MARJIE AND JOHN - A VERY HAPPY TIME - AT A DREAMY PLACE - LES ISLES DE LA MADELEINE - JUST A FEW YEARS AGO
THE SAD END OF A MARRIAGE
These are my letters to my wife, Marjorie, following a painful scene and the unbelievable end of a 33-year loving relationship with both of us in our seventies.
By her sharp, terse responses in some cases and lack of response in others, I know things are hopeless. We are completely alienated at so late a stage in life. The fact hits very hard.
I tend to be quite private about personal matters, but I just feel it so important to leave this record. It is unlike anything I’ve ever published, or ever would publish, were there not such circumstances.
If it can benefit anyone else, that will be a very good thing. But, in any case, I want anyone interested to know just what happened. There is tenderness here and there are accounts of awful behavior. Please treat the intimacy revealed with decent respect.
CHUCKMAN – LETTER 1 – TO MARJORIE:
Are you sure that you do not want to give our life another try?
No matter what you said or thought in the of state you left here in, it is just a fact that I have always loved you. I actually cannot imagine how you could think otherwise. The proofs are countless. I think, for instance, how many times in an afternoon, I thanked you warmly for all the things you had done that day. I actually don’t think that kind of thing is common.
I always thought you loved me, too, never really had doubts even if you might be momentarily displeased with me. I recognized love in everything from the beautiful shirts and things you made me to cutting my hair. None of it ever was taken for granted. Over the years, for both of us, love had developed and mellowed from intense passion to gentle sweet love. I think that’s how it supposed to go.
I know I have grown old and not very exciting, but I would never have thought you would despise me for that. You are less than two years behind me, and you spend your days largely in your chair. In most instances, it has been you who declines to go somewhere. You don’t want to walk or go any distance. If we go out for dinner, you prefer a nearby place. You initiated cancelling the trip to the islands after that brief journey to Sutton and the way it made you so tired to keep track of the computer maps. But that never made me dislike you, much less hate you.
Thirty-three years of love, a great many shared efforts and adventures, moves and adjustments to many places, ups and downs – that’s a lot to just throw away. And especially at our age. My God, our seventies. People who’ve successfully made it that far don’t go their own ways very often. Nor should they, as I think of it.
I just do not want to live alone. As you know, over the years, I’ve become very dependent in many things on you.
I have no hopes and no expectations in such a life as these last two weeks, not even for those little things I thought we both enjoyed each day like wine and dinner. Old people are supposed to enjoy the “little things.”
I have a couple of times had a fantasy of your showing up at the door as after a trip to Toronto.
But I know it is only fantasy, and I stopped believing in fantasies as boy. Still, the fact that I’ve had it means something.
So, I ask you to reconsider. Or is that just impossible?
CHUCKMAN – LETTER 2 – TO MARJORIE:
For all those years together, there was never a day I didn’t assume we loved and cared for each other. It’s similar to having air to breath, and only when it is no longer there do you know what a catastrophe has struck. Your anger and leaving completely shattered me. It does resemble a death sentence. You know I cannot even make decisions well anymore. You seemed happy to fill the void. I cannot face a great many situations alone. And bleakness as a prospect is totally demoralizing.
If you cannot reconsider, well, I would prefer that you not come to take some stuff as you had indicated you would do. I will do nothing to stop you, just as I would never have dreamed of ordering you to leave your own home, as you did me. You do have plenty of money to buy anything you need for now, and you enjoy shopping.
It would be, under these circumstances, painful to see you. I feel as though everything we ever had together for over thirty years has been dragged through the dirt. It’s more a feeling of having been reduced to nothingness rather than just pain.
You might keep in mind that if we can’t get past this, it won’t be all that terribly long before you get called to come here anyway. Then absolutely everything will be yours.
I have thought a great deal about what happened, in sleepless nights and pointless days, and I think I understand. I can make no other sense of any of it. Anyone who ever knew us as a couple regarded us as happy, and we were. At least I thought so.
You often talked, here and there, about our getting old together and helping each other, and, of course, that’s how it should be. I would never have assumed anything else.
