“GOOD­BYE TO CI­VIL­ITY”

Esquire (Philippines) - - NOTE S & ESSAYS - MARITINA MORELL

I trusted him blindly. He took care of the money. By the time I had de­cided to make a clean break, I found out about the un­paid bills and credit card debt he had in­curred in my name.

I FELT A LOT OF GUILT WHEN I LEFT MY HUS­BAND. MORE GUILT than I think was war­ranted. Since I was the one do­ing the leav­ing, I tried to make things as easy as pos­si­ble for some­thing that was so heartwrench­ingly painful. It didn’t mat­ter that I saw text mes­sages to other women on his phone. It didn’t mat­ter that he lied about ev­ery­thing from fi­nances to feel­ings. I was guilty be­cause I was the one who ended it. I felt that I didn’t have a choice: To be with him meant that I would never feel safe, it meant I would forever be won­der­ing where the next pay­check that could keep us afloat would be com­ing from. Thir­teen years of this, of us, and I was done. For the sake of my san­ity, I had to end it.

Guilt is a funny thing. I wasn’t guilty be­cause I was leav­ing him—that, to me, made per­fect sense. I was guilty be­cause I didn’t know how he was go­ing to sur­vive with­out me, with­out the money my al­lowances brought. He no longer had a day job and be­ing the gui­tarist to a few bands with even fewer gigs was all he had with which to make a liv­ing. To as­suage my guilt, I gave him things to help him as he moved into a new place. A mat­tress with bed­dings, a chair or two, a mi­crowave, plates and cut­lery… hell, even the shower cur­tain and weigh­ing scale he had were bought by me, with the mea­ger amount of cash I had left (our bank ac­counts were al­ways on the verge of go­ing un­der­bal­ance). I trusted him blindly. He took care of the money. By the time I had de­cided to make a clean break, I had found out about the un­paid bills and credit card debt he had in­curred in my name. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of pe­sos wasted on late fees, non-pay­ment, and in­ter­est charges—such stupid care­less­ness only done by some­one who didn’t value the money he is given. In­censed, I asked him, “Where did all the money meant to pay off bills and credit cards go?” All he could do was shake his head and shrug. He couldn’t even come up with a hal­fassed ex­pla­na­tion. But still, I was will­ing to keep things quiet, to keep a civil tongue in an al­most vain ef­fort to avoid go­ing to war against each other.

“Give it time,” a friend once said, in the sage, def­i­nite tones of a woman who’s gone through a touchy di­vorce. “You’ll hate his guts even­tu­ally.” I re­fused to be­lieve that I would end up like her. I wanted my breakup to be dif­fer­ent, for haven’t I tried to be open and hon­est about ev­ery­thing?

At the be­gin­ning of the end, I was still op­ti­mistic—naive, re­ally. I kept hop­ing against all odds that this would be a rel­a­tively neat breakup, some­thing that didn’t re­quire screams and anger and lawyers. “I’m leav­ing the PS3 with you,” he tells me be­fore he moved out. He had bought it for his man-cave us­ing my credit card. I pointed out to him that I paid for the PS3 my­self. He looked an­noyed, I was tram­pling on his per­ceived mag­nan­i­mous ges­ture. “Can’t you just say ‘thanks’?” He snapped. So I said thanks, not will­ing to cre­ate an­other ar­gu­ment over some­thing as silly as a video game con­sole.

I agreed to keep quiet about the other rea­sons, in­stead don­ning the guise of the ag­grieved wife who found in­crim­i­nat­ing texts on her hus­band’s phone. I agreed to pro­tect his rep­u­ta­tion, to never men­tion how many fis­cal fail­ures we had to face due to his com­plete lack of re­spon­si­bil­ity. But about a year into the breakup, I started hearing whis­pers and ru­mors about me, about us, as told by him. The lies were never-end­ing, a Gor­dian Knot of he-said/she said, and “I sus­pect...”. I’ve given up try­ing to un­tan­gle them all.

