Life began to feel normal for a minute. Shawn and I grew closer, and for a time the past seemed to be so far behind me. I started to enjoy some of the things I had enjoyed before the tragedy.
One day, Shawn came home with a gym membership for me. I was excited because a few days after the shooting, I had cancelled the gym passes for me, Emmett, and ironically, Kandi. I had not spent much time at the gym earlier, but I had loved the convenience of being able to go there for some down time at night. So having a new membership to a new gym was exciting. I was grateful for the gift.
For a while, I went to the gym off and on randomly. Then one week, I really got into it and went several nights in a row. It felt amazing to be moving my body in a way I hadn’t since long before Tytus was born. It was relaxing and soothing to turn on my video iPod and lose myself in a movie while exercising. I started a movie, which I then continued watching the next day from where I had left off the night before. On the third day, I finished that movie and the next film in my collection began. I didn’t think much of it as the opening song began, and I soon found myself walking on the treadmill to P.S. I Love You! It was a movie I had seen with Emmett for the first time, and one which I had also watched alone not long after his death.
I felt I should turn it off, knowing my emotions might get the best of me, but I kept watching it anyway. It sucked me in. After my time on the treadmill came to an end, I headed to the mats to stretch. I didn’t take my eyes off the screen as I silently did my stretches with the earphones in my ears. As time passed, I was no longer stretching, but was engulfed in the movie. Subtle tears fell down my cheeks as I became more and more enmeshed in the emotion of the film’s message. The main character in the movie had so much in common with me, and yet our stories were so different. She knew exactly what it was like to be a widow, but she also had the knowledge I longed to have: she knew her husband deeply loved her as he took his final breath. She didn’t have all the feelings of regret and betrayal that I still carried, stored inside every part of my soul. When she looked back to the past, she longed to hear her husband’s voice repeating the words of love he had uttered in his last days, while I longed for my husband’s unspoken apology.
My mind traveled back in time to the “P.S I love you!” moment I had experienced in the Walmart parking lot after buying flowers to decorate Emmett’s grave. I almost resented the movie for reminding me of all the other times I hadn’t received such a validation. In my frustration, I realized there was no point staying at the gym to work out because I was wasting my time on thoughts and movies that did nothing for me. I looked at my phone. It was getting late, and I figured I better head for home.
I turned off the movie, secretly hoping to return to it the next time I came back to the gym, but also realizing I shouldn’t do that to myself again. I threw my iPod into my bag and dug around for my keys. I started to stand up to head toward the stairs and something caught my eye. It was a woman who looked really familiar. She looked like she was probably a few years older than me and she was talking to a younger guy, probably in his mid-twenties. He had on a wedding ring and so did she, but it was clear from their conversation that they weren’t married to each other.
I sat there watching in shock as they flirted back and forth with each other. Did she know he was married? Was he aware that she was taken? My blood began to boil. I threw down my bag and pretended to be stretching again. I listened to them for a few minutes and became sick to my stomach. I burst into tears, and silently turned the other way. An inappropriate relationship was taking place just a few feet from me, and there was nothing I could do about it! It was almost as if I was frozen in that corner, unable to get up to spare myself from watching the disgusting scene. From the way the blood boiled in my veins, it was as if I were watching Emmett and Kandi. I wanted to walk up to the man and grab his face, as I had Emmett the night he was killed, and scream all the things I still longed to yell at him. “You have a wife . . . go home . . . and find out what it is about her that you are not seeing. Turn around and walk away from here. Don’t give into this temptation! Go home and show your family all the reasons you choose them!”
I didn’t ever say a word, but huddled in my corner sobbing for a woman who was sitting at home, probably cooking his favorite food, wondering if he would be coming home that night. I shed tears for any babies that man was forgetting as he was being swept away by another woman’s charms.
The irrational part of my brain kept begging me to go over and remind him of all the paths this choice could lead him to, but in an effort to keep myself safe, I remained silent. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I couldn’t stop myself from picturing the woman’s angry husband waiting around the corner.
Soon, I couldn’t take any more torture and I grabbed my bag and ran past them, around the corner, down the stairs, and out to my car. Once inside the car, I sobbed like I had never sobbed before. I cried for all the husbands and wives who have ever felt betrayed. I wept for the heartache that their insecurities could make them believe. I prayed for all the spouses who had been duped into thinking they could live their lies in both lives and not have it affect anyone else. I cried for all the families who had been destroyed because of one partner’s decisions. I cried for my own soul that still sought peace from the pain my husband’s infidelity had brought me. I cried for my babies, who I yearned to protect from hearing the ugly details of the truths from their past. I cried for all the wives, husbands, and children who had felt broken. Yes, I cried for my own family . . . but mainly, I cried for our world.
And that is when the fear set in . . . What if that man had been Shawn? What if all men were the same? What if no matter who I was married to, the ending would always be the same? What if Shawn cheats on me, and one day finds himself dead in a parking lot? What if all marriages are doomed to fail, and I couldn’t survive another one? What if this crazy life I asked Shawn to share with me becomes too much for him and he turns to someone else for comfort? What if I was born to fail?
