The Pasture Doesn’t Suit Me

The man I married twenty-four years ago is looking at me in a way he hasn’t in over a dozen years, like a man who desires me. “You look good. Really good.”

“Thank you.” Tears press at the corners of my eyes. Not because I’m so grateful for the compliment, but rather because his words represent a classic case of too little, too late. A ferocious and lengthy battle for the welfare of our profoundly autistic son, now an adult, took its toll on both my looks and our marriage.

Between years of relentless exhaustion, bouts of severe depression, and injuries sustained during the management of our growing son’s unexplained and dangerous rages, my appearance suffered. Greatly. No, I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I ran on the hope that once the worst was behind us, my husband and I would find each other. We’d reconnect and go on. My husband said he shared the dream. He said he understood the necessary ravages of an endless battle that rested largely on my efforts. He said often that he admired and supported me. He said he’d always be here for me. In some ways, he was.

His behavior told another story. He was straying and I knew it. I told myself I was lucky; he didn’t leave. Families dealing with special needs children suffer an enormous divorce rate. Too often those divorces plunge both mother and disabled child into a well of poverty made bottomless by a paucity of supports necessary to allow her to work or attend school while her child thrives.

My husband married a vibrant and beautiful woman, and yes, the years of maternal devotion gone wild have taken heavies on my appearance. Aside from staying clean (often a shower was a pipe dream), I have enjoyed precious little time to think of anything else but saving David, and later, his little brother who was also diagnosed with autism.

Tempers worn from exhaustion often flared. My neglected husband subtly resisted what little time I had left to facilitate our reconnection as a couple. When pressed to explain his actions, he said he was no longer attracted to me; I had become an avenging angel, a thing to be admired but not desired.

I tried to justify his apathy toward me with the rationalization that our boys’ enormous needs forced him to exploit his SEAL training to seek high paying jobs that kept him overseas for months at a time. The necessary absences made straying too easy. Our emotional distance widened with the physical separation. We were both human and hurting.

Actually, no, that’s an excuse, another lie I told myself so often in order to keep hope alive that I started believing it. Fact — he strayed before David was diagnosed. In fact, I was heavily pregnant with our son the first time I was certain he slept with another woman. The only consistent thread he used to explain his dalliances was his insistence that I was no longer attractive to him. He swore he didn’t want a divorce, that he wanted to keep trying, yet my becoming the mother our sons’ needed damned me to become a woman my husband could not want.

He stopped going out in public with me, and no, he wasn’t discreet about stating his reason why. He was ashamed of my appearance.

Years passed. Distance grew. I quit looking for more proof to justify my pain and we have in some ways endured as a couple what many who knew us deemed impossible.

Today, the worst of our struggles with our boys are behind us. One child is in a placement close to home. Somehow I lived through the transition. I remain heavily involved in his life. So does his Dad. My other son improves daily to the point that I believe he might become independent someday.

Sadly, I did not rediscover my relationship on the far side of misery. Instead I discovered a string of betrayals so pervasive, frequent and close to home that the thought of ever letting my husband touch me again made me nauseous.

Today I’m dressed for a meeting to discuss some increasing daily care worries related to my oldest son’s placement. I am happy for the show of solidarity that the presence of the man I married and raised my children with represents. They deserve that.

But I don’t deserve to be ogled by a man who would not carry me when I was down. Due to the running and exercise I took up to battle the dual heartbreaks of placing our first-born son and facing the demise of my marriage without depending on pharmaceutical interventions, I look good. Damn good.

I feel even better. I might just live.

“Maybe we could go out sometime,” he suggests. “Start over.” I don’t miss the fact that his eyes linger on my breasts as he speaks. He wants me again. Or rather he wants to fuck me.

I won’t lie. His words slam my heart with a vigor that surprises me; once I would have fallen on my knees and begged him to take me anywhere so I could renew my connection; to be publicly reclaimed by the man I once loved with a ferocity that was a palpable, aching part of me.

That loss is not why the tears threaten to spill. Rather I want to cry because in dwelling first on my physical aspects, he remains oblivious to my transition into a strong, devoted and tireless advocate. He still can’t comprehend that in caring for a child who might never be able to return the intensity of my devotion, I have discovered what unconditional love truly requires from us. And my memory of his love, if it ever truly existed at all, rings hollow.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, but thank you.”

Yes, I could say more. I could lash out in anger. But he is still the father of my children. My journey into discovering the best there is to say about me could not have happened without him. Still, I cannot wallow in his shadow for the rest of my journey.

I have earned some time in the sun. I intend to rediscover the inner diva I put to rest the day my son was diagnosed. I hope to some day forge a love and a life that can accommodate the necessary changes of aging, and frankly, the hero I thought I married no longer measures up.

But I’ll never regret loving him.

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