Reprinted from The San Angelo Standard Times, December 2013. Photo by Patrick Dove
Republished from a post in 2013…so it’s a little old but it explains the back story about part of our new adventures in Mexico! It’s amazing how our friends ended up in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and after spending so much time there over the last few years, it’s time for us to join them. And while this story has all the makings of a soap opera…it is actually fact!
“I want a divorce.” With those words two lives – four lives – were irrevocably changed forever. It began journeys on three continents, which would break lives apart and bring others back together over a number of years. It is a journey of love and the power of friendship.
Jump back several years to when two college friends first met and so began the journey. Our friendship grew over a shared love of theatre, awful Steak n Shake coffee and late night studying. We met at college while stage-managing a production of ‘Twelfth Night.’ We were instant best friends and I quickly couldn’t imagine college without Joseph around.
The friendship grew into love over time and in hindsight our relationship was too immature to be a marriage. Nevertheless I fell in love. But my love was blind. Of course, I didn’t see the warning signs that a heterosexual relationship wasn’t right for one of us. That would reveal itself years later and after much heartache.
At the end of his senior year, Joseph joined the Peace Corps and flew off to Bolivia for a two-year term. I had one more year of school left and threw myself into finishing my studies. We corresponded by email almost daily and grew closer through the written word rather than speaking. I was so proud of Joseph’s work in Bolivia and looked forward to hopefully joining him there after I graduated. It was lonely without him, but at the same time I made some of the best friendships of my life that year – those still last today. Later that Fall, Joseph proposed by email. Sure he didn’t get down on one knee but then nothing about our relationship had ever been conventional!
I began preparing for our wedding the following Spring while he continued to do some amazing work with poverty stricken women and children in Bolivia. We were married in early June, the day after I graduated from college (boy it all sounds so cliched now!). A couple of weeks later we found ourselves in Santa Cruz, Bolivia and set about creating a life for ourselves.
I have to admit that I found life in Bolivia difficult. While I was exhausted at the end of 4 years of college and enjoyed taking it easy for a time, I struggled to find my niche, and a passion for community work again. My poor commandment of Spanish didn’t help. I rarely ventured out of the apartment on my own. This was so unlike me! Normally I’m the intrepid one. I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem might be. It wasn’t until a dear friend and mentor visited that I became more aware that there was a cloud hanging over us. Our friend became quite sick while he was staying with us. I put it down to the environment we were living in – so foreign and daunting. Never for a minute did I consider that it was something deeper in the household. I stupidly thought that as long as Joseph was by my side I knew I could get through this challenge.
I was left heartbroken when Joseph asked for a divorce just a few months into our young marriage and completely out of the blue. At the time I was visiting family on the other side of the world. Not only was I stunned by his request, but I felt cheated when he ‘did the deed’ by phone…that hurt and it was cowardly but I guess he did the best he could under the circumstances. Nevertheless I was angry, dejected and fearful. My family seemed even angrier.
I quickly realized that his request was genuine and that there would be no hope to saving a marriage, a friendship and the great love of my life. Neither did I fully understand why he wanted a divorce. In fact, I remember thinking at the time – ‘It would be so much easier if he was gay!’ I could walk away from our relationship AND still be supportive. Unfortunately, for years I thought that it was my all fault, that I wasn’t worthy and would never experience love again.
My life quickly spiraled out of control. I was left back home in a country I barely recognized, felt a stranger in my own home, a family I had grown apart from and my closest friends an ocean away, and wondering whether it really was all worth it. For months my life seemed to be nothing but increasingly negative and it was easy to blame every problem on him. There were weeks when all I would do was lie on my bed counting the petals on the flowers wallpapered on the wall. Concerned family would try their best to help me snap out of the depression and time after time I’d push them away. Looking back, there is little I remember about this desperately sad time – I blocked out the pain.
Several months later I began to come to my senses. Despite battling feelings of rejection and anger, I had to get out and rediscover my identity.Only I had the power to forge ahead and move on as difficult as it might be. I took a couple of part time jobs – first as a Project Worker in a homeless shelter and the other as a carer to a woman who taught me that there was more to life.
However much as I loved the people in the homeless shelter, I realised that I couldn’t effectively counsel them about their problems when there was still this heavy weight over my head. Not only was I incapable of being and effective social worker while battling depression, but it became apparent that most of my social worker friends in the UK were doing nothing but push paper rather than being out in the field. This is not the career I signed up for. So there was a new challenge – what career should I choose and how on earth was I going to pay the bills in the meantime? And yet I knew I’d turned a corner the day I decided to stop counting the petals and paint over the wallpaper in my room!
