A Life Interrupted

Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. ~ Steel Magnolias

By Susan Olsen

Looking back, I can see clearly the sharp turns and unexpected interruptions that have made my life both interesting and terrible. Now, nearly 15 long years after my first D-Day, I can say confidently that the interesting moments have outweighed the terrible; but the season of terror shaped me in ways that can’t be undone.

Most of the interruptions of my life were expected or gainful: break-ups; moves to different states for school, jobs, and bigger homes; the deaths of my parents who left too soon but nonetheless passed the generational baton on to me; and the births of my precious girls that rendered me awestruck and forever vulnerable.

Through each and every interruption, I felt a continuity in my life and my friendships .... until D-Day.

D-Day wan’t an interruption, it was a cataclysmic upheaval. Friendships faded or failed as they no longer “fit” or could not withstand the chaos. My footing gave way as the foundations of my life buckled, and my busy family home is now three disorienting moves removed from the sweet little condo I call home.

I’ve always made my most enduring friendships during common struggles. I remain dear friends with a few sweet souls who battled through the awkward teen years with me. We waded through hormones and crushes and first drinks and heartbreaks. We used Q-tips to mop up runny mascara when parents died too young, and we honed our driving skills by sneaking the family sedan into wide open fields.

My grad school friends are precious as my final peer group. We launched into full-fledged adulthood together, our common profession binding us through the years. We’ve shared weddings, births, deaths, and divorces. These were the last women to know me as a “kid,” with that carefree and selfish nature that life eventually strips away from the emotionally sound.

I still treasure the women with whom I became a young mother. While our children played, we whispered about episiotomies and mastitis. We learned how incredibly strong we were as women and mothers, and we respected our own mothers anew.

I literally wouldn’t have made it through the early years following D-Day without some of those friends who knew my core. Those friends were my touchstones, my guides back to me.

But those friends weren’t enough. They couldn’t be. My story was so foreign to them that their attempts to understand often ended with unintentional blame … of me. Surely they would have known. Their spouse would never do such a thing. There must have been signs. There’s no way I could have loved such a man as deeply as they loved their husbands.

Friends couldn’t grasp that I had felt about my husband exactly as they did about theirs. I entered marriage every bit as hopeful and love-struck as they did. I, too, dreamed of the days I would tuck grandchildren into bed in their mothers’ childhood rooms. I, too, planned of holiday cruises with my children’s budding families and laughter as we reminisced over photo albums. So sure was I of my love and marriage that I literally used to say, “If there’s one thing I know about Spencer, it’s that he’ll never cheat.”

This was the man around whom I had built my life. We’d sat in the dark on the balcony during our second honeymoon, wrapped only in towels, holding hands, and watching thunderstorms roll in over the ocean as we dreamed of our future. He was the father of my children. HIs family was my family and I loved them deeply. This was the man who’d sworn he’d never leave me or forsake me. …… all the while living a double life and secretly devaluing me and everything I held dear.

It is beyond understatement to say that learning about his secret life took me off guard. One minute I was safe, and the next I was not. Nothing made sense. Over the next few years, more and more unimaginable acts were revealed. There are no adequate words to describe the shock, trauma, or confusion, except to say I didn’t know if I even wanted to live anymore. My brokenness reflected not only shattered dreams, but the loss of my memories now spoiled by brutal reality. Those family photo albums that we were to reminisce over? It was a decade after D-day before I could even look at their covers again. let alone the pictures inside.

As time passed, it became clear that I needed more. I needed women who had walked the same path and survived to tell the tales. I needed a depth of understanding that transcended words. I needed women who’ve learned to laugh through tears. I needed women who could knowingly nod when I speak of the unspeakable things my ex did to me and my girls. I needed women who have moved beyond the storm to find peace again.

Finding those women in the aftermath has been one of life’s best gifts, and because our struggles have been great, I have to believe our friendships, forged with an emotional depth previously unknown to me, can be as well.

Susan Olsen

(Dedicated with oodles of love to my bestest friend who has stayed true through thick and thin, for 40+ years and counting!)