It was as if a small match had ignited and turned into a raging forest fire, and my hallucinations reached the point of insanity. I sat in the parking lot for a good twenty minutes trying to figure out which way was up.
By the time I got home, it was late. I didn’t say much to Shawn as we turned in for the night and went to sleep.
In my dreams that night, I found Shawn and Kandi in my bed. I woke up in a cold sweat, hardly able to breathe. The next morning, my mind still lingered on the thoughts that had overcome me the night before. I was almost mad at Shawn for the acts he had preformed in my dreams, and just looking at him made me feel angry . . . like he had actually done something wrong.
As he was about to leave for work, he finally questioned my coldness. “Hey . . . are . . . are you okay? You haven’t said much this morning, and I . . . I am worried about you. You doing alright?” I broke. “It was just . . . I had a dream . . . and you and . . . her . . . and I am so mad at you . . . and Kandi . . . you and her . . . were in our bed . . . and I am just disgusted with you this morning for being everything that Emmett was.”
No harsher words had ever been spoken between us. He stared at me and said, “Ash, I’m sorry about your awful dream, but I am not Emmett. I am never going to be Emmett. I am sorry you had that dream, but it isn’t fair for you to hold something against me that isn’t even real. It’s not my fault that Emmett did what he did, and I don’t deserve to be punished for his actions. You have to learn to trust me. Hopefully, some day you will see that not all men are going to cheat.”
I apologized for snapping at him, but in the back of my mind, I was still really mad . . . not specifically at Shawn, but at men in general.
The feeling of disgust I felt towards men lingered with me throughout the morning and by early afternoon, I was again on the verge of a meltdown. I needed answers to the past to try to figure out how to let go of it. I picked up my phone and called the Attorney General’s office to ask a few questions.
We set up an appointment and the next morning, I was driving down to meet her at her office. The whole way there, I could barely swallow because my mouth was so dry. I checked in at the front desk and received a visitor’s name badge. Then, someone escorted me into her office.
I sat down, still fighting back tears. The lump in my throat felt like a hot coal. She asked about the kids, and how we were all doing. I replied with basic answers. She finally got to the point. “Okay, you said on the phone you had a few questions you needed answered. I can’t promise I can answer all of them, but I am willing to try.”
Then out they came, with very few breaths in between. “Well, I am just struggling with a few things. It still doesn’t make any sense. Where did it all begin? With Emmett . . . I mean . . . Was she the only one, or is there any proof that there were other women? Are they sure there was an actual affair or is it just a suspicion? Did it all start out with a porn addiction . . . or was this just a one time thing to further his career? I just . . . it doesn’t make any sense. Why wasn’t I enough for him? Did you find that . . . Did you find any letter that maybe he wrote to Kandi, saying that he just wanted me? Was there evidence as to why he would choose her . . . and not . . . and not us? Was there anything that showed that he knew . . . that he had made a mistake? Did he have other women? Were there other affairs? Do you have any answers for me that can help me let go of all the things I don’t know? I’m trying to figure out how to trust and love again, and I can’t even begin to understand how it all went wrong the first time. And am I just destined to fail again? . . . I wonder that because I don’t even know where it all went wrong . . . and I don’t know when I stopped being enough. And I don’t know how to be enough . . . without figuring out why I wasn’t enough for Emmett.”
By then, I was sobbing uncontrollably, hoping that she was able to understand even a single word of all the words I spewed out. She also had tears in her eyes. I could see that she could feel my pain, and it was apparent that she truly cared about my plight.
I received a lot of answers that day—none which helped increase my trust in men—but many that helped me see that Emmett had been struggling more, and to a greater extent, than I had ever imagined.
There were some facts I learned that did comfort a part of my heart that day. Emmett talked about me a lot in emails. He spoke highly of me to many of his friends. He bragged about the kids. Our attorney told me that day that she truly believed he adored me and loved our children, and that is why he fought so hard to protect us from his secrets. It didn’t change much about our past, but it did brighten my spirits about myself a bit.
Emmett’s soul must have been so tormented. He seemed to know exactly what he wanted, but at the same time, he had no idea. He wanted the life he had created with us, and yet something inside of him was pulling him away from us. He walked down dark roads in his journey, but he also did so much good along the way. But where had it begun? Where was I going to find the facts that helped it all make sense?
I walked out of that office with a lot of the answers I had gone in to seek, and yet . . . I knew nothing. I still didn’t know how to let it all go. I still had no clue as to how I could move past the urge to despise and hate, not only everyone else . . . but myself. I wanted nothing more than to be able to move forward, but my soul was tormenting me by hanging on to the past and the pain that past had caused me.
I never went back to that gym again. Months passed and Shawn continued to patiently pay the monthly fee until the period of my contract had expired. Though he will never understand the struggles I have faced, he has been understanding in those moments when I got lost in them.
