I sometimes wonder how far we’ll permit our partners to drag us down before we get the kick in the butt we need to leave our marriages. How much abuse or neglect will we take until we finally decide to call it quits?
In my case, it took a lot.
I stayed in a marriage even when every sign was screaming at me to leave. I stuck around two years longer than I should have.
Don’t make my mistake.
I should have left my husband sooner — especially after he destroyed my birthday present from my sister.
The gift from my sister was delivered to our house while I was away at the market.
My sister typically doesn’t send me presents. She doesn’t have a lot of money either. It was a feat in itself that she sent me this gift. Our relationship has always been rocky.
On the day her gift arrived at our home, I was at the market. I had gone there alone, without my children. It was my birthday, after all. Forgive me for not wanting to drag a four and five-year-old along with me to the grocery store on a day that was supposed to be all about me.
I left our kids back at home with their father. Part of the thinking behind leaving the house for a while was also to give my husband some space and time to remember my birthday. I doubted if he even recalled it was my special day. That’s how bad things were between us at that point.
What happened was that was while I was at the market, a delivery person came by our house to drop off the package from my sister. As I wasn’t there to witness any of this, I don’t know exactly what happened. I can only see it in my mind.
At the sound of the front bell, I imagine my husband heaving himself off the bed for the first time that day. Up until that point, he’d been busy reading about conspiracy theories for the entire morning and early afternoon.
Hmmm, I wonder what he was reading about. Maybe how aliens lived underground in New Mexico and our government was keeping that a secret from us. Or perhaps he was educating himself as to how these aliens had traveled to our planet on gravity-defying spaceships, also a secret kept from us by secret elements of the scientific community. Or maybe he was perusing the latest news about alien bases on the dark side of the moon, viewing grainy photos that proved their existence.
Anyway, whatever he was reading about, he was deeply invested in his conspiracy-theory literature when he heard the doorbell ring. I see him getting up out of bed and lumbering to the door. There, he accepts the package without ever reading whom it was addressed to: me.
I’m sure that’s when our sons rushed out to see who had rung the bell. Glimpsing a box in their father’s hands, they insisted to have it. I know just how demanding our kids can be.
Our sons ripped open the box, found the orchid contained inside, and pulled the petals off the plant.
Yes, my sister had sent me an orchid for my birthday. Along with it, she’d sent a box of chocolates.
When my husband saw the chocolates included in the package, he devoured them himself. What could have been salvaged of my gift was now gone.
Silence is not always a calming sound for a mother.
Maybe you think I’m acting selfishly. Why wouldn’t I want to share my gift with my family? It’s not that way at all. It was my birthday and I just wanted to enjoy my gift.
When I arrived home from the grocery store an hour later, I had no idea that a package had arrived from my sister. I had no idea she had sent me anything for my birthday. At that point, I was still wistfully hoping that my husband had remembered my special day.
I walked in the door, only to be confronted by silence. At first, I believed that maybe my husband had organized a surprise party. I waited around for a bunch of people to jump out and exclaim, “Happy birthday, Elle!” When that didn’t happen, I started to freak out.
Silence is not the calming sound a mother wants to hear when it relates to her children. Silence is the sound of children lying face-down with a piece of food lodged in their throats or hanging unconscious from a Persian shade cord.
I don’t mean to sound morbid, but when I heard silence in the house after I’d been at the store for an hour, I went into panic mode.
I became even more distraught when I couldn’t find my sons anywhere. They weren’t on the couch where I’d left them. They weren’t in the kitchen. I went to their bedroom and didn’t find them there either.
My husband let our children destroy my birthday present.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally found our kids with my husband in our master bedroom. Their father was on the bed, reading his daily digest of conspiracy as if nothing was strange in our lives. Our sons sat on the carpeting, playing with something — I couldn’t tell what.
Scattered around them were white and pink bits. Hmmm… A foot away from those bits was a cardboard box. The box was open. Styrofoam peanuts spilled out of it. A pot holding a naked branch in soil sat just a few inches away from the box.
I didn’t remember seeing that box before I left. I would have remembered it, seeing I was the only person who ever straightened up around here. I picked up the box, shocked to find my name printed in the mailing address. The sender was my sister.
“This for me!” I said.
My youngest son offered me a handful of the stuff he was playing with.
“Here you go, Mama. It’s flowers.”
Flowers? The white and pink bits were petals that I now saw belonged on the branch in the pot.
My sons had pulled the petals off the branches, and my husband was there the whole time! His body was present in the room but his mind was somewhere else.
I had to repeat his name several times before he finally turned to look at me, he was so caught up in his conspiracy reading.
“You let the boys open a box addressed to me!” I shouted.
I snatched up a crumpled piece of cardstock from the floor. Flattening it, I saw “Happy Birthday” written next to my name. The card was signed by my sister.
This “thing” my children were playing with was my birthday gift.
“They wanted to open it,” my husband said.
“And you just let them?” I coughed.
He shrugged. On the bed beside him was a gold box. The top was off, and the box was filled with empty tinfoil.
“It’s my birthday by the way,” I snarled.
He grimaced sheepishly. Brown stained his teeth. Chocolate. He was eating chocolate — chocolate from the gold box filled with the empty tinfoil.
I could only assume that the now empty box of consumed chocolates had also been part of the present from my sister.
“You’re eating my birthday present!” I shrieked.
Did this force me to see the light and leave my husband? No.
You might think I would have gathered up our children at that moment and left my husband. I would have packed up all my things, made a suitcase for my kids, and booked a hotel room. At the very least, I would have started divorce proceedings against my husband. I didn’t. I stuck around in our marriage for two more years.
I still had to see reality for what it was. Our lives weren’t going to improve. My husband’s mental state would only deteriorate more. My life would only become more difficult.
I ignored the signs. The truth was, I was scared to leave my marriage.
When I did finally leave, it was terrifying. But my life wouldn’t improve until I jumped into the abyss.
Don’t make my mistake. If you’re in a bad relationship where your boundaries aren’t being respected, leave now.
Leave while the destruction of your birthday present is the issue and not your entire self-esteem.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova.