Ever since I was a little girl I wanted my life to be filled with creativity, happiness, and vibrancy. I was born in July 1985 in northeast Wisconsin as the youngest of four kids. We lived in a city right on Lake Michigan, and oh, it was fun. On hot summer nights, my parents would pack up a picnic and take my us to the beach by the lake. The cool water breeze off the lake was refreshing. My siblings and I would play in the water or walk to the lighthouse on the pier. I would run around outside in the summer until the fireflies appeared and tumbled in the snow during the winter.
Almost everything in my childhood was colorful and happy which was just the way I liked. My bedroom had pink walls and pink carpeting. My old pencil boxes were overflowing with crayons, colored pencils, and paints. I had stacks of drawing paper scattered all over my bedroom desk, and piles of notebooks full of stories I had made up stacked next to them. I built my Barbies a fabulous house made from cardboard boxes and scraps of fabric. My backyard was my play castle, a ship sailing over the Atlantic, a mucky swamp filled with alligators, or anything I imagined it to be. I lived a happy, bright childhood that I crafted with my imagination. The most traumatic moment in my childhood, I would say, was at the end of third grade: I had my tonsils taken out!
I went to high school in Western Wisconsin and after that, a private college in Eastern Ohio. I don’t remember everything I learned from high school and college, but I do remember always giggling and laughing with my friends. I told you, I was a happy girl.
After finishing my bachelor’s, I continued into graduate school, studying English in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was at that university that I met the man who would change my life.
Our first date was at a Starbucks. I did what was excepted of me: I talked, smiled and asked him questions. By the end of the date, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to see him again. When he asked me out a week later, I said yes because I didn’t dislike him enough to say no. I should have seen my indifference as a red flag, but I didn’t. Instead, I fell in love with this introverted, analytical, humble, and shy man — a complete opposite of me.
He appeared to be genuinely interested in the things I liked. He visited the art museum with me, cooked gluten-free pasta for me, and made me laugh. We went to concerts, ballets, bookstores, and poetry readings together. I thought he was stable, dependable, organized, and masculine. I believed we were complimentary because he had qualities I didn’t. What I didn’t realize immediately was, during our courtship, I had gradually let the vibrant and colorful girl slip away from me, because I thought what he wanted me to be was more important than my own happiness.
I stopped talking loudly, because he didn’t like that it drew attention to our conversations. I stopped smiling at strangers, because he didn’t like talking to people he didn’t know. I became something that I wasn’t because I thought that’s what I needed to do to keep him happy.
Worst of all, we didn’t understand each other. I saw life as a watercolor painting where one life event flows into another and mixes itself up until it is interwoven with laughter, tears, shouting, pain, sorrow, joy, and rejoicing; it is a continuation of one experience after another, without having a definite end or beginning. He saw life as a series of direct, black drawn linear lines where events happen consecutively, one after another. Despite my point of view, for his sake, I tried to view the world the way he liked, because, you know, I was in love.
We got married on August 8, 2009 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had decided that he was worth everything I was sacrificing. Our marriage was easy at first. We divided up household chores, I learned how to cook better, and I was eager to please him.
Our son was born less than a year after we married. As our son grew up, I felt more lonely and isolated staying home. Meanwhile, my husband became more and more immersed in work and less willing to help around the house. Maybe it was the stress of being married and supporting a family, but something in him snapped. The shy, smart, responsible man I fell in love with had been replaced with an angry, stressed-out, depressed version of himself. I felt inadequate as myself, but false when I tried to be someone I wasn’t. Our daughter was born about five years after our son, but things didn’t get better. We fought, yelled, and cried, but I still thought I could ease the tension between us if I changed who I was even more.
I stopped producing artwork. I didn’t write any stories. I wouldn’t tutor reading because I didn’t want to inconvenience him by asking if I could use the car. I stopped talking about wanting to be a best-selling author because he told me it was an unrealistic dream that I would never achieve and laughed at me whenever I brought it up. My happiness and brightness floated away from me during our relationship. I didn’t even try to grab for them as they drifted by. I was too emotionally drained and tired from constantly hiding who I was. I didn’t care if I was happy or creative. I was exhausted.
In 2015, six years into our marriage, he told me he had retained a lawyer and filed for divorce. My mouth turned dry at his announcement. I couldn’t respond to him for a moment. When I finally did answer him, I tearfully sputtered out every swear word I could think of. I hadn’t changed enough for him after all. I tried so hard to fit and squeeze into the box that he wanted me to be in, and it was all for nothing!
I didn’t believe he would go through with the divorce, since he didn’t move out until nine months after he first filed. I thought he wanted to stay married to me, but he was secretly stashing away money for an apartment. When he did finally move out, I sat on the couch and cried.
In the weeks after my divorce, I went through the motions of my days without feeling anything. My smiles were forced, I talked in an anxious, high-pitched voice, and my mouth was so dry it felt like it had been stuffed with cotton. Little by little, though, I found more room to breathe. I realized there wasn’t anyone around me that I needed to get permission from. I could do anything I wanted. I could buy whatever I wanted at the grocery store. I could tutor whenever I wanted, and most importantly, I could dream again. I visualized the plots of my next book manuscript. When I looked out the window at the trees, I thought about how I would mix my paints to recreate their colors. My kids could use Play-Doh, paint, markers, clay…and I wouldn’t have to worry about being criticized because I let the kids make a mess. It was liberating! I saw my caged soul freed.
It’s been almost two years since he moved out and two years since I became me again. My courtship and marriage to my ex-husband taught me a lot. If someone doesn’t fully appreciate who you are in the beginning of a relationship, they won’t do it in the middle, the end, or ever. When you change who you are to be someone you think you should be, you will never be happy.
Sometimes there are still nights when I wake up making choking sounds remembering I am divorced from the one man I fell in love with, but once I calm down and gently fall back to sleep, I remember that I am living a happy, fulfilling life that I created, and I don’t need him. I am free. I am Susanna.
This is the story of Susanna Redmer
Susanna lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her children. Growing up, Susanna was always welcome to be creative and dream big. When she fell in love with a man who was her opposite, she thought their differences would complement each other. In the end, those differences forced her to change herself and after he chose to divorce her, she realized that she never should have changed herself because she is wonderful as is. Susanna is joyfully living as a mother, writer, friend, and explorer. In her free time, she loves to read, paint, make jewelry, and be amazed by how incredible her two kids are.
Life Log #190
This story first touched our hearts on October 3, 2018.
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