Just Keep Swimming
James and I were married on August 11 at the courthouse in the next town over. My five-year-old daughter and great friend were our witnesses. I cried as he repeated his vows to me. We sealed our union with a kiss, and my heart soared. We planned a “Before God” ceremony on August 28. I would walk down the aisle to Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” and we would hold hands in the middle of our standing ceremony to exchange handwritten vows. My aunt came to my bridal appointment to pick out the perfect tea-length dress for our outdoor ceremony. Our marriage mentors, family, and friends who walked out this almost six-year journey to the altar beside us would be in attendance. I was so excited to go to his suit fitting with him and see the puzzle pieces of my unconventional family coming together as one.
We had dated for five years and rode the wave of life’s happenstances in that time…together. We were submitted to the counsel of the leadership in our church. We sought counseling to address issues many couples face and had hope that we, too, would overcome our challenges.
On August 23, James left work early to meet at the venue with our pastor for a walk-through. It was my aunt’s birthday, and she came over to watch my daughter. An hour before James picked me up, he sent me a text message saying we would be meeting with our pastor in his office instead of our venue. My heart filled with panic because, just like every other celebratory moment before, I knew something was wrong. When I got into my husband’s car, I asked him if our meeting was “bad.” He replied, “Yes.”
We walked into our pastor’s office, and I could see the heaviness in his eyes. He had loved and poured into us with hope, fervency, and encouragement for the past two years. He and his wife were our family. I could feel the weight of his heart once I sat down on the couch that I had become intimately acquainted with through prior counseling sessions.
“Monique, James has something to tell you.”
“I think I made a mistake in marrying you,” James told me “I’m sorry for all the times you told me I should go to counseling, and I didn’t. I’m sorry for hurting you.”
My pastor spoke, “James came and talked to me…I can’t perform your ceremony.”
I sat dumbfounded on the couch, my heart sinking deeper and deeper. I felt debilitated. Our pastor told my husband he’d drive me home, and excused him.
During the drive home, my pastor assured me that my church family would cover my daughter and me in the transition. I wanted to disappear. I opened my door and looked at my aunt, and we cried breathless tears together.
My daughter began kindergarten that week, and I cried silent tears as I drove to drop her off and sat in darkness until I picked her up each day. I struggled to breathe, feeling as if my chest would collapse. I asked my mom to call the florist and the baker. I cancelled my appointment with my makeup artist. Before I sent her the text, I replayed prior conversations where she identified existing red flags and I wanted to shrink away in defense. The utter shame. My bridal shower was cancelled. I sent out the “due to unforeseen circumstances” email to all our attendees. I watched as items from our wedding registry were returned. How could I even leave the house and face our community? What would I do now?
I went through the motions. I let my business go to seed for the season. I bled emotionally upon my girlfriends. I thought about my husband nonstop, lying awake at night worrying about what he was thinking and feeling. I loved him with all of my heart.
I couldn’t vocalize prayers, and my mom reassured me that the tears I cried were sufficient to God. My dad told me we’d come through this whole and intact. They empowered and spoke freedom to me.
After two weeks passed, I called James to tell him I was having surgery. He drove me and took care of me for weeks thereafter. I was too medicated to be angry. We laughed and sat on the couch to watch Netflix without mention of the crushing pain I felt within. I defended him to my tribe while my heart continued shattering in confusion. I struggled to look into his eyes. I waited for him to tell his family and friends the truth. I pushed friends away, waited for others to call so I could cry on their shoulder, and hoped the judgement would be withheld for the sake of my sanity and the consideration of my daughter. He was the only father she had known. My community responded the absolute best they could. We all did…
Almost one year has passed, and we will celebrate our anniversary soon. Day by day isn’t as long as it once seemed, but the process of healing is ongoing…and excruciating at times. The next step sometimes feels unclear, and there are moments when my anger, hurt, and embarrassment blur my ability to forgive. I choose to forgive him for how he embarrassed me, falsely represented me to his family, and abandoned me. I choose to forgive myself for not listening to him before he erupted and for believing I wasn’t strong enough to leave.
I do not know what tomorrow holds for our family. One thing I do know, however, is that I am committed to healing—and I will just keep swimming. I know that my liquid tears, and yours, don’t go unheard and aren’t shed in vain. I am sure of this truth: I can hold my head high. I can stand with confidence and strength. I choose not to be clothed in shame.
I encourage you to, alongside me, just keep swimming.