I loved my weekly trip to the state capitol. Although only a college intern, the delegate I worked for gave me opportunities to be a part of the political inner-sanctum where policy deals and political threats unfolded before me. It was an experience and an education like nothing I encountered as a politically involved citizen. It was exciting and I felt totally alive.
It was also my place of escape!
To successfully complete my intern program I would work 3-5 days a week at the state capitol. Because the capitol was a 2 to 3-hour drive from home I would drive down to the capitol on Monday and return on Friday. This time away from home provided me with a healthy escape from the dynamics of our family and the tensions of a failing marriage.
My husband’s job also took him out of town 2-4 days a week. He managed to create the ideal schedule where we did not have to see much of each other, but, the needs of our teenaged children were still meet. My husband would leave for work on Friday while the kids were at school, I would return Friday evenings. By Monday afternoon when I left for my internship, my husband would be heading back to our house usually arriving shortly after the children were out of school. The arrangement fostered a perfectly peaceful co-existence.
That is until the the last week of my internship.
At the end of a busy week in the capitol, I was always ready to come home and enjoy my kids. The last week of my on-sight work was no exception. During the long drive home, I found myself looking forward to having more time with my children. There wouldn’t be the pressure of cramming into the weekend everything needed so I could leave town again. Plus I only had one more school assignment to complete and I was free to enjoy being a full time mom again, at least for the summer.
My thoughts came to an abrupt halt when I opened the front door to our home. Frozen, I stood in the entry way, trying to take it all in … There were some personal items laying on the stairway in front of me, a hanger, a sock, perhaps dropped in haste or somehow merely overlooked and forgotten. There was trash as well.
It looked like someone had possibly ransacked the place! It also looked like a place might look after someone has moved out. And the silence…what was with the silence? I wondered.
Caught off guard by both the silence and the mess – I took my piece of weekender luggage and slowly made the walk up the stairs not knowing what to expect. “Where was everyone? Why was the house empty?! What in the world was going on?”
In spite of the emptiness or because of it I felt growing apprehension with each step. At the top of the stairs, I turned to have a clear view of my son’s room. The room looked normal at first glance. Bed made, everything in place, just as I would expect for a school day. Then I saw my son’s closet. The door was swung wide open revealing its emptiness.
Sick to my stomach, I continued down the hallway to the next room. Apprehension now displaced by outright fear as finally I entered the bedroom my husband and I had shared. I was totally unprepared for what greeted me,
Not one of my husband’s personal items were on his dresser or in the closet. All the pictures of me and us that sat on his nightstand were now – all turned face down – along with any of “our” shared memorabilia. The closet door in this bedroom, like my son’s closet door, was left wide open shouting another chorus of emptiness.
From that point on everything is a complete blur. I can’t even remember if I made it down the rest of the hallway to our daughter’s room. Nor do I remember unpacking. I don’t remember how or when I put all the pieces together. My husband had moved taking our 13 and 17-year-old children with him. He had closed out all our joint bank accounts. (Thankfully, I had some money a separate account that had been earmarked for my college costs.)
The only thing I do remember is sleeping on the couch in the living room until one day my good good friend and her husband came to check on me.
My dear friend took one look at me and my surroundings. It was obvious, I hadn’t done one thing to bring any semblance of order back to the house. Perhaps it was just obvious, I had been sleeping on the couch?
My friend kindly took charge. She came by my side with strength and love I did not have. Together she walked me upstairs into what had been “our” bedroom. She assessed the situation and then suggested changes. We set to work to make what had been “ours” into mine. We rearranged furniture. We redecorated. We even hung curtains on the wall behind the bed creating a feminine headboard effect.
Despite the “new look” and a sense of order in the house, the strange numbness continued to engulf me. The deposit of sadness was bearing interest. A black cloud covered my heart and filtered through my emotions. None of the changes took care of the loneliness and betrayal that stabbed at my heart. Helpless to shake it, I fortified my inner wall of misery. I shut myself up in the isolation of the house.
Sleep didn’t come easily and when it finally came, I couldn’t wake up to face the day. I never slept in “my” bed, but, alternated sleeping between living room couch or the mattress in the upstairs hallway. Even with the redecorated bedroom, I still couldn’t bring myself to sleep in what had been our room. To do so would be to admit to the failure of my marriage and family. Something especially hard to accept because I belived God put this marriage together and He hates divorce.
For the next days or weeks, I cannot remember, life happened without me. My kids were either with their dad or in school. I felt as though I had no purpose – no reason to press on. The only thing I ever wanted in life was to be married, a mom and a happy home. So I sat or slept in emotional darkness. I was hurt and angry, I felt betrayed by my husband and betrayed by God. And God, I believed, had spoken to my heart that He would glorify Himself in my marriage.
I didn’t want to talk to God and I didn’t want to talk to people. It was too painful and I didn’t want platitudes or pity. To avoid thinking, I would entertain myself on the computer in chat rooms. So I didn’t have time to think as I drifted off to sleep, I would stay up until the wee hours of the night anesthetizing myself with more fantasy conversations in computer chat rooms or with video gams. Until finally, I collapsed in utter exhaustion.
The days wore on. I do not remember eating, cooking, or even grooming myself, let alone cleaning my house.
The reality of the term paper I HAD to turn in to receive credit for my internship finally hit me. Desperate, I got up my nerve. I called my political science professor, JB, a man who was my age. We had become personal friends. He admired me for returning to complete college. He also admired me for my work to improve our district’s public schools. As soon as he picked up the phone I heard myself say,
“John, I need to take an incomplete in the course.”
“What! Why?” he replied.
I poured out most of my story. In a strong kind voice, he replied, “Stephanie, turn in a paper and take the summer to rest.”
“But you don’t understand. I can’t think. I can’t put two coherent words together on a piece of paper!” My professor listened to that excuse and all the others I threw out. Each time, he said the same thing, “Turn in a paper.”
Finally surrendering, I said, “Okay. If it is horrible and I only get a “D” I will turn something in to you.”
My professor was reassured me that after having me in class for two years, he knew well, the quality of my work. I simply needed to turn my paper in on time and take the summer to regroup.
Reluctantly, I agreed.
I don’t know how, but, I managed to put something down on paper, printed it and headed out. Driving a little blue metro I made the 20 minute drive up the mountain to the university. Relieved, I actually turned in my paper – on time.
As if things were not dark enough, I was totally unprepared for what would unfold on my return trip from the university. If there had been a sliver of light or hope and relief left in my heart it was soon to be all but extinguished.