Imagine anchoring the news. Understanding thousands of people are watching. Then imagine anchoring the news while on Xanax- my attempt to calm the constant state of self-doubt and intense anxiety I was experiencing due to my marriage. His constant unpredictability, the love bombing, his conflicting messages and mixed attitudes of our relationship- a man who would never leave me completely alone in spite of my constantly asking him to- all these elements contributed to my unending sense of dread and insecurity. I never knew who he was or what he would want from me from day to day. There was no way to pacify him.
A few months earlier I had been honored to receive the weekend anchor position. Management was in full agreement I was the best person for the job and I was even offered a raise that gave me needed hope since I would soon be a divorcee and on my own in the near future.
But my world was crumbling around me. I couldn’t escape him or the self-doubt that continued to invade my heart, mind, nerves, and veins. I couldn’t function; not even on the anchor desk. He was the shadow that cast doubt and despair over my entire existence.
It was a February afternoon at the station. My husband had been served with divorce papers a week earlier, and had just left my apartment after his last Love-Bombing attempt to get me to change my mind about the impending divorce.
Karen walked over to my desk, telling me she had something to tell me. We found some privacy and she confided that she was just asked to replace me as the weekend anchor. She had been told by management to not tell me, but she was being a loyal friend by sharing. She had accepted the job, but knew I would feel hurt with the management’s new decision. While I experienced hurt, I wasn’t shocked. I still hadn’t received the raise they’d promised, and I knew my performance had been poor. Later that afternoon I was called into an office and pretended to be surprised when they told me the same thing. I was ashamed I couldn’t have pulled it together when I knew I had what it took to be an excellent anchor. I was angry I had been misled and still working each weekend on the anchor desk despite this new decision. Valentine’s Day was a week away and I was scheduled to anchor that Saturday evening. What else was I going to do on Valentine’s Day? In my anger of being demoted, however, I wrote an email to station management and told them I would no longer be anchoring that evening and they needed to find a replacement. I took back some control of my life in that moment.
Everything else, however, was coming to a climax.
On Friday, the day before Valentine’s Day, my divorce would be finalized by default if my husband chose to not respond. I hadn’t heard from him since he’d left my apartment, so I felt the end of our marriage was truly near. I assumed he believed that his mere presence alone- with no changes on his part- would be sufficient to save the marriage. I just wanted the week to end.
Like clockwork, my self-doubt began overpowering my life before the divorce deadline. Now I had no raise. There was no dream job – and, worse yet, I’d just been demoted because I couldn’t function with this man attempting to control my life. There was no hope, and nothing to look forward to. Was divorce really the answer? I was so alone-again. So alone in my decisions. I no longer had Ruthanne to reassure me one last time. I decided to reach out to someone new. How much validation did I need? I called my Uncle who lived in the area. Could I come by? He was a religious family man with 6 daughters, and I thought we could talk. Once at his home, I told him I was scared to see this divorce finalized. I was unsure if it was the right decision. I thought we would discuss the pros and cons, but the conversation was more straightforward. He told me that divorce was my best choice. He seemed sure about my decision. He blessed me to trust my decision. He was kind and a needed source of support at the time. I am still grateful for his reassurance.
Friday arrived and as expected there was no response from my husband. It was up to me to tell the court to move forward and to finalize the divorce. It was one visit to the court and one simple signature. But I was stalling that morning. Self-doubt is insidious and pervasive. A text popped up on my phone from another Uncle- this time it was my Uncle Paul. I had not reached out to him and I don’t even know if he understood the magnitude of that day and moment, but he told me I had made the right decision to divorce. Like my Uncle Bill he provided a much needed source of support. How much more validation did I need to make this decision? Why couldn’t I just pull the trigger? I was trapped in a marriage with a narcissistic man and nothing was going according to plan. How hard could this be?
Karen prodded me to drive to the courthouse with her and I did. I was deeply hesitant. Perhaps more than she even knew. She had been seeing this through for me since she took me to file the divorce papers, and she was going to make sure I signed them. She knew more than I did that I needed to be out of a toxic marriage. It all seemed crystal clear to her. I’m not sure I would have signed if she hadn’t been by my side that day. Peer pressure isn’t so bad when we need a push and the intentions are good.
Rather than relief after scrawling my signature, I immediately felt sick. Karen asked how I felt and I lied. I told her it felt good to know I was finally going to be free from a toxic relationship. We agreed to celebrate tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day in a big way.
At work, I learned they had assigned me, once again, to a story about a couple who had been married for 60 years. The irony wasn’t lost on me.
I went and shot the story without my typical passion. I stood there pretending to smile as I asked the couple about love while thinking: If only they knew what I did today. I blew up my marriage with the single stroke of a pen.
Back at the station I began to write the story and went into an edit bay to start splicing video. All I could do was shake my head: Friday the 13th, Valentine’s weekend, a story about love- all while finalizing my divorce. I started laughing and focused on the story when my phone started ringing. And ringing. And ringing. I answered.
My soon-to-be ex-husband expressed that we hadn’t talked in a while and he wanted to know how I was doing. I shared I was having a hard time. I was editing a love story in a dark tiny room while chatting with my soon-to-be-ex-husband. He asked what I meant. I told him I learned he hadn’t responded to the divorce papers and that today was the day.
