Today is the penultimate day of Fleet Week, a celebration of the armed forces commemorated annually the first week of October in the San Francisco Bay Area. The USS Hornet and other docked warships attract thousands of visitors. The Bay is filled with boats and ships. The air is filled with the roars of the Blue Angels. Hotels are full, traffic is bad.
My second ex-wife Lisa and I were ignorant about this in 2018 when we set October 6 as our wedding date. We learned too late to change it, or so we thought. In retrospect, there shouldn’t have been a wedding. Not then. Not ever. But I was in love with the “woman of my dreams” and believed she loved me that way too.
Lisa tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in March 2020. We were quarantined for 40 days, as documented in my blog series COVID Chronicles. Left unreported was the story of how my marriage unraveled over the first three weeks of June, culminating in its sudden end on June 19–20. Overnight my entire life was turned upside down and I was jettisoned into a world ravaged by COVID and — soon — forest fire. The months that followed were among the darkest of my life as I tried to make sense of what was happening.
Lisa refused to ever meet with or speak to me other than via text, email, or her lawyers after those fateful days in June. I suspect it’s because she couldn’t look me in the eye. It also robbed me of any sense of closure with her. I haven’t attempted to contact her directly since the end of 2020, at her request. Our divorce became final in November 2021. My only information about Lisa and her life until recently came from publicly available sources.
It’s taken me three years to come to terms with and heal from the trauma that accumulated over the course of our four-year relationship and its aftermath and find a way forward. This has required me to take a hard look in the mirror, face and learn from what I experienced, and make different choices.
I started by repairing my relationship with myself. I made a commitment to changing long-standing patterns emanating from childhood. I relied heavily on my therapist as well as the gratitude/meditation/prayer practice I began the weekend I met Lisa.
My eyes were opened when I came across a series of articles about the toxic relationship between an empath and a covert narcissist (I’m an empath). I also learned that the “Twin Flame” phenomenon that we identified with, is identical to the Love Bomb-Devalue-Dump process of narcissistic abuse. I was forced to accept the relationship was over forever, the truth of what it was and what it wasn’t, and what I’ll never know.
My wounds have now scarred over. I’ve managed to not only heal but grow. I’ve rebuilt my life to reflect the whole and integrated person I’ve become. After some false starts, I’m ready to enter The Aftertimes.
Over these past several months I’ve also created and found the closure I was looking for, though not always in ways I expected. Here’s that story.
August 18, 2023, corresponded to 1 Elul 5783 on the Hebrew calendar. Elul is the month of reflection and transition into the Jewish High Holidays. It’s an appropriate time to mark endings and beginnings. On or about the same date 24 years ago I completed my conversion to Judaism. That occasion was marked by a gathering of a three-person Beit Din or Rabbinical Court and a ceremony including my first immersion in the ritual bath known as a Mikvah.
I find rituals deeply meaningful and this one was especially so. I returned to the Mikvah seven years ago to mark my divorce from my first wife, personalizing this thousands-year-old ritual for my purposes. My then-wife-to-be and I both immersed in the Mikvah before my second wedding. Now it was time to mark my divorce from that wife the same way. 1 Elul was chosen.
I adapted the ceremony from my first divorce for this one. I was joined by the rabbi from my home congregation, one of the officiants of our wedding who is also a personal friend, and the gentleman who guided me for the previous divorce, who had independently become a member of our congregation in the meantime.
I will perhaps write in more detail about the Mikvah experience another time. For now, suffice it to say it was beautiful, meaningful, and emotionally cleansing.
As the final act of the ceremony, a divorce document known as a Get was produced. This is an archaic and patrilineal practice in which the former groom formally releases the former bride, so she is free to remarry in the Jewish faith. To modern liberal Jews, this is a mere formality if they do it at all. I did it as a final way of cutting any remaining cords. The certificate was signed by the witnesses and the rabbi said he would send it to my ex-wife at her work address, the only one I have.
I expected no response. There was no need. It was a formality. I did it for me. I went home and burned our Ketubah, the wedding contract signed by us and witnesses. I’d previously burned a collar Lisa had returned as part of another ritual a year and a half earlier. It felt good. I felt clean.
When our relationship first broke up, I was totally focused on Lisa. It took me a while to realize the level of my co-dependence, how I’d given up my power, how I’d accepted the unacceptable. I was simultaneously on the bleeding edge of the learning curve of my ADHD, which had only been diagnosed in February 2020.
With my therapist’s help and support, I eventually began to shift so my orientation became more and more about me, my present life, and creating a new future, and less and less about my ex-wife. I engaged in the forgiveness work I needed to do, at least as much as I could, given all my attempts to apologize were rebuffed, and I had never been asked for forgiveness. I pursued new relationships slowly, thoughtfully, and with full honesty about my emotional state.
The only news I received about Lisa was through other people’s Facebook posts. I learned she had been able to return to singing and that several of her unidentified poems had been set to music and performed by a colleague in a private concert in July 2022.
It wasn’t until this past June that I became aware that Lisa had officially added Poet to her professional resume. Lisa did a quite lovely interview in Gentry magazine with her patron, benefactor, and longtime employer, billionaire and classical music composer Gordon Getty. Her bio at the end mentioned her published poems.
