I was feeling positive about life with Jean-francois when I was writing "Why Do I Stay". But even before the article was published our relationship was spiraling downwards and out of my control, once again. In April of 1999 I realized I had neither the time nor the energy to provide the structure J.f. needed to be what I will call "honest". He had applied for several credit cards, first one in my name, and then several others, one from Sears, another from Canadian Tire and another from Mastercard. In May he disappeared, along with my treasured car, leaving me a note saying he was going treeplanting near Whistler, British Columbia.
A week later I was getting calls from Mastercard advising me that Mr. Lepage had reached his $5000 limit. Canadian Tire advised he owed $500. Sears advised he owed $1800. Several weeks after that I received my first invoice from American Express advising me I had spent almost $2000.
It sickens me to say it, but not a day passed without me praying he would never return. It had been six weeks since his run away. I had reconnected with friends pushed aside, I had taken on new job responsibilities, I had even gone shopping and replaced some of the things he had pawned. And I was able to put in a small supply of beer and wine for those now warm summer nights. At the end of May Jean-francois returned. I came home late one night and he was passed out on the floor, having consumed all the alcohol in the house. I shook him out of his stupor. What followed were tales of police coming to arrest him on the day he left, which triggered the flight response in him, he said. I tried to find it within myself to care, but I couldn't. I asked him to leave and he did, saying he would call in a few days after he was settled in at a home for transients located nearby.
Several days later he called. It was late and I had just arrived home after doing an evening fun run. The phone was ringing, almost frantically.
"Can I come over so we can talk, if we want to separate we need to talk," he asked. I begged him not to come over, at least not right now, but knew he would anyway. As usual it didn't seem to matter what I wanted or needed, only what he wanted or needed. When he arrived a half hour later it was only to say it was all my fault he had left, to tell me about being arrested again, to say he loved me but that he couldn't live with me because I was such an unreasonable person. A short while later he was gone and I heaved a sigh of relief, thinking it was finally over.
But it wasn't over, and so the cycle began again. Within days he was calling to ask if there was anything I needed him to do. He would begin each conversation with apologies for his behaviour and promises that it would never happen again. I didn't have it in my heart to tell him to stay away and so it is I found myself going shopping with him, inviting him for dinner, buying him things he could not get at the shelter, and after a few weeks, relenting a bit on my decision. There was no denying my love for him, and when he called at night just to talk I felt that old familiar longing that always seemed to return after he'd been away for a while, no matter the nature of his past deeds. Some nights I would read through his letters from prison and wonder at his ability to express his feelings so eloquently on paper, and I would cry. When he called one night to ask if he could spend the weekend because he had been kicked out of the shelter for fighting, I said yes. The horrors of the past few months faded away as I lay snuggled next to him in bed that night. Next morning he asked if I was able to forgive him and could we try again, and I did not send him away.
J.f. was on his very best behaviour for those first few weeks, and I was lulled into that false sense of security that always returned after a few days of good behaviour and loving gestures. I was afraid to abandon him, afraid of failing at a marriage everyone said was doomed, and so I persevered. J.f. had court dates for so many offences I had lost track. He needed me to be there for him, he said, so I was. Not surprisingly, by mid-July he was back to his 'old tricks', and although I no longer had a chequing account, nor a credit card, nor a telephone calling card, and had hidden all my new purchases and never had money in my wallet, he still found his ways.
Somewhere, amongst all the court dates and the insane rollercoaster ride of FAE, I made one of the most important decisions of my life. I decided to semi-retire, sell my home, and move. Away from the city, perhaps somewhere that would be good for J.f. I was naive enough to think a life far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city would somehow be a better one. And so it was we found ourselves house hunting on Gabriola Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. It was love at first sight for us both and all that remained was for my house to sell. It was a full year before that happened, and, in the meantime nothing changed. In fact, things only got worse.
