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FEATURES May 17 2013 10:07AM

Lisa Shares Her First Marriage Trials and Her Own Redemption

Even though my parents divorced by the time I was 10 years old, I still believed very much in marriage. My parents handled their divorce very well and my brother, Philip, and I had a great relationship with my Dad and we saw him all the time. Other members of my family were married, some, more than once. But, the trend seemed to be if there were two marriages, the first one was very short and viewed as a "mistake" and the second one stuck.

I was married once before. We were separated in less than a year's time and my second marriage, the one I am in now, is 21 years old. I did not think I would have divorced when I got married but when it is wrong, it is wrong.


I met my first husband on the subway train. I was very young, only 17. But, in some ways, I was mature because I was already in college. But, in the ways of love and relationships, I knew nothing. I had never had a boyfriend before. I had never been on a date. The only relationships I had had were one-sided. I had a crush and never told the other person. Part of the reason for that was the fact that I was two years ahead in school. I started high school at age 12 because I had been skipped in junior high. I was also a late bloomer and at age 12, I looked like I was ten.

So, when this cute guy with the big smile and mischievous green/hazel eyes smiled at me, I blushed and smiled back. Something about him did look familiar and it felt like a "line" to say "Excuse me, do I know you from somewhere?" But, I did it anyway and he jumped up out of his seat, seemingly thrilled to have a reason to talk to me and again I blushed. Turns out we went to the same high school, two years apart. We did not know each other in school but must have seen each other, which is why his face looked familiar to me. He had to get off the train before me. He asked me for my phone number. Neither of us had pen or paper and he left the train, repeating my number over and over again until he reached the street and got a pen to write it down. When he called me later that evening, I was already in love. Well, now I know that all I that was infatuation and flattery, but at the time to my 17-year-old, innocent heart, it was love.


From here on, I will refer to my first husband by the name Miguel. He was Panamanian. The middle child of three and the only boy. At the time we met, he was in college, as was I, and living at home with his mom and his younger sister. He also had a job and worked really hard. Miguel spoke Spanish, he danced with an African dance company, he was a vegetarian and introduced me to it. Everything we did was a first for me and I was flattered to not be alone. To have someone tell me I was pretty, someone to take me ice skating and someone teaching me things I did not know about.

My family did not like him at all. It is pretty safe to say that my mother hated Miguel. She tolerated him and did not forbid us from seeing each other because her best friend convinced her it would only bring us closer together. That worked until I announced I wanted to leave school. I ha gotten a job at American Express and my temporary summer job was being offered to me with a new full-time status. It was an entry level position in Customer Service and I was tired of school. I was attending a college I did not want to attend and I was taking classes that my father told me to take and I hated every minute of it and could not do it anymore. I now know that I was depressed and part of being with Miguel was that he was the only light I felt I had. So, when Mommy told me that as long as I was in her house, I was going to school...I left.

I left my mother's home with just the clothes on my back and I went to Miguel. Within a couple of days he found us an apartment in Brooklyn, he helped me out with money, I bought clothes from the Salvation Army and suddenly, I was living with a man and no longer with Mommy.

Everything seemed fine because we lived in our own little first vegetarian world. We slowly built a home, bit by bit. Miguel's way of loving was all I knew. I wasn't mature enough or experienced enough to know that it was wrong.

One of the saddest things about our marriage is that I do not remember him proposing. Miguel and I belonged to a group that practiced vegetarianism, yoga and meditation. Even though my mom and I mended our relationship. I apologized and she forgave me and we were speaking, I was very isolated in my world with Miguel. I did what he wanted to do. If I acted like I wanted to be someplace else or do something else, he took it to mean that I didn't want to be with him. That I wasn't happy. I hated that he felt that way and I constantly tried to figure out how to show him that I loved him. But nothing was ever enough. As Miguel and I continued to work and live together our "meditation group" evolved into a cult. I could call it an "alternative religion" but that would be sugar-coating it. But, at the same time, it wasn't a drink-the-Kool-Aid kind of cult, but a cult, nonetheless. The cult decided to have a group wedding. Twenty-one couples and Miguel basically signed us up. That was my proposal.

Writing this, is making me a little nauseous. It is hard for me to believe that I was that person. I am grateful for being able to one day share this story with my daughter when she says, "But Momma, I love him." "Yeah, so did I. Now, sit down and let me tell you a story, little girl." I just did not know enough to be getting married. All that I knew was he was my first love, my first boyfriend, the man who took my virginity, who else am I supposed to marry?  So, along with 20 other brides-to-be, I planned my wedding.

