I remember feeling utterly calm that Monday morning in January when my husband, Bob, told me he was moving out of the house and into an apartment the following Saturday. At hearing his words, my suspicions clicked into place.
I had surmised that something was terribly wrong with our relationship. He had, after all, practically stopped speaking to me and moved into another bedroom. Now the worst that I feared had happened - he was leaving. I felt myself grow cold all over but managed to remain calm. There was no shouting and very little crying. Months later I realized that I had gone into emotional shock.
Bob held me after he announced the news, more tender than he had been in months. I clung to him and said without begging, "Please don't leave, we can fix this."But he remained resolute, telling me he would not change his mind. He promised he would work on fixing our marriage and that he would see a counselor with me, but that he needed the time to be alone. "I need my space."
In those first few surreal minutes, I clung to the belief that Bob was serious about saving our marriage. What else could I do? We had been married for 26 of the 32 years I had known him. I was 50 years old and staring a birthday in the face. We were childless, and I had concentrated all my efforts on his career, not mine. Consequently I did not have a fulltime career, but dabbled at working parttime and volunteering.
We did not shout or fight. I cried silently but not copiously, since my hope for resolving this situation quickly gave me a false sense of calm.
Bob left for the university, where he taught accounting, and I was alone in my silent house. Christmas decorations filled every room, mocking me. Presents were still strewn around the tree and in the livingroom, as we had opened our packages after returning from a trip to his family home to bury his mother. It was 2000, the beginning of the new millenium. My New Year's resolution had been to urge him to go to counseling with me to discuss the state of our marriage and his deep depression.
Before he left for work, Bob had warned me not to call a lawyer. That if I did, he would not seek counseling with me. Still calm, I got dressed for the day and walked to my basement office to make a few calls. First I informed my parents about the situation. Then I called two friends, one who had once been a practicing attorney, and asked them for the names of some divorce attorneys.
I made up my mind in those supremely lonely hours that no matter what happened, no matter how scary things got, I would make all my own decisions. I took Bob's warning for what it was: a self-serving threat that had nothing to do with my welfare.
The intricate dance of separation had begun.