But I think you mainly had in mind my helping you. Over the last year or so, you’ve realized, as I very much do, that I am going downhill faster than you. So, the prospect becomes vividly one of your helping me.
The “my helping you” has perhaps left your thoughts, and I think you find the real prospect distasteful, never mind the “old folks together” stuff.
Remember what you cried to me, over and over, one evening back in Hamilton before we moved, sitting on the couch in the living room, about, “It’s not all about you!”?
Well, I have never said anything was all about me, ever. I have compromised and shared throughout our married life. Always. Those words of yours seemed strange then, but now I believe they were revealing for the future.
You were referring, of course, to our moving to Montreal, something I originally wanted - at least in a romantic, dreamy way, a few years ago - but by the time you seemed to come fully around to the idea, I had begun to believe it beyond my declining physical capacities.
Well, despite doubts, I promised that evening I should and would do that for you. So, we set about the whole huge and distressing, at least for me, process of selling the house, renting an apartment, getting rid of stuff, packing stuff, moving, and then working towards the big job of establishing a new home.
It proved stressful for me, especially since you were suddenly, at the time of the move, not in good health, and I had to assume an even larger burden. Finally, sitting in the new apartment with stuff piled everywhere so you could barely see, I just gasped to myself, wondering how it could ever all be managed.
But it did eventually get managed, strain though I found it at times. I can’t help it, I’m feeling my age as never before.
I think you may have thought to yourself earlier, never sharing the idea with me, that the move to a more stimulating place would revive my aging ways, but, if so, that was a naive thought. Age, like health, is one of those qualities which dominate in any environment. After all, you made several contemptuous references in your anger to me “sitting in my chair,” as though that were a grave fault, an older man with a bad back sitting in a comfortable chair for a good part of the day to do the work which keeps him occupied.
Indeed, it is the very thing you do, too, for great parts of a day, reading or working on your computer. Other than cooking and the wash, both of which I did for years. I don’t recall ever having or expressing any resentment. A number of times, I wanted to go somewhere or do something together, and you did not feel up to it. Did I ever get angry? Did I ever tell you to get out of the house? Did I ever make you feel miserable? No, I just quietly accepted what you said, and we went on as we were.
So, not many months later – unfortunately, including an unusually long, hard winter which discouraged activity – after all our work and effort, having made for ourselves a comfortable home in which to live again, where do we find ourselves?
You having left me in a rage to be alone in the place you had demanded we go, right down to the very building and apartment which you, and you alone, chose.
I just have a completely bleak outlook. Even though I am a person who likes some privacy and quiet, just as you do, I never wanted to live alone. But I am condemned to do so now. Completely alone in a place which largely speaks another language.
At my age and state, I have zero chance of finding any companionship. I am so bleak-feeling, I don’t even like going out to the store for necessities. I ‘ve stocked up on the few things I really need.
If you do come, you may well not see Suka. I am making inquiries with rescue people for him. Not sure of the timing. I will not likely be able to walk him in the near future. I can’t wait for the last moment on that. What a disaster that would be. Indeed, with my separate problem of growingly-wobbly feet, I think I would have problems there in any event before too long. He can still pull pretty hard. So, I am left with an extremely unpleasant and unwelcome duty. He has been in the past such a dear friend I feel as though I’m plotting to betray him, but I know I have no choice.
You wrote before of his being a comfort to me. Well, you should see what I’ve been seeing for three solid weeks: Suka lying by the front door about eighteen hours a day. Very cheery and comforting indeed. He gets up for food or to go out and sometimes spends an hour in the living room with me. He does not sleep on the bed. If he comes into the bedroom at night, he often returns to the door later.
He is just collateral damage. I don’t know any other way of thinking about it.
Of course, I'm sorry that I slapped you - and sorry not just to you but to myself, my own self-respect, as someone who has no attraction to violence - but I literally was panicked by what happened. Would you even try to see the scene that you suddenly, with no warning, plunged us into?
