This Is Me Trying
When I found the rose, I knew that Samuel had been there. I could imagine all too well what he’d seen.
I never meant for it to happen like this. I knew that what I did was the end of my marriage, knew that I was giving up on it the moment I kissed Charlie back instead of pushing him away, but I obviously hadn’t meant for Samuel to witness any of it.
I should have given up a long time ago. Then none of this would have happened.
It took two days before Samuel came home. The girls were asleep by the time he walked into the house after work, almost as if he hadn’t been gone at all.
I fully expected him to yell at me, to be furious. It would only have been fair. But he never even raised his voice. I would have preferred if he did, if he’d punished me somehow.
Instead, his voice was calm. Resigned.
“Freya, we’re done. I’m done. I’ve filed for divorce.”
“Samuel, I -“
“Shut up. Just shut up. I am no longer interested in anything you have to say. For once, just listen to me.”
I was taken aback. For once? It felt like I had done nothing but listen to Samuel’s lectures throughout our marriage. I was about to protest, but he continued.
“It’s finally clear to me that you don’t love me. Maybe you never did. You’ve told me again and again that I don’t care, and nothing I said or did could ever convince you. It was never enough, because nothing is ever enough for you. You just take.”
“The way I see it, there are two options. Either you don’t fully realise what you’ve done, or you did it on purpose. You’ve ruined our marriage, you’ve robbed me of any chance I ever had of having any kind of relationship with my brother, and whatever happens, you will have hurt Hailey and Ivy.”
“If you did this without realising the consequences, I worry about you. If you did this fully realising the consequences, I worry about you even more. But either way, I’m done with you.”
“We should never have been together in the first place, never have gotten married. I’m merely correcting a mistake.”
“I’ll come by tomorrow after work and spend some time with my daughters. Meanwhile, consider getting help.”
“No, wait, that’s an order. Get help, Freya, get your shit together. For my children’s sake.”
“Or I will have to keep them safe from you.”
Then he left. Somehow, the quiet click from the door closing behind him was louder than if he had slammed it in my face.
I had finally seen a Samuel that no longer cared about me, and it chilled me to the bone.
I called Jessica after he left, told her everything. She was my best friend, and I halfway hoped that she could somehow help me figure out what to do. But when I stopped explaining, she was quiet for a long time.
“Freya, if you’re calling so I can make you feel better about what you did, you have the wrong number, honey. Because that was a really, really shitty thing to do, and I can’t even begin to imagine what Samuel must be feeling. And what saddens me is that I’m not even that surprised.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I mean that you’re incredibly selfish, Freya. I’m sorry, but this has been a long time coming. You are one of the luckiest people I know. I mean, I know your parents had some problems when you were little, but have you looked at them lately? They’re doing great, they’ve moved on. But you haven’t. You’re gorgeous and privileged and your parents love you. Samuel loves you. Well, probably not anymore, but he clearly did, everyone could see that. And all you ever did was complain and take things for granted and feel sorry for yourself. And now you pull this shit, and I’m just… Frankly, I’m disappointed. I was hoping you’d get over it at some point, mature a little, start seeing the big picture.”
I was completely stunned. Hurt. Angry.
“Jessica! I didn’t call you to be attacked like this, I thought you were my friend…”
“I am your friend, Freya! Or are you going to doubt my word as well? But I am also done trying to coddle you, and I’m telling you this because I care about you. You need to get your head out of your ass and think about someone but yourself, because you’ve already lost Samuel and I am honestly not sure I’m going to last if you keep this up either.”
I spent all night on the couch. I couldn’t make myself go back to the bedroom, not after Charlie. I felt like burning the bed, maybe burning the entire house down. Start over from the ashes.
I didn’t sleep.
People had yelled at me for most of my life. Coaches, teammates, teachers, my parents, all of them telling me to do better, make fewer mistakes. Be more perfect. Samuel had yelled at me. And now Jessica. And I had been listening, hadn’t I? Hadn’t I always tried to correct the mistakes they all pointed out?
Or had I just stubbornly kept doing whatever I wanted? Because I knew better?
Shit. Maybe I hadn’t been listening.
The next couple of weeks were strange, to say the least. Slowly, we settled into a routine. Samuel would arrive after work like before. He had picked up a few personal things and was looking for an apartment. For now, he stayed in a hotel somewhere.
He wouldn’t speak to me unless it involved the girls or the proceedings of the divorce. It was understandable, but still slightly surreal to see him smiling and playing with them like before, while he ignored me completely or gave me short, disinterested answers if I tried to talk to him.
If he managed to arrive early enough, he’d take over the task of getting them ready for bed, but if he had a late shift and the girls were already asleep when he arrived, he’d spend a few minutes in their room, tucking them in and just sitting there for a while before leaving.
I was hurting, but not the way I had expected. I only cried a little when I took down all our wedding pictures. They felt like lies now.
