It seems to me that I am keeping a promise that I made, even after I thought I broke it.
Getting divorced is, at some level, the ultimate breaking of a promise. All of those vows, spoken in sincerity to a beloved, surrounded by family and friends, are broken.
I spoke the traditional vows at my wedding to Bryan. I joked that I had grown up hearing them, and it seemed like we wouldn't 'really' be married unless I heard those familiar words:
I, PollyAnna, take you Bryan, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
I thought, as it seems reasonable, that I had broken every last one of those vows when I uttered the words "We need a divorce."
It turns out that nothing is simple, and this isn't simple.
He's not my husband, and that's pretty clear. Legally, spiritually, in whatever way possible, he is no longer my husband. But after that, it gets pretty tricky, as it turns out. He's not my husband, but he is still mine. Sharing a child keeps us together, and he is "my" ex. It definitely got worse (and worse, and worse), and there was a great deal of sickness and "poorer", and we are still tangled together, divorced though we may be, co-parenting that child of ours.
Love? Believe it or not, I actually work at loving Bryan. Not in a wifely way - the mere idea sends a quiver of fear and something bordering on revulsion through me - no, I do not feel even a drop of romantic love for the man I once shared my body and days with. But I want to feel a sort of Buddhist love for all beings that includes Bryan, and I believe that hate is too hard to live with, so I work on love. I do it imperfectly - my love in this regard is deeply flawed, filled with resentments - but I do work on it. I do it for myself more than I do it for him, because it is who I wish to be, transcending our problems and seeing him as my father's daughter and a human being more than I see him as my issues with him.
I have given up hope of "cherish" though, and of all of the vows we made, that is the one that I most deeply regret having broken. I long to be cherished - I feel it achingly; I feel parched and longing to be cherished. I am not cherished, and I do not cherish.
But that last one? There's the rub.
I thought we had parted - that the divorce papers proved it, that the separate residences were proof of it, that the separate bank accounts were part of it, that the separate vacations, dinner parties, and such were proof. And yet, I can see that this is a vow that I have kept. He will be in my life, at some level, until one of us dies.
Last week, Bryan had a mini stroke. He informed me of it casually when I asked him an unrelated question in idle conversation while we waited for Katherine to gather her things at the child-transfer, as if it was no big deal and I should feel sorry for him all at once. "I can't bike," he said, "because I've had some health issues." "Oh, are you okay?" I asked, thinking he had a cold or something. "I don't know," he replied, "but one morning this week I woke up and I couldn't move one side of my body, and now it is all tingly and numb."
He did not go to the doctor. Instead, he "casually" threw out this information, and it landed like a pile of dog excrement hitting me in the chest.
I fell into over-compensating mode. This is Katherine's father, and I recognized the signs of a stroke as soon as the words were out of his mouth, and all I could think is "Please don't leave our girl. She needs you! She has lost so much already, don't die and leave her to hurt." What I said was "I believe you've had a stroke and you MUST go to the doctor" and so on. He blew me off, of course - who wants to listen to advice from their ex-wife? Not most, and not him.
I persisted. I sent Mayo Clinic and WebMD links about strokes and symptoms of strokes. I told him that I knew that my opinion didn't count, but that he should take care of himself for his own sake, but that if he wouldn't do that, I begged him to do it for Katherine's sake. (Yes, I see the forbidden words. Should? Must? Not appropriate language for ex-wives.)
Eventually, he went to the doctor (a week after the stroke). The doctor confirmed my suspicions. He also confirmed that Bryan's blood pressure is at the "crisis" level, the level at which 911 should be called (even in the absence of other symptoms) and death is a possibility and organ damage is occurring and future heart attacks and strokes are predicted. He was immediately put on meds and has a series of tests and appointments lined up. Bryan sent me an email thanking me for sending him to the doctor: he knows that I have likely saved his life by doing so.
Until death do us part, indeed.
This week I've felt incredibly sad, but that sadness is quickly followed by anger. Flashing, bright, burning anger.
I got a divorce in part because I could not bear to be with someone who consistently made horrible life choices that had negative impacts on my life. I could not bear to tie my fate to someone who not only blamed me for his problems, and could or would not support my problems, but who also went against the advice of all advisors (wives, bosses, financial planners, doctors, etc.) and made foolish decisions and then told me that "what's done is done" and left me to clean up the messes. He mismanages his life just as he mismanaged our marriage, and I want no part of it: it is clear that unless he changes dramatically, he will go down in flames, and I choose not to join him in that journey.
And yet it continues to fall on my shoulders to guide him out of disaster, and I can not shake my obligation to protect Katherine from her father's death. I could not face myself if he indicated that he'd had a stroke, and I did not encourage him to go to the doctor or share my suspicions about what had happened to him. Loving humanity means reaching out to someone in great need, and this is sometimes a burden. Right now, it feels like a huge emotional burden with Bryan.
I "let" him do whatever he wants most of the time, refusing to think about it or to interfere, and I've been grateful for that. His unemployment, his parenting - these things I do not touch.
But this is life or death, and there is one thing clear to me: there is no recovery once he's dead. Katherine can manage her flawed parents, and she can see his mistakes for herself, and she can manage the disappointment of a dad who is only partially available to her. But once he's dead? Nothing.
'Til death do us part. Apparently I continue to keep that promise, despite my intention to break it.