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October 12th, 2011

Playing the Last Scene of a Marriage

“I’m not in love with you anymore.”

He said this at the dinner table as he made the first cut of his steak, a beautiful ribeye he had grilled to perfection. I put down my own knife and fork and stared at him.

“This isn’t new, or else you haven’t been listening,” he said, a bit wary of my gaze. “You knew I wasn’t happy a year ago. And we’ve just ignored it.” He took a bite and I hated him for it, for having the digestion for this.

steakI had dropped the butter, that’s how this started. I had been setting the table and I dropped the butter and it made a mess and the dogs were licking it up and he got mad. But it was an accident so I got mad too because he always seemed angry and I told him so and then I provided a litany of complaints about his moodiness and then he sat down to start eating his steak and

“Mark?”

and if I hadn’t dropped the butter we wouldn’t be having this conversation and I could keep pretending we were still in love with one another.

“Mark. I care about you. You know that. But this isn’t working.”

Twice, I wanted to say. Twice this hasn’t worked. In our nine years together, we had tried this twice. The first breakup was the result of my disastrous drug abuse. During our first four years together, I became an increasingly deceitful, outrageous mess. When at long last my pitiful lies were exposed and I checked myself into a drug treatment program, he ended it.

That time, that was the bang. This steak and baked potato dinner was the whimper.

I could feel the emotion swelling inside me and didn’t feel like being the first to cry, so I left the table for the bedroom. As I began heaving deep, guttural sobs I realized I was watching myself, from a distance, like a performance. I saw the way I held my body, arms wrapped tightly in a hug, knees bent from the force of the sobs. What’s my motivation? I found myself wondering, still in the midst of it. Why am I crying? How do I really feel about this?

No sooner had I asked myself these questions, tears streaming, that I posed another. And it was far more manipulative.

How should I play this, exactly?

There were so many options. The shocked and devoted lover. The vindictive injured party. The delicate, recovering addict, shaken to the core by the breakup.

I indulged in this sick game of posturing for only a moment, but it was long enough for me to spot my disease on display. It was my drug addict mindset, always looking for an angle, always trying to deflect blame or skirt responsibility or come out ahead. Despite three years of sobriety, that mindset still enjoys hijacking my emotions.

Mark, I muttered, my face wet with tears, stop it. You crazy fuck.

After the first breakup, he and I didn’t talk much. I moved back to Atlanta and, after some false starts, I finally got a foothold on my recovery. Life opened up again. I created My Fabulous Disease. I rediscovered my joy.

We began speaking tentatively to one another, then more often, and as I approached my first year of sobriety we finally admitted we still loved each other. It was such an unexpected turn of events, and so achingly romantic, that we both followed our hearts completely. I returned to Florida and we resumed our life together, minus my drug use and the dramatic sideshow that went with it.

And yet. And yet.

Within a year, we knew. We tried counseling, which only reopened old wounds and created new resentments. Something unspoken told us to stop the sessions, to not reach the finish line with so much misplaced anger. Instead, we coasted silently for another year, and we looked away.

The postscript had been written, like a paper holding an obituary for a movie star that will probably die soon. They’re just waiting to print it.

And now, despite my philosophical approach to this, my faith in my sobriety and my gratitude for my friends, I have moments when I am crushed with fear. Being alone. Starting over. Dating. And then there’s the HIV.

HIV likes giving a certain zing to relationships. It makes starting one rather tricky, what with the disclosure and the sexual negotiations and the vague fearfulness on either side. It loves ending them as well, but not always in the way you might think.

When HIV treatment drastically improved fifteen years ago, there were people celebrating the world over about their sudden renewed health and vitality. And they often marked the occasion with surprising pronouncements. “I’m going to live another thirty years,” one would muse to the partner across the breakfast table, “and not with you

Thankfully, my HIV status had no role in the breakup. But it will surely become an issue as I navigate whatever romantic life awaits me.

I dried my face and walked from the bedroom to face him again. I knew what was true, and I held on to it tightly, unwilling to play this scene for effect or advantage. And I finally grasped what an amazing, unlikely gift had been offered to me.

We should have broken up like this the first time, I realized. It should have been this way, and now it can be.

This time, I can do this gracefully.

He was sitting at the sofa and looked up to me, sadly, hopefully, and I sat down across from him. There was a moment of mutual assessment, and we saw the truce in each other’s eyes. Some of the stress melted.

And we began to talk.

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31 Responses to “Playing the Last Scene of a Marriage”

  1. Bill K Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Mark,

    First of all, this is one of the more lovely pieces you’ve written. Reading it, I felt for you and then felt immensely proud of you. Not only that, but I saw myself in your “always looking for an angle” comment and was so glad that you only thought that way for a few moments. I am not certain that I would be able to maneuver past that stage so quickly. Beautiful ending. Both to the piece, and to the experience you had.

