A Brain Tumor Happened

When people ask why we split, I usually say something like "I was too young." But there's actually much more to the story.
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home life: desperate housewife with hands on head
home life: desperate housewife with hands on head

I got married just before I turned 25 and divorced when I was 26. We separated after only 11 months of marriage. When people ask, "What happened?" I usually tell them something like, "I was too young," or "We never should have gotten married," or "I think there's a chance he was gay." All of these things are true. But if I wanted to be completely honest, I would say "His mom got a brain tumor."

I usually don't say that because, admittedly, it makes me sound like a pretty horrible person. But if I had to pinpoint what actually happened during my brief marriage that led to its swift demise, it was definitely the brain tumor.

It was early December when his mom called to tell him the news. The information was pretty hazy -- no one seemed sure what it was or how bad it was, but with brain tumors, it's usually safe to say that it's not good. He was, understandably, upset. And when he told me, I remember thinking, somewhat selfishly, "Please don't let her die." Now, I genuinely wanted her to be okay, for the normal reasons. But it was also selfish. I had been slowly realizing over the last few months that I was not happy with my life. And a large part of it was that I was not happy with who I had married. I hadn't yet admitted out loud that I was thinking about divorce, but I was on the brink. And when I learned that his mom might have brain cancer, of all things, I saw a future flash before my eyes. I saw tragedy and grief and I saw myself unable to escape. Because you can't ask someone for a divorce when their mother has brain cancer.

I tried my best to comfort him. I desperately wanted to convince him that she would be fine. And I did want her to be fine -- I needed her to be fine. For me. I called my brother, a doctor, hoping he could better explain the limited information we had. I told my distraught husband that my brother agreed with one opinion that it was probably a meningioma. And that if you're going to have a brain tumor, that is the brain tumor you want. This was good news for me, because I really wanted to leave him.

But nothing would be certain until they operated. She wanted to wait until after Christmas so they scheduled a surgery for late January. It was a stressful period. And as much as I knew that if it were my mom, I'd be a wreck, his constant worry was driving me crazy. I realize that makes me sound cold and uncaring, but on top of the things that were already troubling me about my marriage, I was learning that there were new things too. I was learning that in a crisis, this was not the man I wanted by my side. He actually seemed to thrive on the drama. As genuinely concerned as I know he was, I also got the feeling that he really liked being able to utter the words "my mother's brain tumor." I felt embarrassed and uneasy.

I don't think there's any way to tell this story without sounding like a bad person. So I'll just go ahead and say it -- I was a bad person. And a bad wife. I didn't handle it well either. He arranged to fly home for the surgery, telling his boss that he needed to be there for his mom, and I agreed. He needed to be there, but I didn't. I mean, it wasn't my mom. For some reason, he accepted that I wouldn't join him. I was a freelancer for a television network and I often got jobs with very short notice. I think that was my excuse. But really, I just needed a break from him. And I just couldn't imagine being there, acting like part of the family, and consoling someone who I secretly wanted nothing to do with.

During the time that he was away, a lot of things became clear to me. I realized that I didn't feel the way that I should about the man I had married. I realized that I didn't want to be a part of his family. I realized that I couldn't imagine forever with this person who I thought I knew so well. And I realized that I was happier without him. I felt guilty. I felt bad about using this time to think about myself and to plan my escape from our marriage. But that's what happened. And had it not been for the tumor, I don't think I would have realized any of this. Or at least, not until much later.

In the end, his mom was fine. They removed the tumor and it wasn't cancer. But when I told him that February (less than a month after her surgeries) that I wanted to move out, he said, "So when I was gone, sitting at my mother's bedside, you were out looking for apartments?" Yes, I told him.

I never planned it that way. It's not as if I got married knowing that I would eventually want to get divorced, but was just waiting for one of my in-laws to develop a serious medical condition. That would be a terrible plan. I learned that while there's never a good time to ask for a divorce, there can always be a worse time. I didn't want to be the woman who left her husband during a crisis, but it turns out being the woman who left her husband immediately following a crisis doesn't sound much better. But, however it sounds, I'm glad it happened. I'm glad his mom was okay and I'm glad that I realized what I needed to do before I wasted any more of his time, or mine.

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