* Ok folks, my apologies. This chapter is a bit long at over 2500 words. I had no idea where I’d go when I started writing this morning, but I thought it was important to provide some more personal history before getting to the technicalities of marital asset division. To provide a better understanding. Yeah, I was stupid. Love is blind. So at the risk of my own personal embarrassment here goes:
It’s said that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, it’s a little more interesting to jump around a bit, so if you’re looking for chronological order in the tales of my marriages and divorces, well, you might have to string some of my posts together in a completely different way.
For instance, today, I’ll jump towards the end. And then towards the beginning of my first marriage. The Alpha and the Omega – in reverse order, of course. Time to set the stage for the grand dissolution. The first one. Then wash, rinse, and repeat, maybe. 😊
*** Nearing the Omega ***
We had just moved into what would be the last house we shared together, my first wife and I. An older neighborhood in town. All single family homes. Some were being rented by younger couples like us. Others were owned by older couples, the ones whose marriages, or at least whose living arrangements, had survived.
We had finally gotten out of apartment dwelling. Those paper-thin walls and neighbors on all sides. Above and below you. The sounds of other lives. That extra thunder-clatter we didn’t need in ours, and they didn’t need ours in theirs either.
My daughter had just recently had her second birthday, and I had been working at the hospital for three months or so now. BSN under my belt. Newly licensed RN. Soon to be charging the night shift on a general surgical floor. Big jump in pay from the part-time jobs that helped pay for college. Had just bought a new car.
I was taking out the trash and noticed, what no one could not notice, my next-door neighbor sunbathing in the front yard. Long blonde hair, darkening tan, tiniest of all Bikinis. Basically, two bandanas.
She was on display for the window shoppers driving by, all slowing down for a close look, and she was offering herself up for the right price. At least, that’s what I’d learn quite quickly from the discussion that was about to take place.
She had hollered over to me. “Hey there! I’m Pam. I watched you guys moving in. Nice to have a handsome man next door.”
For me, that’s an awkward way to start a discussion. Flattering, especially when your wife is cheating on you and actually trying to talk you into letting her latest lover move in with you. Share the home with your spouse and child.
Life was getting stranger all the time.
I introduced myself.
“So, what do you do Stearley?”
“I’m a registered nurse. Work the night shift at the hospital.”
“Well I guess that means you hit the sack in the daytime. I like being in the sack then. Two of the kids are in school, and the baby sleeps most of the day. Husband’s gone.”
“What do you do Pam?” I naively asked.
“You’re looking at it.” She was surprisingly frank. “All my kids are from different husbands. The first one pays for the house. The second, the other living expenses. And the third, my husband now, all I need is the car payment from this one.”
I really couldn’t believe my ears. This woman had basically made her career out of serial marriage. Three guaranteed income streams. And she wasn’t shy about saying so. I wondered what she’d do for a retirement plan? She wasn’t going to be pretty forever, and the child support wouldn’t last forever either. Find an old lonely guy to marry, I guess.
She invited me in. To smoke some dope and hit the sack. I declined.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
I had enough chaos going on in my life without adding Pam, and I was trying to be careful. It was my spouse who was behaving badly, and I’d be dammed before I gave her any ammunition for that unavoidable separation on the horizon. I would be honorable to the end. Not that it made any difference, except in my mind.
*** Nearing the Alpha ***
It was the night before our wedding. The first week in May. We had just had our first really big fight. And it was over money.
You see, because we were getting married, I agreed to combine our funds in a joint checking account. Easier to pay the shared bills that way. Of course, most of the money was mine. And now a chunk of that, a big chunk, was gone.
No, she didn’t ask, didn’t consult me at all. She just went out and spent the money on something totally frivolous. For herself. Thus, the fight. And she basically told me to fuck off, that she’d spend “our money” anyway she wanted. When she wanted.
I was thinking about calling off the wedding. This was certainly an omen of things to come. But the wedding was tomorrow. People were coming into town from both families and from different states.
And it was just one fight, after all.
Well if that omen wasn’t enough, picture this. The day before our wedding, which was going to held outdoors in a nearby park, it was a balmy 70 degrees. The sun was shining. Slight breeze. Not a cloud in the sky. It was an absolutely perfect day.
