“I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept on to my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible…but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms, Quentin.” —Arthur Miller
WHEN I FIRST heard people talk about amends to those we had harmed, especially our ex-spouses, I thought they must be crazy. Erroneously, I believed that if my tormentors’ transgressions outweighed mine, my “sin” was somehow diminished, even canceled. For example, I thought if people knew how cruel my ex-husband had been toward me and our children, they would see how righteous I had been. That should exempt me from making amends to him, right? But—au contraire—I had to take responsibility for my own sins of omission and commission without defenses or excuses. Grudgingly at first, I began to think about who I was and what I was like when Bill and I married. What exactly did I—a frightened, needy, nearly delirious young girl— bring to the marriage? The answer was nothing. Absolutely nothing! I realized that while he was marrying me for his own reasons, I had married him to escape my love for and rage at Joey. I used what many would consider a sacred act—the sacrament of marriage—to arrest my descent into booze and promiscuity.
Driven by self-destructive beliefs, alcohol was my comfort, my only defense—my fortress against the ghosts and monsters of my “sins.” But my liquid comfort would eventually turn on me, causing me to lose my dream job as a stewardess, much the way drugs and alcohol played a major role in the demise of Marilyn. Under its influence I could forget that I was not supposed to want too much out of life or expect too little. But in its clutches of insanity, I wanted everything and nothing all at once. I had married Bill and brought my nineteen-year- old self—an empty satchel stuffed with pain—to my second marriage. I appropriated him to escape my internal barbarians and shameful acting-out behaviors.
So I wrote Bill a letter of apology. In the letter I revealed my shameful secrets to him. I told him how my choices culminated in the brutal rape and suicide attempt just months prior to our marriage. I apologized for having nothing to contribute to our years together except fear and emptiness. I asked his forgiveness. I had to let go of any concern about how he would respond. The release that came to me after mailing that letter was like a huge stone melting away.