Thursday, April 02, 2009

Chapter XXV: Scarring Images

[This is a continuation of my divorce story. If you have not read it, you can start here and follow the links on my side-bar to find the other 23 chapters. If you need a reminder as to where we left off, the last chapter is here.]

The urgency of procuring that financial aid check was so all-consuming that my mind had transformed the receipt of that check into the cure for my marriage. Money seemed like a relatively simple solution, despite the massive hurdles I had to clear before I was able to walk out of the administration building with a check in my hand. I was more than convinced that bright and sunny April afternoon that spring truly had arrived and with it longer, warmer days for my marriage.

Of course, this naive optimism ignored the still chilly distance between Mitch and myself which had recently grown into a wider gulf.

I found myself at home alone one still-cold but sunny afternoon sometime that spring and the spring cleaning bug bit me. Or more accurately, I was tired of a stray spring in my mattress biting me during the night. So I flung open the always closed curtains of our bedroom to the bright sunshine, removed all the bedding and started a load of laundry. After running the vacuum around for a while with my dog Stuart chasing after me, I decided it was time to flip that old, lumpy queen-sized mattress over to banish the metal spring to the underside to dig into the box spring instead of my back.

To my surprise which melted to horror which devolved into complete emptiness, I discovered an assortment of magazines under Mitch's side of the mattress. Naively, I initially didn't know what they were or why he was hiding them from me. But when I let the mattress fall back onto the bed and I pulled the stack - STACK - out from under our marital bed, I crumpled. It was a nightmare I did not even know I had sprung into reality - magazine after magazine of pornography. And not your everyday-possibly-mainstream-outside-of-Mormonism-Playboy variety, these were filthy, nasty pictures that were shocking.

Perhaps to understand why my husband was hiding dirty magazines under our bed you will need to strain your mind back to a world internet wasn't streamed into every home, where naked women were not available at the click of a mouse. You may also need to re-orient your thinking to that of a relatively sheltered 20-year old newlywed girl who was raised to save her virginity for marriage and taught that sex is something sacred between a husband and wife. You may also want to consider the feminist perspective on pornography and how these women have been turned into objects of carnal lust. And dear internet, before you judge my seemingly puritanical upbringing and point an accusing finger at my frigidity or naivity as the cause of his turning to print, let me briefly explain that I was never the cold one nor was I the shy one in the bedroom. For most of my marriage I thought there might be something wrong with me for wanting to have sex more often than my husband since all of the stereotypes expected the reverse.

Or maybe you can comprehend why my mind blanked out, my body went numb and the sunshine seemed out of place in my dark, dark world as I thumbed through these secret magazines that lived under my bed. Maybe you can understand how rejected I felt to be turned away night after night in favor of glossy images that seemed so far from the image I saw staring back at me in the mirror.

In 1996 I had never heard of a Brazilian wax and I am almost certain I had never actually heard of bikini waxing at all. It was not all that long ago but in those days we did not even talk about thongs - I am quite certain none of my friends wore them and Victoria's Secret definitely did not sell them - let alone waxing their privates and in all the time I spent in gym locker rooms I am pretty sure no one was wandering around hairless. But these girls - they were well acquainted with their estheticians. Leafing through these images, I realized this explained the peculiar request Mitch had recently made of me . . .

He lived in a different world than I did. His was a world where he passed up the warm and willing embrace of his wife for the cold stare of naked pictures of extremely large-breasted, hairless women contorted into obscene positions with men and women. I inspected the magazines closer and learned words I had never heard before and tried to shut it all out by squeezing my eyes shut tight and throwing the magazines across the room. There had to be a reason for this other than the obvious, sordid one. The one where my husband eschewed relations with me in favor of bawdy images.

So I asked him.

I don't remember when or how, but I confronted him.

He did not fly into a rage or even yell.

Instead, he lied.

And the lying is what tore at my gut. He concocted such an extreme tale that I knew he was lying. He rambled on about finding the magazines in our parking lot and how he didn't want neighbor kids to find it . . . so he hid it under our mattress. But there was also some sort of story about his younger brother and I may have found more buried under his shirts at the top of our closet. But I am not clear on when that was or whether I have those details blurred with something else I may have found in the closet later. I never looked for any of it, I always stumbled upon the problems unwittingly.

At any rate, I swallowed the lie whole to keep the peace. I wanted him to be a better person than he was and I was tired of playing the role of angry wife. So we moved forward and never spoke of the magazines again.

And I dealt with it by focusing on studying without books and begging my university to release my loan money.

I also coped by going to the gym all of the time. I was working and going to school and studying and going to step aerobics (it was the 90s) and weight training. I also ate less and less and less. I internalized the rejection and assumed I could make myself more appealing by losing weight. Weight, I by no means needed to lose. I was busy enough and the stress was high enough and the money was low enough, I had no problem subsisting on little more than a breakfast drink in the morning and a small portion of dinner with very little to nothing in the middle of the day. The small dinner portion was to prevent Mitch from hassling me over how much I was eating.

Our sex life was not improving but I took that to mean I needed to work harder to become more attractive. I ignored inconsistencies in his behavior and failed to add up signs of other possible problems and focused on buying books and picking out a new car.


Tiffany said...

Wow. I'm stunned (and yet I'm not). So very sad. Thanks for continuing to share this story. I know it isn't easy, but I'm sure you're helping others as you do.

Anonymous said...

So glad to see this continue. Thanks for being bold and sharing.

As someone who continues to struggle with internet porn in the confines of a Christian marriage (my struggle, not hers), I appreciate your candid story.

For the record, internet porn was around in '96... it wasn't in your face like it is now. You had to "work" for it, dig it up if you will, and wait because of the slow internet speeds.

Looking forward to your next installment.

Soul-Fusion said...

you are right anonymous, internet porn was around but not everyone (especially poor students) had internet in their homes. It was probably both harder to find and easier to accidentally stumble onto it in those days. I actually remember some poor kid in the computer lab my freshman year end up with a naked lady on his screen and he was mortified! That was '93. Thank you for your brave comment and good luck with overcoming a difficult addiction.

Jen said...

I have a friend whose marriage fell apart because of what began as an addiction to pornography. Her husband struggled for years and eventually gave himself over to the evil. He was horribly unfaithful to her, and is unrepentant to this day. After 17 years of marriage, she had to start all over again, become the sole provider for their children, and move back with her family.

Anyone who minimizes the evil of pornography - in any of its forms - is kidding himself. No good will ever come from it.

Thanks for sharing this brave chapter. Sadly, I suspect what you are describing is much more common than we realize.

DeAnn said...

Wow- great writing. Great installment. You are a brave little toaster for sharing things so personal and also giving words to what others have felt who have made the similar discoveries in their marriages.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for continuing to share.

wunderbug said...

wow - thanks for stopping by my blog, and thanks for sharing. i haven't read through your entire story as of yet (well, from the beginning at least), but will work on catching myself up.

great writing!

Shannon said...

I lost a lot of weight during my last couple of years of marriage. It was like my last-ditch effort to control something--anything. It was a terrible, terrible time.

katie said...


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