J.f. had taken up chatting on the Internet and in February of 2000 I found out (because I was very vigilant about what he was doing) that he had made a 'date' to meet one of his chatting pals. He told me she was only a friend, that it wasn't serious, he was just lonely, that I worked too much, that I was never there for him and that he needed friends. Other things got worse as well. He was becoming more violent, angry, out of control, and was staying out all night more than ever before. But after 5 years I was so beat up, tired, exhausted, and defeated, I had almost stopped caring.
By the time the house sold in May of 2000 and another purchased on Gabriola, J.f. was fully entrenched in an affair he said he wanted out of, but seemed incapable of doing so. He still had many court appearances remaining, some serious enough to warrant incarceration, and his lawyer advised that a move to an island could be the ticket to house arrest vs jail time. One day, just prior to moving, J.f. advised the affair was over, he hated Sheila, she was crazy and manipulative, and he never really liked her in the first place. He loved only me, and a life together on Gabriola was all he had ever dreamed about. In July 2000 I left my position with the government and we took up residence on Gabriola. And things seemed fine, for about a month. The temptations were less, life less hectic, and I was home all the time. What I didn't realize was that Sheila was back in J.f.'s life, in a big way. By the end of August J.f. was disappearing again, for days on end, and with little to no money in his pocket, or so I thought. He had started a little business out of our garage doing bodywork, and although he claimed to give me the proceeds, I came to realize I was only seeing a small portion of them.
For the purposes of moving I had applied for another credit card and one day it went missing, along with $200 and several other items I had stored in our safe, which turned out not to be 'safe' at all. I suspected he had gone to see Sheila in Vancouver and when I called to cancel the credit card I was advised it had last been used at the liquor store and BC Ferries. When he returned several days later he admitted he had gone to see Sheila, but promised it was only to end their affair. I foolishly believed him.
Our anniversary came and went and J.f. grew more angry, violent and now physically abusive with each passing day. He was unbearable to be around, his mood swings were the worse I had ever seen. For the first time in 5 years he truly frightened me. My fears were twofold, that he would hurt me in a fit of anger or that, should I leave, he would make sure I had nothing to come back to. It was insane to stay and it was insane of me to let him stay. I was, I can admit now, a typical battered woman, buried in denial and unable to dig myself out. Despite all of this, I still went to bat for him at trial in September and he was placed on house arrest for 18 months. As J.f. and I embraced in the street, thankful he was still free, I thought perhaps this would prove to be the turning point in our lives. That the structure of house arrest would be enough, that his probation officer would make sure he took his meds, and I would magically get back a little of the J.f. I once knew and loved.
I look back at what I've just written and reflect on all that I left out: the many nights he would get in the car and go to the pub after stealing money from my wallet, returning home at 2 or 3 a.m.; the physical abuse; the emotional abuse; the times he would call the police and tell them I threatened him when really it was the other way around; and the many calls to Sheila, late at night, the phone bills which I was just starting to get. I often prayed for a run away, but J.f. knew he would go to jail as a result, and didn't. Where once I thought house arrest would be a positive thing it had proven to be the thorn in my side that could kill me.
In mid-October 2000 and we were on our way to court to obtain a variance on his house arrest for a trip to Victoria. "I'll need to get another variance," J.f. told me, as we approached the ferry dock. "I'm moving in with Sheila, she's moving onto the island at the end of next week. I love her and she is pregnant."
He had delivered this news without even blinking an eye and with no obvious appreciation of my feelings. He fully expected me to continue on with him to court, to support his variance application and to, I think, congratulate him on impending fatherhood. In shock I boarded the ferry, fearing if I didn't he would make a scene that would, I was sure, be the talk of our small community.
J.f.'s probation officer was as surprized as I was, and when J.f. and the PO appeared in front of the judge he asked for an extra week to sort things out. When he asked me to return to his office to talk about this latest development, I reluctantly agreed. Stone-faced, I told him I had reached the end of my rope and that he better make something happen quickly. A court date set one week away seemed like a lifetime. J.f. and I returned to Gabriola, together, without a variance, and with the knowledge that because of house arrest we were being forced to live under the same roof, at least for the short term.
