I gained my Google addiction in the thick of my divorce.
See Exhibit 1:
and of course…
As you can see, Google provided a wealth of information, good advice, and even a sense of solidarity–if there were answers out there, it was because other people struggled with the same questions and uncontrollable urge to stuff one’s face with donuts as I did.
Who needs therapists? or even friends?
I knew, however, that I’d reached a new low when I Googled the following:
I am that girl who cries at coffee commercials, that Fresh Prince episode (you know the one), The Little Mermaid, just thinking of Bambi’s mom, an uncomfortable confrontation at work, everything with a dog in it ever… You get the idea. The most inconvenient part about this is that the waterworks come with little to zero notice. One second, I’ll be calm and collected and explaining to my professor exactly why my paper is late and the next second, I’m wiping snot from my upper lip and hiccuping through what resembles begging. My therapist (I did end up getting one to help with the divorce) attributes it to my inability or unwillingness to “deal with my emotions.”
People think that because I cry so much, because I’m so “in touch with my pathos,” that I am constantly dealing with my emotions. Because I wear my heart on my sleeve, my emotions and I must be like best friends or something. But my therapist is correct–I am terrified of bad feelings. As such, I expend enormous amounts of energy running away from them, hiding from them, ducking and weaving at the mere insinuation of sadness or anger, with the hope that they will eventually disappear. Sometimes, it works.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
And now I will talk to you all about something that I’ve never talked about in my entire life.
My dog Hemingway.
Hemingway was my first dog. My family and I bought him from a puppy store (because I was young and dumb and didn’t know why puppy stores are horrible). He was a beautiful absolutely gorgeous cocker spaniel who won my heart because he was terrified of me. He could barely bring himself to sniff the hand I gently stuck inside his cage and I knew right then and there that I wanted to bring him home and obliterate all his fears. But, things didn’t work out the way I’d planned. Hemingway’s fears grew into outright aggression and he started attacking everyone–my grandmother, my brother, my mom, even me. I still have the scars to prove it. Eventually, he attacked my cousin–who was a little boy at the time–and sent him to the emergency room.
We ended up putting Hemingway down after that.
I came home from the vet that afternoon, locked myself in my bedroom and sobbed into my bed until my sheets were wet. My mother too, who was heartbroken in her own way, cried a lot. This worried my father. He knocked on my door and asked me what was wrong. I explained that we put Hemingway down and after pausing a moment, he snarled at me,
“You need to stop crying about it. It’s not good to show so much emotion.”
I could write a book about the philosophical, cultural, sociological and psychological underpinnings of my father’s cruel remonstration but, for some reason, it stuck with me. I took every last shred of guilt, shame, and grief that afternoon and threw it into a closet before running in the other direction–in part because I didn’t think I deserved to grieve over the dog I killed. But also because I thought that my tears made me weak. I very rarely let myself think about Hemingway for fear that doing so might somehow unleash a torrent of ugly emotions that have festered over the past two decades. And so, there they reside–safely locked away in that closet from polite conversation, daily obligations, and even extraordinary circumstances. I did not allow myself to think of Hemingway even when Daisy died, but for one fleeting thought:
Maybe Hemingway can show her around up there.
As much as I try to avoid being like my father sometimes, I am my father’s daughter. I have inherited his passion for donuts and fried foods, as well as this completely ridiculous belief that emotions are bad. And like my father, I have alarmingly abrupt emotional outbursts. My father–usually even keeled and slow to anger–will go orbital at seemingly innocuous offenses. Like the time he nearly threw me out of the house because the rice was not cooked to his liking. Or the time he almost disowned my little brother because he was convinced Jaesun was stealing his socks. My father, so stoic most of the time, openly weeps at Korean dramas, soap operas, and Disney movies. He had to pause The Little Princess so that he could mop his face with toilet paper under the guise of needing to take a leak.
Despite being born in America, attending American schools, eating American food, speaking American English, watching American TV, listening to American music, I somehow still learned from my Korean Daddy that the best way to “deal with my emotions” was to pretend I didn’t have any. As a result, as a 35 year old woman with a law degree and car payments under her belt, when crisis hit and the bad feelings came hell or high water, I turned to Google to help me cope.
And for the first time, Google failed.
Next stop was pharmaceuticals. My doctor prescribed antidepressants, but I still found myself dripping bodily fluids into my keyboard at work while my estranged husband accused me of being a remorseless bitch over the phone. I went back to said doctor and asked him to double the dosage, to which he cautioned, “Well, the point of these pills is not to turn you into a robot…” To which I replied,
“That’s exactly what I want. To be a robot.”
