28 March 2011

Memories Monday - The Strength Inside

From the time I was 20 until I was 26, I dated a man that was no good for me.  He was living with someone else, had a child by her and yet told me that he loved me and they were just roommates. He would say things that made me question my worth as a lovable human being.  Partway into our relationship, he married the woman he'd been living with, but told me it was just for their son.  I believed all of this and more, and my fragile self-esteem got lower and lower every day.

In the fall of my 26th year, I moved from where I'd been living to live with my parents.  I would still see him on the sly sometimes, with him driving the hour and a half to see me.  Usually, it would be for a couple of hours in a hotel room.  It was bothering me more and more every day.  When I asked if he was going to divorce his wife, he accused me of making him choose his son over me.  And I could never convince him that it was the case.

Around October or November, I finally called it quits with him.  I told him that I couldn't be "the other woman" any more.  I still loved him - I suspected that I always would - but I couldn't handle the pain of the secrecy any longer.  It was easier this time than before for two reasons.  One, I was living an hour and a half away from him, so he wasn't 5 minutes away.  And two, I was the one that made the decision this time.  He tried to convince me not to for a little while, but I stood firm.  I refused to contact him via e-mail or phone and I started getting my life back on track.

On New Years Eve of that year, I got an e-mail from him telling me to meet him outside the bar down the street from my parents' house.  I don't know why, but the thought of him contacting me again frightened me.  I think it was because I hadn't wanted my step-mom to know and I was afraid that he'd come by the house.  I told him no, I wouldn't meet him.  But he managed to talk me into meeting him on my lunch break on the 2nd.

I don't know what I was expecting then, but I was nervous about meeting him.  I'd built him up to this big threat in my mind, so I was nervous.  But I should have been nervous for another reason.

We drove in relative silence until he found a quiet place to park.  Then he turned to me and said, "I'm going to give you everything you ever wanted."  He showed me a ring and divorce papers.  My heart stopped.  6 months ago, it WAS everything I wanted.  I wanted him to leave her and marry me.  He didn't want to have kids and I'd convinced myself that I didn't want any either.  I could be a good step-mother to his son.

But in that instant, when I saw the ring, I knew that it wasn't what I wanted any longer.  I wanted someone I could trust.  And I couldn't trust him.  There were too many things hidden, both in his relationship with me and his relationship with his wife.  I couldn't be sure that he wouldn't start seeing someone else on the side after he married me.  I was finally getting my life back on track.  I had a job that didn't involve being on the phone all day.  I had a couple guys I was interested in (though all were long distance).  I was finally feeling better about myself.

So I said, "No.  I can't trust you and I won't marry you."  They were the hardest words I'd ever said in my life because a part of me still loved him.  As I said earlier, a part of me always would (and a small part, deep down inside, still does).  But I couldn't go back because he wasn't good for me.  I needed to continue the changes I was making in myself.

He asked to put the ring on my finger because he wanted to see how it looked.  I let him.  I looked at it for a moment, then slipped it off and handed it back to him.  I don't remember now if I was crying or holding the tears back.  But I know I asked him to drive me back to work.

I walked into my office (a space I shared with 2 friends) and the floodgates opened.  We closed the doors and I sobbed.  My friends understood and gave me comfort and support.  It's what I needed then.  And I'm glad I got it.

It was both one of the hardest and one of the easiest decisions to make.  In doing so, I threw away a dream that I'd held on to for almost 7 years.  It was that clink of finality as the door closed forever.  But it was also the only choice I could make.  I'd learned how important trust was.  I was starting to learn, thanks to other friends, what it meant to be the person I was meant to be.  I was listening when friends talked and not letting my heart do the only answering.  I knew that I deserved better.

And I found better.  It took me a couple tries before I found the man I knew I could spend the rest of my life with, that I could trust above all others, and that could and would be my best friend.  With him, I have two beautiful, wonderful, funny, silly, loving little boys who call out excitedly, "Mommy!" whenever I walk in the front door or come downstairs in the morning.

But I may not have been ready for him if I hadn't made the journey that I did.  If I hadn't found that last bit of inner strength that allowed me to say no when the dreams I thought I had could come true, would I be the person I am now?  Even if I weren't with the same guy, would I have strength of heart to take a chance?  Because Rich and I both took chances on each other.

I'm a firm believer that life leads you where you need to be.  And I needed to be in that relationship.  I needed to be at my lowest so I could see just how far I could come.  I don't regret it, which confuses some people because it was almost 7 years of heartache and pain.  Why WOULDN'T I wish that it never happened?  Because I don't look at it as 7 years of heartache and pain.  There were good times mixed among the bad.  And the bad times... they helped shape me.  It was 7 years of experience.  And I never regret experience.