Sometime around the 1st of July 2002, I drove from Monterey, California to Wakefield, Nebraska in about 36 hours. By myself. I've been thinking about that drive quite often over the last few months.
I'd been in Monterey to make a last attempt to save my first marriage. That attempt had involved me cutting my seminary internship short, moving from Titusville, Florida to Nebraska for a few weeks, then off to California for what was supposed to be a year's break from seminary while FW completed her time at the Defense Language Institute.
It had been a hellish year. A separation in September. Anger, denial, bargaining, and depression. Lots and lots and lots of depression. So many cigarettes my fingers turned yellow. Loss of sleep. Loss of appetite. Loss of weight that came on so quickly people thought I had cancer or tapeworms or something. Rotating which friends I could call so I wasn't calling the same people night after night, trying to figure out what to do. Running the same four mile course in Titusville over and over, chanting "I'm stronger than this - I'm stronger than this - I'm stronger than this" until the sprint came at the end and I couldn't do anything but run and gasp. Then, reconciliation. Trying to figure out how to put all the pain behind and start over. Trying to convince others it was possible, that it could work. Crash courses in marriage counseling, long phone calls to California, and hope. I was living on hope and baling wire, my Grandpa would have said if he were still alive.
As I remember, it took about three weeks to utterly fall apart.
In the end, the late night talks came down to just one thing: she didn't want "us" anymore. Irresistible force, meet immovable object. I drove to L.A. to stay with my best friend from high school while FW cleaned her things out of my life for the last time. Then I came home, threw what I could carry in a UHaul trailer, grabbed the cats and took off, fast as I could. When you finally get to acceptance, you want to get that coffin in the ground as quick as lightning.
I had loaded up the cooler with soda and fig newtons. I had all my CDs in the passenger seat. Drove over to Salinas, 101 north to San Jose, then the I80 bypasses until I grabbed I80 near Sacramento. Tahoe, then into Nevada. Same damn road I'd driven from Nebraska a month before. Mile after mile of mountains and valleys. I stopped somewhere west of Reno to take out my contacts by the light of the streetlights just outside a chemical toilet in the middle of nowhere. I caught three hours of sleep at the rest stop on the Great Salt Lake, then I grabbed some fast-food breakfast and pushed on.
Somewhere in the middle of Wyoming the reality of what was happening finally touched down. It was over. No going back. No more "trying to make it work." All the anger, the promises, the reassurances, the tears, the prayers: none of it had mattered one damn bit in the end. If you need to pull off the road and sob your fucking heart out anywhere, the shitscrabble countryside of Wyoming is as good a place as you'll get, because there's nothing to distract you from your catharsis. I know it's tempting to say western Nebraska, but there's all that prairie rolling away from you, rich with moisture and life. In the part of Wyoming where I unloaded nine months of abject failure into a succession of fast-food napkins and, in the end, my shirtsleeve, there was nothing but tumbleweeds and gravel to share my sorrow. Tumbleweeds and gravel don't like to give up their moisture for anything.
You get to a point where you have to turn away from what's dead and tend to living. It appears that I hold on to what everyone else can see is dead. I don't know why, but that's who I am, I guess. I've always believed that when you make a promise, you honor it with everything you've got. If you have to flex yourself a bit to keep the promise, well, you flex. I saw it in every important relationship in my life, from the earliest moments I can remember: in my family, we keep our promises. There's just one problem: when all you've known is honored promises, how can you possibly know what to do when promises are broken? You can try to keep your promises even harder, louder, more forcefully; but the end result is the same. You're keeping promises to what is dead, binding yourself to what will soon be a corpse, reeking of death and failure and decay, and if you're not careful, that corpse will drag part of your soul down into Sheol with itself.
Beloved and I were talking about the Unbloggableness tonight. I said, "this has felt, all along, like the divorce." She said, "Yes, and you're reacting the same way. You're trying to keep fighting for something that's already dead." She's right.
At least this time, when we get to Wyoming, we'll cry together.
EDITED TO ADD: It might sound like I'm trying to hammer FW here. I'm not. Pain heals in time, and while it wasn't great when it happened, FW and I have forgiven each other for that past and wish each other joy in the present and future. This is a lament about the present, not the past.