I was in such a rush to “get through the divorce,” I never once considered facing the feelings head on. Ironic, I guess. In my job, there’s a strategy called “fronting your weakest fact.” That means that when making an argument in court, in lieu of waiting for the other side to point out your weakness, you prophylactically advise the court of it and then spin it. In other words, you deal with your weaknesses head on.
In the case of my divorce, I threw a ton of money at the situation with the hope of paying for my guilt. I felt (and still feel) insanely guilty for leaving my husband behind in our home. And maybe because of that guilt, I never let myself think about precisely why I was leaving my husband. I wrote about how miserable I was all the time on Tumblr, talked about it with my therapist for hours and hours until her tissue box was in tatters, but, I never ever got down to the “nub” of what ultimately drove me away from the man I swore to love until the day I died.
It has been nearly four years since my divorce. Since then, I met a man who is, in so many important ways, very different from my ex-husband. I intend to marry this man in July. I have a few things to tidy up before doing that: I’d like to make my final alimony payment before then, remove my name from both the mortgage on and title to the house my ex-husband has been living in since I left, convince my ex-husband to start paying for his own phone bill.
I have also decided that it’s time. It’s time to step out of the closet.
I started dating my ex-husband when I was 18 years old. I married him when I was 26. I divorced him when I was 35. We were together for nearly 18 years in total, during which I spent inordinate amounts of time in closets. Walk in closets, broom closets, storage closets. I learned within a month of dating my ex-husband that he, too, had difficulties “dealing with his emotions.” He would grow angry with me over things (over the tone of my voice, because I left the ice cream out, that time I removed his hand from my bare shoulder because it was hot and sticky in our apartment) and I would get angry back. We would argue like a normal couple would. But, eventually, things would grow decidedly abnormal. He would begin hurling invectives–calling me names, getting personal. When he grew fatigued, he would shut me out altogether and pretend I wasn’t there. I would sob in the corner of our living room while he watched TV and ate dinner without so much as glancing in my direction. This would last for hours sometimes. It was usually around this time–when literally crying for his attention didn’t work–that I would remove myself and hide in the closet.
There, surrounded by sweatshirts and jeans and t-shirts that smelled of his cigarettes with nothing but the waning daylight creeping through the crack underneath my door to keep me anchored, I would let myself cry and howl as loudly as I dared. It was safe in my closet. No one could see me falling apart in my closet. No one was there to witness my shame, because that is what it was. Shame, crawling into me like a hoard of hungry ants and devouring up every inch of my body until it was coming up and out of my mouth in dry, heaving sobs. There, within the four dark corners of my closet, I could tell God to go fuck himself, make all sorts of promises about how it was “over,” rehearse in my head exactly what words I’d use to cement the dissolution of our marriage. There, inside my closet, I could pretend that I was the strong, bold, fierce woman I knew my mother and her mother before her was. There, inside my closet, I would pretend that I could walk out of that closet, out of our bedroom, and out of our front door and never look back.
Eventually, though, I would hear my husband’s footsteps bounding up the stairs, his fists pounding on the door of my closet, as if he could rattle me out of there like a can of Coke stuck in a vending machine. And all of my resolve, all the things I’d dreamt up in that closet of mine, they would evaporate. Because I couldn’t bear to have him screaming at me any longer. I would open the door, fall to my knees, throw my arms around his legs and beg him. Just beg him to forgive me for getting angry. For having the audacity to fight back. For crying so much in my closet.
When I think now about why I eventually left my husband, I don’t think about the time he hit me. In all honestly, he was very very drunk and he almost missed. Although he could get “handsy” when he was mad, in all 18 years of our relationship, he only struck me once. And it hurt my heart far more than it hurt my head.
No, when I think about the answer to the question, “Why did you leave your husband?” I immediately recall the one time I didn’t have a closet to run into when he lost his temper.
My husband was laid off from his job the day we closed on our first house. I tried not to panic and look at the bright side. I told him, “I make enough money for the two of us. Why don’t you take a little time and think about what you really want to do with your life? Art? Music? Teaching?” He spent the next three years playing xbox and getting high (behind my back). After three years of collecting unemployment checks, I decided it was time to talk to him about finding a job. I knew broaching the subject was like “asking for it,” but I could no longer bear coming home from work at midnight to him playing video games.
