ignoring me, the wall of silence impenetrable, my voice bouncing off and coming back to me unheard, unwanted. I am not sure how long it had been happening to me at that point but long enough that it had changed me.
I left a bewildered person in my wake, practically running for the safety of my car. Feeling each extra pound, my careful outfit now a clown costume.
It was that day that I realized deep inside me I had come to believe that everyone, everywhere forever was a stranger because I was a stranger to myself.
Many people consider me outgoing. I can talk to anyone and I will always reach out to help anyone in need. Always. It is easy to think that I am extrovert. I’m not. I often wonder if I was once, long ago when I was known to myself but I can’t remember that person anymore.
When I posted on Jennifer Garner’s cute picture montage that spur of the moment reveal of my inner raw, I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t calculating or measuring my words. It was simply an impulse. It was another really day. I was dealing with the fact that my kids and I had been exposed to someone with Covid and that I had some worrying symptoms. I was also dealing with HIM. I am not going to say his name. I am just going to refer to him as HIM.
After 18 years of marriage I had told him to leave. The hardest thing I had ever done. I don’t even remember my exact words. I just remember that I had said them out loud and that I meant every single syllable.
To be clear he had left me about 286,132 times. OF course, that number is fictitious but I want to give the sense of just how many times he had put his stuff in garbage bags and walked out the door, vowing to never come back. Never to see the kids. To disappear. That I would suffer and that I would finally find out someday, that I was in fact a piece of shit, and that my kids would understand that, and know that and would finally have the courage to tell me that.
Yeah. All that and more. Always. It was a pattern I did not see. I didn’t understand why he left only that he wanted to get away from me and that it was all my fault and that if only I could be quieter or thinner or smarter, he wouldn’t leave.
I would always beg him to come back. Every. SINGLE. Time. For many reasons that people will never understand. In fact, I think I will continue the rest of my life counting sorting through those reasons and try to figure out why they had so much more value than my life or my kids lives. I will spend the rest of my life trying to forgive myself for those reasons.
He taught me that just because he didn’t drink at the bar every night, he was a good guy. That even though he stopped sleeping in the same bed with me when my son was born (he had actually started doing this way before but it became concrete right after the birth of my last child who is now 13.) he taught me that I was not wanted. He taught me that fight meant me talking back or disagreeing. That having a different point of view or just being silent or having a too civil tone or standing up for myself or acting like I knew more than he did was a fight. Period.
If I had a problem and went to him with said problem, I was bothering him. If I persisted in continuing the conversation about the problem, I was instigating a fight. If, while continuing to “badger” him he thought of something as an answer and that answer wasn’t immediately THE answer then what he said and did after that was my own fault. Because you see, he would say later, and to this day…what he says and does when he is mad doesn’t count.
When HE says, “you are a bulldog, you look like a bull dog.” Or “No wonder your ex beat you up”. When he lowered his tone to a calm and calculating cadence, “Your own father and family don’t want you.” And followed up with his favorite, “I will never love you. Ever. “and then went back to watching tv…none of that really counted.
I began to understand what he wanted me to understand and I began to believe what he wanted me to believe. I was all alone. Everyone thought these things about me and I just wasn’t important enough or I was too argumentative for them to tell me. Everything was strange and the whole world was filled with strangers.
So, the other day when I wrote that little bit of my soul on Jennifer Garner’s sweet picture I did so as I received one ugly text after another from HIM. Even though he is gone, he finds a way to reach into me and remind me of all that he has taught me. It is in every word, it is the subtext, it is the world. His tone and a few simple words to anyone else is nothing. But I have been trained to detect what he means and why he means it.
And there I was on Instagram trying to forget that my world had ended and that I really have nothing and he has everything. Jennifer’s post was bright and pretty and fun. I recalled her marriage and its break up. Blazed across papers and the internet for all to read and misunderstand and yet here was this amazing woman. Posting cute photo of her quarantine pictures and I thought of all the wonderful things she was doing. Acting, her business, her donations, and her positive presence online. BUT most important to me was that she had survived and she was thriving.
She loves herself and her family and her life. (Now, I know things aren’t perfect and that she poops and farts and has bad days like all the rest of us)
Here’s the thing. I suddenly realized that I was never going to reach this point. There was no beauty or happily ever after. For me.
That right now, all I could see was endings. All I could envision is me old and ugly in some horrible tiny apartment that smelled of old cabbage, distrust marking my face with wrinkles and big warts with hairs sticking out. Daily feeding and bathing 100 cats. And birds. And dogs. Maybe geese and even a mountain lion. (recently the news had flashed headlines about some poor mountain lion lost here in Modesto and that they couldn’t find it. I knew that if he showed up at my door, I would take him in and take care of him. Because I am the finder of lost things.) I could picture me sitting in an old ratty chair, faded, and scratched from the animals. I’d be wearing some old bathrobe under which I would be huge panties whose elastic had given out.
That was when I revealed this rawness never even thinking about what anyone would think because I didn’t really think anyone would care.
Much later, I remembered that post and I went online to delete it…cringing at how stupid I must have sounded had anyone, and I hoped to God no one had, seen it.
Imagine my surprise when I opened Instagram and I saw that hundreds of people had reached out to me. Sharing their stories, their faith, their love, and their kindness.
I was stunned.
I cried for a long time.
People who don’t know me, who don’t owe me anything took the time to reach out and care for a total stranger.
As I scrolled, reading each thoughtful sometimes heartbreaking share I wept some more. And just like something in a movie something shifted drastically inside of me and I realized that I wasn’t alone.
I felt the start of something. For the first time the world wasn’t quite as bleak and scary as I had thought. That maybe HE wasn’t the right one, the wise one, the calm one, the strong one. That maybe he didn’t harness the power to my world.
I read every single one. I read the private messages and the notes on my own Instagram page. Each dispatch reached me right there on my battle field.
When I saw Jennifer Garner’s note to me, I was floored. To take a moment and share her kindness and well wishes and message of hope –. I was and continue to be GRATEFUL.
I looked down the infinite list of people who had taken the time to share their stories and who had only wanted to comfort me and I wondered how on earth I would thank each person.
Here it is. THANK YOU> THANK YOU>THANK YOU>
From the bottom of my heart, from the depths of my soul.
I wish I could tell you that now everything is all better. It is NOT. The fatigue and sadness I felt yesterday is only rivaled by todays.
The difference, though, is that I know that I am not alone. I never will be again. There are millions of people who have experienced what I am experiencing. It has allowed me to take one deep cleansing breath and realize that my direction is not hopeless.
It is entirely possible that I will be bathing 1000 cats and gingerly learning to feed a mountain lion in my tiny little apartment with its threadbare carpet. But, dear God, I hope not. I do NOT want to be caught wearing big ugly panties.
It is also possible that I will have a wonderful cottage in the mountains by a sparkling river where I will talk to river otters and have fish friends. Where the view will be of the redwoods as I feed and care for the lost things that I find.
I do know that I have myself back, for better or for worse. That I am going to slowly find out who this woman is and I am going to be as nice to myself as you all were to me in those comments.
I am going to lay down and rest. I am going to accept weakest moments and mistakes and I am going to try to forgive to forgive myself.
Thank you, Friends of Jennifer Garner.
Thank you, Jennifer Garner.
Thank you, new and wonderful friends for taking a moment from your day and reaching out to me.
Your words made a difference.
Your actions changed a moment in my life that will last me a lifetime.
I believe the theory that the flutter of butterfly wings can create a gale force wind on another continent.
Just as I believe each loving post that was shared came together as one voice and that voice had the power to reach me in the dark cave that I had been living in for a very long time.