In the Spring time of 2011, something felt wrong. I had what I have always called "the weird feeling." When I was a younger girl, often times as I would lay in bed trying desperately to fall asleep, the bottom of my stomach would drop out, anxiety would build and my head would spin in circles. I had the sense that something was not right, or something bad was going to happen or I was forgetting or missing something very important that was somehow just beyond my reach.
No matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to shake the feeling and would end up all in fits and sweats. Finally, realizing that sleep would never find me in my current state, I would creep down the stairs to find my mother. I would sit at the bottom of the stairs and whisper ‘Mom, I have the weird feeling.’ She would give me a hug and ask, ‘Why are you worried, Jennifer?’
‘I don't know. I just am.’
‘Everything is going to be alright. Go to sleep and you will feel better in the morning,’ she would say as she held me. That is all it took. I heard the words. I believed them. I went back to bed. I fell asleep. And, just as she predicted, I felt better in the morning every time.
That spring I had the weird feeling again. I turned to my husband; I expected him to make the problem go away, just as my mother had. He would say the words I asked him to, word for word, ‘It is all going to be ok, Jennifer. Everything is going to be ok.’ It helped-- a little bit. But the feeling never completely left and every night it would be a little bit stronger.As the cold wet spring stretched on for what seemed forever, I told myself that when the sun came out and the summer came, I would be happy again. The season started turning to summer and I was far from feeling content. And so I made a decision-- I was going to be happy, positive and glad about life. I could force the weird feeling to leave. Everything was going to be ok, because I wanted it to be ok, dammit.
And I was ok through the summer. I forced myself to be ok. But as the summer turned to fall and the fall turned to winter, it was clear that everything was not ok.
The most alarming thing that happened was the feeling of a distance that entered our marriage. It started small-- barely noticeable at first. Jacob lost interest in helping me with prepping the garden before the winter so that it would be ready to go for next spring; he did not even cover his precious strawberry plants before the frost came in and killed them off. Watching the withered plants hurt me deeply somehow, especially when he seemed so unmoved by the fact that they died.
At bedtime, there was less cuddling and loving. In fact, Jacob stopped going to bed at the same time that I did. All of the sudden it became an issue, ‘I do not have to keep the same sleep schedule as you!’ he would object. And so he would come “tuck me in” and then go back to the computer. Sometimes I would beg him to stay in bed with me, even if he was reading or playing on his phone. Acquiescing, Jacob would cuddle in with me-- at least until I fell asleep. Hours later, I would awake at two in the morning and find that Jacob was no longer in bed; I would find him in the computer room, completely engrossed in a video game. We argued more over stupid little things like driving into town, going to the gym, church callings, what to do on the weekends and family gatherings. Rarely did I ever see Jacob working on homework, but schooling was another subject that could not be broached without an argument ensuing.
Emotions I never thought would enter my marriage creeped their way in. I felt abandoned. I was frustrated. Having been in the relationship for many a year at this point, I understood that relationships in general (and definitely ours in the least) move like rollercoasters, with high points and low points. We were at a lower point, but I suspected with hope that shortly we would climb back up.I also started to question myself-- many a long hour I spent talking with my older sister, discussing anti depressants or some other form of mood stabilizing drug. Depression, bi-polar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder all run in my family. The “weird feeling” had become part of my daily life again and Erika suspected that I was struggling with an anxiety disorder. Perhaps what I felt in my marriage was all part of uncontrollable anxiety. The down was caused by my own imbalance, so I believed. With this belief, I felt even more grateful for Jacob— I felt like he deserved a much better wife than I was and he was so patient with my shortcomings and my need to hear him constantly say, ‘It is all going to be ok.’ Of course it would be irritating for him sometimes; of course he would need a little more alone time if I was going to be such a downer. And after all, how could I complain when he told me the words I needed to hear and still put me to bed every night?
December 26, 2011. D-Day. Discovery Day. Some details I remember so distinctly and yet everything is in a fog. I barely recall the words that were spoken-- those words that now seem so critical to my happiness or lack thereof. I went to work like normal. Jacob was on winter break still. He offered to have dinner ready that day. During the day I texted him a couple of times like normal-- he told me that he was making homemade egg rolls with the deep fat fryer I had given him for Christmas. I warned him that our neighbor might be stopping by to borrow some eggs. Driving home I was anxious for the delicious food and a quiet evening; when I opened the door to the house the smell of fried food had permeated every corner. Jacob was withdrawn, but then this had been our normal as of late. We sat down to dinner and I chatted about my day. When I asked him about his, he said, ‘I have something I need to talk to you about, but we can talk after dinner.’ Instantly I felt the egg rolls I had eaten start tossing in my stomach. Nothing could have forced me to take one more bite. Bile began to rise. I did not know what was coming, but I knew it would be brutal.
‘Just tell me. Right now.’
‘Jennifer, I have been lying to you for eight years. I am a liar. You do not even know me at all. I have put up a facade the whole time that we have been together.’
Stunned Silence. Internal voices screaming, ‘What the hell? What is going on?’
‘The thing is-- I am addicted to pornography. And I have lied about it the whole time we have been together. And I am tired of lying and I am tired of trying to hide it. And what is more, I have lied about so many more things. I flunked all of my classes last semester and when I was trying to think of how I was going to lie and cover it up, I decided I was tired of lying.’
I vomited in my mouth. ‘Since when have you looked at porn?’
‘I don’t remember. Since I was thirteen or fourteen.’
My mind calculated-- fifteen years. Fifteen years of addiction. Of lying. I had no idea what to say-- so I said nothing.
