Mixed-Up Magical Thinking

I slept on the floor last night. My husband had been crying late into the early morning and then finally had drifted off into a drugged sleep. Every few minutes he would shake violently but not wake. It put me on edge so I decided to head downstairs.

I pulled out a mat that we had used for camping last summer and lay down on it. I had brought my pillow with me and I knew I had a blanket somewhere.

I decided to listen to an audio book by Mary Karr about writing memoirs. It was my idea that maybe if I delved into memoir writing, it would be like therapy for me and I would finally unravel the psychological demons that have been lurking around all these years.

I woke early as is typical of me. I usually get up around 5 and my internal clock naturally wakes me at this time whether or not it’s the weekend. I’ve been tortured by what my therapist said to me at our last meeting. The idea that I enabled my husband all these years. I gave him a place to live and a camera and didn’t make it difficult at all for him to carry on has he had, without a job. Without ambitions. Without financial contributions.


Why hadn’t I handed him divorce papers? Why hadn’t I given him that ultimate ultimatum?

All week I struggled with that. Some answers. One: I didn’t believe he could make it on his own and I didn’t want to see him living under a bridge. But much more important, I realized that I don’t play that way. If I had given him divorce papers, there is nothing he could have said at that point to change my mind. He could have changed completely and did everything I ever wanted him to do plus some, and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. I’m not that way. I don’t bargain over stakes that large. So I didn’t divorce him because I didn’t want to. I think my therapist was trying to get me to say I loved him. But that word doesn’t come so easily anymore. I’ve become too resentful, too angry.

It’s true though, of course. I do love him. But this love seems to be assaulted by a need for change, and I don’t want to change. I don’t want to change how I love or to engage in a different kind of love. A paternal or rather a maternal love. And that is, it seems, exactly what he needs.

One of the engineers I work with, very inappropriately I think, began talking to me about what men need. This was a man I had been working with for an hour and had never met before. He was supposed to be one of the giants at our company and I needed to interview him and write an article. He said that all men are little boys.

Excuse me. I hadn’t asked. I hadn’t brought up anything private or relationship oriented.

The advice came anyway.

Men are little boys. They need to be mothered.

I returned to my office and shook my head at my “big” boss. He didn’t understand. I didn’t explain.

I’m from a matriarchy. Strong Texas women. Abused, put down at times, but strong. Always strong. The idea of mothering a man disgusts me. My Texas brainwashing says that men must be strong. And as silly as I can recognize that this is and understanding that everyone needs a soft place to be and safety, it’s still ingrained in me that I’m no servant and shouldn’t be.

Mary Karr described passages from The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. This is a book I’ve never read but have on my shelf. I’ve been carting it around with me since grad school. I bought it from the school bookstore not as assigned reading, but on a whim. Karr’s description of this book was so intriguing that I went looking for it around 6 this morning and found it on my shelf. Now it’s laying on my table, within reach.

It promises stories of a rebellious woman. I can’t wait.

This morning, it strikes me with particular force that everything needs to fall away and I need to work on the memoir form. I need to write about my childhood and the brain injury and Russia and my father and how I was nearly raped in college but convinced my attacker to play Scrabble instead.

I’m not good enough for you, I had said. He agreed. Let’s play Scrabble to decide it. Drunk and stupid, a U.S. Marine that my roommate had brought home along with her boyfriend had barged into my bedroom and woken me up. Before I knew what was happening, he was on top of me tearing at my clothes.

He was convinced that he was going to do the deed. I had never seen him before. We were in near darkness except for a street light beaming through my bedroom window. All I could tell was that he was drunk, stupid, and built like tank. I was not going to be any match for his physical strength. I didn’t bother to struggle. Talking was the only thing I could do, so I set to it. I talked and talked, and now I realize that I was practicing some of the tenets of nonviolent communication. I was sensing his feelings and ultimately I gave him an out. Maybe he didn’t really want to be a rapist. Maybe he needed a way to save face. Since then I’ve talked myself out of a few “situations,” but never one as charged as that.

My roommate felt no remorse about his behavior or that she had brought him home. I never forgave her. I hate her to this day.

This was one of the scenes that played through my mind last night as I listened to Karr’s book. There are so many others that I need to release. Maybe it would help. Maybe.

I need to mourn the death of my former relationship with my husband. So says my therapist.

Why didn’t I present him with the divorce papers after say 5 years of not working? Because he was my only friend. The only person I trusted. The person I could confide in and depend on emotionally. I needed him. Now that part of him is gone, drugged most of the time to where I don’t know if it still exists. It must it seems. But I’m not sure.

