99. Tragedy Without Villains

99. Tragedy Without Villains

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Tragedy Without Villains

Life is an adventure in forgiveness.

~Norman Cousins

Whether it be god or mere mortal, someone has to be blamed when events go awry in the affairs of man. Any ancient Greek would have told you that. Whoever heard of a tragedy without a villain?

During the years after the tragic breakup of my marriage, I listed the candidates for the role of villain and went down the list one by one, crossing off those who were ineligible. One day, surprisingly, none were left.

My marriage existed in a small Southern textile town that dreamed its way through the turbulent 1960s and the disruptive aftermath of the 1970s. Bill and I were part of the quiet generation, the dutiful kids of the 1950s, and we lived on the sidelines of those disorderly times, insulated in our rural setting miles from the mainstream. It would be difficult for me to make a villain of the times.

Bill is Southern, a product of upper middle-class America — servants, white-pillared house, Boy Scouts, football, and West Point, where he became First Captain his last year. His values were set by his Southern upbringing and confirmed by West Point: duty, honor, country. He never questioned them. Was a villain lurking there? Not unless we condemn our culture.

I am English, the daughter of a soldier; a high school dropout, having given up a formal education to ice skate professionally all over Europe, the United States and Canada. I soaked up experiences like a sponge, forming and reforming my values along the way, unorthodox by some standards, but not villainous.

Bill entered the family lumber business having much knowledge of commanding troops and firing howitzers, but knowing little about selling two-by-fours. He pushed himself to make a name in the community — Jaycees, Rotary, the Methodist Church. He ran for County Commissioner and led the ticket, but the party went down in defeat. Before long, he had taken on all the burden of the family business, sired three sons, and settled his family on a beautiful forty-acre farm.

Meanwhile, I learned to wait — to wait for Bill to come home; to wait for his mood to improve; to wait to be included in the small part of his life he shared with me. I was demeaned by waiting, but I was only doing what my mother had done, and he was only doing what his father had done . . . and our mothers and fathers before us . . . and not a villain to be found in the whole lot.

I loathed what I saw as the hypocrisy of the South but learned to live with it. Bill controlled the family finances and made all the important decisions. He ate breakfast uptown, and often lunch, and stayed late at the club after work. I took care of the house and the kids and I was very lonely. He had an affair; I was forgiving. He was domineering; I was submissive. He said he was happy; I was not. He was getting more out of this arrangement than I was and, suddenly, my own survival became more important than the survival of my marriage. I was in a trap and I began to plot an escape, but quickly realized I had nowhere to go. Who wants an aging ice skater? I needed a roof over my head and three meals a day. Like it or not, I was married to the marriage. It’s a couple’s world and the bills were paid, and if Bill would just disappear everything would be very nice.

So in a way I made him disappear. The boys went off to college, and I renewed old friendships and made new friends. I went often with them to dinner, the theater or shopping in a nearby city. Bill and I did go to a couple of conventions — he was required to take a wife — and we met in the middle of the bed most nights. But, away from Bill, I found I was free to voice my own opinions, to be myself. Now I was getting more out of this arrangement than he was. I told myself I was very happy. Bill was not.

One day, in the twenty-second year of our marriage, I was out with friends when Bill came home, quietly packed his bags and left.

The loneliness was appalling. I spent the nights stalking the empty house looking for the villain and waiting for daylight to get out to a job and temporarily ease the misery. When the boys came home on vacation they divided their time between their dad’s bachelor pad and the farm. Everywhere in that town I was the wronged wife, the leftover half of a couple. I was cut from the social list and asked out only by the “girls” when their husbands were out of town. I drowned in self-pity. By this time, I had found a dozen candidates for the role of villain, and that small Southern town was number one on the list.

And so I ran away. I ran over the Blue Ridge Mountains, across the dusty windswept Plains, and high into the Rocky Mountains and found a refuge where I could lick my wounds in peace. I found a job as a hostess in a ski lodge. In summer, I hiked high alpine meadows knee-deep in wildflowers and, after work in the winter I skied between evergreens flecked with snow. I met ranchers and real estate agents, builders and busboys. Young and old, they were vigorous and vibrant, geared to the outdoors, glorying in the brief summers, uncomplaining of the harsh winters. It was like a tonic to live among them. I began a love affair with all things Western.

From my window, I looked across a wide valley to mountains covered with aspens and evergreens; I grew geraniums on the porch in summer and adopted two cats for company, and slowly began to find my own quiet center. I learned that loneliness is a gift, although it was often hard to see it that way; that it shakes the cobwebs loose and weeds out the dead things of the past like a bracing wind. And I learned, painfully, that Bill and I had never had the talent to achieve a balance in our marriage, and that we are better people without each other.

I missed my old friends and my sons; and when my first granddaughter arrived, I returned to the South knowing that, as Henry Miller said, our destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. And as I crossed the windy Plains again and looked back over my shoulder at the high peaks along the western horizon, I silently thanked them and their people for sheltering me while my wounds healed.

So who is the villain of this piece? The husband? The wife? Society? On whose head can we pour out the venom of our bitterness and hate for the pain we have suffered? There is no one . . . and slowly the venom evaporates in the bright clean light of reason, leaving only a residual sadness. I have lived through the tragedy. I have three wonderful sons and the twenty-two years hold some good memories. I don’t need a villain to cloud those memories.

~Bridget Fox Huckabee

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