Marriage (#1)

Here’s another random chapter from my book. Enjoy.

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He was standing behind me in the chow line, on a step above me which made him seem taller than he already was. With jet black beard and hair, and vivid blue eyes that matched his shirt, he was a bit of a looker. More than that, he had a presence, a ‘look at me’ kind of aura.

We got to chatting and I learned that he had recently returned from the Philippines where he had been working with the poor who lived on the garbage dumps. A fine American missionary man.

Our missionary organization didn’t allow dating when you were at one of their schools, but we did form a friendship, chaperoned by a Kiwi friend of ours. One day the blue-eyed missionary said that God had told him to marry me. Wow! I was flattered and excited and I believed him. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps I should ask God what He thought my end of the deal was.

When the nine-month arts school had ended, we were both offered staff positions in the School of Music the following year. This was a dream-come-true for me and I couldn’t wait. For the Christmas break we went home to his place in the States to meet his parents and get officially engaged. Of course, I slept in the spare bedroom. We would return to Canada next year to take up our positions.

After a few weeks he told me that he didn’t feel that we were to go back to the organisation but, instead, stay in his hometown and develop our own ‘ministry’. I was shattered and uncertain, especially when the school called us and tried to talk us into taking more time to get to know each other while we worked with them for a while. But he wasn’t having it and, as a good submissive Christian fiancĂ©, I gave in.

There were so many reasons. Right up until I left home after high school, my parents had never allowed me to date, so I had NO experience with boys. Then I went immediately into missionary work where dating required permission so still had not been in a relationship with anyone of the opposite sex.

Of course, a huge part of it was the total lack of affection from either of my parents, especially my father. I have no memories of being hugged, endorsed as a female, seeing my father hug my mother or even seeing him be kind to her. Men were considered far more valuable in my family, and they had so much more privilege than women. I’d heard that when I was born, my father didn’t come to visit me in hospital for days because I was ‘only a girl’, although I can’t verify this. Add to that the sexual abuse as a child and I was pretty ripe for not only any guy who paid any attention to me but also the religious indoctrination that women were to be subservient to men.

So naive was I that I completely ignored my suspicions that something was very wrong with him as far as our relationship was concerned. He wasn’t affectionate, didn’t like to kiss, and seemed to have absolutely no struggle with sexual desire. He even confessed that at one time he has struggled a little with homosexuality but that he was now ‘healed’ from that. And I bought it! Seriously, how gullible can you get?

And so, we scheduled the wedding. I couldn’t work in the States as I was there on a tourist visa and we were even illegally engaged. Technically you are supposed to get a fiancĂ© visa, but immigration told us that we could marry as long as we went immediately to their office so that I could obtain a green card.

The night before the wedding I was incredibly sick. My gut was in total knots, I had diarrhoea so bad I was bedridden, and I felt like I was dying. At that point I had not been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease but, looking back, the stress and suppressed suspicion that this was a really bad decision were causing a major flare-up of the disease.

I hardly remember the wedding I was so sick. Our honeymoon was spent at US Immigration being grilled in case I was marrying him just to get a green card and when we returned home, we discovered that he had caught a severe case of the measles. Welcome to marriage.

We spent the next few years living part of the time with his parents, part of the time in rentals, and one winter of historically record cold in a log shack with no running water, no insulation, an outdoor toilet and barely any electricity. Again, I became extremely ill.

He said that he needed to spend his time preparing for ‘ministry’, so I worked. Sometimes I worked two or three jobs, shift work, getting by on four hours sleep. My days were a blur of numb exhaustion. But I was being the good Christian wife. We had no money because he liked to buy fine things because ‘God would make us wealthy if we had faith in him’. Yet still I supported him, despite debt being completely against my values and my upbringing.

We won’t discuss our sex life, but I went into the marriage a virgin and almost came out of it one too. Which makes me laugh now however, at the time, was a crippling heartbreak for me. Was I not beautiful enough, was I not desirable, was I not feminine enough?

A few years into the marriage I started to notice strange behaviours. We would go to the mall and he would disappear to the ‘toilet’ for half an hour, and hour, sometimes up to two hours. Not even I, with my chronic stomach problems, was that bad. He swore he wasn’t doing anything, just getting distracted. In the loo?

My gullibility was wearing off by this time, as was my patience. This ‘ministry’ still hadn’t eventuated, our credit cards were maxed out, and the debt collectors were starting to hound us. I confronted him on his absences.