We went to bed early, at your suggestion, to listen to Bach after I had some trouble with the video, something we have a fairly long history of quietly doing as an alternative to a movie.
Suddenly, you started a frightening scene over absolutely nothing.
You literally attacked me over my wanting to lie in bed down without a light on, as you know I always have done for all the many years we have been together.
You could have gone into the living room yourself to read or to do anything else, but you did not.
You could have said why don't we both go to the living room and play music there, sitting up, as we have done before, but you did not.
You could have said let’s go try to get the video going, but you did not.
Instead, you immediately started shouting for me to leave the house! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It almost couldn’t register at the first, but with being repeated and repeated, it did register and hit like an electric shock.
You raged at me, coming around to my side of the bed to grab and yank my arms, grabbing my shirt, screaming at me to get out of the house. Over and over. You would not stop.
You grabbed my nighttime breathing machine a number of times to take it away.
I held onto it, and you still grabbed and yanked at it more, literally creating a tug of war with a vital machine in our own bedroom, until you broke it.
You ran out and got a bunch of my clothes from closets and toiletries from the bathroom and threw them into a suitcase and again returned to the bedroom, where I had remained, to again order me to get out.
When I said I wasn't leaving the home that was as much mine as yours, which is exactly the way I feel, you dumped all my clothes and toiletries on the floor, packed some of your own and were almost ready to leave.
Just before you left, you stopped by the bedroom door and quietly asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"
After that scene lasting maybe twenty minutes, I was too dumbfounded to open my mouth. You turned and shortly rushed out.
In the meantime, I got my robe on and went to sit in the living room, trying to take in what had happened. As you passed to leave, you said in a harsh voice, “Don’t forget your witch made that for you!”
I don’t understand why you would say that, as though I ever for a moment forgot anything you made for me, being always grateful. That and the question at the bedroom door were not the kinds of things someone feeling physically hurt does. I never gave a thought to the idea you may be hurt, only that it was obvious you were still unbelievably angry.
The “witch” reference was to my saying at a desperate point in the bedroom, “My God, you are just like Bob’s Mom.”
It [A reference to madness] was a stupid thing to say, but it reflected my astonishment at what was happening.
The notion of being ordered out of my own home goes at least that deep for me. Kind of horrifying, actually. Maybe, it goes back to being six-years old and getting up one morning to find my mother packing a suitcase to leave my father and my entire world being overturned in minutes. I don’t know, but I know there seemed no reason on earth for you to treat me that way.
That is what happened, almost exactly. I don’t see anything in that that makes me a monster. Of course, I shouldn’t have slapped you, but, my God, what is someone to do to stop such violent raging going on and on?
In answer to the brief angry words you sent after that hopeful letter I had written, I have always been concerned with your welfare. Just the fact that you forget that says something.
My God, I can’t think of all the times, as just one example, on an early evening when I often would make a point of saying thank you for all you did for us that day. I don’t think that is common at all.
And the habit with the front door is just one more, small ongoing example. There are countless larger ones, from accompanying you both leaving from and coming to the station on a trip you were making to accompanying you to the doctor anytime you wanted me to. How about making you a bowl of mashed potatoes whenever your stomach didn’t feel right? Oh, I have been ugly and uncaring, haven’t I?
But I had no reason to ask after you in that letter because my memory of how things were when you left is entirely different than yours. Your literal hatred for me is what was branded into my consciousness.
You had a red face, both from being slapped and from your anger. I could see no injury, and I certainly know that the slapping was not hard. I was not trying to hurt you, but I was trying to shock you out of what you were doing. And my own clear thinking was stunned as though I had been hit with a hammer in the head by all that was going on.
But I won’t dispute a word about who is right.
I am very sorry for any hurt I caused, but I am equally sorry to have been on the receiving end of unprovoked hatred, and from someone whom I thought loved me. If you think hatred can’t deeply hurt people, you just do not understand anything.
I had felt a touch of optimism for the first time in two weeks after I wrote that letter, but I saw from your brief intensely-angry words I was foolish, as I am so very often. Story of my life, really.