It was a sunny afternoon–bright and warm, after a long cold spell. I suggested we head to a local park where we could take a walk. I thought perhaps the weather would keep him calm. Apparently, we were not alone in thinking that an afternoon outdoors was a good idea. It was as if all the surrounding suburbs decided to pitch a block party on the rolling green grass. They brought lawn chairs and blankets, volleyballs and baseball gloves. There were bicycles, tricycles, and rollerblades traversing the very path I walked with my husband when I carefully inquired,
“So…, what is the plan for your next job?”
It started out the same way as all of our fights. Normal. We disagreed about things. We argued. Eventually, the argument grew heated and we headed to the car, where we continued. And there, in the privacy of our parked car, he raised his voice. He started calling me a selfish bitch, accusing me of lording over him with my high paying job. He was screaming at me and I was crying, again, only this time, I had no place to hide. So, I got out of the car. I decided that I would rather walk home in my sandals than have to be yelled at during the ride. I started marching vaguely in the direction of our house, pressing the heel of my hand against my face to stop the tears. I didn’t look back, I didn’t slow down, I didn’t stop walking.
“GET BACK IN THE CAR YOU BITCH!!”
He had pulled up next to me. He slowed, rolled down the window, and screamed at me from his car. He started honking his horn to punctuate his words,
“YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME, YOU THINK YOU CAN DO THIS TO ME, GET BACK IN THE CAR!!”
I stopped walking.
The bright sunny park–with its volleyballs and rollerblades and picnic baskets and lawn chairs–grew eerily quiet. I looked past my husband’s honking car to see a family of three–a father and two little girls, in matching helmets on their bicycles, stopped in their tracks. The look on that man’s face, of pure incredulity and blinding pity as he watched me stumble towards my husband’s car–I will never forget it for as long as I live. What was he thinking? I know what he was thinking:
“My daughters will never grow up to be like her.”
This “episode” catapulted me over the edge. I started to fall out of love with my husband that day, when he exposed my shame to the entire world on the brightest sunniest day. It was as if he were declaring to everyone, “Wait and see boys and girls! Boy, have I got a magic act for you this afternoon!! You see this woman?? She may look like a powerful big shot lawyer on the outside, but with a wave of my wand, I’ll melt away her facade and you’ll see her for what she REALLY is! Sniveling, weak, crawling on her hands and knees if I so much as look at her wrong.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason I fell out of love with him was pretty simple:
I was angry.
Like, stupid sputtering spittle in his face angry. I wanted to beat him senseless, pull all his hair out, kick him in the penis. I wanted to hurt him as badly as he hurt me. I wanted to destroy him for destroying our marriage, for taking all the softest parts of me and tearing them to bits in front of a bunch of strangers. But I learned that fighting back the way he did only made him more hateful, more cruel. Therefore, I never allowed myself to feel mad.
Instead, I served him with divorce papers.
I was not a saint during our marriage. I have a temper, too. I can get angry over things as inexplicable as stolen socks and undercooked rice. I gather that many of our “fights” were escalated by my abject inability to cope with his anger and my propensity to cry. And for a long time, I would say these things over and over again to myself so that a part of me would never have to walk out of that closet. Because as long as I stayed in there, I wouldn’t have to go through with walking out of our house. Walking out on him.
And here I thought, all these years, that I left that stupid closet behind me when I packed up my piano, all my books, my guitar, and camera and drove into the city to my new apartment. I thought that when I started unpacking my things and organizing my brand new walk in closet, that I had finally come into my own. I believed that when I showed up to court for the final hearing of our divorce, that I had seen the last of the woman who shriveled up into a quivering ball when my ex-husband started raising his voice and pounding his fists. And I believed, truly, that if I made partner at a large law firm, if I dated enough men, ran enough marathons, made enough money–I would someday grow into the woman I always pretended to be before my ex-husband unmasked me.
I was wrong. As my fiancé knows, I have nightmares about my ex, regularly. It is the one topic of conversation I avoid during my therapy sessions, which often requires me to lie to my therapist (“Oh, my ex? We’re fine. It’ll be fine. No worries, I’m fine.”) Two days ago, a good friend of mine asked me over Skype how things were going with my ex-husband, now that I was getting remarried. Digging deep on a Friday morning at the office, surrounded by my diplomas, briefs, and business cards, I confessed the following:
“I don’t let myself get angry with him, because I know how much pain he can still cause me.”
And there they were.
Those goddamn tears prickling the corners of my eyes.
The truth is, a part of me never left that damn closet.
And it’s time for her to come out.