I felt as if the words in his letter tore my heart. That’s what happened this past week. My emotions were wounded and sore. I didn’t expect that I would feel this distressed as I read more about my ex-husband’s life-threatening illness.
Then I remembered the irritating letters he wrote to me in 2005 and subsequent years. I seldom responded. My intention was to separate, to forget him and I did most of the time.
Our divorce, five and a half years ago was almost a trivial event, one that I barely noticed. Unmarried to him, I was protected from middle school parents that I feared would come after him financially, entwining my assets with his.
But now it’s different. His life is in danger with a fast growing cancer that has spread. Even if the Medical Director at the prison had acted immediately, so much time has passed since the promised surgery should have occurred, it may be too late. He may be biding his time until the final days, the end that we all eventually face. I understand that he wants more years, free from being locked up, with some happiness and a healthy body.
For a few weeks I felt sympathetic, sad for him and angry at the prison system. And then another envelope arrived. The message inside was just like the old times, wanting money for an operation, saying he hadn’t really done anything to harm anyone. I’d been won over by his expressive writing in earlier letters but this one jolted me back to reality. I thought of Susan’s statement long ago, when I whined how his notes were so nice.
“They’re just words,” she said.
And I’ve responded, many times, “She was right”.
I used to think that his punishment was too severe until I really began to think about those girls in the photos. He implied that they hadn’t been harmed. They weren’t people he’d met, or looked at. He thought of them merely as images on the computer screen. He still doesn’t get that they weren’t just children in pictures. They were real girls who had been sold or kidnapped and lived a life of horror, without hope of escape.
He’s back where he always was. I don’t blame him for wanting whatever money he hopes might save his life. Today, though, I again see him as the person he’s been all along.
I searched for a middle ground by looking at different ways of understanding his words, separating them into: What is said? What is heard? What is meant?
1. What is said? His words were written on the page. He wrote that he would like me to ask my father for an enormous amount of money so he can have an operation that he believes would save his life, on the outside. He said that he didn’t do anything really wrong and his crime is victimless.
2. What is heard by me? More of his manipulation, rationalization and unwillingness to face the reality of what is happening.
3. What is meant? “Help me save my life. I’m not that bad.”
This separation of words makes me more sympathetic and understanding as I try to isolate the meaning behind each statement. It doesn’t change the situation, but does remove my revulsion.