So, if you cannot reconsider, and I am ready to leave all the ugliness behind, forgotten as though it never happened, if you are. Otherwise, I guess there’s only one end to the story.
I have stayed with my regimen. Three weeks with no solid food, except for one dinner as a kind of breather. My face is noticeably thinner in the mirror and I had to punch a new hole in my belt. I do have discipline once I’ve determined I should do something. Just like the last big move despite feeling too old to do it.
I am sorry most of all we have no future, and I have no hope.
We came to Montreal for a last adventure - a fairly tame adventure at our age but nevertheless an adventure, as we have had so many together - but it does appear to have all turned to dust and ashes.
CHUCKMAN – LETTER 3 – TO MARJORIE:
I thought you would want to know.
I found the best possible place in Montreal for Suka.
It’s a Rescue run by a wonderful eccentric woman named Sophie. Very kind and thoughtful.
I had contacted virtually everyone in the city, but many are not taking any dogs right now, and she had not got back to me.
I thought I would have to go with the SPCA, and had exchanged some information by e-mail, but then, just like miracle, Sophie called.
She came an hour later. Yes, came, because she likes to sit down and ask questions.
Suka took to her
She took his bed, and a toy, and bowls, and the rest of his food. She uses Royal Canin, too.
I gave her some cash, but I also went on her site and gave a hundred dollars to support her.
He’s absolutely in the best hands I could have found.
I’ve shed quite a few tears over losing him, but there’s nothing I could do. And Sophie came like a blessing from heaven.
May I just say a few more words?
Sometimes it is surprising how people fail to communicate simple but important things.
I never realized that the day, a few weeks before you left, when I was quiet all day, bothered you so deeply.
It appears to have been the origin of what finally came bursting out the evening you left, which as I’ve said made no sense to me and was frightening.
But you know I was just trying to communicate, without any arguments or pleading, about how unhappy I was from the way you treated me the evening before, the day your sister died.
All I wanted was the simplest word of apology that next morning, but it never came.
What I got was a piece of toast plunked down with a lump of jam on it and the words, “Maybe that’ll sweeten you up!”
I’ve noticed over the years you almost never say sorry, even the simplest words, as though you believed nothing merited it.
But that isn’t so, and the case of your sister’s death and your treatment of me in the evening was an example.
So, we are where we are because of that.
I never understood. Why wouldn’t you communicate a thing like that? It was not my intent. I just wished a word, and I didn’t think I should be asking for it.
The next day, I broke the ice asking you if we could have a drink later, but never a word. What had hurt my feelings quite seriously didn’t exist for you.
You bottled up intense feelings about my silence, and it all came exploding out the evening you left, when literally all I had done was say I didn’t want light in my face in bed.
I just thought you should know. It is the truth.
SENT AFTER - SORRY TO BOTHER YOU BUT YOU HAVE BEEN MY COMPANION FOR OVER THIRTY YEARS
I'm sorry to bother you, but the full impact of Suka has hit me.
I'm just bawling, and I can't stop.
I already miss his dear little face terribly.
I can't stop bawling over Suka.
I know he's in the best possible hands, but I can't stop crying.
I 'm getting plastered tonight with Martinis.
CHUCKMAN – LETTER 5 - TO MARJORIE:
I’ll try to do what I suggested, but I am back down in the lower depths. I just do have nothing left of self-worth.
I’ve put off eating again. It’ll be four weeks this weekend, and believe me, it shows.
This is what my days are like: maybe a fleeting bit of hope for some little purpose, then cast down again as soon as I reflect on what happened, and I can’t help but reflect sometime virtually every day.
I am able to distract myself for periods with music – Thank God for Mozart - and writing – I’ve done some good stuff and gained more followers (from my intensity of feelings?) - and working on pictures, but it only goes for so long, and then the thoughts creep back like evening shadows.
The feeling is not just sadness but real pain, much as though I had been kicked hard in the stomach.
All that held-back hatred that was just waiting for me like an avalanche. I still can’t understand where it all came from or where it had been hiding.
