“How do you and Susan keep your marriage together?”
It’s a question we have gotten for years, really ever since our story became public. It was a question I found difficult to answer because I couldn’t really comprehend the question. I couldn’t understand how we could not stay together in this situation. Raising Jani and Bodhi was stressful enough. Why would we add to that stress by splitting up?
However, my answer was usually along these lines: “We are both committed to the kids.” Susan would say the same thing.
What I realize now is that wasn’t an answer to how we stay together. It was an answer to why we stay together. We stayed together for the kids. What I now realize is I never thought about how we stayed together.
Yes, past tense.
I never understood why it was so amazing that Susan and I together. After all, this is what parents did. They stayed together. It is tempting now to get irritated with everyone who asked that question, as if every question was a chip off the armor that held us together.
Armor. What you wear into battle. We developed this armor from years of fighting both against Jani and Bodhi’s condition and for them against the rest of the world. I think the latter was more destructive. Fighting for help for them was far more costly to our souls, to the point that that I am not sure what is left anymore.
I wanted to write this because of all the people who said we were strong. And maybe we were. But you can’t be strong forever. I am writing this because eventually I broke.
I had an affair, but that isn’t the break. An affair is just a coward’s way out of a marriage and I wanted out. Why I wanted out is harder to explain.
Susan and I made certain decisions to put the kids first. This was necessary to keep them out of residential. I do not regret those decisions. But every decision has consequences. For every decision, there is a price to be paid. In this case, our marriage was the price that had to be paid.
I talked in an earlier blog that when one runs away from a marriage under stress, they are really running from themselves. But the marriage wasn’t under stress. It was non-existent. We were caretakers of the children only. I tried to kid myself, and so did Susan, that we didn’t need to have time for each other. We bristled at the suggestion from therapists and friends, largely because we had no time for each other. But we tried to kid ourselves that it didn’t matter. It did. And then at some point, I don’t know when, I looked at Susan and didn’t see my friend any more. I saw my fellow caretaker. My fellow employee in the service of two special needs children. We were co-workers. Worse still, we had turned into something I didn’t like. We were angry all the time. Worse. We were embittered. Not at the children. At each other. But why? When did we start to turn the anger on each other and eventually on ourselves? Every ounce of anger at the failures of the system turned in upon ourselves because we had nowhere else to put it. Those who worked in the system didn’t care. Or maybe they did. They offered words of support but words are empty. How were we supposed to take time for ourselves? Even if, hypothetically, Susan and I could have gone on vacation, when would we stop thinking about the kids? Never.
They offered us residential and as I have said before, it was always offered based on what it could do for us, not on any therapeutic benefit for Jani and Bodhi. Now I realize they were trying to save us. Susan and me. But if that was the only way to save us, I am glad we weren’t saved. I would rather have gone down in a fiery crash than send Jani and Bodhi to residential. If that is what it would have taken to save our marriage, both Susan and I would agree it wasn’t worth saving. That was not a price we were willing to pay.
Divorce, however, is a price we are willing to pay.
Did we fail? Yes, we did. Susan and I did not succeed at everything. We failed. I failed. I worry about how Jani is taking it. Right now I am still there every day so as to minimize the impact on her. Could I have stayed with her mother for her? Jani is nearly thirteen. Could I have hung on for another five years? Maybe. Maybe not. In some ways, I feel like it was killing me. But what difference does eighteen make? Even if Jani was neurotypical, what difference does eighteen make? Why do we delude ourselves into thinking it will be better when the kids are older? Because they are more likely to understand? To forgive us?
Ah, yes. That’s it. We put it off because we hope that we can explain ourselves and they will understand and forgive us for breaking all they have ever known. When it comes to our children, we desperately want to be forgiven. We want their approval as badly as they seek it from us.
That is what I want to know. Will Jani and Bodhi forgive me? Probably, because I am their father. But that doesn’t make me feel any better. I forgave my father too because he is my father. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
So if it is going to hurt in five years as much as it hurts now, why not do it now?
I’m putting the kids at risk, you say. Their stability is built on the stability of their world. I know that. I am aware I am putting both kids at risk. That doesn’t make me feel good. But I was putting them at risk by staying. I was resentful and that resentment was spilling over. I miss the father I used to be, the one whose only focus was on keeping Jani happy. I miss being funny and making her smile. I miss engaging with her the way I used to, when I wanted to, before it turned into an obligation.
Of course, during that time I was also pretty much ignoring Bodhi. I think one of the most insidious things about autism is that because Bodhi doesn’t talk, I don’t talk to him as much. He becomes background until he has a meltdown and needs restraints, taking his star turn, which is what you have to do in my family.
So the risk was there anyway.
I wish I still loved their mother. I really do. I wish to God I could still feel for Susan what I felt when it was just us, before Bodhi, before January, before anyone knew who the fuck we were.
But I can’t. I can’t feel what isn’t there. Susan is my co-pilot. We took turns flying the plane. That is not a husband and wife. I don’t know what a husband and wife are but that’s not it. They aren’t co-workers.
Three years ago I wrote a blog called “Stay Together for the Kids.” In it, I gave advice on how to keep a marriage together. Looking back at it, it wasn’t advice at all. It was the early warning sign of my own failure.
In the end, I was as human as any of you. I didn’t do a better job.
All I can tell you now is you have to decide what is more important to you. In this life, with mentally ill children, something is going to have to go. You have to decide what that is. In our case, it was our marriage.
May Jani and Bodhi forgive me.
I couldn’t do it all.embedded by Embedded Video