Narratives

First I Had To Ask For Forgiveness

I hate you, you fuckin’ asshole!  I can’t stand you anymore!  You don’t do shit for me and my daughter – I might as well be on my own!  I do everything around here.  You don’t do shit, what the fuck do I need you for!  I don’t know why I married you!

I can’t remember when things got so violent in our marriage, but my anger became the soot that suffocated the love and admiration we had once had for each other.  It (the violence) crept in like the autumn Santa Ana winds; the anger had always been there like desert sand waiting for the current.

I first met my husband, David Malo, in 1993 while attending community college.  I can still picture him in his raver-like baggy jeans, with his hair draped down his back like raven feathers and the Hawaii University hat that inconspicuously hid his eyes.  I was 19 years old at the time, raising a one-year-old baby and very focused on transferring to San Diego State University (SDSU).  We quickly became close friends.  One of the qualities that most attracted me to him was his gentle and vulnerable spirit.  He was kind with his words and listened to me without judgment.  He brought calmness into a time of my life that was full of chaos and stress.

He was someone who I felt safe around, because he respected me as a woman and a mother.  Because I was working, attending school full-time, and nursing my daughter, the circle of friends I had once had, was practically non-existent.  He became someone I could count on unconditionally, and even if I didn’t make contact with him for weeks, I could call him in the spur of the moment, and we would pick up right where we had left off.  We continued to be friends and he brought a peaceful quiet into my life that my spirit had been yearning for.

There is something fundamentally beautiful in the spiritual essence of a human being.  One can only discover this beauty through a deep interconnectedness with all that surrounds us.  This beauty is only discovered when we transform within – it is the type of beauty we presence in the untainted innocence of a flower or a hummingbird, or the vulnerability of water.  It was that innocence and vulnerability in my husband’s spirit that lead me to him.  In him I saw the beauty that was possible in me; a reflection of what I had been before fear and disappointment had cemented my spirit in anger.

We began dating the summer of 1995 and both transferred to SDSU in August of that same year.  He never asked for more than I could give.  I never felt pressured or any sense of obligation, because he understood how dedicated I was to my daughter and my studies.  He just patiently waited for me to have time for him.  It wasn’t surprising that my grandmother, whom I lived with, and my daughter quickly grew an affinity toward him.  Often spending time with me also meant he had to spend time with my daughter and grandmother – he never complained.  There were several times when spending time with me meant he had to go on a date with my daughter, my grandmother, and even my great-grandmother!  His energy was always gentle and serene.

But I began to attack.  I didn’t know the transformation I was looking for had to be within, so I became angry toward him, and I began to attack his spirit.  Anger’s sole purpose is to destroy, and I was out to destroy him.  I began to see his contentment as lack of initiative and his quietness as the quality of a pushover.  In my life experiences I had learned to be loud and demanding if I was to preserve what little amount of dignity I had accumulated up to that point. So the qualities I most yearned for, were the same qualities I feared.

Early on in our relationship, David and I got into a confrontation in the car – I was driving.  I hated that he didn’t respond to my anger.  I kept yelling and insulting.  I wanted him at the brink.  Finally, at a stop sign, he got out of the car and slammed the door. A sense of satisfaction overcame me.  I needed anger to feed my anger. Though these episodes of anger were far in between, they would ultimately become the epicenter of a turbulent marriage.

Carmen was ten years old and David and I had dated for seven years.  I had decided it was time for marriage.  David and I had both graduated from college; I wanted Carmen to have a chance to spend part of her life in a “normal” household and to experience the presence of a father figure; and if we were going to have a baby it needed to happen soon because I didn’t want too much of an age gap between Carmen and the baby.  I had it all under control – my life, my emotions, the outcome.  I loved David.  I loved spending time with him, the way he made me laugh, his easiness, and his thoughtfulness.  But I didn’t comprehend then that marriage was much more than a checklist of goals and accomplishments.  On June 29, 2002 we married and vowed a life of love, partnership, and commitment to each other.  We had a beautiful wedding at the Rose Garden in Balboa Park – our friends read poetry that I had selected, David wrote vows for Carmen, and we included ceremonial traditions from various cultures.

