“I can take your kids, I can twenty-eight percent of your income and I can make you pay.” With these words, Evelyn unloaded her pistol of anger and resentment into her husband as often as she could. These projections of malice and bitterness were focused on Daniel for most of their fourteen year marriage. The marriage ended with the death of their marriage. Daniel narrowly escaped the death of despair brought on by caring.

It was three years into the marriage when Daniel found out about Evelyn’s past. Before the marriage he didn’t think there was anything else to know. He found out that things were not as they presented themselves. First of all, Evelyn did not come across as angry. She appeared happy and confident. She was outgoing and friendly to a degree. She felt inadequate around others she deemed smarter than herself and she would often say so. She talked about growing up in a small town, but she didn’t fill in the details until three years later. The wounds of the past were under the surface of a simple veneer of introversion. She liked to be taken care of and Daniel obliged her willingly.

In the third year, Evelyn told Daniel about her small town life during high school: Evelyn’s mother had committed adultery right before her sixteen year old eyes. Her mother was making out with her lover right in their small town family kitchen. Her mother subsequently denied any involvement with the man and then went on to divorce Evelyn’s father and to marry her lover.

During those same years, Evelyn became involved with a seminary student. She went to his room and closed the door behind her. She lay on his bed and then she told Daniel that she was raped by the student. Before she knew it she was pregnant. A male high school friend helped pay for an abortion. Evelyn told Daniel that her parents never knew found out what had happened. She wanted it that way.

Evelyn went on to tell Daniel about her life after leaving high school. Evelyn moved to college and then left college after a year. She moved out west and lived with someone for a time. She had another abortion. She moved to the south and lived with someone for time. They had a child together. She and her boyfriend sold drugs from their house. They took drugs together. Evelyn told Daniel that she worked as a call girl for a time with her friend Rosa. Rosa was a madam. When her boyfriend had overdosed once too many times Evelyn left him and moved to Chicago. She moved to the Lincoln Park area and cut her hair short. A year later she met Daniel. This is what Evelyn told Daniel that third year: “Those things are behind me.”, but Daniel wondered how far behind they were. He wondered about biting dogs at his heels.

Now, Evelyn loved wine and margaritas. She drank wine at home and then she would drink Margaritas at the Mexican restaurant. She wanted to go there often. On more than one occasion, after she drank three gold Margaritas, she would become mouthy, belligerent and verbally abusive to Daniel. Daniel decided that he was not going out to eat anymore. He began to bring food home.

Evelyn took often the kids to her mother’s house after several of these drinking bouts. Evelyn was angry with Daniel about some unknown fault or quirk or some vast deficiency: “You don’t love me.”; “I don’t feel loved.”; the kids weren’t “handled”; the dishes weren’t done or Daniel spent too much time in the kitchen; Daniel didn’t think ahead that Evelyn would be needing a bottle of wine, a “good” movie and the kids put to bed, again. It didn’t matter. Her marriage and her husband were not the perfection and panacea she demanded. Daniel was told by Evelyn that he was supposed to know what she needed before she said anything. “This is what a man does, Daniel. You’re not a man.” Her husband was not taking her pain away. She thought that alcohol and being with her mother would. So she would take the kids to her mother’s house after these evening drinking sessions and stay overnight.

Daniel felt that he was held hostage in his own marriage. Evelyn would threaten to take the children to her mother’s house if something wasn’t done to appease her before she even had an issue too complain about. The situation was unlivable for Daniel but he didn’t want to break his marriage vows and wander off to seek peace. He was committed to the marriage but he felt his hands were tied by the invisible bonds of her past.

After much marriage counseling and endless self reflection Daniel realized that he did everything he possibly could in seeking to remedy the marriage and to pacify the rage which quelled in Evelyn’s heart. There was nothing more that he could do. He wanted the painful spasms of fighting to end. He didn’t want to fight with her. At every turn, though, she found something wrong with him. Her perfectionism had become an obsession of finding the missing ingredient. She wanted a perfect man to fix her imperfect world. The children, and Evelyn‘s mother, would learn how imperfect Daniel was from Evelyn.

Daniel wished that he could surgically remove the growing cancer of hatred and disdain that Evelyn had retained in heart over the years. He understood then that a woman could hold a grudge forever if she wanted to. She could not forgive, she would not forget. Evelyn would not let go of her anger because it became too familiar to her. It became a cherished locket of fury hanging from her neck, always with her, but hidden beneath the surface. It was the locket of fury that replaced the wedding ring on her hand. Five months after demanding a second separation she took off her wedding ring and began to date other men.