The following day, wedding day, the temperature dropped 30 degrees. We had high winds. The sky was darkly overcast. And then the cold rain came.
Talk about the Gods sending you a message.
We were lucky for one thing. There was a historic log cabin in the park so we were able to move the ceremony inside. Forty people in that one-room space. No heat. Open windows.
We repeated the vows I had written, based upon the Saptapadi. From Sanskrit, translating to the “seven steps.” The idea being that the couple ‘vows‘ to successfully fulfill seven goals during their married life. The last of which is a declaration that we would love, honor and cherish each other forever. Number four is a killer too – mutual trust and respect.
So much for vows.***
Yes, the knot now tied, tagged and bagged, and the joint account. A terrible mistake. I hadn’t been to law school yet, and I really didn’t have a full understanding of tenancies. A joint tenancy meant both parties owned the totality of that asset. In terms of a bank account like this, it meant that either person could empty it. Completely. Without the other’s approval. And so, as a marriage nears its end, there can be a race to bank. First one there claims the prize. Oh, the court may change that distribution a little, if there’s anything left.
*** Back to Nearing the Omega ***
We had both worked part-time jobs while we were grinding our way through college. We had met on one of those jobs. She graduated a year before me because of my prior college “interruption” (a story for another day), but only held her part-time job until late in our pregnancy. After the kiddo was born, she was a full-time mom. Sort of. And I continued to work during my last year of school.
I say “sort of” because she didn’t seem to like being a mom. She apparently thought she’d give birth to a fully functioning twenty-one-year-old adult. She was shocked with the reality that child rearing was tough work. She’d always be waiting in the doorway for me to get home to pass off our child. And that would follow a day of avoiding her anyway. Placed in the crib, or in the child swing, much of the day. Until I got home anyway.
I didn’t mind child care. I loved it. We’d play and play, and laugh and laugh. I remember the ex telling me that she didn’t know how to play. She really seemed to resent the bond my daughter and I had. Considered it a competition somehow. One she was losing.
And she resented not having that free lifestyle, before our marriage and before responsibility. Ultimately, she wanted that back so when the kiddo was old enough, she was packed off to daycare so my wife could go back to work. Part-time. Very part-time. And then the affairs began. In all of those “free” hours.
It was a few months before we made that final move and things were already going bad. Really bad and getting worse.
Timing. In hindsight I can see the timing.
The marriage was all roses until the child was born. And until I landed my first good paying job. Suddenly there was money to spend, and money to take. I remember coming home from work to discover that she had been out at some antique shop and bought a four-post, cherry wood, bed frame. She bought this with the $400 I had just placed in the account. Our first “extra” $400 since I got out of school.
No consultation. No rhyme or reason to deplete the only savings we had, immediately after the deposit.
And it wasn’t for me that she wanted those four bed posts. I was sleeping on the couch by then. And enduring the continual onslaught of brainwashing attempts.
*** Into the Mésos – the Middle Lands ***
Psychological abuse can be insidious. It’s a slow-moving freight train. You don’t see it coming until the caboose is rolling over your bloodied body.
It starts early and it starts small. Something that doesn’t seem to be all that important, but it translates to control. The goal is total control.
It started with a hysterical outburst while looking through my photo albums. Before the marriage. And I mean totally hysterical. Yelling and screaming. Why? She didn’t like it that I had pictures of my former girlfriend. These were threatening to her. And these suddenly became the focus of every conversation for the next couple of days. Her push was that I had to get rid of them. All of them. Erase that part of my history completely. If I didn’t agree, well that meant I didn’t love her. Love was the weapon.
For two days I listened to this hysteria. Tried to reassure her. And I didn’t want to erase my past completely. Especially the good moments. But she was insistent and I eventually gave in. Gone. Three years of my life extinguished. It was only the first step. No good reason.
Next would come, after the marriage, with the book cases I had built. They had to be painted white. The natural wood looked great. No reason to change them. But they had to be changed.
Then it was hats. I had several hats, two from my Grandfather who had passed away – Stetsons. And one I had bought while touring Central America. A lot of sentimental value there, but those had to go. She didn’t like them in the house. No reason.
Then it was college text books. She actually complained about the books I had on my bookshelves. Those had to go too. No reason.
