I can’t save him. I don’t think anyone can. He’s crazy with pain. He has fried his own brain with passion. He can’t discern action from emotion. He has set the mothership of his psyche for self-destruct. The only person who can terminate the countdown is … him.
It is at once understandable and inexcusable. A woman has left him. She has said, “no.” His marriage is over.
It’s been over, actually, for a long time. He has spent years detached and withdrawn. Never a “bad man.” But not very often a “present” man, either. He has no real social circle. No vital bonds with extended family. He rarely socializes with his own family.
And she has, in her own way and for her own reasons, tolerated the emptiness. The papier-mache form of a marriage.
They don’t fight. Frankly, fighting might have been healthier.
But no. The marriage is a ghost town. Just this silently agreed upon vacuum where love and vitality once bloomed.
Some people make it to the grave in such marriages. And some of those people die telling themselves it was the right and moral thing to do. That is, not to divorce.
Other people, this woman, for example, just suddenly “Rip-Van-Winkle.” Yes, I’m making it a verb.
They wake up. Like, from a coma. Or from an enchantment. Who knows why they wake up at all. Or why now. But they wake up. And they allow themselves to be horrified by how they have lowered the bar. And what it has cost them to lower the bar. And they say, “I can’t do this. Not for another second. Yesterday I could. Today I can’t.”
They walk into a tomb and, finally, long after the fact, pronounce the mummified remains of their marriage dead. Time of death unknown.
The woman’s awakening awakens the man. Now he sees what matters. Now he sees his folly. Now he is energized. And repentant. And sorry. Oh so very sorry. He weeps. He pleads. He begs.
He shouts into the wind. He hurls his body against an immutable, immovable force. It’s too late. The “no” is final. And terrible. Eviscerating.
I know what he’s feeling. The T-shirt is hanging in my closet. And, had he allowed me, I would have surrounded him with compassion and support. I would have drowned him in empathy.
But, as it happened, he didn’t give me the chance. To my knowledge, he gave no one the chance. By the time I knew what was happening, it was too late. He was way past the “understandable” and “tragic.” He had already committed the inexcusable.
Inexcusable? Yes. He conscripted his children in service to vengeance. He reviles her. In words. To their faces and in raving emails. He mixes distortions with truth, spilling intimate details of their mother’s life. Details that only she had the right to decide when, if and ever to share at all.
Until this, my view was equal accountability and compassion for both parties. Each owns one half of the sins and the virtues of the marriage. But, now …
Did he really think his children would were going to say, “Oh my God, Pop … you’re right! My mother is a very bad person! Please rescue us from this wretched woman!”
I asked Joseph, my youngest, age 11, what he would do if I came to him with an angry face and angry voice and called his mother vile names. His eyes steeled. His jaw set. “I would tell my mother I want to live with her and I would delete you from my phone contacts!”
As well you should, boy. As well you should.
The love of a real man includes boundaries. My children would never give me a pass for behaving badly. I’m proud of them for that.
I remember a graduate school professor saying, “The fastest way to grow a religious movement is to persecute it.” Yep. Every move he makes now bonds his children more tightly to their mother. Every move he makes now broadens the already yawning chasm between himself and his children.
I’d save him if I could. I’d kidnap him and take him to a remote cabin in the woods, tie him to a chair, and treat him like you would a rescued victim of some wacko religious cult.
But I can’t. I don’t think anyone can.
• • •
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.