Some of you already know; some of you don’t. Some of you may be shocked while others may simply shrug. There is no easy way to tell this story to masses, which is why I have waited until now to write.
As a brief note to begin, I want to emphasize that this is my telling of the story—it holds my experience and mine alone. It is difficult to tell a story with conflict and maintain the complexity of its circumstances. We too easily dichotomize, making greys into black or white and making people into good or bad. This is my story, but there is another story to tell. I want to respect that other story as I share mine and I ask that you respect that other story as well.
So what all am I talking about? As of today, Morgan’s and my divorce is legally finalized.
This telling of the story begins with a particular scene from last May. Of course there is more to say before that, but that is when I first felt the instability of our marriage. Sometime in May, Morgan told me that she wasn’t sure if she really loved me. I remember her sitting where she always sat on the love seat in our living room with its faded and frayed floral upholstery. She said, “I don’t think I love you. And I’m not sure if I can. I’m afraid that I’ll be miserable for the rest of my life.” My heart sank at these words. I assured her of my love for her even amidst her doubt, but my heart was heavy.
On a separate occasion, she told me that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married, that she thought she had married for the wrong reasons, and—again—that she was afraid she might be miserable for the rest of her life. This was just before I was planning to leave for a men’s retreat with my church in Abilene. I wrote her a letter before I left saying that as her husband I desperately wanted to fight for our marriage, but that as her friend I wanted to give her the space she needed to sort out her heart. I wrote that, because of this, I would intentionally not contact her while I was away at the retreat.
The retreat was a painful weekend, but I was with some dear friends. I cried, I prayed, I told them the story. It was the first time that I really asked the question, What if she leaves me?
I had so much anxiety and anticipation as a returned from the retreat. I had no idea what to expect from being with her again. When I got home it was quite a bit of an anticlimax. Morgan was tired from a day of working and didn’t feel like talking much. We ate dinner and sat on the couch. Not much was said. All of my fear and anxiety stayed inside but was eased a bit as we sat there. At least she’s here with me, I thought to myself.
By the beginning of June we were beginning to pack for our move to Seattle. We were both really excited about what it would be like to move across the country and start fresh. We would be living in a small studio apartment, so we had to sell a lot of our things in order to downsize. In preparation for a big yard sale I remember a particular moment. We were standing in front of the bookshelf in what we called “the creative room” going through books deciding which ones to sell and which ones to pack up. As we were sorting through things I paused for a moment and looked at her, “Morgan,” I said, “I’m really afraid. I’m afraid that we’re going to sell a bunch of our things, move to a place where I know no one but you, and then you’re going to leave me. I’m really afraid, Morgan.”
She looked back at me, moved closer, and hugged me. For a few moments there weren’t any words. We just held each other in an embrace that felt so sweet. “I’m not going to do that,” she answered with a big exhale, “I’m not going to leave you.”
I knew that didn’t solve our problems or remove her doubt, but I felt a sense of assurance from that moment. At least I know she’s in this.
By the end of June all of our belongings were in boxes. The day came and our friends helped us pack everything into the moving truck my parents rented for us. They were joining us for a family road trip across the country. Afterward everything was packed we all sat on the floor of our empty home eating pizza and enjoying the last moments of our time in Abilene.
The next day we took off for our week long, two thousand mile journey across the U.S. We made our way through the deserts of New Mexico, the oasis of southern Colorado, the giant rocks of Utah, and the plains of Idaho. As we cut through the upper corner of Oregon, my dad and I witnessed what may have been the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever encountered. And then finally we made our way into Washington. I will never forget our wide eyes as we drove through the lush forests on our last leg of the journey. This beauty surrounded what would be our new home. And then we saw it in the distance—Seattle! We rolled into town on the fourth of July with just enough time to throw all of our things into the apartment and go watch fireworks at South Lake Union.
After my family left, we officially began life in Seattle! July was such a strange month for us. It felt like an extended vacation. Neither one of us had jobs, it was summertime, and we were right in the middle of the city! We slept in every day. We explored our neighborhood and quickly discovered where all the coffee shops were. We got Washington State drivers licenses and we got library cards. We found the nearby Whole Foods so we could shop for good food. And finally I started looking for a job.
I know that moving to a new place doesn’t solve problems. But it seemed like so much of the stress in our marriage was circumstantial. She had been working so much and was constantly exhausted. Though I worked at church, we weren’t able to connect there together. Life in Abilene had become shallow and only inched along. I hoped that by moving here together we would be able to start something new together. Not that moving here would solve our problems, but that it would create room for new things to grow both personally and in our marriage. I thought I felt that during those first two months here. Life felt much lighter and brighter. I felt like we really were beginning something new together.