I just know he doesn’t make sense anymore. The open person I once knew who didn’t hide from me hides now, and try as I might I can’t coax him out. On one hand I want to help him and sympathize with him, on the other I wonder what our lives will truly be like going forward. I can continue to try to manage the situation, to ignore the enormous gaps that are widening. Or, I can get my head together and figure out what it is I’m going to do. I suppose the first step is to figure out what I want. The next is to see if he can get there at all. The final one is to make some decisions.

My therapist says I have choices. But what choices are there when all of them are bad? Where is the choice in that?

What would you do if you could do anything? She asks.

I would travel the world on a trust fund.

Wouldn’t we all, she says, but what really?

No, really. That’s what I would do.

And your job?

It struck me for the first time that I actually like my job these days. I’m incredibly emotionally invested. I don’t want to leave.

But you would write novels or something if you could do anything.

And I thought back to the last Nanowrimo and remembered how difficult it was—and what crap I came up with. All of a sudden that idea, the idea of being a novelist, seemed incredibly unpleasant.

No, trust fund travel. I’ll stick with that.

But then I circled back to Mary Karr. She had tried her hand at fiction but found that she naturally gravitated to memoir. And when I think of tossing off creative writing for good, names get dropped like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coehlo and new people for me show up like Maxine Hong Kingston. Then I remember authors like Amy Tan. And of course guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Sergei Dovlatov.

And like a codependent lover, I’m back.

Surely, I never thought of leaving.


4 thoughts on “Mixed-Up Magical Thinking

  1. Thank you for this very intimate post. I can relate to a lot, a lot of what you’re talking about. I can also say that, though I’m sure the circumstances are very different, I was once your husband. Once upon a time, I was incapable of taking care of myself and had someone there to take care of me, at their significant personal expense. Eventually, she left me and I had to learn how to fend for myself. Eventually, I figured it out. Eventually, I got sober. I doubt I would have done any of those things if she’d kept taking care of me. Again, I’m sure your situation is very different and I think whatever decision you make will be the right one. This just brought up a lot of memories and now I’m wondering if she feels guilt about having left me drunk and alone in our shithole of an apartment and am wishing I could reach out and let her know that I did get better, life got great, in fact, but of course that’s beside the point. Her decision would have been right even if I’d died alone in that apartment or under a bridge or wherever. She wasn’t responsible for me or my well-being, despite the many good years we’d had before I went completely off the rails.


    1. Thank you for your comment. One thing I have found in this is great isolation, so it’s nice to just talk about it. I’m sorry for what happened to you. I don’t want to be that person, and I don’t want to think that my helping is actually preventing. The brain injury (ies) complicates things. Very few doctors will even want him off the drugs. It’s very lonely to be me right now. One potentially bright light has been his art therapist. She has encouraged him to be sober during their sessions and he is listening to her. I try to hide my hope. One thing I don’t think I can do is abandon him in a bad situation, although my therapist seems to think this is an option. All I can say is I don’t think she has 20 years of marriage under her belt. At the very least, I have to treat him as my friend, my best friend in fact. But who knows. I am very happy that your situation improved and that you’re doing well. That gives me hope. I’m thinking outside the box today and feel a bit crazy, but that’s just another day, in a long string of days just like this.

      How did you manage to keep going when she left you? How did you pay the bills, etc.? Or, maybe that is too personal. Please ignore my question if it is.

      Best wishes!


      1. Man, that sounds like such a tough spot. He’s got a medical condition, so sure, you don’t want to leave him – don’t even feel like that’s an option. I totally get that. Don’t know that I could do that either. And the meds, I don’t know what the answer to that is. I am very involved in recovery and work with all manner of addicts and there’s such a terrible, thin, confusing line between legitimate usage/need and abuse and when the drugs turn a person into someone else, but their doctors say they need them . . . It’s so difficult. I’m glad you have a therapist to talk to about all of that.

        As to my situation, to be honest, I got evicted. That’s how well I handled that! But I quickly had to figure something out and what I figured out was that people would pay me to write things. Now I’ve been a fairly successful freelancer for over nine years and am grateful that I was in that position that I had to figure something out. But, every situation is different. What I’ve learned is that things work out the way they work out and we all, as humans, evolve. I try to do what I can for others but I have to remember that if I don’t take care of myself first, I’m no good to anyone else. I don’t envy you your position and feel for you. I hope some sort of peace manifests itself for you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you. I’m delving deep into nonviolent communication and Brene Brown’s Rising Strong at the moment. I think I’m ready to peal back the layers of my own onion and see what comes of that. Hopefully something good for both of us. Brene wasn’t kidding that Act 2 is the pits.


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