It turned out that Poet Delan had been quite prolific since our split. One of her earliest published poems is called GEMATRIC JOURNEY (my marriage & divorce in 26 haiku) (nominated for a 2023 Pushcart Prize, no less). That’s her marriage to and divorce from me. Funny thing, though. This poem doesn’t actually say a word about our marriage. The only reference is to the “chuppa” or wedding canopy, and only in relation to her belief that “we had gone astray” before we got married.
I can honestly say I do not know what Lisa means by “we had gone astray.” Is it her mental illness and my challenges adapting to it? Is it the BDSM dynamic she introduced early in our relationship? Or our experiments with non-monogamy? Does she mean her narcissistic brother and the family cult I was forced to live with? Or maybe that my newly diagnosed ADHD wasn’t a good match for her self-diagnosed Autism? Or something else entirely? This is rhetorical. We will never know.
The rest of the poem focuses on how — in a way we “wouldn’t understand” — Lisa managed to forgive herself. This apparently happened very quickly as within six months she was part of two triads, one serving as the inspiration for her poem “Triad.” Her poem “at the end” expresses deep bitterness, apparently at the fact that I complained about being discarded as she was gaslighting me.
To see my public version of our first date, see The COVID CHRONICLES, Day 20
As one might imagine, I experienced a number of emotions upon reading Lisa’s poetic versions of our relationship. But they didn’t include anger, sadness, or feelings of victimhood or vindictiveness I would have before. Instead, I reacted with a smile of incredulity, validation, and gratitude.
I was able to do this in part because I’d already accepted that Lisa never actually stepped into our marriage. People later described her to me as vacant and not present the way I was during our wedding ceremony — including one of the officiants and her long-time friend.
The man who is her “owner” today told me early in our separation that Lisa expressed her desire to be his “One” (our term for each other) less than three months into our marriage (a dream that came true in early 2021).
Lisa lied to me throughout our marriage claiming, “I didn’t tell you because I was afraid you’d leave me.” She never raised concerns during couples therapy, nor to me in any real way.
I consider my lack of reactivity to this poem and its content to be a major milestone in my healing. Lisa has every right to offer her version of our relationship. I finally feel free to tell mine, starting with completing my COVID Chronicles series, which ended abruptly. More importantly, I now have the perspective to share what I learned that can help others who find themselves in similar situations.
A couple of weeks after my Mikvah immersion in August, the rabbi sent me an email. He reported that Lisa confirmed receipt of the Get, requesting an electronic copy. She’d also requested he forward an attachment to me, which he included.
I was curious. Could Lisa possibly be seeking closure now? Could she be in a place of forgiving and asking for forgiveness? Could she even be taking responsibility? I chuckle even listing those questions because they would have been so completely out of character.
No. It was The Poem. The one about our marriage. The one that never mentions our marriage.
I just chuckled and shook my head. I couldn’t imagine Lisa’s motivation. But it didn’t matter. I need nothing from her. She no longer matters in my life.
And then…the other shoe dropped. It arrived in the form of another Facebook post, including another poem. I was alerted to it by my 85-year-old mother who is the only member of my family Lisa hadn’t blocked on social media. We didn’t know it at the time, but my mom had recently suffered a stroke, so she had trouble communicating what she’d seen. But she was quite upset, using the word “cruel.”
My mother is currently rehabilitating but has reading comprehension issues. So, it’s possible Lisa’s poem contains the last words my mother will ever read. Here’s a screenshot of the post someone sent me.
First, simply as poetry, this is one of Lisa’s strongest pieces and is impressive in the extent it deviates from her normal spoken and written voice. Only at the end does it falter as she returns to her familiar water images. This poem deserved a different ending than her others to match the rest of its voice — FIRE.
Second, one cannot help but feel for the poet and her struggle. What a horrible experience it must have been to face this all alone. And that husband! What a horrible, narcissistic person he must be!!
Oh, wait. I’M THE HUSBAND. Lol.
Listen, I am truly sorry if this was in fact Lisa’s experience. But her depiction is inconsistent with what I write contemporaneously in The COVID Chronicles. And, more importantly, no one who has ever known me would recognize the person in that poem as me. On the contrary, I’m known for my smile, my warmth, and my big heart. I showed up in that relationship and with those in her life as my authentic and generous self. I was honest in this relationship from the beginning and never wavered. Lisa simply cannot make this same claim.
I can now proudly say that I’m over this relationship and free from its clutches. I recently came out, in part so Lisa can’t hurt me by revealing my secrets. Otherwise, while it may be satisfying to imagine retaliating against her, that would only be a waste of energy. I’ve already moved forward in my life. I’ve learned the worst thing one can do to a narcissist is ignore them. So, despite Lisa’s best efforts, I will not reengage beyond this writing.
Instead, I’m going to stick to what I already have planned for reintroducing myself to my personal and professional communities as I emerge from my isolation. I can now tell my story from the perspective of someone who faced his darkest hour and found a way to heal, so others can learn from my experiences. I have a lot of knowledge on other topics to share as well.
As strange as it may seem, I am grateful to Lisa. First, I had an amazing adventure traveling around the world with the Getty entourage, having experiences I never would have had otherwise. Second, without this relationship and its sudden end, my healing to the extent I have would never have been possible.
I feel good, perhaps better than ever, at least from an emotional and psychological viewpoint. I know who I am. I stand in my own truth. I’m ready for what’s next.