It’s been over twenty years since my now ex-wife, Lindsey, got on a plane and returned to live in the UK. And yet, I still get moments of insight concerning our time together. My subconscious probes those crisis-filled years until a previously unrealized word of wisdom is revealed.
I met Lindsey in January 1979, on the psychiatric ward at Royal Air Force Wroughton, Wiltshire, England. I was a twenty-year-old Corporal in the British Army. Eighteen months earlier, my childhood sweetheart of six years had left me because of my newfound Mormon faith. When that faith deserted me twelve months later, I took solace in a bottle. My Commanding Officer noticed. He and the battalion doctor hoped the fright of being hospitalized and undergoing diagnostic tests for alcohol abuse might bring me back from the brink of alcoholism.
Shortly after arriving, a nurse escorted me and another patient to the neurology department. The other patient was a woman around the same age as me, with wide cheeks and a high forehead. She was an inch or two shorter than me, with short, dark brown hair and thick, dark eyebrows. She wore jeans and a plain, white halter neck pullover, and no makeup. Only her chest and earrings betrayed her sex. As we started walking down the corridors, she broke the ice.
“My name’s Lindsey,” she said. “What’s your name, and why are you here?” Her directness startled me. I’d already witnessed several awkward moments on the ward, which made me wary of my fellow patients.
“Eh, my name is William. I’m here because my boss thinks I drink too much.” She laughed.
“Ha, he should give you an award, not send you here!”
Sarcastically, I replied, “I think they’re sending me for an EEG (electroencephalogram) in the hope it’ll prove I’m crazy.” Lindsey laughed again.
“I wish them good luck with that. You seem quite sane compared to everyone else I’ve met here.”
Later that evening, we met in the hospital lounge, played darts, and shared our stories. She was a trainee nurse in the Royal Air Force (RAF). A visiting foreign dignitary had raped her on base. She’d been sent to the psychiatric unit to aid her recovery. At least that was the official story.
Lindsey explained, “I can’t go back while the bastard who raped me remains free. My bosses are embarrassed because I’m pressing charges. He’s an Arab prince, so they’re afraid it will cause an international incident. It’s easier for them to keep me locked up in this place while the police complete their investigations.”
Her voice dripped with contempt and bitterness and, from the sounds of the story, both were justified. Lindsey’s emotional pain was there for all to see. Why was she—not the rapist—forced to live away from her training camp?
The more she revealed about her history, the more disgusted I felt with the way life had treated her. Her father was a chauffeur and bodyguard to a famous pop band and was never home. She described the shame she felt when he made the local papers for allegedly indecently exposing himself in a local park. As a result, Lindsey’s mother forced him to leave the family home. To Lindsey, her father had abandoned her, both physically and emotionally.
Her mother worked long hours and never told Lindsey about becoming a woman. When she had her first period, she’d locked herself in a toilet and sobbed, convinced she was going to bleed to death. As a young teenager, one of her mother’s boyfriends masturbated at the door to their sitting room, blocking the exit. Lindsey told her mother, but her mother asked why she’d make up such an awful thing about her boyfriend. Lindsey’s mother bragged about how she didn’t need a man in her life to provide for her family’s physical needs. And yet, where it mattered most, she had abandoned her daughter.
Lindsey had no friends, only sad stories of how no one had ever stood by her. She got expelled from school for throwing a chair at a teacher. Her school abandoned her.
Twelve days after first meeting Lindsey, she invited me to her home. There, she pulled away when I moved closer to kiss her.
“You’ll be like everyone else and lose interest in me.” Life had badly mistreated Lindsey, so I wasn’t that surprised she had such a low opinion of people—of men, in particular.
I will prove to her that not everyone is cruel, I thought.
“I’m not like that,” I told her. “I’m different.”
“You say that, but you’ll end up leaving me, just like all the others.”
“I won’t,” I protested. The expression on Lindsey’s face made it clear she didn’t believe me. No matter what I said, she insisted she was right.
“I’ll prove I won’t leave you,” I said. “I’ll marry you.” The words flew out of my mouth.
“Did you just propose to me?” she asked. “You did, didn’t you?” She immediately answered her own question. “Yes, you did. Yes, I’ll marry you!”