Next it was my childhood medical records. You see, when you turn eighteen and you’re in a military family, the military gives you all of your medical records. My childhood history of asthma was in there and these records were passed on to my next doctors, or at least a summary of them. I still had the originals, but she insisted I trash them. No reason.
Can’t associate with your friends anymore. No reason. All holidays have to be spent with her family, never yours. No reason. And on and on it went. Consuming every detail of life.
What I didn’t see happening at the time was that these were all steps in incremental control. They were all abusive actions designed to isolate, subjugate, and lead to the next element of control. Total insult and denigration accompanied each onslaught.
Everything you do is wrong. Total annihilation.
After a while, you don’t need reasons. You conform your behavior to avoid the histrionics. To avoid the pain that’s about to be inflicted. No reason.
And the end game, that final element of control, came in the form of extramarital relationships. Now I was supposed to approve of these. Even more, give my blessing to them. No reason.
That was the prize in the sky. For her. But how do your set this one up? There are bound to be strong emotions. Ownership, that’s how. Who owns the emotions? Time for her to play the blame game again, because there is no valid reason to justify this.
*** On the Cusp of the Omega ***
At first, she tried to sell me on the idea of modern relationships being open. That for her to have extramarital affairs was just normal and ok. That she still loved me. But that was a hard sell when she refused to show me any affection at all, and I was relegated to sleeping in the living room.
When I got upset, I was told that she was not responsible in any way. That I was the only one who controlled my emotions. It was only I who decided how I was going to feel. That her actions could not possibly have any effect on me at all. Total denial.
If I felt bad about her affairs. It was all my fault.
While I didn’t buy that line of crap, I stayed. For a while anyway. I had stayed hoping to patch things up. Hoping beyond hope that things could be made right so I wouldn’t be separated from my daughter.
But then came an admission.
When I finally confronted her with the question of what was the point of staying married, she replied that she liked things the way the were. That she liked me working and paying the all the bills. That this was the most secure she had ever felt in her life. She was secure and could explore her sexuality like never before. That’s why she wanted us to stay together, was for me to pay the bills, help raise my daughter, and let her have sex with anyone she wanted, anytime she wanted, except with me.****
*** Omega at Last ***
That was the last straw. I moved out. Rented a room from a friend and continued to pay her bills until the divorce was final. Essentially, I’d be paying them afterward too, just by court order.
My daughter was three at that point in time. Five years of marriage over. I left with a 13-year-old car, she got the new one; one of the two bookshelves I had built, now painted white; a dresser a friend had scrounged from the dump, before the marriage; an aquarium with the fish, something she didn’t want; and a futon. Yes, I had finally bought a futon in response to no longer having a bed to sleep in.*****
Oh, and the divorce settlement initially gave her half of my take home pay every month. That’s “take home” – after taxes and deductions. That amount was reduced later.
In the next chapter we’ll talk about how “fair” all of this was(n’t) . . .
And what is, and what is not, a martial asset?
* All disclaimers from the previous posts in this series apply.
** Previous posts include:
1. We will fulfill our duties and responsibilities to each other and to our community, and look after each other’s (and our children’s) health.
2. We will improve on ourselves spiritually and mentally.
3. We will get richer and be more comfortable in legal and moral ways.
4. We will become wiser, happier and more united by loving each other and having mutual trust and respect for each other.
5. Our family will be blessed with strong, moral and heroic children.
6. We will be blessed with long life.
7. We will forever remain true to our vows and stay faithful to one another.
Photo: I had adapted the concepts of each vow from the Saptapadi when I composed our vows. Traditionally, the vows are taken one at a time with each of seven “Pheras” or circumambulations around a holy fire. That’s why we have a pic of a fire today. 🙂 We actually took our vows, with each of seven steps, as we walked down the aisle to face our minister for the remainder of the ceremony. And I suppose you could say that our marriage “went up in smoke.”
**** There would be another admission later. But not to me directly. At a women’s group meeting of her gay friends, she stated that the only reason she married me was to have a baby. She didn’t realize that one of the other women there was a friend of mine who would relay that admission to me.
***** A great irony. As you will see later, I left my second marriage with almost the identical property. That would represent twenty-six years of work down the drain.