By Kenneth Justice
~ This past weekend I was in Philadelphia sitting at a cool little coffee house called Caffeination. I was taking a short break in-between meeting with readers and fellow bloggers when the woman near me asked if I could plug the cord of her laptop into the outlet next to me and we ended up talking.
The tall, late 30ish woman asked me what I was doing in Philadelphia and when I gave her the details of my Drinking in the Culture Tour her eyes lit up,
“You’re looking for stories? Then let me tell you my story and how all my dreams have literally been destroyed” she said
Apparently, the woman grew up in a somewhat religious household and married at a young age to one of her fellow parishioners, a childhood sweetheart of sorts. They soon had a little family going of two children. Her husband was the primary caretaker of the children and only worked part time as a carpenter because she was enjoying so much success in her career.
“Everything was going really well and I used to often think to myself that we were totally living the American dream” she said
According to the woman it was around the fifth or sixth year of marriage that things began to go haywire,
“I noticed things about my husband that just didn’t sit right with me. Nervous ticks that he had, things he would say or not say. It wasn’t enough for me to put my finger on anything specific, and it’s only in retrospect that I’m now even able to see what was going on” she said
Her husband it turns out was diagnosed as manic depressive and slightly schizophrenic, “By the 8th year of marriage our relationship was literally non-existent. Ever year he became worse and worse emotionally and mentally till I couldn’t take it anymore” she said
Thankfully there was no abuse, “He never hit me or intentionally harmed our children. But because of his mental state I couldn’t really trust him anymore. He became just so damn irresponsible and I could spend hours telling you of all the times where he put our children at risk”
Eventually she was forced to separate, yet because of her husband’s mental problems she felt responsible for taking care of him, “What was I supposed to do? Kick him out and have him live on the street? He got to the point where he could barely show up to work on time” she said
Obviously there is more to the story and the woman admitted as much, “It feels good to tell a stranger” she said, “But even in this there are a lot of private things that still hurt too much for me to tell you”
The woman is now raising three children all on her own and still giving money to the husband so he can stay afloat, “If I used to be living the American dream, now I’m living the American nightmare” she said, “I’m working a full time job, raising my kids, giving money to the psycho-man from hell, and most of the time I cry myself to sleep at night. I don’t trust men anymore, how can I? How can I take the chance of opening up to someone after my entire life turned to s**t because of one person? My children aren’t able to completely understand what is wrong with their father, and so they still love him. Some days I feel like it would be better if he got cancer and just died. And after five years of being separated, I feel just as heart-wrenched as I did in year one” she said
It’s difficult when I have conversations like this because all I want to do is come up with solutions. What about psychosomatic drugs? What about intensive therapy? What about your parents and siblings helping you? But it’s not my place to start a therapy session in the middle of a coffee shop with a stranger, and besides; I’m sure the woman has thought through many different solutions to her problems.
It’s April and I’ve now completed coffee house stops in Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This weekend I’ll be in Madison, Wisconsin. As I take a moment to reflect on the past four weeks, I’m realizing that there are so many different emotions people are going through in this world. On Saturday I went from hearing this tear drenched story from the mother of three, to hearing the incredible joy-filled story of Rebecca the missionary from India I wrote about yesterday.
For myself, this has already been quite an emotional roller-coaster. The people I’ve met and the conversations we’ve had have challenged me to rethink a lot of things in my own life. I’m having a difficult time understanding all that I am feeling and thinking at the moment.
I wish every story I write could be warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately, the world we live in is filled with both joy and tragedy, and learning how to navigate these varied emotions is perhaps the secret to long-term maturation.
Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning,
Categories: Culture & Society