And the Moral to the Story Is…by Deb Jenny

Years ago I was friends with a woman I’ll call Sue. Sue and I met through our children, who were in pre-school together. As it turned out, we were on the same baby-breeding schedule, and our third children were due right around the same time. Sue’s daughter came a couple of weeks before mine, and I was pretty intimidated watching her hit the ground running, as if another little life for which she was responsible was simply not a big deal. She and her family went camping (with a newborn!), she was already out jogging, lugging three young kids around the mall and hosting parties, as if she wasn’t even recuperating from childbirth, let alone adjusting to a newborn in the house. It was if nothing had changed in her life.

My youngest was born and I soon was drowning in household managerial catastrophes. Caring for three kids under the age of four slays you if you in any way think you are going to be able to work through your day in any logical fashion. It’s all about putting out fires and doing your best to maintain a smidgen of sanity at that point. So I was hardly on top of my game. In addition, that year we were experiencing a host of additional outside pressures from family over some other issues, and soon I was feeling extremely stressed out. So stressed out I hadn’t even noticed the apparent absence of Sue from the daily drop-off/pick-up at pre-school.

One day after having dropped off my son at school, as I sullenly returned to my car (with what seemed like a permanent black cloud hovering above my head), Sue approached me.

“Hey, I noticed you looked a bit stressed out,” she said to me.

I shrugged, gave her the short answer, and asked how she was doing.

“Well, I thought I’d tell you where I’ve been,” she said. “One Saturday morning about a month ago, I dialed 9-1-1. I asked them to come get me.”

I stared at her as if she’d gone mad. Turns out she had.

“The operator asked me if I was alone, and I said no, my husband was home. She asked me where he was, and I said ‘he’s upstairs making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Please come get me now.’ And so the ambulance came and took me away.”

Sue spent a couple of weeks in the psych ward, recuperating from a mountain of burdens of which I knew nothing at the time. Funny thing then was that I thought she was simply overwhelmed with three small children. I could relate, and for a minute started thinking a few weeks in the psych ward might be a little more sane than my current circumstances.

A year later, I was to learn a little more of Sue’s despair. Her husband had decided to find a job in another state, in a city in which he–for some obscure reason–was determined to find work. After landing the job, he left in October, leaving Sue behind to care for three small children, sell the house, pack up their home, and finish up the school year. She and the kids would follow him to their new lives in June. At a large going away party, filled with Sue’s family and friends, we bade farewell to Sue and her husband, a man who always spoke a little too fervently about his extreme opinions, one of those Rush Limbaugh-family-values kinda guys. But while he talked the talk, he evidently didn’t walk the walk.

Two weeks after Sue moved three states away–far from her extended family, far from a former job to which she could have readily returned had she needed to, and far from her friends, those who could have provided an enormouse support network for her in a time of crisis–her beloved husband told her he wanted out. He said he never loved her. There was another woman, one he’d met, ironically enough, the previous summer while on vacation with Sue’s extended family at a beach in that very state.

The laws were such in that state that Sue could not leave because of the children. Her husband knew that. He set her up so that she was stuck in a no-man’s land, with a mortgage on a big new house and no source of income, while he took up with his little sweetie and re-assigned his happily ever after to someone else. And he had ready access to his children for those infrequent occasions in which he wanted to see them (he was, after all, busy with his new woman and her family).

And all those months earlier, when Sue had the meltdown? Apparently it was then that she’d starting finding evidence of his shenanigans. Long-distance calls to mysterious numbers on the phone bill. Strange charges on the credit card bill. The usual indicators that a man is cheating on his wife. All of which happened around the time she was giving birth to her baby. Talk about stressful.

I always felt so badly that I wasn’t able to be there for Sue, but for a few cursory words of support here and there. Alas, she didn’t exactly make herself accessible–the Sue I saw was a cute, strong, athletic woman. A mother who adored her children, who had a loving family-minded husband. It wasn’t till she was gone that I realized that Sue’s pain ran as deep as a mine-shaft. And while she was still a cute, strong, athletic woman, she was also a woman who desperately needed support and whose very existence was being undermined by the man whose support she thought she could count on forever.

I took a lot of lessons away from Sue’s awful experience, the most important of which is this: nothing is ever as it seems. Nobody’s marriage, nobody’s life, nobody’s happiness or lack thereof. A person’s exterior is simply their patina, and often times has very little to do with their reality. It’s all about marketing and packaging, how one presents oneself to the outside world. Now I am rarely surprised when I hear something otherwise unexpected about someone else. Disappointed? Sometimes. Saddened? Perhaps. But rarely surprised.

20 Replies to “And the Moral to the Story Is…by Deb Jenny”

  1. This is one of the best posts I’ve read here, Jenny. You’re right. It’s like reading about the 99 year old who pushed a shopping cart around town while wearing 12 sweaters who dies and leaves $10,000,000 to a charity. I get glimpses into people’s lives with a bit more frequency than most, because of my involvement in the autism world. We autism Moms are pretty good about building a facade of stone to mask the sadness. I will admit that I’ve lost my tolerance for the women who complain about mundane problems. I feel for Sue and for all the Sue’s in the world. I hope she’s found a way to take care of herself and her kids. Thanks for a nice thoughtful piece on a day that should be thoughtful. 9/11.


