A Personal Journey

The last three years have been a time of growth for me. Now it's time to look back and string together all that has happened. To look at the whole and share the story with others. Part of what I have learned is that other men have been down this road and I know others are behind me. From what I hear of others though, my journey was blessed.

When I first started teaching here I was warned that this was a very conservative town. That it would be better if I project a more mainline image to start with. So I showed up for teacher orientation with a new hair cut and polished boots. There was another new teacher that seemed quite interested in me. She inquired if I was the new orchestra teacher at the junior high and wanted to know more about me. She continued to probe me about my background. As it turned out, her brother was going to be in the orchestra and after she saw the short hair and boots was sure that I was some "trumpet player" that the district brought in to run the bands and have the orchestra dumped on them too. She was happy to find that I indeed was a string player and would be playing in the symphony as soon as the season started. Once rehearsals began I found that she was sitting over in the violin section just across from where I sat with the violas. We began to see each other after rehearsals. We played duets together on the weekend and in time married. While my feet had been on the road for some time, this is where my story begins.

I suspect our marriage was normal in most respects. We set up housekeeping on her parentsí farm and were doing well. Kids were to be postponed but were a priority for the future. When we decided we would start a family we moved into our own house in town. I had always seen the primary relationship in my life as being between my wife and I. I wanted kids, but of course they would be an adjunct to the principal relationship of Kathy and me.

About this time started having a recurring dream. It had to do with a fire. I dreamt that the house was on fire. I was outside and my wife was inside. I would risk all to save her. Sometimes the dream put her outside and I was the one being saved. But in every case we both made it or we both didnít. Sometimes the fire fighters would try to stop us going in, but they couldn't.

When Kathy got pregnant I was about as happy as I thought possible. This wonderful little family was growing! The child was something that we both were looking forward to. When Susan was born in early August everything changed. Both our lives took a new course and changed for ever. But not in the same way.

My dream now had three characters. Me, Kathy and Susan. It still started the same way, I would be outside the burning house and realise that Kathy and Susan were inside. Risking all, I would brave the flames to save Kathy. Only now, once Kathy was outside I would once again plunge into the burning building to bring Susan out too. Always successfully, always after saving Kathy. Sometimes she was outside and she would save the two of us. I noticed a small difference: after finding me she would linger to find Susan before taking us both out at the same time.

In the real world everything had changed. My role had changed overnight. How could it not? A baby is a big thing.... But it was as if I had become an observer of a family, not a member. I watched Kathy feed Susan. I watched Kathy change Susan. I watched Kathy rock Susan. I was not allowed to do any of these things. But I better be there to watch. Kathy had no time for me at all.

I remember two situations that about sum things up. Once Susan bumped into something and hurt herself. A very small hurt, but I was right there and picked her up to comfort her. Kathy ran into the room and grabbed Susan from my arms. Somehow I was not to be allowed to do that sort of thing. My role was to just watch. The other situation was our bed, where I would cry my self to sleep for about the first six weeks of Susan's life. Kathy came to bed so exhausted every night that she didn't even notice.

I started to stay at work longer. Why come home just to watch? That was not exactly in line with what Kathy expected and she made that very clear. I was to come home right after school. I told her that I felt like an observer of a family and not a member and couldn't see I really mattered any more. She replied, "Things have changed. I still need you, I'm just not sure how." When I made my feelings of abandonment and need for her known to her, I was always stonewalled. I was told to aspire to more "noble" things - that it had been a long time since she could finish a book and that that was more of a priority to her.

The dream changed again. Not my part. I would still save Kathy and then go in after Susan once I knew Kathy was okay. But Kathy always saved Susan first. Once she was safe then Kathy would plunge into the fire to find me. I was always saved. Just not first any more.

By this time my life was becoming a real roller-coaster. For the most part I couldn't see anything much left between my wife and I. Occasionally she did seem to notice that I was there. At these times I thought that the relationship was back on and looked forward to coming home. Then after a few more days of being just a piece of furniture I went back into my funk. We even had sex every few months. In fact I can tell you exactly when our second child was conceived because it was the only time we had had sex in about a four month window.

In my dream I still would rescue Kathy and then Susan and now Sarah. In my dream Kathy would rescue Susan and Sarah and then, if there was no or little risk and both the kids were safe she would come in after me. We had drifted so far apart that contact on any level was rare. But when contact came it still gave me such hope. Always to be dashed though.

Sarah was a very hard labour. I had never seen anyone work so hard, suffer so much for anything. My love and respect for Kathy took on an entirely new dimension after that birth. How could I be so selfish to make any demands on someone so noble? So I started to forcibly quash my feelings of resentment and anger. Hell, I started to quash all my feelings......

In the dream my role remained the same, but Kathy stopped even coming in after me. It was up to me to save myself.

Then came the day when everything changed...... It happened first in the dream. I saved the kids first too. I only went into the fire to find Kathy once I knew the kids were safe. This shocked me! But from that time on I always rescued the kids first.

