One hot night in late July, a few weeks before our wedding, 20 years ago, I could hardly look at my handsome fiancé at dinner. He was happily talking about our new apartment, new jobs, and our honeymoon. I was trying to keep my food, and my long-held secret, down.
He grabbed my hand, rubbed it with his calloused thumb, raised his eyebrows, and said, “You okay, Aim?” I felt the waves crash hard.
Me: “I don’t think I can do this.”
Chris: “Do what?”
Me: “Get married.”
C: “What do you mean?”
Me: “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to get married. I’m a lot of work. I don’t take very good care of myself, so I know I wouldn’t take very good care of you. I really don’t think I should get married.”
His face went gray and slack, he searched my eyes and then the floor. He listened to me repeat sorrowful variations of “it’s not you, it’s me.” After a couple minutes he said he would give me all the time and space I needed, regardless of what our wedding invitations said. He said he loved me. He would wait.
When I went home I told my housemates that I may have just called off my wedding. They told me I was afraid. Afraid of good things. Afraid of love. Afraid of success. We sat in a circle on the bedroom floor and they prayed for me. They pulled me back in the boat.
At 2a.m. the waters stilled. I was drenched with regret. I called Chris, apologized 400 times, and told him I definitely wanted to get married, definitely to him, and I wanted to see him that minute and kiss him a long time. To my surprise, he said, “No. You said you wanted to be apart. You take some time to be apart. I’ll see you in a week. I love you.”
I was stunned. I spent those lonely days scanning the horizon, longing for Chris. I was so in love and so scared. I prayed I would not be a terrible person in the years to come. I heard the roaring waves in the distance.
We had a lovely, exuberant wedding. We were happy. Our wedding program said, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3
Several years later, in late July, I realized I was right after all, that I shouldn’t have gotten married. The day at the Michigan Dunes was too long, the waves felt cold and spiky. On the long ride home I decided I never wanted to be in that van with that man and those three kids again. I couldn’t care less about whatever epiphany my husband was sharing about work. I winced at my toddler’s whines. I was dreading the moment my twins would turn off the movie and take off their headphones. There was no way I could be kind to these people one more time. I couldn’t remember if I was ever kind to them.
When we pulled up to the house we were renting during our new house’s renovation I stared straight out the window and said, “I can’t do tonight. I can’t do the kids and the dinner and the bedtime and the stuff.” I left the car without eye contact, picked up a book and ran a bath. I stayed in there for hours. Chris occasionally knocked on the door to see if I was all right. The kids knocked on the door and said, “Good night, Mama?” I stayed still and silent in the water.
When I got out Chris was sitting at the foot of the borrowed bed. He asked if everything was okay. Wrapped in a towel I was drenched in the same sorrow and fear as I was so many years before. The waves were rushing, deafening, smashing.
Me: “I don’t think this is working.”
Chris: “Don’t think what’s working?”
Me: “You know. This. Us. Being married. Me. Being a mom. It doesn’t seem to be working.”
C: “What are you saying?”
Me: “I think you guys deserve better. A better wife. A better mom. A happier, joyful, patient, smiling person. I’ve never been that and I never will. I think if I leave, you guys can have a fresh start. You can marry someone else young and fun, and the kids will get the real love they deserve.”
C: “You’re going to leave?”
Me: “I don’t want to, but if I leave I can’t hurt anyone anymore. You guys will be so much happier.”
C: “So, you’re going to leave. Where are you going to go, Aim?”
Me: “I don’t know. Far. Somewhere far.”
C: “Do you have someone else you’d rather be with?”
Me: “Ew. No.”
C: “So, you’re going to abandon your kids? You’re going to leave them?”
Me: “Yes. Because I love them. You will find them a new mom that does a way better job. They will be so much happier. You will be so much happier with a better wife. I promise.”
C: “Aim, what are you talking about? This is bad. This is really bad. This is selfish. This is wrong. You cannot just leave us.”