“He says he left the car with you,” an­other friend said. I laughed out loud, al­most bit­terly at this one. He ir­repara­bly crashed his car years ago. I sat with him in the emer­gency room as an ER at­ten­dant stitched him up. The car in ques­tion was not his to give. The car’s pa­pers were un­der the per­son who bought it: the com­pany I worked for. Who on earth was he try­ing to im­press with th­ese lies? The new girl he was liv­ing with? But she wasn’t new. She had been around since she was a baby. The daugh­ter of his one-time best friend. By the time I learned of their re­la­tion­ship, my world was al­ready abuzz with the story. The af­fair had been go­ing on for years— just how many af­fairs did this man have dur­ing our mar­riage?—it’s just that no one knew how to break the news to me. Two friends came to my house to do it. Each friend took a hold of one of my hands. It took me a mo­ment to form a re­ac­tion. “Yaaaaaaak!” I ex­claimed. My friends laughed, relieved that my re­ac­tion was one of dis­gust more than de­spair. One sim­ply doesn’t date the chil­dren of friends. It may not be il­le­gal (she is of age, af­ter all) but it cer­tainly is dis­taste­ful. He kept silent while all of this was rag­ing. Silent... af­ter he begged me to let him know my­self if I should find some­one else to love. He wouldn’t be able to stand learn­ing about it from some­one else. He promised to do the same for me. Prom­ises, prom­ises.

He used me, he used his friends. He would spin a sad tale to friends of how I had kicked him out with noth­ing, to gain pity and the odd amount of cash since he re­fused to get a day job (though nu­mer­ous friends tried to help find him work), pre­fer­ring in­stead to rely on his pseudo-rock star sta­tus to get what he wanted. Were we all just cash cows in his eyes?

Some­times I feel like reach­ing out to that poor girl who must be sup­port­ing him. She is so young—as young as I was when he and I first met. The last time I saw her was when her fa­ther dropped her off and into the care of my ex and my­self for an after­noon. Babysit­ting, my ex said, but now I won­der if it was some sort of twisted way for them to see each other. She shared the potato chips she had in her bag with me. I’m sort of hop­ing she will read this and begin to un­der­stand the trou­ble she’s in. He hasn’t changed, and by most ac­counts he has got­ten worse.

Very few of our old friends talk to him any­more. They washed their hands off him af­ter get­ting burnt by the lies he wove and the num­ber of un­paid loans he’s got­ten out of them. “He left you daw with ev­ery­thing,” a friend said. “Sure,” I replied. “He left me with ev­ery­thing in­clud­ing mas­sive credit card debt.” He also left me with a fear of shar­ing my life with an­other per­son, of be­ing com­pletely open and vul­ner­a­ble. I thought our mar­riage would be dif­fer­ent be­cause I hid noth­ing from him from the mo­ment I said “I do.” I kept say­ing that hon­esty was the foun­da­tion of our mar­riage. How em­bar­rass­ingly wrong I was.

In the end, it wasn’t anger that I was left with, but em­bar­rass­ment. I cringed to ad­mit I mar­ried some­one like him. I was sad­dened that he didn’t have the balls to cop to his fail­ings, to give peo­ple the real score. I re­sented that I had to ex­plain what’s what to those who asked. Shouldn’t the truth—our truth—be uni­ver­sal?

He mes­saged me a few weeks ago. It had been two years since he last tried to get in touch with me. “It’s Ruf­fles’ birthday to­day,” he mes­saged, re­fer­ring to my beloved cat. “Is she still alive?” It was callous and slightly con­fus­ing. Why was he touch­ing base now? I never replied to his text. It’s prob­a­bly for money again, such as that time I just re­turned from abroad af­ter a quick trip and he mes­saged my friend ask­ing if I would be amenable to talk­ing to him. “Why?” my friend asked. He wanted money. My friend was in­censed. “Af­ter all your fi­nan­cial fuck­ups, you want to hit her up for more money?!” she texted back an­grily. He never spoke to her again, but tried to gain sym­pa­thy by re­peat­ing a ver­sion of the story to an­other friend who im­me­di­ately shot him down, say­ing she knew that he tried to bor­row money again. He stopped speak­ing to that friend too, go­ing as far as block­ing her on so­cial me­dia ac­counts.

Still, I am stuck. I can­not break free un­til the an­nul­ment is over and done with. When­ever a court hearing comes up, a cold wave cas­cades down my spine. What if the judge forces me to stay mar­ried to this man? I re­ally don’t know what I would do if it came to that. Why does the ju­di­cial sys­tem have a say about my life when I have done noth­ing crim­i­nal? How can my bid for free­dom, to cut ties with a man who has ill-used me be so­cially im­moral in the eyes of the court? An­nul­ment is a soul-suck­ing, spirit-crush­ing process that does lit­tle to pro­tect the sanc­tity of mar­riage, much less the sanc­tity of hus­band and wife. Since we split up, my ex has done noth­ing but show his lack of scru­ples, mo­rals, and even ci­vil­ity. I re­main in this limbo un­til the judge rules other­wise.

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