It was the final Friday in August. We were planning on taking a day trip to Portland and for no reason whatsoever we both woke up stupid early and couldn’t go back to sleep. We made coffee and sat on the couch waiting for it to be a decent hour to hit the road so that we could drive as the sun rose. I was reading a magazine and sipping a mug of fresh coffee. And then those words came.
“Drew,” Morgan said, “there’s something I want to talk about.” Those are words that anyone would fear.
“Okay,” I replied, setting down the magazine. I turned toward her on the couch, “What is it?”
“So,” she began, “you know all of that doubt and all that I was feeling back before we moved?”
I swallowed my coffee and kept my gaze on her while I felt my heart begin to thump.
“Well,” she continued, “I still feel that way.”
My heart continued to beat hard while a lump formed in my throat.
“I just don’t know… I realize this is probably coming out of nowhere for you, but this is how I’m still feeling. I think a separation might be good for us.”
We tried to talk about it for a little while. I tried to ask her questions and understand her more, but I just couldn’t. I felt flooded. “Morgan,” I said choking back tears, “I can’t do this. I need a couple of hours.” I grabbed some stuff, put on shoes and left the apartment.
I walked down to a park nearby. The sun had risen and I remember walking in the fragmented light under a canopy of trees. I fell against one of the trees and sobbed. I wept. These were not just tears, this was the sort of cry that began in the depths of my stomach and forcefully pressed its way through my body, up my throat, and out my mouth. I couldn’t contain myself. I fell apart under the trees in that park.
The first person I tried calling was my Dad. I dialed his number, but couldn’t get a hold of him. Maybe he’s at work, I thought, so I called his work number. His assistant answered and told me that he was not at work today. I tried his cell again and still no answer. I tried the house phone, but it just kept ringing. Of all the times for my Dad to be out of reach. He’s always been one to answer his phone pretty quickly, I didn’t understand. As I think back on it, I can’t help but grin a little bit. I’m glad for my Dad. He had that day off and, as it turns out, he was enjoying a leisurely morning on the back patio. He cell phone was in his bedroom and the house phone doesn’t ring outside. I can’t help but admire him for unplugging, even though it was a desperate moment for me.
Since I couldn’t get a hold of him, I called my friend Greg. He answered pretty quickly and took some time out of his day to talk with me. He listened to me, commiserated with me, comforted me. He encouraged me to get in touch with some of the older men in my life, “I’ll listen to you. I’ll be your friend. But you need to talk to your dad or a pastor or someone like that to figure out what to do. I can’t really help you with that.” I admire the wisdom he had to know his role and limitations as a friend.
I eventually got a hold of my Dad and talked with him and my step-mom for awhile. I told them about what Morgan had said. They helped me back into reality and gave me some advice and even practical steps. They’d both been in situations like this before, after all.
After the park I returned to the apartment and was able to have a real conversation with Morgan. I asked her to go to counseling with me before anything else happened. “We should be able to find a good counselor through church or through the school,” I said. She agreed to. We ended up not going to Portland that day.
I don’t remember what all happened the rest of that weekend, but I know that I had work in the evenings. I worked Saturday and Sunday. On Monday I woke up early and went to a coffee shop. The next day I had new student orientation at school and I had a project due. That was the day that I created the Who I Am project. After creating that and doing some other preparation for school, I had to work again that evening.
I returned home from work late that night, happy to just take a deep breath and collapse on the couch. Morgan asked how work was and I told her about my day. I asked her how her day was. “Um,” she answered, “I wrote you a letter today.” My heart sank again. “You don’t have to read it tonight,” she continued, “I know you’re probably tired after work and have your first day of school tomorrow.” Of course I was going to read the letter.
In the letter, Morgan described in more detail than ever before, just what she felt and what she didn’t feel. She asked outright for a separation and explained why she thought it would be best. She said that she thought it might last for three or four months and then we would see where things were after that.
I didn’t fall apart this time the way I had before. I took a deep breath after reading the letter and, again, asked Morgan to wait until we were able to see a counselor before anything else happened. She agreed to. We didn’t speak much more that night. It was late and I was tired. And I had my first day at grad school the next morning.
Thus began what would be the hardest and most awkward part of these months. It was two weeks before we were able to set up an appointment with a counselor. Those two weeks I was living with the knowledge that Morgan wanted a separation while still living in the same studio apartment with her. I had no idea how to interact during this time. When I was around her I felt awkward and sad; when I wasn’t with her I deeply missed her. Most mornings I would wake up, get ready, and go somewhere. I would go to work or to school or to a coffee shop. I just didn’t know how to be around her. I would get home in the evenings and we would have short conversations recounting our days to each other. Everything felt so unnatural.