The guilt was crippling, but I thought I’d be sadder about my marriage being over. Instead, it was almost a relief.
I found that I could accept losing Samuel. Maybe he was right when he said that I never really loved him. Either way, I no longer worried about him leaving me, about screwing everything up. That ship had sailed.
But there was still Hailey and Ivy. Samuel had made it pretty clear that I had to get my shit together or there would be consequences – and the thought of losing my girls made the anxiety flood back in, strangled me. I had to do something.
He was sitting in their bedroom as usual, watching them sleep. I opened the door quietly.
He didn’t look up.
“What do you want?”
“Sorry, just… I wanted to ask if you mind if I start telling people… what happened. Like, my parents and such.”
“Why would I care?”
“I don’t know… maybe you’d be embarrassed or something.”
He just shrugged.
“Tell people whatever you want. You’re the one who should be embarrassed.”
As if I wasn’t. As if I didn’t think about it every day, about how stupid I had been. I still couldn’t sleep in the bedroom. I tried to summon up some anger at his remark, but all I felt was shame. And worry.
But this time I was worrying about Samuel.
He was as tired as always, but it felt like the fight had gone out of him. I had always assumed that he was frustrated with me because I wasn’t good enough, because I annoyed him with my constant insecurity and neediness, but I was starting to wonder if he’d just been worried about me.
I wanted to ask him if he was OK, but that would be ridiculous. Of course he wasn’t OK. And it was my fault. I no longer had any right to ask him how he felt about anything.
I called both of my parents a few days later, told them about the divorce. Admitted that I had cheated, but didn’t mention Charlie. My mother mostly tried to convince me that it wasn’t all my fault, that a happy marriage took two people. Of course she would say that, she cheated on her first husband too.
My father simply asked if there was anything he could do for me, but I said no. After all, no one could undo what I had done. He told me that he was sorry to hear about the divorce, that he loved me no matter what. He also asked if I was seeing a therapist, someone to talk me through it all.
“You should really give it a try, monkey.”
It always made me smile that he still insisted on using my old nickname.
“I was actually going to ask you for some therapy tips, dad. I’m not sure where to start, or who to call, and I’m still getting used to the thought of being divorced. But I guess it’s karma, right? Remember how much shit I gave you and mom for not making things work?”
“Oh, you were harsh. Especially when you were a teenager. But I always felt like I probably deserved it.”
“You didn’t deserve it, dad. I get it now, parenting is hard. Relationships are hard. No one is perfect.”
“Middle ground, monkey. It’s not a matter of being either perfect or a failure. We’re all doing the best we can. You, me, your mom. Knowing Samuel, he’s definitely doing his best at all times. And hopefully, before you know it, you two will be getting along just fine like me and your mom does. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be friends again one day. Remember that old musical?
It’s things like using force together,
Shouting till you’re hoarse together,
Getting a divorce together,
That make perfect relationships.“
“Didn’t that woman also sing that she’d been married three or four times?”
He laughed again.
“Like I said, middle ground. It took me a long time to figure out, but perfection is not the goal. Progress is.”
My father gave me a name and a number, someone his own therapist had recommended here in Copperdale. I wondered how long he’d had that number ready, if he’d been planning to suggest it for a while.
I was on my way to bed that night when I heard a knock on the front door.
“Samuel? What are you doing here?”
He was swaying and looked dangerously close to falling over.
“Why, Freya? Why did you do it? Please tell me. Was I not good enough? Was that it?”
I stepped back to let him in and he stumbled almost immediately. I barely managed to catch him.
“How could you? And Charlie? That fucking…”
“Samuel, what the hell? Please tell me you didn’t drive here like this.”
“No, I walked! Because I am the responsible one!”
He was slurring his words, but the bitterness was unmistakable.
Somehow I managed to drag him to the living room and he collapsed on the couch.
“Why, Freya?”, he mumbled.
Before I could find an answer, he was snoring softly, tears drying on his cheeks.
I gently rolled him over in case he threw up and sat with him for a while, making sure he was sleeping peacefully.
I had no answers. There was no excuse for the amount of pain I had caused him.
The next morning I called the number from my father and set up an appointment.
The therapist, who asked me to just call her Kristin, was a kind woman with a dry sense of humour. I quite liked her. But she was also merciless. She asked hard questions, pointed out the flaws in my arguments, and I left each session feeling both butchered and reborn.
I talked to her about the things I had taken for granted. Jessica was right when she said that I had been given everything. Yes, my parents made mistakes. All parents did. But I had happy, loving parents and I didn’t appreciate them, I just resented them for mistakes they made two decades ago. Mistakes I barely remembered any more.
Kristin made me reexamine everything I thought I knew, and she cut through all my excuses. It was hard, and I suddenly had an entirely new appreciation for what my father must have gone through to battle his own demons. And he did it for me, just like I was doing this for Hailey and Ivy.
Kristin also wanted me to try to deal with the anxiety by observing it. Like it wasn’t part of me, but merely something around me, like sitting in water.