And if something really bothered, why not talk? There were all the opportunities in the world to say things in this little place. In our chairs during the day. Or the pleasant hour and a half with wine every evening. At one of our restaurants.
Remember the girl in Ottawa, I think Roseanna was her name?
Her husband of seven years just announced one day that “this is no fun anymore” and left her and a child.
Neither of us viewed that favorably, but that was indeed a quiet version of what happened here.
They were maybe thirty. But we are in our seventies.
All that anger so suddenly exploding at me. It is just so painful to think someone hated me so, someone so close, so trusted for years.
Of course, I see our picture together at the inn on Les Isles de la Madeleine every time I switch on the computer. I so love that image. It seems so warm and glowing and unusually happy.
And only a couple of years ago. It might as well be another century.
About six or so I’ll have a Martini. Maybe, two. That helps for getting on with the evening. And bed will be okay until I invariably wake in the middle of the night and stay awake. And the thoughts return.
CHUCKMAN – LETTER 6 – TO MARJORIE:
Today marks my fourth week of fasting, having had only two ‘breather” dinners and no other solid food in that time. It seems unhappily clear I can finish the effort.
I’m so sorry you couldn’t find it in your heart to forgive. There wasn’t all that much time left at our stage of life, especially good time. And there is no doubt I loved you as much as anyone ever loved anyone.
But if you can’t forgive, I can’t either. After all, your wrong towards me – abandoning me with hate and fury in my old age – Is far greater and far more damaging than mine towards you.
I have no future without you - or rather, without what you were - and I’m very sorry for whatever it is I’ve done that made you so furious and hateful toward me well before any slap.
I don't want to be mean or vindictive, but every time I read something from you, the tone is so cold, it just chills me. I don’t think I can handle your personal stuff unless something happens to alter my outlook, and the prospect for that is zero.
You reduced me to tears, again. Not with the effort at a helpful note about tax, but the note before that.
You never even asked about Suka, for example, but he adored you. Simply adored you.
I cried half a day when I had to give him up.
You have tossed “you hit me” a couple of times before when I asked that we try again. I’m sure you’ve regaled the folks in Toronto with that, leaving out much of what did happen. It is an easy weapon to use, “he hit me,“ but that really had nothing to do with your original fury and hate and ability to put an end to everything in a matter of minutes.
Of course, your situation there is easier if you are seen as victim of a brute. People are easier with that than the thought you abandoned your husband of decades because of age or ailment.
You know you delivered a torrent of abuse and demands and grabbing and shoving before any slap came in response. You had already decided for reasons I do not understand that someone was getting out of our home. First, it was to be me, but I declined to leave, and you nominated yourself. Just minutes before, who could have even guessed any of that possible?
The stream of “I have no use for you” and “get out” I received would cut anyone to the quick. After over thirty years of love and loyalty, it is baffling where it came from and simply crushing in its effect.
Any person can be driven to do what he or she ordinarily would not do, which is the very purpose of torture. You know I have never been a violent person. But to be treated like that?
I wonder whether I’ll lose my sanity. I have moments when I almost cannot breathe. I am sleepless. I got up in the middle of the night to do some things rather than just lie in bed. I am painfully lonely, but I don’t even want to see people outside. Did I deserve this in any way?
If you weren’t happy here, where you insisted we come, why didn’t you say so? If you wanted to go to Toronto, why didn’t say so? If there was an aspect of my behavior that really troubled you, why didn’t you say so? I might be slowed down, but don’t think I ever failed to listen to your concerns. They were why we went to all the work and cost of moving here in the first place.
Although I think I have changed in no way except being older and more tired. I have always been a consistent person, predictable, grateful for what I receive, not asking too much, and I thought you liked that about me.
I really cannot handle or look at your personal things, especially after being reminded again of that ice-cold heart. I never look at any of them during my days.
How can anyone treat their long-term faithful mate that way? How could anyone who has always identified with the humane and peaceful and decent? I would not have done that to you ever, for any reason, even if I had somehow grown tired of some things about you. The morality of that I simply cannot take in.