Though odd and very different from most weddings, mine did have its tender moments. However, we shared an invitation with 20 other couples, no real color scheme, no best men and bridesmaids because, no bridal shower or bachelor party, no engagement ring and we all had the same wedding ring. 42 people with the same ring. Isn't that special? Not what I had envisioned for myself at all. The best part were our vows. I sang mine to him and I made him cry, he very rarely showed emotion. When he said his vows he said things to me I never heard him say before or ever again after, but in that moment his words were beautiful.

My family really could not tolerate what I was doing and they were not there. My mother did come but the ceremony took so long and it was held in an armory, and she did not have a seat, after a while she had to go. Mommy did not have strong legs and it was too much. She had been standing for over two hours. If that wasn't enough, turns out the person who married us wasn't officially licensed to do so on that day. So, even though I had a ceremony on October 2nd, my marriage license had a date two weeks later. We were off to a great start.


Marriage for me the first time around, was pretty bad. But, because I did not know any better, I kept thinking it would change. It didn't. Miguel wasn't much of a romantic before we were married and once we were husband and wife he behaved as if there was a specified role he was now required to play. He functioned in the marriage without love and emotion and did things out of duty. And he expected me to be a wife in the same way. I was only 20 years old. What had I done? So, when people ask how did you know when it wasn't right, I remember crying on my wedding night because it was already different. No real honeymoon, no magical wedding night, we didn't even cuddle. I could not imagine what had gone wrong and it only got worse from there.

Miguel became angry all the time. I could never cook enough food, cook it fast enough or spicy enough. If it was spicy he wanted it to be bland and vice versa. We lived in many different apartments because he would get into fights with our landlords and they would throw us out. We finally ended up in my dad's house with his ex-wife, three blocks from my m and for the first time in a long time, I felt safe. I had people near me that I loved and who loved me back. I was sad all the time. I was lonely all the time and I did not know how to tell anyone. How do you tell people you made this huge mistake when they were the ones who told you you were making a huge mistake. I could not prove them right. I had to make it work and make him happy and make him love me and make him be nice.

At one point, Miguel had gotten a job at a nursing home and he was working nights. We were watching TV one night before he was about to leave and I cuddled next to him and said, "I wish you didn't have to leave. I miss you at night when I am all alone." He began to yell at me and scold me like I was a child. "You spoiled, selfish, little brat. You should be happy that I go to work and take care of us and pay the rent and put food on the table instead of whining like a baby that you want me to stay home." I had a job within two days and I never said that to him again.

Time went by and things got worse. We got kicked out of that apartment because Miguel got into a huge fight with my father's ex wife. I think my mother could sense that something was about to happen and she told me to come home. Her tenant was moving and she wanted us to take the apartment. She told me later she wanted me close to her, just in case.

Now that I am older and wiser I look back on this and I realize that moving back to my mother's home helped to save me. In her house Miguel's negativity had to fight through a lot of love and I was less isolated. Less in that world of Miguel and all of his wants and needs. About six or seven months before it all fell apart, we began to hang out with another couple. They were new to the "cult" and pretty close to us in age, also married in their early twenties and no children yet. Being with them showed me, in a big way, everything my marriage was lacking. The more time I spent in their company the more I realized my marriage was badly broken and possibly could not be fixed. One of most embarrassing moments with them was being at the beach and having to rub suntan oil on my own back. Miguel would never do it. I was expected to service him, of course, it was my job, my role in this play known as our marriage. I twisted my arms and slapped oil onto my back and felt like a fool. To make things worse, my friend, Sule, asked his wife, Vanessa if it was okay to help me out and rub the oil on may back. She said yes and he did and Miguel did not bat an eye. Wow!


At this point, I am sure you are thinking, This chick is so foolish to stay with this man. Perhaps I was, but I am a Taurus. Most people say that we are stubborn and bull-headed. More accurately, we are loyal to a fault, and when we are in something, we are in it all the way, and we are stubborn in our faithfulness. It does not waiver. That was me. Though I did it in an unconventional way, I had taken vows, and I wasn't just going to give up without working hard to fix things. I tried, and I failed time and time again. Slowly, I began to realize I could not fix him, and even worse, I no longer wanted to.