We finally went to the first counseling session. The counselor’s office was situated in an office building on Queen Anne Hill with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bay. It was quite a site. We walked in and began sharing our story. Morgan told her story — the distance she felt, how miserable it was to feel stuck and so unhappy. I told my story — that things had been hard, but that moving here felt like a good fresh start, that I felt happy and hopeful. The counselor pointed out the obvious difference between our experiences of the relationship and began asking questions and explaining what might have been going on. It was really helpful. He managed to listen to us both, legitimize both of our experiences, and explain why this might have been happening. I left that session feeling so much hope.
During the session, the counselor had encouraged Morgan not to move out. He wanted us to continue in counseling for at least a month and see where things were then. Afterwards we went out for dinner together. This was a big deal because we hadn’t been spending much time together. I don’t remember what all we were talking about over that meal, but I remember that at some point Morgan became flustered and overwhelmed. “I just can’t do it,” she said, “I have to move out.” Our dinner came to a close and I was left speechless. She moved out at the beginning of the next week, September fifteenth.
Throughout the rest of September and October we continued going to counseling every week. After a few sessions we had each met with him individually and together. He had heard both of our stories and finally brought us to a point. “Drew,” he said, “when I hear you talk about the relationship I hear you using a lot of future-tense language. Things like ‘I hope for,’ and, ‘I’m working toward.’ Morgan, when I hear you talk about the relationship I hear you using a lot of past-tense language. Things like “Well that was too bad,’ or ‘That didn’t work,’ almost as though the relationship is already in the rear view mirror. Considering that difference in language, my question is this: What are you here for? What do you want from these counseling sessions?”
I answered his question first, “What I hope from these is to work toward restoration in our relationship. I want to learn what has gone wrong and how to move forward from there in a good and healthy way. I hope to work toward reconciliation and peace in our marriage.”
Morgan answered next, “I guess,” she said, “what I want from being here,” she bit her lip, “is to work toward a peaceful end to our marriage.”
My heart sank at those words. Was she really saying this? She really wanted an end?
The counselor took our responses and closed the session by challenging us into one another. “Drew,” he said, “this week I challenge you to really consider Morgan’s words. What if she really does want to move on? Think about that. Let your heart go there this week. We can talk about that more next week. Morgan,” he continued, “this week I challenge you to consider what Drew said. What if you really gave this a chance and worked on this together?” He told us that he really wanted to work on this with us and that after a week of considering what we’d said we could figure out where to go from here.
That week was agonizing. Uncertainty washed over me as I considered that Morgan might truly want things to come to an end. I hoped so fiercely that when we met again she would be willing to keep working on things together in counseling. That day finally came along with a knot in my stomach. I was deeply afraid of what might come as we returned to counseling. I felt my hope fading and that phrase “if she leaves me” was slowing transforming itself to a “when she leaves me” in my heart.
When we met back up she said she felt confident in her decision. I don’t even remember the words. I just remember that she did not want to work towards a restored marriage. She wanted an end.
We went to counseling a couple more times for the purpose of really understanding each other’s sides to the story. We listened and shared. We both cried at times and other times grew angry. These were the weeks of coming to terms with how things really were and wondering whether or not I had been fooling myself the whole time.
On October twenty-ninth Morgan filed for divorce. We stopped going to counseling after that. There was a ninety day waiting period before it would be finalized by the courts. Those ninety days were up this past Wednesday and today it will be final. The personnel at the courthouse said that it would be official “around noon.” The marriage will be dissolved, Morgan’s name will be changed back, and it will all be over.
Today marks an end. But I suppose it marks more than that. I have found much solace in the blessings of John O’Donohue. He has a section in his book titled “Beyond Endings.” That is what today is: a day for moving beyond an ending. These are O’Donohue’s words:
A Blessing for The Breakup of A Relationship
Now you endeavor
To gather yourself
And withdraw in slow
From love turned sour and ungentle.
When we love, the depth in us
Trusts itself forward until
The empty space between
Becomes gradually woven
Into an embrace where longing
Can close its weary eyes.
Love can seldom end clean;
For all the tissue is torn
And each lover turned stranger
Is dropped into a ruin of distance
Where emptiness is young and fierce.
Time becomes strange and slipshod;
It mixes memories that felt
The kiss of the eternal
With the blistering hurt of now.
Unknown to themselves,
Certain small things
Touch nerve-lines to the heart
And bring back with color and force
All that is utterly lost.
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best as you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.