    My condolences on your relationship. I know that there was love there and I don’t know how that feels (yet), but I do know you have a great support system. Be good to you and I’ll look forward to us getting together sometime this winter and catching up on how things are going on your new journey.

    Bill

  2. Bobbin Wages Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Oh Mark, what a real and beautiful post. I’m sorry to hear about the recent stress in your life, but I hope that your graceful attitude will lead you down a happy path. Best!

  3. Charles Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Beautifully written, emotionally heartfelt. And your piece shows a profound sense of introspection. To quote a Jane Olivor song “It’s over, goodbye. Can’t say we didn’ try….”

  4. Rick Andreoli Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Such a wonderful, truthful piece. Thank you.

  5. D Gregory smith Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Your gift is your honesty- sometimes painfully so.
    And your awareness of yourself.
    Thank you for sharing that.

  6. Victor Cerna Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 11:07 am

    I ADMIRE your brutal honesty.I just want to give you a BIG BEAR HUG and tell you that I LOVE YOU.Things pass for a reason.ONLY TIME will tell… HANG IN THERE!!LOTS OF LOVE & LIGHT!

  7. Paul Kawata Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Your ability to paint a picture is amazing. I am moved and touch my your honesty and bravery.

  8. Marna Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 11:16 am

    This is really wonderful, Mark, and to your enormous credit that you not only were able to write about it, but write about it so eloquently. Your talent rivals one of the best writers I’ve (we’ve) ever known.

    I know you’ll be okay, but this just makes me want to hug you and tell you to come be my gay boyfriend.

    xox

  9. Stephen E. Gunsallus Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 11:31 am

    My dear friend,
    As always you touch on subjects that are very personal. It makes me want to kick into counselor mode, but that really is my defense against my painful memories of trying to have a relationship, with anyone! I am one of those people who has just given up on trying to meet anyone, love (as in the romantic notion), partner ( as in the notion of limerence), you get my drift? I commend you for how you handle this “Last Scene”, but may I suggest that this is not the ultima, but more like the penultima. I suggest this because you have shown a strength and a maturity in the handling of this situation that leaves your story open for new opportunity for you and your ex. If anyone reading this wants to take a suggestion for further reading, How to Survive the Loss of a Love by Colgrove,Bloomfield, & McWiliams (1993) is a good resource. As a friend, I am sorry for your loss and my hope for you is to stay with the experience, stick with the pain and feel every aspect of it and please do not escape back into the old way of handling life through “counter-life substances”. You have friends that love you, and those who love your works.

  10. Czarina Flo Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Elegant, graceful, unflinching writing.
    Be well, my friend.

  11. Scotty O Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Sorry to hear that your relationship has run its course. It sounds like you two still love each other, maybe it was just the day-to-day living together what was too much for you. I know that is the hardest part of my relationship.

    What is next for Mark King? Don’t know much about what you were doing for a living in FL, or what other things you were into.

    I wish you both the best on your new, separate, journeys.

  12. Tony Adams Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I feel the kind of sorry for both you and Ben that always comes with permission to continue liking and respecting you both. And wishing you both much happiness. Courage encouraged!

  13. richard Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    I am so very sorry. Thank you for sharing this dificult episode in your life.

  14. Robert Breining Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Hey Mark… I am sorry to hear that you are close this chapter in your life. I also echo what others have stated in the above comments. Your brutal honesty is amazing. If you need anything please don’t hesitate to call me. HUGS

  15. Maxie Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I am sorry to hear about your lost. You brutal honesty gave me pause and I wondered did I react this way after my last breakup? I did find someone else and I know that you will too. Have faith in yourself and stay strong, because you are remarkable!

  16. Sue Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Mark
    You are too wonderful to ever be alone very long. I wish Ben well, and you new love.
    Love

  17. Cornelius Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    I adore you both. It’s a beautiful piece which totally reflects the home you built and welcomed us into. I trust that beyond this sad moment all that you’ve become from the past few years will grace our lives even more.

  18. Bradley Marema Says:

    October 12th, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Mark,
    I am so sorry that you are going through this right now and I have to say I can really understand your concerns about dating and other people considering your HIV status. My husband and I used together and he died of AIDS that was in 2005 and I am still single of course you know a lot more of my story from there. I didn’t even begin to try recovery again until 2008 and still had trouble after that but now finally I’ve received the true gift of recovery.

    You know what one of the best gifts are in my recovery program is? Its you, Mark. You have always inspired me and so many others. You not only give so much of yourself to those of us struggling with addiction but you also give so much of yourself to those of us who are HIV+. You are an intelligent, compassionate, articulate, worldly, beautiful human being with such a vibrant soul. You have so much to offer anyone who would be lucky enough to have you as a partner in their life.