Daniel, during the two years of separation leading up to a divorce, found one day that depression had cornered him in his small one bedroom apartment. He had been taking an antidepressant prescribed by the marriage clinic. After a year of taking the pills, Daniel found that the pills made him feel complacent. He felt that things were slipping away from him. He didn’t care about work and he soon didn’t care about the marriage falling apart. He decided to stop taking the pills. Within a matter of three weeks a deep depression encircled him. Daniel sat crying at his desk at work. He felt the jagged edge of every painful chasm in his soul. He didn’t know what to do but he knew that he wanted to get far away from everything and find a place of healing. He called his doctor.

The psychiatrist at the marriage clinic asked Daniel what he wanted and Daniel said, “I want to get away from everything right now.”

“Do you want to sign yourself in to the hospital?”

“Yes”, Daniel answered, thinking of an enormous Garden of Eden which would usurp the enormous load of grief in his heart with its heavenly serenity.

That night Daniel signed himself into the Hospital. After filling out the pile of papers required by the hospital Daniel was given a different antidepressant and a sleeping pill and then sent to bed. His room was shared with someone already asleep, snoring in his bed. Daniel went over to the window bed and lay down on the slab covered with blankets. No sleep came until the early morning.

That was Friday night. On Saturday, Daniel was given a cold hospital breakfast and a little cup with pills. There was no change of clothes only open hospital gowns and elastic slippers. The other patients sat around a little table eating some parts of their breakfast. Each of them was nervous to make eye contact with anyone else. There were some patients who were definitely around the bend. Conversation with them didn’t matter. Daniel sat down that first morning and ate silently. He just stared at the TV hung from the ceiling. A game show was on. Daniel knew that his expectations were not in line with the reality he was seeing. He wanted to leave immediately. It would take a week before he could go home to his one bedroom apartment.

During the morning smoke break that first hospital morning, outside in the cordoned garden area, it was whispered that someone had hung themselves in their room the week before. Mostly, though, the patients shared cigarettes and talked about what they would do when they got out. Some said they would quit smoking. A small cantankerous Chinese woman told Daniel that she didn’t know when she could get out but when she did she would open her own business in her house after she kicked out her boyfriend. He had called the police on her and they put her in the hospital. She was a manic-depressive, she told Daniel, and she hadn’t taken her pills for a week.

Phone calls from the hospital were limited to one phone in the hallway. It could only be used from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm till 8:00pm. Daniel called his office during the day and told them that he was in need of a short vacation and it had something to do with his marriage breaking up. He wanted to keep his job. The cost of the separation, the cost of two separate homes; the cost of his imperfection was becoming monstrous before his eyes. This financial situation didn’t seem to bother Evelyn, who was waiting for the free ride the court would later give her, except for the fact of her unpaid cell phone bill:


“Hello, where are you?”

“I am in the hospital for some rest. I’ve been having a hard time with things lately. I stopped taking the medication I told you about. I’ll be here until the end of the week. The doctor wants to see if a new medication works before I leave. I want to talk to kids before I get off the phone. I don’t want them to worry about me.”

“Daniel, you need to take the kids this coming weekend. I’m gonna be gone. And, how is my cell phone bill gonna get paid if your in there?”

“I’ll be here until the end of the week. I’ll pick up the kids. I’ll pay it then.”

“No, no, no. I don’t want it to be late. They will charge late fees.”

“Write them a check.”

“I don’t want to write a check. I have enough going on here. You’re in charge of the finances.”

“I’ll be here until the end of the week. I’ll pay it then.”

“You better. Here’s the kids. You have to pick them up. I’m going to Las Vegas this next weekend.”

Daniel spent the week, until that next Friday which was Good Friday, in the hospital and then he was released. He drove to his apartment, changed his clothes and picked up his kids at the house and took them out for pizza that night. He didn’t forget to pay the phone bill. He paid it late and felt a relief, a withdrawal. His life had been returned to him in the few days he spent in the boxy little room along the boxy corridor of the unyielding hospital floor plan. He would never again let someone break him down as he had let Evelyn. He knew that he loved her. He knew that he wanted the marriage to work and to become more than the sum of its factors. But, he also knew now that he had to chart his own life apart from the unyielding demand for perfection coming from someone’s ruthless past.

In the end, Evelyn won the kids over with her begrudging ways. She had sufficiently belittled their father in their eyes. She told an unwary family law court, her family and her friends that the children’s father was not mentally stable. She gained sole custody. She then received twenty-eight percent of Daniel’s income. With the arrogant flippancy and unbridled urgency of a newborn teenager she took the children and they moved in with a single man who will never hear the portentous ‘third-year’ story retold. In these ways and with a thousand well-aimed shots of disapproval into her husband’s heart she made sure that Daniel paid for the infinite losses of her past. Someone had to pay for this she reckoned. It wasn’t going to be Evelyn. She now believes that she has settled her past accounts.

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

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