As we dug the hole to bury my dog a few weeks ago, my adult son and I told his friend the story of when R killed my goats. I made a reference to “my husband,” and A furrowed his brow at me. With a parental type of tone he said, “Mom, you mean EX-husband.” “No,” I corrected him, “he is still my husband. He still, six months after settling in court, won’t sign the papers. I’m not even legally separated at this point. I am still married to him.”
Two days ago, as we drove along, E asked, out of the blue, “Mom, can you get married again?” “No, I’m still married to your dad.” “Can’t a judge sign and let you out? What if you wanted to get married again?” I tried to explain to my 13 year old son that we’ve settled before a judge twice, but that his dad has to sign the papers. And, that if God wanted me to remarry He would open that way for me.
My children, even the adult ones, just don’t seem to understand how I can still be his wife.
He left me twenty months ago. I am living the life of a single woman. I am a struggling single mother. Yet, I’m living the life of a trapped wife.
For several hours today I moved wood and burned debris, hauling items that were much heavier than I’m capable of lifting comfortably. I worked around my place like a single woman who doesn’t have a man to do the heavy, hard work.
But, I also spent several hours today cleaning up my husband’s mess. The landlords are coming again, and I know they won’t be happy with the junk my husband collected and deposited all over their property. The junk that became an extremely attractive and thriving housing project for a rat infestation.
I lifted a rotted but still heavy pallet to find a partially decomposed rat, which I then removed to the burn pile along with the half a dozen pallets that were also in various stages of decomposition.
I always cleaned up behind my husband. That was just our routine. He stripped his clothes off to get in the shower, and I dutifully picked them up and put them in the hamper. He dropped his lunch box at the door, and I picked it up, took it to the kitchen, and emptied and cleaned it.
He seemed incapable of the simplest of personal responsibilities. I’ve been surprised how capable he actually is now that he’s on his own. He washes his own laundry and uses the internet. Before he left he was smart enough to “steal” my passwords and all of the kids’ social security numbers, but, when we were together, he didn’t even know how to look up a phone number in the yellow pages.
At first I didn’t mind. I enjoyed being needed. I enjoyed being somebody’s wife. I didn’t realize that I was being used, that nothing I did was ever going to be appreciated. Not at first anyway. It wasn’t long in to the marriage though that realization hit me harder than he did.
My washing machine had been going out for several months. It would get stuck in a cycle, not moving forward, and the house would fill with the odor of burnt wires. I knew I needed to do something about it. But, I was reluctant to begin the project. After all, I’m a single mom. I didn’t think my 16 year old and I could move it on our own. The walkways are too narrow, and the doors would all have to be removed before we could take the old one out and bring the “new” one in. And, the floor beneath the washer is completely rotted out. I wasn’t sure what kind of fix it would be necessary once we started messing with stuff.
My husband was in construction and built some of the most beautiful homes and businesses in our area. He and the landlord had made a handshake agreement that my husband would act as the handyman on this house. However, he didn’t make any repairs. He bandaged things, but he never really fixed anything. He didn’t “want to put the work into someone else’s house.” He claimed he would “if it was ours.” But, it wasn’t, so he didn’t. And, we lived in condemnable conditions.
My 16 year old and my 13 year old did a splendid job of hauling it. They removed the doors, and I didn’t have to do much lifting. And, we were able to get the new to us washer installed without the floor caving through.
On days like today or the day we changed out washing machines, it is hard to believe I am somebody’s wife. In fact, every day it is hard to believe I am actually somebody’s wife. I get up, bring wood in, build a fire, pray quickly before showering, fix the kids breakfast, and get the little ones around to leave. I load my cleaning supplies and then drop the kids at the sitter’s before spending the day scrubbing and cleaning to earn the money necessary to pay our bills.
Some of those are my bills. The power bill is mine. I use this electricity, not him. But, the credit card bills were both ours–marital debt. Except, he took all of the property that was bought with those credit cards. So, I’m paying for his goods. That feels similar to picking up his dirty laundry, cleaning his lunch pail, or looking up information for him in the phone book. When I pay his bills, our bills, I feel like I’m his wife. I must be somebody’s wife because I’m not spending my hard earned money on me.
But, when I’m getting the kids around to leave for the day, bringing in wood, taking the car to the mechanic, and trying to make household repairs I feel like a single mom. I feel alone. I certainly don’t feel like somebody’s wife.
There is one pleasant aspect of being the wife of an absent man. If I don’t like his stuff that he left lying around, I can burn it. I can purge that little piece of his garbage he left behind for me. I don’t have to clean it or organize it or prepare it for his use tomorrow. I can just burn it.
There is something extremely therapeutic about burning the trash he left behind. It is my one moment of absolute freedom. I may not be able to free myself of being his wife, but I can free my home of his garbage.
I really don’t resent being somebody’s wife. I still long to be somebody’s wife. Just not his. However, I totally resent the hold he still has on me. That legality hanging over my head like a constant threat. I wish I could just throw that old marriage license on the burn pile, and watch it go up in flames. I wish I could say, as I work and clean and repair all alone, that I’m just another struggling single mother, that I am nobody’s wife.