Early in 2001 I returned to Texas to pack up all my belongings and prepare to ship them home. This was not an easy task. Returning to the place that held so many memories was more than a little daunting. Fortunately four of my dear friends came with me. I will never forget their kindness. They each took a week off work and drove with me from the Midwest to Texas and back. The day we sorted out all my junk turned out to be relatively happy and whenever I felt a twinge of sadness, they were there to wipe away the tears, pull me back on my feet and push me forward. Dear friends in town joined us for dinner and helped focus me for the task ahead. That day was the last time I had been to San Angelo, a town I once thought would become my home. It would take another year before I found a new home to ship my belongings home to.
On my return to the UK it was clear that I needed to find somewhere to live, move to a new town and find a job. I found a job working as a PA for a director of a large multinational corporation. Not where I envisaged my career would begin but the necessity to pay the bills was too great. So I moved to North London and shared a flat with a girlfriend from college who was seconded to a company in the UK at the time. I worked with a great team but our boss was a nightmare and within months people began to leave – the bullying and blackmail was too much. I found work in another branch office in London and began working for a fantastic boss who was very aware of the challenges I’d faced in my previous position and had completely the opposite demeanor. She helped me to find my confidence again and at last I felt as if I was beginning to find my stride. For the first time I felt as if England was becoming home again. Looking back I can’t say that my first experience working for the company was a happy one, but little was I to know that it would lead me to meet my now husband, so it wasn’t all bad!
Matt came on the scene just as I was beginning to realise that I liked being single and didn’t need another to make me feel happy. Interesting how love happens just when you’re not looking! It took me a long time to trust him but he is such a dear sweet soul that it was impossible not to fall in love again and build a life together on strong, honest foundations. Friends say he’s the frame to my picture. He’s the most patient husband, puts up with my silliness and never leaves my side and is 100% supportive of anything I put my mind to. It’s a marriage of equals and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I said and did things in those months and years following the divorce from Joseph that I’m not proud of. The only explanation he gave for the end of our marriage was that he had made a mistake which left the way wide open for me to question what that mistake was and blame myself for not being attractive enough, kind enough, attentive of his needs and too fat etc during those few months together. I internalized everything into such a rage, depression and overwhelming sense of grief that manifested itself in numerous ways. Despite being around some of the best friends in the world, I had never felt so alone and stuck in ‘poor little me syndrome.’ Selfish to say the least. I even blocked out so many memories of our time together and wonder if they will ever return. Only last month he reminded me of a trip we took in New England the summer after he graduated – I remember very little (if anything) about it now.
Over time I came to realize that Joseph probably was gay but I needed to hear it from him before I could really accept it. That would take years to come. We attended a college (Principia in Illinois) where there was (at the time) a discriminatory anti-gay policy and any student, faculty or staff member who was gay or questioning probably would have been expelled if they were open about their sexuality so it’s not surprising that so many hid their true selves – including Joseph.
Should I be surprised that I married a gay man? No, given my upbringing amongst many gay ‘uncles.’ As a friend commented a few years ago – “Well Miranda, either you or your mother were bound to fall in love with a gay man and marry!” My fondest childhood memories are of weekends spent in the company of my many ‘uncles’ and they are the strongest male role models in my life.
Forgiveness didn’t come easy but I knew that I couldn’t fully move on with my life until I learnt to forgive Joseph and by doing so I began to discover more about my self worth and about deep unconditional love too. There was a great sense of release, but I still hadn’t fully let go and I couldn’t figure out why. In fact, my family and closest friends found it much harder to forgive. Time and time again over the years I’d have to remind them to let go of the past, not bear grudges and move on too.
When I thought about it, the thing I missed the most about our relationship was the friendship. We were best friends and that’s what I grieved for above all else. Sometimes best friends are supposed to be just that – friends and it’s all too easy to confuse that deep friendship with something more. Nevertheless it was painful coming to terms with the fact that he could never love me in the way that I had wanted and nor could I give him what he really wanted – after all, I was the wrong gender!
Years later I can now safely say that Joseph gave me the greatest of gifts. When you love someone, sometimes you have to set him or her free despite all the heartache. He did just that and what I know now is that he gave me the opportunity to grow up in ways that I never imagined. He gave me the chance to experience a new love and marriage that is strong, kind and nurturing. By releasing me from a marriage that was destined to fail, Joseph paved the way for each of us to discover our true potential and greater love. For that I will always be grateful.
Fast forward nine years and in May 2009 I got a short email from Joseph. After no contact for many years I was dumbfounded and even wondered if it was genuine. Neither could I understand why he was emailing me – he was the last person I expected to hear from again. For a long time I had hoped that there might be a friendship to resurrect but after nine years with little contact from him, I’d given up hope. I remember sharing the email with Matt and thinking – what on earth was he going to think about all of this?!