On the surface, Monday was perfect – sunny, but not too hot. An ordinary workday. And yet, I felt…mysteriously enraged. All day long, this intense, seemingly sourceless rage simmered as I tried to focus on the work at hand. It wasn’t until late afternoon. that I realized my shirt was closing in on my ribcage like a medieval abattoir, but the pain was not intense enough to notice on a conscious level. I spent the day squelching the urge to hurl grenades out my window into Copley Square, but I had no idea what was happening.
I do this from time to time. I like to shop in thrift and consignment shops, and since women’s sizes are all over the map (One brand’s XS is another’s M), I will try anything. And if I really love something, and it just barely fits, I take it home with me – because I must have it. I am to barely-fitting jackets what Mia Farrow is to orphaned children. I like to think of it as a rescue operation.
But subtle discomfort? Meh, we can deal with it- it’s fine. And what’s more – we don’t really register it much of the time. Discomfort creeps up on you like old age. And so I became accustomed to being lied to, cheated on, and seriously gaslighted for years. It started with subtle digs at my intelligence. Being corrected for my method of folding laundry, driving, and saving money. Then it escalated to screaming accusations that I was unreasonable and stubborn because I wouldn’t change my opinions to match his.
Notice: I was not hit. There were no bruises or scrapes or injuries to speak of. No obvious abuse from which to flee.
His drinking became problematic. He started to get nose bleeds and to act irrationally. But he still went to work each day, so I thought maybe this was just a phase. I went food shopping alone. I tried to get the house extra clean. I felt trapped, and then I felt angry with myself for feeling that way. Maybe there was something wrong with me.
He would go on a lot of work trips, fishing trips. He treated me like he was invisible when he was home. One night, in bed I put my hand on his shoulder and told him I missed him. He stood up, hollered, and punched a hole in the wall. It was a horrible night. But he didn’t hit me. No blood, no bruising. He gave me a terse apology the next day, and the hole in the wall was smoothed over in time.
When I discovered that he had been having an affair, I found a year’s worth of online conversations between him and his girlfriend – many of which described me as the source of all of his troubles. A villain. A depressed, boring wife who nagged and criticized. Reading his words felt like I had been stabbed and smothered to death. But I hadn’t. I stayed up all night crying, lying on the floor, wailing in pain. He said he was sorry. The affair continued anyway, as did the lying, the drinking, the spending, the blaming me.
I lost about 15 pounds on my already slim frame, and could feel bone touch wood when I sat in a chair. His girlfriend sent him an article about how men preferred curvy girls, with a note about how that explained why he liked her so much. I forced food down to keep going. I hardly slept. I isolated myself. I wondered if this was my fault.*
People complimented me on my figure. Thanks, I’d say – embarrassed. I felt like I was conveniently and quietly disappearing. Keeping my pain to myself, and just failing to thrive.
It took me 2 years to gather the strength to leave, and I’m glad I did. I put most of the weight back on and feel like I can breathe again. I wouldn’t say I’m fully recovered. Not yet, and not by a long shot. But I’m not stuck in my marriage, which, as it turns out, was an ill-fitting, itchy polyester pantsuit that didn’t register as terrible — until it finally did.
Now I’m looking for a better fit. Something more me.