Me: “I’m sorry, but I think you will be happier without me.”
He stared at me, stricken and gray again. I put on my pajamas and rolled away in the undertow. I had to get out of the way so somebody could come in and love my husband and kids they way they deserved to be loved, in all the ways I could not. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night with a twisted stomach and a tear-soaked face, thinking about kissing my family goodbye. I prayed they would understand eventually.
The next morning there was church. I surfaced from a wave, gasped, and I told Chris I would go with them.
When we got to church I discovered the sermon would be given by a beloved older man who preached once a year about the Chicago Cubs. I looked at Chris and threw up my hands hissing, “I need help, and God gives me this?” I left, the waves chasing me to the shore.
I roamed the linoleum halls of the high school where our church met looking for a quiet place to think. I found a stairwell, flopped down in my sundress, rested my chin on my hands, a looked blankly out the window.
That spring my family had started saying “God is Good!” every time we saw a robin. On this day I threatened, “If there are robins outside this window, God, I will not say ‘God is Good.’ I won’t. I don’t think you’re good. You’re not making me good. You’re not helping my family. You are not good.”
But, of course, there were robins in the window. A family of robins in a crowded, busy nest. The mom and dad took turns finding food and guarding the babies. Of course there were exactly three baby birds. I stood at the window, silent, taking in this wordless sermon: Mothers stay. Good mothers stay. They don’t go. God is Good. Good mothers stay. The waves and wind stopped. I heard the birds.
I watched the robins for a while and then found Chris wrangling the kids in the hallway. He looked wary, and angry. I went up to him, smiled quickly and gave him a fast kiss.
Chris: “So, where’d you go? I wasn’t sure you were coming back.”
Me: “I think I’m ok. I’m going to stay. I’m sorry for all this.”
C: “You think you’re going to stay now?”
Me: “Yes, I saw these robins. A whole family. God showed me. Good moms stay.”
C: “You are going to stay with us because you saw birds?”
When we got home Chris informed me that he wasn’t going to work the next day. I told him he should, that we’d be fine. With a thin laugh he said, “Nope. Tomorrow we’re going to talk with your counselor. And your doctor. And we’re going to find a marriage counselor. If you think I’m going to work after you said you were leaving me and the kids, you’re crazy.”
We did all that the next day. My counselor cried with me at my despair, pulling seaweed out of my hair. My doctor started me on a children’s dose of Zoloft. We signed up to see a marriage counselor. We started over in our new renovated house and new school. We stayed afloat.
“Deep calls to deep in the roars of your waterfalls. All your waves and breakers have swept over me.” – Psalm 42:7
Twenty years to the day I called off our wedding, and six years after I gave up, I sat overlooking the Pacific Ocean with Chris. We had an exquisite room, with our own secluded fire pit and perfect view. The waves roared, crashed over the black rocks, and then ran away. Over and over the waves hit the rocks and slapped the cliffs.
I looked over at my husband, quietly reading a book and drinking wine. I looked back at the waves.
I remembered telling him I couldn’t get married. I remembered telling him that I simply had to leave him and our kids. I remembered all the times I told him I was a bad person, and then proved that with my actions. I remembered all the times he said and did the wrong things. How the waves pushed us down, and our bodies were thrown hard against the rocks. The mornings we lay shipwrecked, sore and coughing on the beach.
I remembered falling in love. I remembered how he taught me how to forgive. I remembered how much we made each other laugh on our first date. I remembered his long love letters. I remembered him kissing our babies with tears. I remembered holding hands with him in silence on long, dark nights.
I remembered how we held on to each other in our tiny boat. All the times we jumped in after each other. How we took turns pointing to the distant shore and the North Star, certain we’d be safe again soon. How we called out joyfully to the gulls. The nights we dove down deep and found secret treasures.
I looked at the waves. I looked at Chris. I thanked God.
“You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.…The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.” – Jonah 2:3,5,6
©Aimee Fritz & Family Compassion Focus, 2016.