This is the story I used to tell. “On my 31st birthday my car was repossessed, my electricity was turned off, my gas was turned off, my phone was turned off, my landlord called to say my rent hadn’t been paid for three months, and my refrigerator full of ice cream planned for my birthday party that night had stopped working.” That was often enough to stop conversations cold. Or delve deeper into why I was in this mess. The day after that birthday I told that story to an acquaintance who was amazed that I laughed when I told it. I was amazed that she didn’t run away. We had to be best of friends after that.
I was 5 months into a separation. My then husband, a Viet Nam vet, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I had encouraged counseling but he refused. I called the Vet Center but they told me that unless he was willing they could do nothing to help except give me the number for the County Hospital in case of an emergency. He was losing it. He stated repeatedly that he didn’t need to be happy. But I did. We had a two year old son. In an attempt for him to have one sane parent I called it quits and so Dad left.
He had a good job, making $100,000 a year, so when he assured me that he would pay my bills and rent I believed he would. I hadn’t taken into account how expensive cocaine was. I blindly, foolishly handed over the bills, trusting that he would provide.
On that day I turned thirty-one, I topped it off by opening the mail in the light of the fading sun. I discovered that we owed $10,000 in credit cards for things I hadn’t bought. In California each is responsible for the debts of their spouse. Thus began the phone calls from collection agencies. I was so unsure about this former Marine’s state of mind, afraid of his suicide, that I never passed on his phone number but rather begged for time.
People get through these things. “What don’t kill you makes you stronger” is a motto tattooed to my brain. It is a great truth. I got stronger. Twenty five years later I no longer tap into the anger, fear, hurt of that time. It’s as if it had happened to someone other than me. In a lot of ways it did. I am no longer that me.
I bring this all up because some stories wear out. I think this one has for me. I find this reassuring. It’s good to know that something that can knock you to your knees can almost be forgotten. That the things that have happened in ensuing years have outnumbered, outweighed that event. It was, after all, one day. One horrible day preceeded and followed by other horrible days that were later outnumbered and outweighed by days of friendship, joy and the happiness I knew back then I needed.
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