Two years into our marriage, I became the alpha female, and he the guy who avoided the confrontations. I nagged, he became more distant. The partnership we had vowed to each other became tainted by my demands and my constant accusations.   He reverted to his video games and golfing, while I shopped and meticulously cleaned every corner of the house.   Two consecutive summers of lay-offs, a year of working night shifts, and a wife that often belittled and humiliated him threw him into a labyrinth of depression – years later he would confess that there had been times he contemplated the idea of suicide.

His transformation was subtle, and my anger was taking its toll on him.  His peace had become agitated and his vulnerability was now perceived as weakness; now I had an excuse to keep attacking.  I created reasons for my anger – he wasn’t a good enough husband, he didn’t know how to be a good father, he didn’t have a father to teach him how to be a man – all illusions to justify my relentless anger.   I just wanted to hurt him the way I had been hurt.  Even when he tried living up to my expectations, I’d set him up to fail, so I could justify my disrespect toward him.  Carmen had become an innocent bystander of the anger and violence I had tried to protect her from most of her childhood.  But now it was unraveling like the finely woven threads of the piña fabric.

The verbal abuse toward David gradually escalated until one day our love for each other came to a crossroads. On this particular day, I had been aggravating him all day with my usual reproaches and snide remarks.  He knew it was escalating, so he exited through the back door of the house into the converted garage.  Before slamming the door behind him, he sternly said, “You know what, I’m not going to put up with your shit anymore.”  I sat on the couch for approximately thirty minutes thinking about how to WIN.  Then suddenly like the bitter squirt of a lime, I got up from the sofa and grabbed the hammer that rested in the kitchen drawer.  With commitment and determination, I made my way through the back door toward David.  My daughter came after me – at the time she thought I was going to hurt [kill] him.  I was so enraged, when she grabbed my arm, I shook her off and shoved her against the concrete patio, her body pressed against the coarse surface.  In reaction to the commotion, my husband came outside, and as he was helping Carmen up, I yelled, “Do you want to see crazy! I’ll show you crazy!”  I took the hammer and smashed it against the windowpane on the door.   Hearing the crashing noise of the glass, and feeling its jagged splinters on my feet awakened me from the state of rage I was in.  Carmen and David stood there looking at me with pity.  What had I become?  Desmond Tutu speaks of Ubuntu – a philosophy, a belief in the Nguni group of languages, which speaks of the essence of being human.  It is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.”  So as I was dehumanizing and humiliating David, I was doing so to myself.

I went to bed that night so ashamed.  I was destroying the beautiful family that God had given me, and I was destroying my heart.  I prayed so that I could find a way out of the darkness, so that I could liberate myself from the anger, so that I could find peace.  Then one day as I was checking my e-mails, I came across a fellowship opportunity at the Ahimsa Center: Nonviolence in thought and action.  When I clicked on the link, the following quote by Mahatma Gandhi appeared:

We are constantly being astonished at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt-of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.

I applied and was granted the fellowship.  That summer my heart began to bloom.  This became the foundation of an incredible journey of healing, reconnecting with my spirit, and allowing God’s light into my heart.  When I returned home from the fellowship, I noticed a difference in my intention for living.  I wanted my breath to capture the sweet orange honeysuckle in my back yard, my eyes to frame the hummingbird’s flight, and my ears to listen to the whispers of the moon.  And though I knew I was headed toward the right direction, my anger and toxic thoughts would seep in at times.  It was around this time that my husband and I decide to go to therapy.  A friend of ours recommended a therapist that was incredibly kind and compassionate who helped David and I get to know each other again.

Because I was healing, my soul was opening up to a spiritual awakening that allowed me to feel a love that I had never experienced before.  This kind of love contained no wanting.  It wasn’t the kind of love that turned into enraged attacks, feelings of hostility, or emotional disconnectedness when my “wants” were not being met.  This was a love that arose from beyond the mind.  I was beginning to love myself, and by loving myself I could finally love David authentically without needing to judge or change him in any way.  I loved him, the him I saw through the gleam of his eye.