I tried to imagine the worst. The first thought that came to mind was Hailey and Ivy getting hurt, but that was too much. I couldn’t do it.
Kristin suggested I start with something slightly less intense.
I thought about Samuel’s threats. That he’d take the girls away from me if I didn’t get things under control. What would happen? What would it look like? The anxiety simmered around me, but I forced myself to sit in it instead of trying to escape or push it away. I had spent years imagining the worst scenarios that I could come up with, but I had never tried to think them all the way through. I prepared myself. Kristin reminded me that it wouldn’t be pleasant, but that the anxiety itself couldn’t hurt me.
I imagined Samuel taking the girls away from me. Imagined how he’d come in and pack up their things.
How the girls would cry as I said goodbye, how they would be trying to hold on to me.
My throat closed up and I felt like I was drowning.
“Freya, remember to breathe. You’re safe. You can do this, breathe.”
I wanted to stop, to run, to think about anything else, but I fought the urge to quit.
A shuddering breath.
And then, in my mind, I saw Samuel. Samuel, crying as he took away the girls, trying to comfort them because they didn’t understand. They couldn’t possibly understand that daddy wasn’t doing this to be mean. He wasn’t doing it to punish me, but out of love. For them.
Because he cared so very much.
A racking sob shook my entire body.
How could I have ever fooled myself into thinking that he didn’t care about his family? How many times had he told me that he loved me, tried to soothe me, put up with my unreasonable demands for reassurance?
Samuel was right. All I did was take.
And now I finally tried to listen, but no one was speaking.
I kept seeing Kristin every week all through the fall.
Leaving one of my sessions I thought about the incredible stress Samuel must have been under while I was too busy worrying about what I wasn’t getting from him. He had a demanding job, a demanding wife, and two demanding toddlers, and I had never cut him any slack. All I cared about was all the times I had been wronged, oblivious to the stress I was causing him.
I had been so stuck in the past, in all the perceived slights, that I didn’t see the present. And now I had no idea what the future would bring.
All I knew was that it would never be the same again.
They say the first holiday after a divorce is the hardest. But Samuel and I had been co-parenting pretty well for a few months now, surely we could handle being in the same room for Winterfest. For the girls. Right?
It started fine. The girls were thrilled to have us together instead of alternating between the house and Samuel’s new apartment. They were playing happily while Samuel set the table and I prepared dinner.
“Would you like some wine, Samuel?”
“I found a bottle from when you still lived here. Do you want any?”
He came into the kitchen.
“Sure? It’s just… very out of character for you to offer me alcohol.”
“True. But you’re not going to be kissing me later, so I don’t mind.”
He didn’t respond.
“Fuck. I’m sorry, Samuel. That was insensitive of me.”
“Uh, yeah. Too soon.”
I nodded and poured a glass of wine, handed it to him.
“Sorry. A peace offering. I’m trying, Samuel, I really am.”
“I know. Thank you.”
It took ages to get the girls to fall asleep after dinner, they were too excited about the presents tomorrow. By the time we managed, we were both tired as well. Samuel was nursing his third glass of wine, sitting next to the pile of duvets and pillows I had brought him.
“Samuel, you don’t have to sleep on the couch, you know. The girls are going to wake you up at dawn, demanding presents. Do you want to switch? I stay here and you can take the bed?”
“No! I mean, no thanks.”
I was startled by the force of his reply.
“Sorry, Freya. I don’t think I could ever sleep in that bed again to be honest.”
“Oh. If it helps, neither could I, so I got a new bed. You’re welcome to it. I promise no one but me and Hailey and Ivy ever touched it.”
“Thanks, but I’m fine with the couch.”
I was about to leave when he spoke again, his back turned to me.
“Freya, I need to know. Did you ever love me?”
The truth will set you free.
“No, Samuel. I’m sorry, but no. I really thought I did. You were my best friend, and you were – you are – very attractive. We seemed so perfect together and I guess I didn’t want anyone else to take you away from me. I wanted to be the one who got you, to… win. And before I knew it, we were married and…”
“I see. I guess I should be flattered to be considered a trophy husband.”
“Sorry. I think I loved the idea of you, of us, but not…”
“Not the reality. I get it. I think I always knew. Or suspected.”
“You know, in a way, that makes it easier. It would be so much harder for me to understand how you could ever have done this to me if you loved me the way I love you. Goodnight, Freya.”
Gosh, it’s tough!
I’m glad that Freya seems to have finally started to give up her self-pity and stop seeing herself as a victim.
I think her honest answer to Samuel at the end of the chapter sets him free, but it must be really hard to acknowledge that the whole foundation of their marriage is built on Freya’s (self)deception 💔
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my favorite line!
heartbreaking chapter with so much emotional nuance. but I’ve never given up hope for Freya and I think she’ll get there. make progress, not achieve perfection, that is ❤
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