What My Husband Can Never Give Me (divorce, part III)

We lived in a tiny gray rental house just outside of New Orleans.

My dad worked a normal day job and played bass guitar in a local band some weekends.

My mom stayed home and helped the household the way many stay-at-home moms do: She kept kids in our house, sold Avon, sewed a little.

My parents were young when they married. They didn’t come from money, and we didn’t have money, but I didn’t know it. I had everything I could want or need.

If my parents weren’t happy, I couldn’t see it. I was too young and innocently self-absorbed to understand that marriage has to do with love and not just raising children.

The night before we moved to Mississippi, I wailed. Even at six years old, the cries felt heavy and foreboding, as if I knew that whatever we were leaving behind in Louisiana would remain there permanently.

I was right. We moved in the fall of 1986; by the fall of 1993 my parents were separated. They eventually divorced and to this day have barely spoken to or seen each other.

Adults mourn marriage, I’m sure of that. There are scars, and they must heal. But most grown-ups have a magical ability to reenter the world of matrimony, even build another family.

Children didn’t get that superpower, unfortunately.

The years surrounding my parents’ divorce are a painful blur to me. If you ask anyone who knew me well during that time, you’d likely hear one extreme or the other, that either they didn’t have a clue anything was wrong, or that they knew I was ten shades of crazy.

I was blindly clawing my way out of a pit that I had never fallen in before. How do you go from being one family to being another? How do you navigate the rough waters of mourning, celebrating, crying, laughing, hurting and being happy, all at the same time?

There was no one to tell me.

And so I ran.

I ran through muddy relationships and rocky experiences and dark days and even darker nights.

I pushed people away, and then I desperately pulled them to me. I cursed and I prayed. I begged for someone to love me and thought they were damn fools if they did.

But the whole time I kept running, just to be sure hurt wouldn’t catch me again.

By the time I made it to college, I was a train wreck, and that train barrelled right into the happy station that was a guy named Clayford.

At first he loved me. Oh man, did he love me so much I felt healed in no time at all.

But then he didn’t love me. It was obvious and it hurt.

And then he loved me again. We got married. I was confused but too afraid to say anything. He was, too.

A sad omen, the way that first official week of marriage to Clayford began:

We married on September 8, 2001. Because Bubba was a newborn and we didn’t want to leave him too long (not to mention that being seniors in college, we were flat broke) we got hitched on a Saturday, took a short trip to Memphis, and arrived back home on September 10, a Monday.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, even though Clayford and I started out with armloads of baggage, I still held the same dreams in my heart as any other young woman. Dreams of being swept away by a knight in shining armor, like a princess needing a prince.

Except this princess felt more like Cinderella, rejected and dirty, undeserving of the fairy tale because of all that had happened to me and all I had done in reaction to it.

So for me it was perfectly normal—even expected—that I would come home from a honeymoon to find destruction awaiting me.

Clayford played ball at Ole Miss, and that morning he sat in the field house having his shoulder examined.

I sat at Bancorp South, holding Bubba in one arm while I set up our bank account with my free hand.

I answered my ringing cell and immediately noticed the shocked tone in Clayford’s voice.

I’m watching ‘The Today Show,’ he said. Can you believe a…? 

And then there was silence before, There’s another one. I don’t think it was an accident.

Planes had flown into the Twin Towers. And terror had flown right back into my life.

You see, my wedding day had been a failed attempt to escape these emotions: terror, fear, anxiety, panic.

I thought marrying Clayford, creating a ‘normal’ family, would make me feel ‘normal.’ I’d somehow be less broken under the shelter of marriage.

Of course that wasn’t true. And I have openly shared that our road has been far from easy. The word divorce has been tossed around like a, and or the.

But last year the fighting stopped. So much so that Clayford even mentioned it in December:

Do you realize we barely fought? I don’t think we said divorce one time.

I alone knew the reason: A part of me was dead.

I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought I had settled into marriage—accepting what would never change—and everything was okay.

I didn’t see that indifference had crept slowly inside me, its incendiary suffocation so crafty I couldn’t feel my heart being numbed and dulled.

I told him at the beginning of this year I was absolutely sure I didn’t want to be married anymore.

He wasn’t surprised. And he agreed, exhausted with feeling like he could never get it right.

There were some ugly words said. Then peace.

But then he said no. Just like that. He said no, he would not give me a divorce. He didn’t believe it was what I really wanted. He knew how much I loved our family, and he didn’t want to lose it.

And secretly I was glad he refused. Because in recent weeks, the pain of my childhood had returned to the forefront of my mind with such vengeance that I’d been on the verge of major depression, returning to bed some mornings after carpool because I felt drained and alone.

I now know it was a fear that had been lingering deep inside me, ever since I’d given birth to Bubba:

I was afraid of being a parent. Afraid I would hurt my children irreparably, the way I’d believed my parents hurt me.

Can I tell you how full-circle this was for me?

For years I’d believed I was over the past. For years I’d claimed victory. But deep inside me were fears and resentments that I’d kept laying at God’s feet then picking up again.

I hadn’t fully forgiven. I was still expecting my parents to fix the mess.

And not just my parents. All kinds of people from my past needed to be forgiven.

And I desperately needed it, too. I’d wreaked havoc in many a life by my words and actions. That is not an attempt at humiliation; it it pure and simple truth. 

Being a human is nothing short of accepting imperfection daily, and Grace—the greatest gift the Father has given us—is the sword that slices bitterness to pieces.

So now we’re stuck, Clayford and I. Stuck, but still here.

He will never make me happy. Isn’t that sad? I think so. I’ve had to grieve what will never be.

He isn’t my Savior. He can’t make me whole. 

Sounds harsh, but it’s true. For starters, he’s human, like me, and because of his very nature, who he is at his core, I’m aware that he will never give me what I need. He would have to become a completely different person.

(I hope you know him well enough to know he is a WONDERFUL person. An amazing father, a good provider, and a friend to many. If you don’t know Clayford, you’re missing out.)

Likewise, I truly believe I’m probably not the right gal for him. He would never say those exact words, but his actions tell me he’d be happier with someone who had less jagged a past, and a whole lot less of a need for his time and attention.

These are facts I can’t change, can’t do a single thing about.

Honestly? I don’t know what to do with that.

I don’t know how to begin a new life where I simply accept the way things are. I don’t know how long that kind of “dying to self” can sustain energy.

So for today, I won’t say I’ll be married forever. I will say that Clayford will always be my family. The six of us will always be Team Overby. Always, no matter what.

And my deep respect and love for him and the family we’ve created compelled me to wake up this morning willing to try again.

And I suppose if the two of us wake up every morning from this day forward saying, Today I’m willing to try again, we might just make it after all.

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13 thoughts on “What My Husband Can Never Give Me (divorce, part III)

  1. Hey Toni! Send me your email address. I’ll send you the sermon series I was recommending for you. I got chris to pull out our old computer from the garage and hooked it up and found the complete sermon series. I pray it will speak to you like it did to me. My email is eschildress@gmail.com

  2. I couldn’t get it to open but I’d love to listen. Thanks so much, Emily! Marriage and life in general can be tough. There are many facets I don’t share but what I do share I always hope helps.

  3. There’s a sermon called more than words from 8 years ago. One of my favorites of all times. I can only find one of the sermons from the series. If I find more I’ll send them your way. They were some of the best messages during a very difficult time in my life. Will be praying for you and this season you are in. I love your honesty. We all go through the ups and downs, but no one wants to talk about it. As christians we should stick together and love on each other through the good and bad. That’s when we need each other and God most!😘

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