‘I was not even going to be here when you got home from work tonight. I was going to be gone. That or so drunk that I could not even tell you. I wrote it all out in a letter for you. But then you told me that our neighbor was going to stop by and I did not want to be drunk when she got here.’
‘You were going to be drunk?’
‘You bought alcohol?’
‘You didn’t drink any of it?’
‘Where is it?’
The beer was promptly dumped by me down the kitchen sink and the stinking bottles deposited in the outside garbage can. While working on that I kept thinking, ‘What do I do? What do I say? This is not Jacob. This is not my life. This is not happening to my marriage.’
Then Jacob gave me the letter. I have no idea what it said, but I remember what it contained. He confessed his addiction, he told me that he had lied about almost everything for as long as he could remember, and then the REAL hammer hit (as if pornography and masturbation had not been enough). It said that he could not picture our future lives together.
And then I realized I was in deeper than just an addiction. ‘You were going to leave me?’
‘That is what I have been telling you! I am no good! I look at naked women. I masturbate. I lie about everything. I do not know if I even believe in God anymore.’
‘So, you don’t love me?’
‘These actions are not the kind of things you do to someone you love.’
‘So, you don’t love me?’
‘I don’t know what I want anymore.’
‘So, you don’t love me?’
‘No, I DO love you. I am just so confused. I am so tired of lying. I thought you would scream and yell when I told you. I thought you would leave me. I did not think you would still be here.’
Then my stubbornness kicked in. I loved this man. I made a covenant to be his wife. I WAS his wife, dammit and I was going to stay his wife. We were going to battle this addiction. We were going to win. Enough was enough. It was time to take action and make a plan. I ripped up the letter.
‘I am here. I am sealed to you. I am not leaving. We are married. We will overcome this. Will you do this with me?’
Did he ever answer me? I don’t remember. I also don’t know if he really wanted me to go or really wanted me to stay. Both, probably. I have never seen a man so torn in my life. I felt like I needed to comfort him. ‘This is not him,’ I kept telling myself. ‘This is his addiction.’ I repeated this phrase to myself hundreds of times over the next seven months. I still have yet to figure out at what point it stops being the addiction and starts being him, his choices and his actions. Somehow we came to the agreement that the first step to take was to speak with the bishop and seek out counseling. Once the plan was set, Jacob went to clean up dinner and I went upstairs.
Then it hit me. Sort of. The first wave of understanding hit me. It has been over a year and I feel like I am still being bombarded with waves of reality. Like I have been a rock perched on a beach-- the waves come, sometimes huge and overpowering, smashing into me with everything they have one right after another. Sometimes they lap at me, barely tickling my feet, but each time I realize my situation a little more. Once in awhile, the sea is calm and I think that perhaps I finally am fully aware of my life-- only to have a storm recommence. The first wave was one of the hardest and, even though I am a superb swimmer, I thought I was going to drown. I did drown.
When I began the project of writing my story, I fully intended to spend large amounts of time focusing on what I went through during this period of time. I wanted to write it out-- to pour all my pain and heartache into this novel. The compulsion to write about the first few months of 2012 stemmed from the belief that if I unloaded on these pages, I would not have to carry any of the hurt inside and also that someone else might benefit to read what I went through if they ever have to go through the same tragedy.
But now that it comes down to it, I find that I don’t want to go into details for so many reasons. First of all, how could I even begin to accurately describe the pain? I did not have the words for it in the moment, my journal pages through those two months are shockingly blank; I do not have the words for it now. There is no way to convey what it feels to have your life torn to shreds, your very purpose for breathing questioned, to be told that perhaps you are not wanted any more, to feel worthless, ugly and used. How could I describe having my heart carved out of my chest and trampled on by the person I loved most in the world? I will not be able to explain the nights lying alone in bed, feeling every single muscle in my body tighten tighten tighten until I could not breath and my muscles shake and shake and shake from the exertion-- while my spouse is in the other room on the computer. Or sitting at the front desk at work, answering phones, greeting customers and answering dozens of times a day the question ‘How are you?’ with a smile and a ‘Fine, thanks’ and feeling the panic, terror, shame and anger rise into my throat but knowing that I could tell no one-- not even my friends, not even my family.
I wanted so badly (so much that it physically hurt) to feel loved and have someone hold me and tell me that I was beautiful and that I was wanted; I craved that attention and I turned to the person who had covenanted to fulfill that need for me into the eternities-- only to be rejected. Not only that, but rejected for a plastic princess in a size double D bra prancing around in a video-- rejected for a movie and his own hand. I woke up every morning not knowing if that day my husband would want to be married to me or not, not knowing if his bad mood was because he was feeling guilty for indulging in pornography, not knowing if his good mood was because he masturbated in the shower, not knowing if he was imagining another woman while he was intimate with me-- not even caring as long as he was with me at all-- but caring ever so much. Wanting to know what he was thinking, feeling, wanting, seeing; not wanting to know anything at all.
I do not have to read Dante to know about hell and punishment. I lived it. The uncertainty. The see saw. Total annihilation day after day after day. The bullets coming from my own husband. Until I looked at the cars coming down the road in the opposite direction and sobbed because the only thing I wanted was to jerk my wheel, smash into one of them and stop feeling at all.
My memory of this time is warped around the agony I was experiencing. The following months were eternal. Each day was like the last yet every moment was different. Nobody knew what was happening in our lives-- we pretended. We pretended for the world, we pretended for our families, and sometimes we even pretended for each other and for ourselves. Most of the months following seem like one moment of prolonged misery with each memory running into the next. There were glimpses of happiness, but it was all on the surface. The end was rushing toward us ever faster.