A year ago I had a dream in which a man whose face was undefined kissed me gently, deliberately.  I felt energy exponentially synergize inside of me – a profound intense love.  I was in love with this man, fully and vulnerably in love.  When I woke up the memory of this emotion was still vivid.  I glanced at David and wondered if I had ever felt this way for him.  Was he the one?  Had I settled in the hope that I could force this feeling into me?  I was disturbed, yet awakened by this emotion.  For weeks I kept exploring (meditating) the significance of the dream. Then in the middle of a conversation I was having with a friend, it came to me – the dream had not been about the “right” guy evoking a pure and liberating emotion in me.  My heart knew I was with the right guy, for David and I had grown to love life and its experiences together.  To complement each other the way the sun complemented the moon; the way fragrance complemented air.

What I was really searching for was a deeper spiritual connection with David; the same connection that had existed between Tita, Carmen, and I.  At that moment I realized that for as long as I had been with David, he had always been the outsider, not because he wasn’t included, but because he wasn’t needed the way Tita, Carmen, and I needed each other.  Tita had passed away and Carmen was defining her life, and my soul was yearning to have a spiritual need for David in my life.

First I had to ask for his forgiveness:

I’m sorry because I tried to break you, though your compassion and love were more powerful.  I am ashamed, and not only am I asking you for forgiveness, but I’m asking myself for forgiveness.   The process of healing has been long and arduous, and I take full responsibility for my anger, for the pain I have inflicted on you and others.  The transformation is happening within, and I’m experiencing a new kind of love.  I am finding the goodness within.  I am becoming whole, and in my wholeness, I am learning that there is no room for hate, no room for anger, no room for revenge, no room for competition, no room for resentment; just love.  Infinite and divine love.

We are still dealing with the residue of the violence that once existed in our relationship.  David and I were having a conversation about why it is sometimes difficult for him to apologize to me.  I explained to him that it was because he was still dealing with the remnants of my anger.  When he used to apologize to me, I would blame him more and transform his apology into and opportunity for shame.   This is why I approach David with compassion whenever he has wronged me in some way, and once I approach him about the situation, his guard disappears and he feels safe to apologize.  It is the work we must do to continue to heal.

The following is a passage from The Prophet by Kahlil  Gibran:

Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but no into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow

Not in each other’s shadow.

A neighbor recently shared the book with David, and I opened the book to this passage and shared it out loud.  I asked David if he remembered this passage, and he did not recognize it.  I then told him it was one of the readings at our wedding.  At first I felt a heavy feeling in my heart, as if there had been a fraud committed against me.  Then I realized that the day David and I had married, neither one of us was whole.  And though we married because it was the next “natural” progression in our relationship, we had not awakened to the real love within.  Now as we read this passage, present with each other and in our love, we understand that the love that is generated from the light within is abundant and full of grace, and therefore its sole purpose is to generate more light.

Not only did he accept me into his life, but he also accepted my daughter and grandmother.  Though we have had challenging times in our relationship, his gentle and kind spirit has been the constant force that has helped us heal and overcome the painful experiences.  Before my grandmother died a year ago, she told me she could go in peace, because she knew David would take care of me and our daughter the way she, my grandmother, had taken care of us.

David was recently laid-off from his school counseling position, but continues to work with high school students as a substitute.  He is amazingly gentle and compassionate with the students, and that is evident in how the students approach him.  I am a high school English teacher that absolutely loves and cares for the students I serve.   I am lucky to have a husband that shares the same passion and joy for working with youth.  We have so many plans for our future, among which includes opening a school where students can weave their stories into the fabric of the school and use the space of education to heal and become agents of change.  We are excited about our future together and all the possible ways in which we can serve to make this world a better place.  I don’t know where our journey will lead, but I know that living an authentic life next to David is more than I can ever have dreamed of.

7 comments on “First I Had To Ask For Forgiveness

  1. Cristina, this is such an honest look at your journey. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  2. Toshaleza Msemaji

    As always, your writing is so beautiful and real and inspiring — your truth laid bare, encouraging us all to do open up and do the same. Thank you.

  3. Christina, as with your other writings this is beautifully put together. Thank you for a real look at the inside of marriage (the good, bad and ugly). True, authentic love will prevail but it is not necessarily easy. Successful marriages will always allow people to take a look inside themselves and grow. The phrase growing pains is not reserved for only physical growth but speaks to emotional and spiritual growth as well. Growth is a process and I am so happy for the growth in your marriage. May God continue to lead you and David on your marriage journey to happily ever after.

  4. Pingback: Dreaming to Play – A Second Chance – Alma de Colibrí

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