I SHOULD HAVE ADDED...IF SOMEHOW YOU COULD CHANGE YOUR MIND, YOU WOULD BE WELCOMED WITH OPEN ARMS AND A BIG KISS AND DINNER OUT AND NEVER A WORD ABOUT THE LAST MONTH
CHUCKMAN – LETTER 7 – TO MARJORIE:
I had a dream early this morning, just a little vignette.
Suddenly, I realized you were standing there, not far from the bed.
I got up, saying your name and kissed your face again and again, repeating your name.
And I slid down with my arms around you and curled up at your feet, just repeating your name.
It was a pleasant dream, the first pleasant dream I’ve had.
A couple times in our now-infrequent, bare-bones e-mails about things like bank accounts or bills, I haven’t been able to resist desperately again asking something like, “Why do you hate me so much?” In our last such e-mail, Marjorie, for the first time since she left, answered with some kindness, “John, you are a good man, and I don’t hate you.” I immediately asked back, “If I’m a good man, as I’ve always thought of myself, then why did all this have to happen?” There was no answer.
Well, in my stunned state that terrible evening, I provided her the perfect explanation, an unassailable defense, for behavior most would surely call cruel. It was certainly the cruelest thing anyone has ever done to me. I foolishly slapped her face, twice, in desperation to stop the rage and shoving and yanking and hatred – and it was hatred, unmistakably, with words like “I have no use for you anymore!” and “Get out of this house!” the kind of numbing words which had never passed between us. Never in over thirty years. And it had just erupted, seemingly from nowhere, with no apparent cause.
THOUGHTS - LATER STILL
I really can’t make it on my own.
She meant too much to me, in so many different ways.
I’ve lost my companion, my lover, and my right arm.
To find any companionship at my mid-seventies and in a state of declining health? Grown unattractive in my own eyes, to say nothing of having a considerably less-than-glowing mental outlook? But even more, companionship such as we enjoyed? Clearly, that’s impossible. It’s always a rare thing.
It is impossible to replace her and impossible to do without her.
I’ve tried doing without her now for months, the best part of a year. I simply can’t do it. My existence is rudimentary, almost primitive, and any new turn stirs fears.
We were uniquely suited, in many ways, and it only adds to the pain that I do not even really understand why I suddenly became so disliked, such an object of contempt.
My energy and enthusiasm for writing and other efforts which have kept my thoughts distracted for part of each long day have started to grow stale and tired. The outlook isn’t good.
I have been terrified of life – that’s exactly the right word, “terrified,” just literally terrified of everything - since she left. It’s much the way they describe PTSD. Whether she realizes it or not – and actually, I don’t know how she could not – she was just such a central part of my sense of identity and well-being, I cannot absorb having her ripped away like that, and with so much anger and recrimination, as though I had deliberately hurt and ignored her, as though my getting older and weaker were hostile acts.
I remember the last time she accompanied me to the doctor’s office, not hugely long before she left, the way, as we were going out the door, I answered something from the doctor with, “We’re lovebirds,” and, of course, I really meant it, always feeling so good being able to say things like that to anyone. As I did many times.
In recent weeks, I've thought often of our last little trip together, to the Auberge in West Brome, Quebec, just about two months before she left. It's now roughly the same time of year, and, looking out a window, the conditions of the snow and sun glistening off it keep bringing it to mind. Bittersweet memory. Tears, definitely.
So much seems overwhelming, and I have so few resources to deal with it all. Loneliness and fear without anyone to so much as touch, to share a word or a smile with. And just haunted by memories.
I can’t help it, I am a deeply sentimental person, it’s in the genes like eye color, and I cannot stop myself from looking back. Yet that just reinforces the sense of loss. What a hopeless way to be.
And I learn she is taking, before very long, a no-fault divorce which is available in Ontario after a year’s residence. The thought of my last connection with her being severed is extremely unhappy. What a wonderful life we had together. And I can’t avoid the unwelcome image of its being fed into a wood chipper.