We sat down in our living room and he confessed that he had been struggling ‘a little’ with homosexuality again and was meeting men but he swore that nothing was happening.

I’ve never been kicked in the guts by a mule, but I imagine that couldn’t be nearly as bad as hearing those words felt. I ran to the bathroom and threw up till I had nothing left, and then continued to dry-heave for another twenty minutes.

He swore again that it was nothing and that he wasn’t doing anything bad and that he would stop. And being the good Christian wife, I gave him another chance.

It didn’t stop and he owned up to it again. This time I totally went off the deep end. Crushed to my very soul and believing that somehow it was my fault, I had an affair with the first man who even remotely expressed interest. It wasn’t love; it was simply me trying to reassure myself that I was woman enough. Of course, since then I have learned that affairs are extremely common for women who discover that their husbands are gay, for exactly that reason. They question their femininity, their worth, their sexual attraction, when it has absolutely nothing to do with any of the above. But at the time it only added another layer of guilt and shame to my self-worth.

I had absolutely no clue about the dynamics of homosexuality and I wish I knew then what I know now. Back then, all I knew was that I was in agony.

Of course, he found out about the affair and so we opened a road atlas, closed our eyes and pointed blindly at the map. We opened our eyes, looked at the town and moved there, way across the country. It was an attempt at a new start. It didn’t work.

He kept struggling, life was hell, and I finally told him that either we got counselling, or it was over. We looked up a local minister who apparently specialised in working with gays and booked an appointment.

The minister’s office was pleasant, he was surprisingly young and seemed a friendly enough man and, after greeting us, asked my husband to tell his side of the story. Half an hour of sympathetic ‘oh’s’ and ‘I see’s’ and understanding nods later he turned to me. I expected him to ask me for my side of the story. I was so very wrong.

‘Don’t you know how difficult it is for homosexual men to change? It takes a lot of work and a lot of help. He is facing a long fight. You need to stay and support him unquestioningly, no matter what he does. You need to understand and serve him and that includes sleeping with him too.’ (Keep in mind that this was back when HIV was a death sentence.) He went on but you get the gist. I’d made my bed and I had to sleep in it.

Stunned, shocked, paralysed, I felt that there was no breath left in me, no stuffing, no substance at all. I was a shell sitting in a chair listening to a man sentence me to death. When he was finally done, I thanked him quietly, numbly. My husband jubilantly made another appointment with him and we walked out the doors of the church.

The moment the doors closed behind us I turned to him and said, ‘I’m divorcing you, take me home because I’m packing and leaving today.’ Now it was his turn to be stunned but I must have appeared dead serious because he didn’t question. He didn’t say a thing.

I did leave that night, I did divorce him, and I proceeded to go completely off the rails. I flipped God the bird, started partying, drinking, and ended up doing a lot of things that I’m not proud of and that I deeply regret. It didn’t last long but it was a wild and woolly rebellion.

Where before, I had been the ‘good’ son that stayed on the farm and faithfully obeyed all the rules his father set for him, now I was the prodigal son squandering my life and finding out what it felt like to be a ‘sinner’. It wasn’t much fun, but I pretended it was.

Eventually I came to my senses and evened out, although it took me years to come to terms with the whole episode. I’ve forgiven him, and now I see the pain that he was in. He had been just as much a victim of religious dogma as I had. Being told that there was something wrong with him as a person for his homosexuality was just as wrong as me being told that, as a woman, I was less than equal or valuable. Looking back, I see the agony that he was going through, the pain in his life, and that the spending and the ministry was just his way of trying to deal with it all, just as my affair and my partying was too. But I’m still angry.

The marriage was a huge mistake, right from the start, and if I blame anything it is religion. In my opinion, religion isn’t faith; it is a hard set of rules that humans make up in an attempt to put God in a box when they don’t understand or don’t agree with Him. It is turning people into issues, it is ignoring their humanity and their pain and calling it sinful behaviour. It is black and white, either/or, us versus them. Religion is replacing your individual relationship with your own beliefs with following what some great guru (usually a man) has said is right and wrong. In my eyes, the distance between religion and true spirituality is a vast gulf.

Anyway, that was marriage number one for me. I don’t have many regrets in life but these five years of my life I consider pretty much a waste and it has taken me a lifetime to forgive myself. But perhaps sharing my mistakes can give some freedom to others who might find themselves in similar situations.

I’m not sure where you are now, husband number one, but if I could say anything I would say that I hope you have found love, I hope you have found happiness, and that I really hope you have found peace.

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