Not long before Kenny left, we took our
last Saturday drive together. As usual, we stopped at the 7-11 near the house,
but instead of the usual extra-large coffee and two apple fritters or donuts,
he only got coffee. I got a plain donut and an extra-large coffee, so that he
could finish it later. I was clinging to old habits, but he wasn’t.
We drove in silence a couple of hours
south to Montpelier, Virginia, to see James Madison’s house (aptly named
Montpelier). Unlike our early-romance silences that were comfortable and
interrupted with the occasional conversation, revelatory or observational, this
was a two-people-in-their-own-world’s kind of hard silence. Even when I drove
down a country lane leading to a farm’s fruit and vegetable stand, there wasn’t
any banter about what we would find—it felt like we were going to the
When we finally ended up at Madison’s
estate, we discovered that the entry tickets were $18 each. Since neither of us
felt like spending so much money to wander around what had once been a
plantation that we were only going to use as a backdrop to whatever
conversation had been percolating within each of us during the drive, I turned the
car around and continued driving. We got lost some more looking for a place to
eat, until we found a country store selling barbeque. The barbeque wasn’t ready
yet, so I ordered a Virginia ham sandwich and potato salad. Kenny didn’t want
When I finally got my sandwich and finished
talking to the proprietor (something I never did before Kenny came to town), we
sat at the picnic table in front of the store. Sure, there was a tractor parked
there making a lot of noise, and we were facing a two-lane road, but there were
farms all around and the tractor added the appropriate background white (really
black) noise to the scene, so we sat down.
I ate and he cried.
It is odd to think that you are an
emotional and sensitive person, only to discover that the man in your life is
more emotional and sensitive than you are. It makes you feel like a Beast,
inside and out, while he gets to be the Beauty.
He told me, as I took a bite into my thick
ham and cheese sandwich, that he saw no reason to live if he wasn’t able to
make me love him. Looking out, past the tractor and the road to the sunlight trees
lining the fields beyond, and then to the dirt under the bench, he said that he
was contemplating committing suicide.
I was shocked, and then I was scared, hurt,
and angry. I’m just a woman, I thought, as I tried to figure out what to say, why
is he giving me more power than I have, and why is he making me feel guilty because
of the way I feel. His statement was so supremely selfish that I was tempted to
walk away, except he was obviously in so much pain.
When he moved here twenty months
earlier he had said that his intention was to make my life easier because he
had always loved me (we had been friends 28 years earlier) and because he was
devastated by what I had told him and what he had read (on my blog and other
writings that I gave to him) about my relationship with my ex-husband. Much of that
was about how my ex-husband had tormented me emotionally, and how I perceived the
origin of the abuse as his need to control me and my inability to move my STOP
IT! thoughts out of my head and into words and actions that would have stopped
him before there was nothing between us except the gulf between the moment we
met and the moment he said he would spit on my grave.
When Kenny told me a few weeks earlier that
he would be leaving, he said that it was too expensive for him where I lived
and that he felt it would be better for us (or did he say for me?) if he moved.
I had thought that things were good between us, but as soon as he said that, I
knew it was right—that living with him was not right for me as a woman or as a
mother. It was as if I had been at the optometrist’s office for endless hours
of “Which is clearer: A or B,” but nothing was ever clear, until that moment of
absolute clarity. Since then I had only seen clearer why I needed him to leave.
It had been too hard for me to make
that realization since he had moved so far to be with me (from Belfast to
Northern Virginia) and completely changed his life-plans in that move (graduate
school in England to a great unknown). It was also hard for me to formulate my
thoughts because he kept telling me that he loved me with all his heart and that
I was all that mattered to him. After a while, hearing that didn’t make me feel
loved, it made me feel imposed upon. Maintaining and protecting his love took
precedence over whatever I might feel toward him. His love was not for me, but
for himself—it became an unspoken demand for me not to do anything that would hurt
him, that would open the open wound of his love for me because, after all, all
that mattered was me.
If my divorce had taught me anything,
it had taught me to be clear about my feelings and thoughts and to not suppress
them, but knowing that and acting on that turned out to beyond my ability. Not
only because Kenny was so sensitive, but because I still put other people’s
emotions above my own.
The first time that I told my ex-husband
that I wanted a divorce, he said that he would commit suicide.
Between these two declarations of
suicide there was all manner of working on relationships, and readings, and
writings (a lot of those) focusing on faults (theirs and mine), with the
occasional nod to strengths.
At the moment of Kenny’s despair, I
reached for the compassion that he wanted, but I didn’t have any. My supply of
you-first was gone, as was my sense that he was a sensible man. At that moment
he was the desperate child that he kept telling me was hiding within him,
ruined by a brutal childhood that he was never able to overcome. In arguments I
had been instructed how he must be handled. I had tried to fit my needs into
his, but at that moment I couldn’t—I felt manipulated, not consciously and
maybe I only think that because I failed him and I am trying to take care of
myself, but I had reached the point when all I could do was hand Kenny back to Kenny,
and me back to me.
Things only went downhill from there
until he left. I withdrew and he tried to take back his leaving. For me there was no going back: I needed him to leave.