The most difficult aspect of our move to Missouri was the realization that our past had not been jettisoned upon arrival. We had gone, and still there we were. I might have been physically removed from the object of my desire, but the need was ever present, and we both came to the difficult realization that it was far from over. This had been more than a fling: I had fallen in love and now had to figure out how to fall out of it – but the will was not there. So as I grew more unwilling to pursue this fantasy desire, I paradoxically became more unwilling to throw it away.
I simply could not let her go.
Though things were going well in the ministry, though we were becoming acclimated and establishing bonds with our staff and students, and though our family had begun to grow, we both knew something had to break. Mikala had already grieved for the loss of the picture-perfect family she had sought – had deserved – her sufferings growing her in stature and softening in countenance. To her deep sadness and frustration, my wife saw that I, too, needed to grieve and somehow, found the inner reserve to allow me the space to do so.
But I was stuck somewhere between “bargaining” and “depression,” unable to let go of a path I had clearly not chosen but still desired. I had to figure out how to fall out of love with one woman and back in love with Mikala. For her part, as we grew into our lives in Warrensburg she began to see more in me than simply someone she had forgiven, but a companion with whom she wanted to walk this path. Watching this occur within someone who had extended such grace, I began to feel more and more frustrated at my inability to reciprocate, but could not for the life of me simply be done.
But part of me loved the pain. A subtle masochism took root in my heart as I tasted the delicious pain of pining after one I could not have – and feeling guilt for the one I was supposed to have but could not bring myself to want. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t sustainable. Either this new life or the fantasy must be abandoned. So I went to the bottom; drank the cup to its dregs and grieved deeply the bittersweet flavor of the life I’d created. It was visceral and physical, wringing my soul dry like a soaked wrag.
And then one day, it was over. It happened in a million steps. It happened in one.
I remember one day near the end of summer (a whole year after moving to Missouri): we were visiting a friends’ home in the country, and I stood alone outside, holding my infant son, Leland, as dusk fell gently around, silently weeping. I wept for the loss of my love, yes, but more for all I might have inflicted on this innocent one in my arms, who in that moment seemed more than a child but a symbol of everyone caught in the net of pain I had created; a sacrament, a doorway through grief into what? Emptiness? Joy? I thought of my long-suffering wife; of my children, too young to know what had happened (though someday they will); of my extended family, a small number who knew and supported us, and the larger group whose support I doubted should the truth come out; of Bonnie who lost a job and community; my students, confused and feeling forced into taking sides; and of course this young woman, to whom I offered a vision of a life I could not deliver.
I wept. Then I took a deep, cleansing breath of the sultry summer evening and . . . I knew it was over.
Of course it wasn’t that simple – the idea of her wasn’t out of my system immediately and will never fully leave, and there were relapses and days of longing, but they became fewer and farther between. Gradually, the fog between Mikala and myself lifted. My heart turned toward the woman to whom I had first promised myself, who had stayed and miraculously loved me still – and I found to my delight I loved her too. I reawakened to the beauty of her eyes, her smile. We laughed together.
It was if I had been reborn, and it was exhilarating: colors bursting back into life, sounds into stereo – you know, life. I was alive. And for the first time it was good not only to be alive but to be here, now, with this person.
But who exactly was she now? Who was I?
“True transformation,” Fr. Rohr says, “Comes by great love – or great suffering.” We had experienced both; had walked through fire through to the other side – often by the sheer force of Mikala’s love and will – but the people who emerged were almost unrecognizable to themselves, each other, and their loved ones. What would these new people find about the new world given to them, still tired and full of darkness, yet so fresh and clean?