He sits alone in church, feeling every eye on him and hearing the whispers. He knows what people think. Somehow, they always think it was the man’s fault. He must have cheated. He must have been abusive. He must drink or gamble or maybe he can’t hold a job.
The truth is that she just wanted something else. Something new. Someone with more money and a better sense of fashion. So…she left. Oh, she claimed he was this or he was that, but ultimately, in a no-fault-divorce world, she was just creating a diversion. A puff or two of smoke to turn a few friends in her favor and make sure she got primary custody.
Her heart wasn’t broken by this, so she assumes his won’t be either. But it is, and she resents him for that. “Why can’t he just get on with life? Why does he miss the kids so much? Why does he act so hurt that she’s dating already?” She spits these questions out at him sometimes when she sees the loneliness in his eyes and it bites at her conscience. Or what little remains of it.
He sits in church alone. Sometimes, he glances to his right and remembers when she used to be sitting there with him. And their little girl. Like a family. Like it was supposed to be. He hears the whispers of the Enemy of his soul… “Look at you. You’re a failure. Your wife isn’t here anymore. Your child isn’t here. This is where families come, and you don’t even have one now.” He says these last words with a hiss. The legendary split tongue cutting its way into his heart. He brushes back a few tears and tries to hold his head high. He’d hoped he’d at least still belong here, in this place of sanctuary but he doesn’t feel very welcomed anymore. In fact, he doesn’t feel anything. He feels invisible.
Ever since she left, people have been awkward, and they avoid him altogether. They don’t know what to say so they say nothing. The silence seems, to him, to be a guilty verdict. By saying nothing, they say “Yeah…we kind of side with her on this…” at least that’s how it feels to him. Because nobody will say anything.
People are always telling him they are praying for him. People like to say that. Especially when they don’t know what else to say. Oddly…nobody ever stops and prays for him then. They just continue to remind him that when he is all alone, and when he could use an arm around his shoulder but never feels one, and when he wonders how he is going to be a decent dad to a little girl, and when his heart aches so much he thinks it might give out, and when he feels as if he is fading into nothingness…those times when he could use a prayer, “oh don’t worry, we’re praying, brother. You’ll never hear it or feel the comfort of it but take our word for it. We’re praying.”
He wonders why they wonder why he stops coming. Why he stopped going out to dinner with the group after church on Sunday morning. Why he doesn’t return phone calls anymore. What did they think he’d do?” He asks himself. The loneliness is consuming sometimes, and he could use a friend. But they act like he is radioactive. Like they might get some of this one them. So, they steer clear, and he gives them a wider berth.
The holidays are the toughest. The holidays and his daughter’s birthday. Christmas is supposed to be for families. It has always been for families. Thanksgiving too. Family, smiles, traditions, joy. It’s not supposed to be an alternating schedule of sorrow and happiness. One year you get to have Christmas like an almost-normal family. The other you get to sleep in, not wanting to get out of bed because your daughter isn’t there and you don’t have any real reason to get up. Christmas on any other day but Christmas is anticlimactic. But you soldier on.
I could say he gets used to this, but in reality, it’s just that his scars grow thicker and his emotions lie buried beneath and ever-increasing layer of numbness. Trust? Trust whom? He trusted once. Trusted so much that he made a vow. For life. Look how that worked out. Look at this life he has. Love? It’s hard to believe in something again when it has wounded you so deeply.
Years pass, and he finally arrives at something like normalcy again. He is, in many ways, his old self again. But in many ways, in crucial, core-of-the-man ways he is not. He is still a romantic, but it’s measured now and quickly caught when it begins to show its face. He used to truly love the company of other people. Now he prefers his solitude. In fact, being around people for too long makes him nervous and uncomfortable. He is nothing like he used to be, but people expect him to be like he used to be, and they wind up disappointed.
What did you expect? You watched as his soul was torn out and you offered no relief. You expected him to handle it the way you think you’ll handle it if it ever happens to you. Only it never has happened to you. And you don’t really know how you’d handle it.
He is broken, this man who sits alone. He is scarred over and unfeeling in the places where he ought to be feeling the most at this stage of life.
On the outside he looks the same, but inside, where the wounds live, he is twisted and garish, like some invisible Quasimodo, hiding in the cathedral of his own heart, deaf, and brutish, and only feeling the love of his bells. Inanimate objects who stole his hearing but soothed his heart. Sometimes, he looks at the people around him…the ones who smile and wave but step up their pace and politely escape his hardened sorrow. And like Quasimodo, gazing upon a gargoyle as he hangs on for dear life, he whispers, “Why was I not made of stone, as thee.”