I talked to our school counsellor about this situation. She was a personal friend of mine and we had talked about many things over time. She pointed out that all day long Kathy was in contact with people. She had babies clinging to her and needing her attention. Once they were in bed she just needed some space. In time this phase of her life would end and she would need me again. Made sense. I could wait. All I had to do was keep those feelings of abandonment and rage out of my life until then.

I could do that. Boy, could I do that! I could do that so well that I reached a point about five years later where I didn't think that I could ever feel again. By then the dream had once again changed. When I was outside the house I would first rescue the kids and then set the fire. When she was outside she would still rescue the kids first, but I was never quite sure how the fire started. By now I just wanted it to be over.

I had a remarkable Lent three years ago. I was at a point where I just wanted to kill myself. My dad had given me a gun, for target shooting. I would often play with it. I'm not sure whether I was trying to scare myself out of it or to prepare myself for it. But I had gotten to the point where I would load the gun and point it toward my head. The same flood of thoughts would stop me. "How can I do this to my kids?" "How will my dad feel learning that it was HIS gun?" I would stop and unload the gun. But I would be back the next day. It got to the point that I made a ritual of it for Lent. Every day I would go out and put in one bullet, think about the meaning of the act and then return the gun to its place still loaded. After six days the gun was full. On Sunday I would empty the gun into the woodpile and clean it. On Monday in would go the first bullet. On Easter I emptied the gun for the last time and have never gone back since.

I was at a point in my life where I could feel nothing. I had to shut down to carry on. If I could just carry on things would be okay in time.

Later that year, I spent three days in a chamber music workshop. Kathy had just come back from a tour and didn't want to go. It was a wonderful time for me. I met with and worked with many fine musicians. On last evening the there was a party, but as I'm not much of a party animal, I didn't stay long. There were some others who felt the same way so we all went down and played some chamber music. About 2am we were done and I went back up to the party to see what was going on. There were a couple of people up there and we started talking. Soon there was just myself and one woman who played violin. We spent a couple of hours hugging and talking. She went up to my room to say goodnight to me and came in. We spent some time on my bed, clothed. She talked and touched my face. In some ten years of marriage I hadn't had anything this good. Then she went to her room. I received a note from her several days later and by the next weekend was visiting her in her house. Something big was beginning in my life. I couldn't guess where it would go. But it HAD started and it was BIG. It was clear to Kathy that something was going on. I told her about The Other Woman. She accepted the situation and the subject never came up again. We talked a lot about our marriage, where it was for both of us and how we got into the situation we found ourselves.

This began a long relationship with TOW (The Other Woman). We got together about once a month and there was a flurry of letters and notes flying back and forth.

Most importantly, I could feel again! I had been shut down for so long I had feared that I would never feel again... ever. But now, how I could feel!! I would never go back again.

TOW was the greatest thing that had happened to me in a long time. At the same time there was some threat to my family, which was the most important thing to me.

Things at home were not going well. Things with TOW were going great. I was torn.

One of my students, a boy who I also know at church, was turning 13. As a "coming of age" present his parents asked the important males in his life to write a short article on what it meant being a man. These articles would be put together into a book and given to him. I was asked. This was a great idea for him and a good idea for me. I worked on the idea for about a month. In that time I could not find one thing to put to paper. Asked what was good about being a man I came up blank.

Here I was. I had a part time relationship with a woman who made me happier than I had ever been before and I had a commitment to a family that I would not break. Certainly the opportunity was there, but I could not do that to my children. There was always hope for my marriage, wasn't there? I had started to think about what being a man really was about. Not just what the U.S. Army had told me. But I couldn't find one good thing about being male when asked.

I started asking some of my friends for suggestions, someplace to begin to find value in my gender. I was amazed by the two answers I consistently received. First, that men would make self sacrifices for the good of the group. One of my WORST experiences of being male is the time I spent in the U.S. Army, "making sacrifices for the good of the group". The second answer, that men took joy in sex, was particularly surprising coming from women as well as men. I have always felt that women assume that I am a rapist and predator until I prove otherwise. Hearing that these things which I have always considered negatives being described as good things about being male really made me think, and made me feel better about myself.

I was always offended by the saying "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle....".

Believing that my value as a man was based on my use to a woman, it made me feel useless. I had always defined myself by what I thought women thought I should be. Searching out the good things about being male was freeing me from that trap.

I have a beginning to the list. Let's hope it's not over.

TOW has decided to call it all off. She knows that for me family comes first. While she first thought that she could live with this, she has evidently changed her mind. So after three great years I have no more contact with her. I truly feel the loss.

Around the time that TOW called things off the relationship between Kathy and I was at an all time high. This lasted a couple of weeks and now... Well, it's 2am and I'm working on my computer rather than being in bed with her.

The only thing I feel sure about in the future is that the relationship with TOW is in fact over. How I will grow as a man and how my marriage will continue to grow I don't know. But I do know that as an individual I feel stronger than ever before. There is pain, but there is growth too.

The author prefers to remain anonymous, but can be contacted by email at: bratsche@olympus.net

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