A few days later J.f. slugged me in the jaw over a trivial matter; the pressure on us both was making life a living hell. The police had attended at our home 4 times over the past 2 months and finally, after 2 hours in their interrogation room, I convinced them his breaches were serious enough to warrant arresting him. Later that night, as I watched the RCMP drive away, J.f. handcuffed in the back of the police car, I heaved a sigh of relief. Perhaps the insanity was finally over. Eight days later he was released into Sheila's custody. It was now time for me to pick up the pieces that were once my life, put them back together again, and move on. J.f. called a few times, and I'll spare you the drama of each and every call. Finally, after numerous threats on my life, I had the police tell him not to call anymore. I did hear from him once more after that, just before Christmas. He wanted to return, Sheila was never pregnant, and he loved me with all his being. My heart told me I needed to think about his proposal, my head told me I was a lunatic to do so. He needed to see me again, he said, and I must confess I wanted to see him as well. Sheila tactfully kept her distance and J.f. and I wandered down the hill from the house they shared, into the forest. Standing amongst the trees, hidden from sight, we embraced, and it felt good. But J.f.'s eyes told a different story, and I knew for certain I couldn't let him talk me into something that would surely lead to disaster. Almost unconsciously, I know now, I put up huge roadblocks to a reconciliation I was sure would be a mistake. A month later J.f. advised me Sheila was pregnant (again?) and that he would never abandon her.
It is now the end of March 2001. Oddly, I look back on the past five years and feel no regrets. Jean-francois helped me grow into a more tolerant and accepting person of those with disabilities. I have met, and continue to work with, some of the most interesting, compassionate, and intelligent people I have ever encountered. I am now and will always do my best to support those in similar relationships. I know that Sheila has no idea what she has taken on, although by now she may have an inking, and it may be her that I am supporting one day.
I can thank J.f. for the life I have today, and it's a good life. It has meaning and purpose, something that was missing before he came into it.
J.f. didn't get better over the 5 years I knew him. He only seemed to get better. I got better, better at providing structure, at dealing with the insanity that is FAE, at dealing with the system that wanted so desperately to put him in jail. I grieve for the marriage that could never be and I grieve for a man so damaged by his mother's drinking he will never come close to living an independent life.
I look back at "Why do I stay" and quote, "Life is very different now, for both of us." I wake up each morning to the sound of the sea lions barking and the ferry whistle announcing its departure. There are deer mowing their way through my garden, and new island friends stop by often just to say hello. I'm dating again, and making different choices. I'm what one might call self-employed, although I prefer to think of it more as self-directed.
I don't know how J.f. is doing, although I do know what he is doing, and only hope he finds some measure of happiness with Sheila. The time away from him has made me realize I will always love him. But a new wisdom has emerged. Loving him doesn't mean living with him. It only means I'll always be there for him should he need me. I have finally let go.
A sincere thank-you goes to whoever wrote this beautiful piece of prose. I carry it with me in my wallet - it brings me that peace and contentment that I looked for in my marriage almost 5 years ago, but never found.
To 'let go' does not mean to stop caring, it means I can't do it for someone else. To 'let go' is not to cut myself off, it's the realization I can't control another. To 'let go' is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences. To 'let go' is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands. To 'let go' is not to try to change or blame another, it's to make the most of myself. To 'let go' is not to care for, but to care about. To 'let go' is not to fix, but to be supportive. To 'let go' is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being. To 'let go' is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes but to allow others to affect their destinies. To 'let go' is not to be protective, it's to permit another to face reality. To 'let go' is not to deny, but to accept. To 'let go' is not to nag, scold, or argue, but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them. To 'let go' is not to adjust everything to my desires but to take each day as it comes, and to cherish myself in it. To 'let go' is not to criticize and regulate anybody but to try to become what I dream I can be. To 'let go' is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future. To 'let go' is to fear less, and love more.
©Carol Lepage, March 2001