My first marriage began on December 1st 1990, and it began as all marriages should; it was a very happy, exciting day and I was very much where I felt I needed to be. For a number of years my wife and I were content, and our relationship was solid. In due course two wonderful human beings (under the heading of: 'Children') entered our lives, and both of them have continued to be a source of great love in both directions ever since. To me, they are simply perfect.
The marriage, however, wasn't, and due to a combination of several major contributing factors, we separated (but lived in the same house) in the autumn of 2008 and at the beginning of 2009 it really ended when I moved out of the family home to a rental house nearby. Our divorce was finalized in September of the following year, just two months shy of our twentieth wedding anniversary. I'm not here to state my side or the reasons for the divorce, nor to justify anything about that decision; it happened because it was the appropriate thing for my ex-wife and I. We have both gone on to enjoy new and lasting relationships.
On September 14th 2008, after much intense reflection, much soul-searching and much pain, I sat down with my then partner and explained how I had come to the end of our relationship; how and why I could not go on any longer. That was hard; intensely emotional, brutally honest and overwhelmingly sad. I had, after all, clear memories of falling in love with this woman, of wanting to be married to her, and of wanting to live with her for the rest of my life. Now, that had all crumbled to dust. It was very, very difficult to have that conversation. But it was nothing - nothing - compared to what came next.
I volunteered to break the news to our wonderful, perfect, darling children. I'm glad I did but in some ways I wish that I hadn't - because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have the pain that I carry around with me even now. For a number of reasons, it was right that it was me. And so...
As I explained to them - jesus, this is hard to even write about - I watched their ten and eleven year-old faces slowly crumple into fear, horror and agony. I watched their worlds dissolve into chaos; all that was safe become unsafe; all that had been certain fall apart as my words struck home. My words hurt them - hurt them deeply. I had always protected them, sheltered them, hidden them in particular from some of my marriage's harsh realities - indeed from so very much about the world in general, and yet there I was, ripping their young worlds into pieces. Never had life felt so cruel - and never has it since.
The separation and the divorce was the right thing to do; the marriage had ended a long time before then, and was a façade, a caricature of a relationship that we had both been maintaining for fear of facing the truth and the unknown beyond it. We both knew that it was over; my partner agreed that it was right - we both knew that there was no going back, and that the decision was right, and final.
That, however, has never ameliorated my sense of guilt, my sense of shame about putting our children through the process. I have never forgotten those moments when my words - MY words - broke their little hearts and terrified them so. Whenever I think about those moments, I cry - I cry for them, for their pain, for their fear and for their inevitable sense of utter loss. I cry despite knowing that it was the best thing to do, that taking responsibility for telling them was a good thing to do, that I did so in the most gentle, loving way that I could muster. I couldn't have used any better words or tone - it was simply a heartbreaking message to give and to receive, and in delivering it, I hurt them in a way that they had never known before.
I was raised a Catholic, wherein divorce was considered wrong. I've left all that bullshit behind me these days, but the guilt that the priests tried to indoctrinate me with has been replaced by a real feeling of shame; the knowledge that I hurt my children so badly will always be within my memory. Their tear-streaked faces looking at me with pleading eyes, begging with me for it not to be true even while they knew it had to be; that will always be seared into my mind. I love them more than life itself, and yet I hurt them more than anyone ever had, or is yet to.
Those two wonderful almost-adults bear me no ill-will; we have wonderful ties and our relationships with one another are fantastic. We are close, as close to one another as I could hope for, and I would lay down my life for theirs in a heartbeat - of course. They love me, they trust me and they respect and cherish our bonds, and all that makes me a very happy man.
But...I hurt them. I don't know if I can ever forgive myself for that...