I hated talking to him over the telephone, or in person, for that matter. His voice sounded the same; it was the same voice that used to tell me he loved me and once proposed marriage to me. It was the same voice that used to call me his girl and tell me I was beautiful. It was the same voice that reassured me, several months earlier, that there was no one else but me. Over the telephone, he still sounded like the man I knew so well and loved so very much, but the things he said now couldn’t be reconciled with the man I had known for over a decade. His ability to sound the same while being completely different was a mental trick, and it made me crazy.
He told me he didn’t love me over the telephone.
I was in a hotel room in Michigan, preparing to present an academic paper about nothing to a room full of over-educated students when he told me. It was a casual topic to him; he just stopped loving me, that’s it. Yes, it was a decade of marriage. Yes, we had two sons. Yes, I thought we were happy. But he just didn’t love me anymore. No other reason. After failing to convince him he was wrong, that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress after his deployment, he hung up. In that moment, I had two choices: stop breathing or pray. I hit my knees and didn’t get up for hours. My legs went numb from the stemming of blood flow. Strangely, my heart continued to beat; the blood traveled through the major veins, then to my lungs, emptying out to my hands and tingling in my feet. Without thinking, almost by an instinct buried deep inside after having been planted in my childhood, I grabbed at the hotel Bible on the desk in front of me and opened it to anywhere. The forty-first book of Isaiah appeared. Isaiah 41:10 was my life preserver. I was drowning in a pain I didn’t know was possible, and I grabbed onto the words I could barely read through the fog in both my eyes:
“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I just kept reading those words, chanting them, over and over and over to the empty room. I don’t know how long I knelt there, on the floor in East Lansing, rocking back and forth. Sometimes I sobbed, a guttural sound I had never heard myself make before. I cried so hard that I don’t know how I didn’t just simply die from the hurt. But, I didn’t. I was a wounded animal writhing in pain, other times, I was speaking the verse and begging a God I had neglected for nearly all of my life. All that from a phone call.
Now, I had to talk to him over the phone again. Since he moved out several months earlier, we had communicated entirely through email and text messaging. For him, I was easier to manage through the distance of a text message or an email, none of those messy crying situations to ignore, or pretend to ignore. I almost understood his choice, because I could hardly handle the crying myself. But there would be no crying during this phone call. I was determined not to allow him any more tears. Not this evening, anyway. As I waited for him to answer the phone, I expected it to go to voicemail, and I could leave him a message. There was only a couple of weeks remaining before I got on a plane to my pre-deployment training, and he needed that time to prepare to be a full-time father for the next year. I had waited long enough, and leaving a message was more than fine with me. He answered on the fourth ring.
“Hi, it’s Nancy.” I waited for his reaction. I knew this wasn’t a surprise to him. Caller identification guaranteed the lack of surprise. But I always hoped to hear a hint of excitement and joy when he talked to me, like he used to before the end started. There was none.
“Yeah, I know. How’re things going?” The casual, nonchalant stranger on the phone sounded like my beloved husband, but he was not. I took a deep breath and rushed through my news.
After a long pause, I think he may have been crying, he said, “be careful, Nance.” That was it. This time, I hung up first.