“You’re not going to do anything, are you?,” he asked.
“I already did,” I told him.
He was shocked, or he pretended to be. He asked how I could I have done this and said how taken by surprise he was. As usual he believed his previous stint of love-bombing had worked its magic. He said he believed in us, and I was throwing it all away. Why hadn’t I told him? Why would I do this if we loved each other?
And that did it- the tears started flowing. They poured forth. I was bawling in that tiny dark room while he chastised me for my poor choice. He went between anger, shock, blame, and more love bombing- all as I continued to edit a love story for the 10 p.m. Valentine’s day themed newscast. Deadlines don’t wait. Not even for this.
An hour later, a tormented, heartbroken me walked out of that edit bay after sending production my final piece. Only during the newscast did I realize how poorly the piece was edited- full of jump cuts and unevenly told. It became a reflection of my chaotic state of mind.
His calls and desperate pleas, however, had worked their magic. I was doubting myself deeply. Perpetually casting doubt is one of the most powerful tools of the narcissistic. It keeps us stuck and unsure of our decisions. I was feeling the weight of this final decision, and I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t sleep that night after work, and the next day I checked to see if the divorce had been finalized. When I realized it might take until Monday, I thought: This can be stopped. This divorce doesn’t need to happen. We can stall this if he truly loves me. We can live together and see if it works. How can I give up if we haven’t even been living together for the past year? He had made this argument to me frequently- without any follow-through- but I wanted it to be true just this one time on this momentous occasion. I wanted to still believe I could save my marriage.
My panic and anxiety began increasing throughout the day. What was supposed to become a nice day off, a celebration of my freedom, became instead a day of intense panic. I was at the peak of my marital crisis. I needed to assuage my anxiety, I needed to do something.
I heard his words over and over on the phone: Why would you do this, Lauren? How could you do this to us? I recalled what he would do when he felt desperate. He would drive to come see me. He would make the 5-hour drive to Boise to attempt to perpetuate the marriage, in spite of its deep flaws. He would declare his love after those lone journeys north. Could I do the same for him? Should I do the same for him? I could drive to Salt Lake City and see him and we could save our marriage. That was my delusional fantasy at the time.
I thought: I can make the effort and show him I believe in us. We can hold each other on Valentine’s Day and choose to stay together, or we could even say our goodbyes, but do so in each other’s arms. I was seeking at least some closure. I needed to act.
I told Karen I couldn’t hang out with her that evening.
“Lar,” she said, “come over. We’ll hang out. We’ll watch the bachelor. We’ll have fun.” I was stirring in my apartment, thinking about the drive, and decided she was right. When I arrived she was relaxed on a couch, but I could hardly sit down. I felt I was about to burst as the anxiety increased. I told her I needed to go to Salt Lake City, and I’ll never forget her words: “No Lar, stay here. You’re wasting your time going there. He will never change.” I was sitting at the edge of the couch, I couldn’t lean back, and I finally realized I had made up my mind to drive the 5-hours to Salt Lake City and no one could convince me otherwise. I was desperate and vulnerable and I needed to know if I made the right decision.
“Karen, I’m going. I’m leaving. I have to leave to figure things out.”
She thought I was crazy. I felt Crazy. I wasn’t packed. It was 7 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. I jumped in my Honda Civic without any planning or thought and started to drive. I needed to know if it could work. Divorce seemed so final.
As I drove, I was shaking, but I was determined. I questioned when I should call and let him know I was coming, or if I should just show up on his apartment steps. What would be more romantic, I thought? He likes surprises. Maybe just show up? It never occurred to me he wouldn’t want me to come visit, because of all he had said on the phone yesterday. He knew we could have made it work. He loved me. He felt I was throwing something important away. He didn’t want the divorce. All of these words kept going through my head. I couldn’t drive fast enough. I had to prove to him that I believed in us too, and that I was sorry. I wanted him to know there was still a chance and we could stop the divorce papers if that is what he really wanted.
Two hours into the Valentine’s night drive I passed Twin Falls, Idaho. I decided to call him. I decided to let him know I was on my way. I called and he answered.
“I wanted to tell you something,” I started.
“I am driving to Salt Lake right now to see you. I must see you. I am so sorry.”
“What? No, I will not allow that. Turn around right now.”
“But I’m almost half way there,” I pleaded.
“Why would you come? You left me. You finalized our divorce! Turn around right now!,” he shouted into the phone.
“The divorce still hasn’t been finalized tonight. I thought we could see each other and talk, and hold each other.”
“Absolutely not, Lauren. I will not allow it. Turn around right now.”
“But please, I was frantic, I thought maybe…”
He immediately cut me off, and the determination in the voice was so clear:
“Absolutely not. I will never allow it. You must turn around right now.”
I knew he meant it. I knew he liked surprises, but only when he was orchestrating them. This wasn’t his show.
I drove to the next exit and turned around and started the two-and-a-half hour drive back to Boise. It was almost 10 p.m and I was lonelier now than when I had left.
As I drove back late into the night, his words kept repeating in my mind, over and over:
“Turn around right now. I will never allow it.”
Sheepishly, I obeyed.
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