By Kristin Shaw
At one time, I prayed for him, my first husband, to love me. I tried to love him hard enough to love me back. I tried to love enough for both of us.
It wasn’t enough.
I curled up in the dark under my covers, tears rolling down my face in a steady stream. Then I prayed for the pain to stop. I thought about how ridiculous it was to pray for help when I wasn’t praying any other time. Instead, I called my mom.
“All I want is to fast-forward to the part where I’ll be happy again,” I told her, crying into the phone. I’m sure my mother was heartbroken too, listening to her daughter hurt so acutely.
Eventually, I ran out of tears.
But there I was: broke, considering bankruptcy with over $20,000 in credit card debt, going to the gym like a maniac, spending money I didn’t have at Victoria’s Secret to make myself feel better, and lonely.
I missed the way he smiled. I missed the way our feet touched in bed at night when we went to sleep. I missed having someone who was there for me. It was easy to forget all of the times he hurt me with words or feet or a fist.
It would have been easier to stay in my shell, perhaps, but instead I emerged and ran toward companionship and didn’t stop to rest. Or think. I didn’t want to think about what it meant to be 33 and suddenly single after a decade. I didn’t want to think about facing friends and family with DIVORCE stamped on my head in invisible ink. He left me behind, and I was ashamed and fragile.
Logging hours at the gym after work and neglecting to eat took its toll on my body, and I lost 12 pounds in two weeks. On the outside, I was allowing my friends to drag me out of bed and I was laughing and drinking and dressing to the nines. Inside, I was burning.
When I saw my doctor a few weeks later, she diagnosed me with depression and prescribed Lexapro. I took one, and it made me nauseous. I tossed the rest and tried to stick it out. I was lucky, in fact: I didn’t need an antidepressant again until I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety after my son was born, four years later.
The scars are underneath my smile, but they’re still there. I slough them off every day, buffing out the sharp edges. I sometimes forget they are there, because they have softened, and then they surprise me by pushing through the surface. The scars manifest as sharp retorts, or pulling back, or mistrust.
My second husband knew from the beginning about the scars, and yet he proceeded with tender passion, pursuing me in his quiet, confident way.
“I figured you would break my heart,” he told me later. “But I wanted you in my life anyway.”
Sometimes, I will carry my shell on my back, a snail with a huge house to support. It is too much. I fight the unconscious fear of being left again: Will my husband still love me if I…? Am I still lovable and worthy when…? Will she still want to be friends with me if I don’t…? There are parts of me I hold back.
There are still times I fight the shadows from my first marriage as I live within my second marriage. Recently, I realized I was pushing my husband too far when I said things to him during an argument about something stupid. I escalated, yelling “Go to hell!” at him in frustration, fighting back in a way that I had in my first marriage, a mirror response to my ex-husband’s berating.
My second husband and I both have strong personalities; we have learned when to press the “STOP” button and back off for a breather when things started getting heated. But this time, I kept going past the boiling point, telling him what I thought of him in that moment; he thought that meant I was telling him that I no longer wanted him around.
It was a lightbulb moment: those old scars were showing themselves again, and this time it was in the form of testing my husband to see how much he could take. Would he still love me if I lost control? Maybe I was unconsciously crawling back into my shell. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. After all these years, I am still hurting inside. Tears prick the back of my eyes – I don’t want him to hurt the way I was hurt. I will do better.
I am still afraid to discard the shell entirely. It’s now more like an ice cream shell coating that breaks into pieces with the gentle tap of a spoon. My second husband has found the way in through those cracks, and with every loving gesture, every bit of understanding and patience, a segment is cast off. It is through allowing him to love me and showing my vulnerability that I am able to feel love unencumbered by drama and anger and pain. It is love the way it’s supposed to be.
When I remember to pray, I give thanks. Thank you for this life. Thank you for this second chance. Thank you for these scars to remind me that I am still alive.
Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer, published author, wife, and mother based in Austin, Texas. She’s a co-producer of the Listen to Your Mother show in Austin, and her blog, Two Cannoli, was named a Babble Top 100 blog in 2013. In 2014 an 2015, she was named a BlogHer Voice of the Year. Find her at TwoCannoli.com.