To anyone who has ever wondered where to turn when the days get hard, to everyone who has questioned if they are enough, I can promise you that you are not alone in your battle. Searching for answers in the past may not change the future, but it can give you a perspective as to where the problems all began. In my case, I felt that learning where it had all begun to go wrong would help me stop holding all men hostage for the mistakes made by one man. But I didn’t find the answers to those questions, and I still had to learn to move forward.
To anyone who is looking for happiness in the wrong places . . . Stay true to the promises you have made. If you are trapped in a corner feeling yourself slip, get out of that corner! You do not have to go down those paths that will destroy your family, or the life you are living. You do not have to battle with the torment that will lead you astray from everything you have created, or which you hope to have one day. Having an affair may seem like a quick fix to the troubles you are facing, but it will not take away or change those troubles. It may seem like an easy road compared to the one you are on now . . . but I can promise you, that lie will only last so long.
When we come to those crossroads . . . those moments when we decide to continue on the path we are on, or to start down a new one . . . that is the time when we have to make certain that all the “doors” of the past have first been shut. All the relational “doors” behind me had been slammed shut by other people, and it was difficult for me to open new doors when the doors of the past had been locked and prevented me from finding the answers I sought.
Other crossroads are even more critical. The man and woman at the gym that day . . . they were at a different kind of crossroad. They were at a moment of decision. They still had “doors” open in their lives, but they were toying with the idea of opening new ones.
In relationships, and especially in marriage, we cannot open more than one door at a time. We were not meant to have secret doors that we have to hide from our loved ones, and I am sure that anyone who has them, has found their own personal torment in that secret.
Think about the commitments you have made. Before you reach for that handle for the new and exciting “door”, pray to remember all the reasons you opened the first door to begin with. If you find yourself in that moment when you are thinking about opening a “door” without first shutting the one behind you . . . please step away for a minute. Think about first time you kissed your husband; ponder on the first time your wife held your hand. Picture the day when you knew for certain you wanted to plan your life around that person. Think about the commitments you have made. Before you reach for that handle for the new and exciting “door”, pray to remember all the reasons you opened the first door to begin with.
Maybe you will find that you need to go home and shut and lock door number one, but maybe you will just remember all the reasons that door was worth loving and fighting for. Maybe you will even see why that door should always be your one and only.
There is not always going to be a tomorrow. Live today with your whole heart. Turn to the people who are waiting at home with your favorite meal just for you. What if today was your last chance to show them you care; what if tomorrow never comes? Now is your time to live true to the relationships in your life. Today is the day to stand up to those choices that will bring you down. Walk a little taller, choose a little more wisely, and let go of the torment that is blinding your path.
Everything begins somewhere, including secrets. Every life has a beginning and an ending. Every relationship has a beginning, but it does not have to end. With love and hard work, relationships can last forever. We were not created to fail. Maybe your past has proven that theory wrong, but it doesn’t mean it is. My marriage to Emmett didn’t have to determine who I was going to be as a wife, and it did not mean that Shawn was going to succumb to the same trials.
Maybe you have been hurt in your past. Maybe you have learned to withhold your trust from anyone and anything. Don’t spend your life blocking out everyone because of a fear of failure. Maybe you have lost or maybe you have loved and received nothing in return. Don’t stop. Love is powerful. It has no end and no beginning.Each of us is unique. Maybe you have been hurt in your past. Maybe you have learned to withhold your trust from anyone and anything. Don’t spend your life blocking out everyone because of a fear of failure. Maybe you have lost or maybe you have loved and received nothing in return. Don’t stop. Love is powerful. It has no end and no beginning.
For everyone who has lost at love . . . you are not alone. Don’t spend your life dwelling on it . . . because that will not bring it back. You may not ever learn where the destruction began, but you can start again. Begin a new chapter. Losing love does not mean that you lost your ability to do it.
Whenever you find your self crying in your car for the world, remember that the world is only as strong and as good as each one of us in it. We do not have to fail. Even if our marriages don’t last, people around us die, or a dream we were living ends . . . it doesn’t mean we have failed.
We were born for greatness. Greatness doesn’t come through ease and perfection. Greatness comes as we stand tall when others do not. Greatness comes to us as we get back up when we fall. Greatness isn’t born, it is made. Greatness is found as we stand tall, but sometimes even more when we walk away. I wish I would have known back then what I have now learned, which is that we were born for greatness. Greatness doesn’t come through ease and perfection. Greatness comes as we stand tall when others do not. Greatness comes to us as we get back up when we fall. Greatness isn’t born . . . it is made. Greatness is found as we stand tall . . . but sometimes even more when we walk away.
If you find yourself standing at a crossroad today, don’t take the wrong path because you have come to believe that you were born to fail. No one was sent to earth to fail. We are here to find out who we were before we came, and who we can become, and where it is we want to be when we die.
Maybe the past has let you fall, but the only time you fail . . . is when you believe you cannot get back up and start again. You were born to stand. Stand tall and stand true . . . you were born for greatness.
Questions to Ponder:
- How can you let go of the past and the fear it creates, regain faith in yourself and others so you can move forward?
- How does choosing our reaction help us overcome past experiences?