The hug that God gave me the day my life changed forever…

I shot this photo on the morning of July 11, 2014 at Mitchelville beach on Hilton Head Island, SC. I was there at dawn to do a photo shoot with a model named Suzy. Had I gotten to the beach 20 minutes earlier I would have been able to photograph a fabulous lightning storm that had been going on over the ocean that morning. Instead I arrived to find this beauty over the water. What I did not realize that morning was that God was giving me a hug with the beauty of creation, in preparation for the storm that was about to hit my life. The world that I would fly back to that evening was not the world that I had left just a few days earlier.

Some family members had started a fight with me while I was in South Carolina by way of an condescending and passively aggressive email which was sent to me and that was attributed to one of them, but from whom it was impossible to have come from. I know the writing style and content of the person who wrote the letter, and it was not the person whose email account or signature was on the letter. I let my now ex-wife Lori know about the letter and how unhappy it made me. She acted like she did not know who it was from and acted offended by it, but now that I look back on it I see that it was part of an orchestrated hit on me by my family. That night while in Atlanta airport, while waiting for my flight to Pittsburgh I called Lori to discuss the email and who I thought the culprit to be. Again, I let her know that I was very unhappy about this email and that I knew it was not the cousin who put his name on it who was the author, but rather someone else. Someone who was too much of a scared weakling to put their name on it. The conversation ended with the usual “I love you” and I thought nothing of it. Until I got home…

When I got home, I immediately felt that something was wrong when walking in the house. I walked up to the bedroom and found the bed to be empty and a two page letter sitting on my computer desk. This letter came from the exact same person who not more than 2 hours earlier had told me she loved me. And yet this letter was anything but love. It was roughly 1 am on the 12th when I read the letter and I did not have time to mentally or emotionally process the letter because I had a wedding which I was shooting at noon. And so I delayed dealing with the letter until Sunday morning, after I was done with the wedding.

It did not shock me that Lori had pulled this move, which resulted with her ending up in a maximum security women’s shelter, before eventually ending up in a Monastery of the Orthodox Church in America, in California. She had urged me to run away from my problems just days before the trip to South Carolina, which I took alone. She had refused the urges of our priest, Fr. John (now Orthodox Bishop JOHN ) to learn to not push the buttons on the temper which I was recovering from. She used one time when I did one thing which caused her no harm as an excuse to claim she was afraid of me enough to get placed in this women’s shelter. After all, this was the same woman who left her husband of 20 years (24 years together) and 2 teenage children just 7 short years earlier.

NOTHING ever made her happy. Not having me in her life. Not my planting her a rose garden with 150 different rose bushes, which she promised to take care of but never did. Not the hundreds of hours that my dad and I spent renovating a house that she had to have in some fanciful dream that her daughter could stay there when she visited us (which happened only once). After all, my house that I owned was not good enough for her. Not my teaching her everything that I know about Byzantine Iconography. Not my throwing her a huge birthday party for her 50th birthday which I spent days cooking to prepare for, in spite of tight finances on our end. Nothing. Every time that I asked her if she was happy she told me no, and gave me some excuse. She never owned up to the things in her life which happened as a teenager which are the source of her unhappiness. No, it was much easier to blame me. So why should it surprise me that she left? As a matter of fact, as distressed as I was over the fact that she had left, in a way I was a bit relieved. Relieved that the fascade of our marriage was now over. I would no longer have to beg my wife for affection. I would no longer have to say the words “I get more love from my cocker spaniels than I do from you (Lori).”

This letter was just the beginning of the realization that life as I had known it was officially over. Over the coming days it became painfully clear to me that almost all of my friends were not really my friends. No, they were merely sycophants. Slowly I learned that my friends were all backing Lori in her story and no longer my friend. I was left with a very small handful of true, loyal friends. The rest had all abandoned me. Worse yet, the Maid of Honor from our wedding was one of the ones who had helped Lori plan her run away. Another person who helped her run away was my favorite Aunt, who from childhood had defended me against the temper of my legal mother. Along with what was left of my family, the few that my legal mother had non turned against me. The only family member who was left supporting me and in contact with me was my Dad. Even my parish priest who would call me his friend every time he saw me, even this man turned his back on helping me. When I begged Fr. George to go to the women’s shelter to talk to Lori and see what the issue was, he refused to. He talked a great game about what a tragedy was happening, but did nothing. Worse yet, he put me on a communion ban immediately after she left, which was only removed when I threatened to not do pro-bono photography work for his parish if I was not allowed to partake of the Eucharist. You see, Pontius Pilate may have been a real historical figure, but he is also a metaphor for human activity. To add insult to injury, various priests and bishops from various jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church listened to what Lori had to say but refused to talk to me and so it was that Lori was accepted into an Orthodox monastery in California. Needless to say, my relationship with the Church was almost completely severed. It would take some further non-sense later that fall to completely seal that deal.

And so the world which I entered shortly after reading this letter was a very scary world, and I was very much alone. Sure I made new, real friends in the time after she left. But at least I now knew who was with me and who was not. Over the next few years I began to make major changes to my life based upon who I wanted to be and no longer based on what so or so thought, or what the Church taught. Now that I look back at it, that day was the beginning of my new life. The life where I was no longer afraid to be me. Where I was no longer afraid to think for myself. Where I was no longer afraid of what others thought of me.

And yet, here three years later I still find myself very bitter over everything that has happened. Yes, I am healing from all of this and NO! I do not want to go back to that world, blind to the truth of what was happening. But I am bitter. Bitter over the house that I bent over backwards to work on for her and which she sold out from under me when we divorced. Bitter over all of the rejection that I dealt with in 2014. Bitter over the fact that many people judged me based on the words of another and without once ever sitting down with me to discuss my point of view. Bitter over the fact that family members who had once defended me against my mom had turned their back against me. Bitter over the rejection that multiple Eastern Orthodox Priests and Bishops showed toward me. Bitter over the fact said Priests and Bishops totally ignored the prayer of the Orthodox marriage “let God has united let no man divide” while making sure to push through our divorce so that Lori could enter the Monastery in California. Bitter that nothing that I ever did for Lori was good enough for her and she ended up leaving me and slandering me in the process. Bitter that she left behind a nasty mess which I had to clean up. But most of all bitter toward myself for not having the foresight in 2007 to know that Lori was toxic and my time with her would end in catastrophe.

And so this is the layer of the onion which I must now face dealing with on the 3rd anniversary of the day she jumped ship. I am healthier now, I am more creative, I am more in tune with my soul and my instincts, the friends which I have are true friends and so I must now work on letting go. To go back to my last post, quoting Don Henley in “The Boys of Summer”: Those days are gone forever, I should just let them go…