    I have chosen to stay single for all this time and now being in school I’m distracted so much I don’t really think about it much but I have the highest of confidence that someone truly wonderful will come into your life and into mine one day. I love you Mark thank you for sharing so much of yourself with me and the rest of the world.
    Your Friend, Brad

  19. garry Says:

    October 13th, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Mark, Thank You so much for this post. I’m sure most of us have experienced the pain, anger and depression that accompany a breakup. The thoughts of how we will survive without that partner can be torture. Thanks for sharing,

  20. Sam Says:

    October 13th, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Well, dude, I must say I have often fantasized about picking up and leaving my lover. We’ve been together for nearly 20 years and there are times I just want to punch him in the face. These moments usually occur around the dinner table about halfway through football season. I have read the comments above and I am glad to know you have support during this time. I often question whether or not I stay in my relationship out of habit/security reasons. Then something marvelous happens, and I realize I actually love the bastard. Even if I left him, I’d go on loving him for the rest of my life. Take care, dude, and listen to those close friends who actually know and love you. Friendships like that are as beautiful as any romantic relationship. Peace.

  21. Judy Shepps Battle Says:

    October 13th, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Mark, this is the first time I have read this blog post (life has been interacting with me on its own terms here also) and I can identify with you on so many issues and congratulate you for seeing the Program Principles so very soon.

    I do think this is the heart of our recovery process — not to be able to avoid these gut wrenching situations of loss but to decrease time of “addict response” each time.

    I know that in my first decade of recovery I thought my clean/sober/abstinence was buying me a crisis-free life and got angry each time it didn’t. But after another couple of decades have passed, I know this isn’t how HP teaches lessons.

    My hat is off to you having the courage to make your feelings public and getting out that river in Egypt (de-Nile) before you drowned.

  22. Mario Says:

    October 13th, 2011 at 8:58 am

    “Thankfully, my HIV status had no role in the breakup.” I don’t know why we have to be thankful about that, but sometimes I cannot help wonder whether or not we do remain in unhealthy relationships because of our HIV status. My last partner had a complicated health status as a result of his advanced HIV and substance abuse dependency/recovery. As his caretaker he made my life very complicated, but I was in love with him and nothing mattered. What did matter was that he was mean, nasty, degrading … etc. etc. In the words of my therapist, he was just an a**hole. In the end, neither mine nor his HIV status played a role in our break up, and I too am thankful for that.

  23. Landreth Says:

    October 13th, 2011 at 9:29 am

    My dear friend, the seeds of recovery have started to weave their roots into your life and your existence. Life on life’s terms is not easy and it will always be an up and down journey as we navigate each step, but that isn’t the important part, it’s how we react to it and show up. This is a example of your growth and willingness to let your authentic self shine and I a grateful to be witness to your growth! Love & light to you!

  24. Dixon Says:

    October 13th, 2011 at 11:58 am

    ” But it will surely become an issue as I navigate whatever romantic life awaits me.”

    You just broke up and you’re already considering a new romantic life? Perhaps now is the time to be alone and try a recovery from romance. It’s a good time to just learn to know and love yourself.

  25. Ann-Marie Says:

    October 13th, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    My Sweet Forever-Boy,
    Love always involves risk. The ability to treasure the wonderful parts and release the painful parts of your relationship is truly a gift. The parting gift you gave to Ben and to yourself, is the gift of appreciation and respect. That is a triumph of true love.
    Much love and comfort,
    Ann-Marie

  26. Jonathan in S.F. Says:

    October 13th, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Well Mark, remember to breathe and keep putting one step in front of theother. Guess Anita Mann may be accepting offers of pity sex on the hiv cruise. But, Mark should take his time.

  27. Joe T Oakland Says:

    October 14th, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Wow, powerful stuff and filled with truth and lessons I wished I had learned with my previous two relationships. Both filled with addiction and I still in MY disease played all the angles and acted my part in the play. The last one was the hardest cause we broke up and he died soon after leaving all that unfinished business, but that led to recovery and well as it goes all the steps lead us to where we are today. There is not road without pain, but with pain comes discovery and recovery. I really needed to see this today and I thank you and all that have responded. I hope that you two can find what you need …Thanks again

  28. Hardy Says:

    October 15th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    That was a beautiful piece. Ending relationships with such mature poise is almost never seen. It is indeed painful, it is sad but then its better to end and move on than drag and live pathetically! I know starting again would be difficult and obviously you may not quite be in that frame of a mind at this point of time but then all the best wishes to you. May everything settle down well faster 🙂

  29. jt Says:

    October 15th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Hope it’s not something you got from your visit to Pensacola…… All the BEST to YOU….. You’re very much needed at your best…..
    jt

  30. James Allen Says:

    October 19th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Thinking of you and wishing you well. I like the adult nature of your honesty which allows you to critique yourself then move forward.
    James

  31. Mike Kennedy Says:

    October 20th, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Mark – such beautiful writing from a beautiful person; another challenge for you, but I trust in your ability to meet it with your usual grace. Diane sends love!

    Mike

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