My alcohol abuse and her life trauma weren’t the best foundation for a lasting relationship, but her history had triggered a codependent need in me to take care of her, to save her. I differed from those other men—I’d never abandon her. Marrying her would prove it to her.
Day nineteen, we were married.
Her claims that everyone abandoned her proved to be a repeating cycle. We’d meet someone. She’d tell me that person or couple would abandon us eventually. If she liked them a lot, she’d tell them to their face. Some would protest and claim they’d always be her friend. But the burden of her emotional baggage would always prove to be too much. They’d always end up abandoning her.
In 1986, we met pastor Tom when we were living in Winchester, England. For a while, I thought pastor Tom might prove Lindsey wrong. Lindsey told him many times that he’d lose interest in her. He would protest and insist he was in her life for good. He tried so hard to prove her wrong. When Lindsey struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of our fourth child, pastor Tom was there for her. When Lindsey went into hospital and underwent a course of ECT treatment, pastor Tom made time to visit her, and organized babysitting circles so I could visit her. But he eventually stopped visiting. He stopped contacting her. She was too much hard work. He abandoned her, both physically and spiritually.
And each time someone abandoned Lindsey, I told myself I was different. I’d never abandon her.
Whenever I felt I couldn’t bear facing one more of Lindsey’s crises, that cross of “I’ll never abandon her” weighed heavily on my mind. It was enough to bind me to the relationship for twenty-three years. It took a doctor’s threat to not allow our hospitalized teenage daughters to return home as long as Lindsey was living there to make me put down that cross and break free. Faced with the impossible choice of abandoning my sick wife or my sick daughters, I chose not to abandon my daughters and asked Lindsey for a divorce.
I was prepared for a relentless campaign to make me change my mind, but its intensity shocked me. One minute Lindsey was falling to the floor, grabbing my ankles and pleading with me to give her another chance. She made promises of endless sex whenever and wherever I wanted it if I would just let her stay. When that failed, she would storm out of the house in fury and disappear for hours.
Her campaign spared no one. It was everyone’s fault—the girls’ treatment teams for refusing to allow them home; our daughters for being ill; her treatment team for failing to make me change my mind. She repeatedly threatened everyone with suicide, including our mentally ill, depressed daughters. There were theatrical displays of devastation and hopelessness in front of anyone she felt might influence me. If they saw just how badly she was impacted, she hoped they would try to convince me to change my mind. She refused to cooperate, refused to move out of the family home, and attempted to sabotage and undermine our daughters’ treatment.
Lindsey spent months trying to push every codependent button I had, to invoke my desire to rescue her.
Several months later, Lindsey finally accepted I would not change my mind and returned to the UK. There she adopted a scorched earth approach, destroying anything she deemed might be valuable to me. She lied and/or exaggerated to everyone who would listen. I was abandoning her with no money, stopping her from visiting the children, cheating on her. She withdrew everything we’d left in storage, took what she wanted, then threw the rest away. She insisted I couldn’t divorce her because she was divorcing me for cheating on her. But whatever she did, whatever she said, I refused to engage. It infuriated her. It was further confirmation that I’d abandoned her—I wouldn’t even avail myself to be abused.
I realize now that this was all part of a behavioral pattern. If Lindsey likes you, she’ll tell you that you’ll eventually abandon her. Why does she do that? Because she knows most people will instinctively respond by trying that much harder to prove her wrong. It’s Lindsey’s way of trying to enmesh you in a relationship with her. And yet, a symptom of her borderline personality disorder is to push you away. The more determined you are to stay, the harder she’ll push. It’s as if she wants to prove you’ll abandon her. And when you try to leave, if she loves you, she’ll do or say anything to keep you enmeshed. If you relent and stay, the cycle repeats. If you leave, you are the Devil incarnate.
By choosing to end our marriage, I proved Lindsey right. Everyone eventually abandons her. My failure to prove her wrong tore my heart out. And yet, there was also an overwhelming feeling of relief, a realization that I’d finally escaped the trap.
I left the burning ruins of my first family so I could search for the oasis of a second one.
In 1979, I abandoned myself to marry Lindsey. In 2002, I abandoned Lindsey to find myself again.