18 Years Ago Today

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18 years ago today I married the love of my life. When I say the love of my life I mean it. She is the only person that I have ever loved, and the only person I could ever imagine loving.

We were kids when we got married. We were both 20. In fact, she had only just turned 20 the month prior. We had no idea what we were getting into.

We met when we were both 18. I was in my first semester of college. She was still in high school. We used to skip school to see each other. I’d pick her up from behind Tates Creek and we’d go off to see the world together, or at least to my parents’ basement to make out. I failed all of my classes that semester. I don’t think she did much better.

She was pregnant when we got married. We probably wouldn’t have gotten married if not for both of our families pressuring us to do so. It’s not that we didn’t want to be together. It’s just that we didn’t know what we were doing. We had a passionate love, but it was all fire and no coals. We broke up regularly. We always made up again, but we were volatile. We would stay that way for the better part of the next two decades.

We separated this June after almost 20 years together as a couple. After years of passionately clinging to something that was always trying to fall apart we just stopped clinging. Or, rather, she stopped. I would still be clinging if given the chance. In many ways I still am.

Two young kids, about to have a baby, and with no idea how to be adults, got married under duress. You could say that it shouldn’t have worked. Looking at it from the other side of the relationship now maybe it didn’t really work. There were a lot of ups and an awful lot of downs. Who is to say which outweighed which? As I sit alone on our wedding anniversary typing this, the bad seems an awful lot heavier than the good ever was.

18 years ago today we made a decision that, by all rights, we shouldn’t have. We had no business getting married. We weren’t even sure that’s what we wanted to do. We were so young we let ourselves get forced into it. We were forced into a lot of things back then. We never knew that we could say no.

Our oldest son was born five months after the wedding. I was kicked out of the room a little while later by a nurse who insisted that my wife needed rest. I didn’t know that I could stay. 14 years later when our youngest daughter was born I slept on the couch in the room until they were both discharged. It would have taken the National Guard to make me leave. But there’s a big difference between 20 and 34. One’s a kid. The other is an adult. Adult me wasn’t about to get forced into anything. Kid me, not so much.

18 years ago today we were kids making an adult decision. You can’t know how to commit to something for the rest of your life when you’re a kid. Life is a long time. And kids are stupid. They don’t know it. They just haven’t lived enough to understand anything. It’s not their fault. All kids are idiots. You have no choice but to be an idiot before you learn anything. That’s just the way things work. You aren’t born knowing anything. Life experience is what teaches you everything.

Did we make a mistake? Did I make a mistake? Did I, out of pride and a desperate fear of the unknown and of loneliness, cling to a marriage, to a relationship, that never should have been?

From a certain point of view the answer is a resounding yes. Ours was a dysfunctional relationship. We didn’t know any better because we were kids. And then we grew up and we were still together in the only way that we had ever known. We didn’t realize that things were not working. We didn’t realize that we were in a mutually destructive, codependent, abusive relationship. And then, one day, we realized it. Or at least she did. It took me another couple of months to figure it out.

But everything is complicated. We’ve got four kids together. Great kids. And I wouldn’t trade them for anything. While we were too young to get married, while we should never have agreed to it, and while we should have by all rights gone our separate ways years ago, if we had we wouldn’t have the family that we have today. And, despite the issues in our relationship, our family is an amazing one. Even now we can co-parent very effectively. We may be better parents now that we’re apart than we ever were together. Being apart has forced both of us to work a lot harder.

Life is filled with mistakes. On the one hand getting married at 20 was a mistake, even if we didn’t realize it at the time, and wouldn’t come to realize it for nearly 18 years. On the other hand it couldn’t possibly be considered a mistake. If we hadn’t gotten married we wouldn’t have stuck with the relationship we had for as long as we did. And if we hadn’t stuck with the relationship as long as we did we wouldn’t have the family that we do today. And that family is the very air I breathe. I would change nothing about it, save for maybe living in two different houses now. And, though this is not what I wanted, I have to admit that in a lot of ways living apart is far better than living together was, especially these last couple of years.

We’re separated, not divorced. The D word has been thrown around by each of us, but neither of us have pulled the trigger. It’s not what either of us wants, I don’t think. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. When we first separated I figured it would be for 90 days, tops. Now we’re going into our sixth month of the separation and I don’t see much of a light at the end of this tunnel. Our old relationship is dead. Our marriage is, at best, in a coma. It’s on life support. There’s a really good chance that it’s not going to pull through.

The kids are playing in the next room while I sit here typing this post while feeling sorry for myself. But the time to feel sorry for myself just ended. I can’t indulge it. Being without my spouse on our wedding anniversary sucks, but it also sucks being without her on any random Tuesday. Life is hard. This is no exception.

Life is especially hard when you live with mental illness. Living with bipolar is a challenge in the best of times. These times can hardly be considered the best of times. But I live with bipolar, with the emphasis on the “live”. And I’ve got a life to live. It’s not the one that I wanted but it’s the one that I’ve got.

So I’m done typing. I’m done writing. And I’m sure as hell done feeling sorry for myself. I’m getting up and heading to the other room. There’s a game waiting for me to join it.