When I became the second wife of a man I loved like there was no tomorrow, I never knew that the fairy tale would soon turn into a nightmare; a nightmare in which I was the passenger of a car without a driver on a high mountain road without rails. It's roughly what it feels like when you're the second wife and the first wife controls your marriage.
Of course I saw the warning signs early on, they were all over the place, but I naively believed that us marrying would give us some measure of control, that the first wife would respect our vows and our love for each other. I cry while laughing when I think of those thoughts now. Did I really think it was going to happen, or did I just ignore the signs, because I wanted to? Because I wanted to believe we would make it, despite the control issues we would have to deal with?
I remember our wedding day. It was raining. We dropped off my husband's daughter with a taxi in the morning at her mom's place, and took the CTA to City Hall. We didn't tell anyone. We couldn't. Because we didn't know what the first wife would do. I tried to ignore the hollow feeling that it wasn't normal to have to fear another person in such a way, but I wanted to marry the man for whom I had traveled across the country to be with. So I quieted the voice within me and said "I do" in front of the judge without friends or family.
After our secret wedding, we settled into married bliss. Or so I thought. Soon enough, I found myself holding on to the man I had married with both hands while the first wife was pulling him in an other direction. All those weekends when we couldn’t plan anything, because parenting schedules were always and invariably changed. All those days of anxious pacing to find out what mood the first wife would be in, because it always set the tone for the entire weekend: would it be one of happy smiles and laughs, or would I have a distraught husband and an even more anxious child in my hands? All those afternoons of consoling a child who wondered why mommy and daddy couldn't stop fighting. A child who wants to call me mom; I smile and say she already has a mommy, that I'm more like a big sister or an aunty, but one who loves her dad. And all those lonely, endless evenings, waiting alone in our apartment while my husband is at the first wife's place, watching their child till nearly midnight, because she had to go out.
You begin to hear things, see things. And after a while you begin to wonder if there will ever be another subject people can argue about than money. But of course there is. Such as your own children, and how they will fit into your new blended family. And soon enough the accusations begin. Your children aren’t “safe” and so you end up in court while your husband cries because he hasn’t seen his child for weeks. And you pray and hope that somewhere in the darkness there is a light. Maybe you can’t see the light yet, but just knowing it’s there would give you hope.
But it isn’t.
And so the weeks go by and you learn to give up predictability, because you never know what will happen. You learn to always look for signs of impending trouble; those eggshells begin to take a real toll on your feet, but you know you can’t sweep them away. So you watch and wait, and hope that one day you’ll have your own family, a family that sets its own rules and boundaries, a family where you can feel you belong.
But that day never arrives.
And so you give up the dream and settle for something far less. And you try to tell yourself that it's okay, and that you should get used to being called a stranger, an intruder, listening to all the veiled and not so veiled insults from the first wife because you love your husband, and love doesn’t count the cost or words. But in the end you have to admit defeat, for love cannot stay where the feet don’t find common ground, when you feel as if you were standing on a small island in the middle of the ocean while the man you love is far away on another shore. You can see him, but you can’t reach him.
And so it all ends.
And you wonder, did it really ever begin in the first place?