I began to fight back. We never fought physically. Miguel was always verbally abusive and after hearing so much, so many times, the words no longer hurt. One night I confronted him and told him he was going to have to do better because I wasn't running away crying anymore. I realized he was using mean words to intimidate me and make be back down. Not anymore. I pushed and I pushed and I yelled back, and he lunged at me from across the room, and I ran. I did not look back. I was not going to be that woman who gets hit and beaten and bruised. He claimed he wasn't going to hit me. He just didn't know what to do when I fought back. He asked me to come home, and I told him, I would only come back if we lived separately.


We split the apartment and lived like roommates. It was silly, but I liked it. One side of the apartment was light. The other was dark. I became less sad. I no longer waited for him to take me anywhere. I went out to eat, went out to the movies and hung out with friends. It was a wonderful summer. I felt almost free. I still cooked for him, but mainly to keep him quiet so that I could do what I wanted to do. It was during this summer that I realized I no longer loved him. Not at all. I didn’t hate him, but I could not love him. I was done. That’s another Taurus thing: When we are in we are all the way in and when we are out, boy are we out. It was over.


Miguel sensed it and became meaner still, and he got to the point where he was not putting money into our home. He stopped giving my mother rent and he began to stop giving me money. I was in between jobs, and for about a month, I lived off of the kindness of Sule and Vanessa. Miguel ate his meals out because there was no food in the house, at all. My mother told me that I needed to ask him to leave. She was ready to rent out the fourth floor apartment, since there was no rent being paid, and she had enough room to move me to the third floor of her home, but he would have to go. I knew she was right. We had arrived to that place together, Mommy and I, during that summer. I think Mommy knew I needed someone to tell me it was okay to let go. I had worked hard and tried hard, and this just wasn't going to work.


I asked Miguel to leave in September. A little less than a month away from

our anniversary. He hit me in the face with his wedding ring as he threw it across the room. It hit my cheek just under my eye, and it stung. I remember wanting to throw it back at him and say something, and I could hear voices, concerned loving voices, telling me to "Let him go." And I did.


During the end of our marriage (because these things are never simple), I discovered that Miguel was struggling with his sexual identity. It was such a relief when I heard that news because now it all made sense. I did not fail, he was not mean just to be mean, we just didn't work because he wasn't being who he truly was. One thing that marriage taught me is that people love whom they love and they are attracted to whom they are attracted to—and he was not attracted to me. He loved me, but he could not be in love with me. He also could not admit to himself who he was and what he wanted, so he played a role. The role of the dutiful husband, and when he couldn't do it anymore, he became mean and abusive because it was easier to push me away than it was for him to admit he wanted me to be a man.


Hearing that new was a blessing to me. It gave me my life back and made me

believe in love again, and I knew it could be better with the right person. Even though Miguel left angry and hurt, we did speak again until years later when he was better. He had accepted who he was and was in a committed relationship with a man and was happy. As happy as he could be since, in general, he was a bit of a crabby person.


When I spoke to him I was happy too. At the time I was dating my husband, Gordon, and my world was pretty wonderful. I had learned what I needed in a relationship. I learned to NEVER settle. We all have to compromise in marriage and relationships, but compromise is a two-way street. With Miguel, I had been living on a dead-end street, trying to do all of the bending and twisting for the both of us. Not good. Not possible and not sustainable.


I learned I had to love me and through others loving me, I learned how it felt to be loved and pampered and babied and spoiled, and I have never had to rub suntan oil on my own back ever again. I learned how to lose myself in passion and love, and not in another person.


I used to be sad that I had to go through all of that. I felt like I had wasted time, but once the positive began to outweigh the negative, I learned that that experience was a means to an end. I learned that it was okay to go through a bad marriage as long as I could survive it, and I did.


As far as advice for others who are experiencing a similar situation, it’s hard, because each person's situation is unique. I remember being told by a counselor at our "church" that I needed to cater to my man and give him everything he needed—and that was the problem right there. I could never do that; I didn't have a penis. And I am not saying that to be funny; I truly mean that. There is no one answer that fits all.


Thankfully, God guided me out of that marriage, relatively unscathed. The blow was cushioned by the love of another man, but that is a story for another day. Miguel and I did not become lovers in the biblical sense, but we were lovers in our hearts and minds, and we have remained friends to this day. Loving him taught me what to look for and what to feel and what is right, and when I met Gordon, I knew. I just knew.


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