Love & Marriage Across the Hate Barrier
Melissa jumped to her feet, let out a sob, then screamed at my mother for not having told her sooner.
"I tried to tell you, Honey, but you were about to give birth and I didn't want to shock you." Her mother's eyes had welled up with tears and her mouth trembled.
Before I had fully digested the news, Melissa and I were rushing to the hospital with our newborn. I insisted on waiting in the lobby while she went up to his room with the baby. More than anything I wanted father and daughter to be reconciled. It was for a selfish motive -- I wanted my daughter to know that she had been loved by all four grandparents. While I waited in the lobby, all I could think about was how I might get my hands on a camera and have it taken up to the room where I imagined the tearful reconciliation was taking place.
Before I could do anything about it, Melissa was standing in front of me, holding the baby. Her face was red and contorted. She was sobbing. "He won't see us."
"He doesn't want you to remember him that way," I said quickly. "He's very sick already."
"It's all my fault," she said softly between sobs. "I killed him."
Hearing those words took the heart right out of me. As long as Melissa blamed her father for the estrangement, there had remained the hope that he would someday find it within himself to relent. Then all could be forgiven. But once she started blaming herself, I knew it was only a matter of time before she would turn that blame on me. After all, I was the one who had come between father and daughter. I was the one who refused to honor her father's wishes. I was the one who had killed him.
Hate is like water. It seeks out the low places unrelentingly. It doesn't stop until it has infiltrated every depression and crack. The hatred that Melissa's father had somehow carried a half century in his heart had seeped into our marriage. It lay stagnant until his death less than two weeks after our visit to the hospital. Then it found the depressions and cracks in our marriage and cut a canyon between us.
Melissa's turning away from me began with the way she treated my mother. Somehow my gentle, gracious mother came to represent in her grieving mind the unreasoning hatred that had infected her father. At the funeral Melissa deliberately turned her back on my mother's heartfelt condolences. As the weeks passed I came to see that the aloofness she had begun to show toward me wasn't fading with her grief but had become a permanent part of our relationship. All the affection and thoughtfulness she had once shown me was bestowed on our daughter. At the end of each day all that remained for me was a cool shoulder and a few empty words. Our marriage had died with her father.
These are not the kinds of concrete thoughts I was capable of forming in the weeks or months after her father's funeral. Mostly I lived minute by minute, wading blind through a fog of numbness and confusion and hope, telling myself that I had only to endure for another month, a year or two. My hope was kept alive by those rare moments when Melissa would give me a smile, a laugh, an invitation to share the joy of raising our daughter. It took me three years to understand that those moments were nothing more than the desire of a mother to share her baby with anyone who happened to be on hand.
By the time I made up my mind to ask for a divorce, I was acting purely on survival instinct. I felt I was losing the ability to feel. I had come to understand that to Melissa I had become only a marker, someone who represented her idea of husband and her child's father. And, I suspected too, someone who represented the thing her father hated. That was the open wound that continued to give me pain. It was the only clear sensation I was still capable of feeling.
Melissa's reaction caught me by surprise. Having concluded that I meant little to her, I expected her to understand, even be grateful. Instead she denounced me as a coward and a hypocrite who abandoned his wife and child when the going got tough. I was devastated by the force of her anger. It contrasted so spectacularly with the apathetic aloofness with which she had treated me the past three years. In a surge of wild hope I asked her, "Do you love me?" Her response killed off any remaining hope: "Love you?" she cried, shaking her head in disbelief. "I hate you!"
In the end her father and his hatred had won. My mother's philosophical remark was more to the point: "You see, she is her father's daughter."
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“Her response killed off any remaining hope: "Love you?" she cried, shaking her head in disbelief. "I hate you!”
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