  2. What a sad story. I hope Sue managed to find some peace in her life after all that. And yes, we should remember that we can never know the full story and shouldn’t judge based on the little bit we may know about someone.

    Ugh, I can’t help but think “There, but for the grace of God…”

  3. Sure does feel like a cautionary tale, doesn’t it? I didn’t dare get into a far more recent story of another friend of mine that’s probably even more appalling at how she was cast aside…

  4. I have a card with a vintage image on it- a favorite of mine–a woman who appears to be serenely sitting at a desk, writing to her girlfriend:

    Dear Madge, nothing new here, Men are still Pigs.

    That about covers it. :~)


  5. WOW. Jenny, what a powerful post! I can’t help but hope that Sue’s ex-husband gets his come-uppence. Thank you for the reminder to never judge a person by their patina! 🙂

  6. Oh no! What a sad, sad story. I’m just glad she eventually sought help.

    I used to work at an ad agency, a career I adored, but when my first baby was born I made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom. There are times I don’t think I’m cut out for this (I now have 3 boys and also write novels), but it always helps to realize that no one is as put-together as they might seem. And whenever another woman asks me, “How on earth do you DO IT?” I never pretend that it’s easy, or that I’m perfect, or that she’s any less successful than I am.

    Great post, Jenny.

  7. Sue’s experience helped strip your naivete away, Jenny, yet now your view is: “It’s all about marketing and packaging, how one presents oneself to the outside world.” If you honestly believe that, where’s the goodness and truth in this world?

  8. Thanks Jess, Wendy, Larramie. I think you misunderstood me, Larramie–I didn’t mean that in a cynical way. There is plenty of goodness and truth out there. But just because something seems one way doesn’t mean it *is* that way…

  9. The new woman was thinking what the new woman usually thinks, “He won’t treat ME that way.” I read this little ditty in an Ann Landers column a thousand years ago. Two tears met in a river. The first says, “I am the tear of a woman who lost her lover.” The second replies, “I am the tear of the woman who found him.” Off to meet the school bus. Let the fun begin!

  10. What a strong woman Sue is. First she had the strength to ask for help (my Achille’s heel) and then she had the wisdom to share her story, accepting that it wasn’t her shame but her husband’s. Brava, Sue! Well told, Jenny.

  11. You know, years ago, when I was married to a man that sounds like Sue’s husband (although more clueless than sinister), I remember realizing that no one knows what is going on in a marriage–often not even the people who are in it. Now, looking back, I know that my husband (now ex) walking out on me was the best thing that could have happened. it set me free from trying to figure out who I needed to be to make him happy. As it turns out, no one could fill that role. And when I look at what I’ve done with my life as opposed to what he’s done with his, I want to thank him all over again for leaving. My sons’ lives and mine are much better. And, I finally met the right guy and married him 2 years ago. I hope Sue’s life has turned out as well.

  12. What a story! And so many lessons to learn in it. I will be thinking about this the next time I’m complaining because my toddler has woken at the crack of dawn or the next time I encounter one of those perfect looking mommies that seem to be able to do everything.
    Thanks for another good one, Jenny!

  13. I know what you mean, Eileen–what does any woman see in a man who is willing to do that–while his wife is pregnant, no less! I remember one time hearing a great line, something to the effect of: the mistress who marries her lover creates a vacancy in the position…So maybe she’s gotten what she deserved out of all this…
    Thanks, Amy, for your post. You are so right–she recognized that this was HIM at fault, not her.
    And Judy–congratulations on your liberation! Sounds like it was a stroke of great fortune, and set you up to be available for the right man.
    And Danielle and Larramie as well.
    I haven’t spoken w/ my friend in a while but we do get a Christmas letter from her every year. She did remarry, but honestly, in every picture of her and in her words on the page, there is always a sense of world-weariness to her that makes me sad. I could never tell if she re-married for love or re-married for other reasons.

  14. Thanks for sharing that, Jenny. It’s true you never know what’s going on in another person’s life. Guys like that should be shot. Great post, as always.

  15. Great post — a good friend of mine’s husband started cheating when she was pregnant with baby number two. He ignored her, called her crazy when she voiced her suspicions he was cheating, told her she was fat, and then disappeared for four hours at a time to “pick up ice cream”. As soon as she delivered her daughter, he told her he was in love with someone else.

    Awful. And sadly more common than we think.

  16. Thanks, Gail and Lisa. LONG story but a neighbor of mine got the royal treatment just a few months ago from her husband of 25 years. They have a 9-yr old. He ever so thoughtfully called them both together to tell THEM that he was unhappy and wanted out. Jerk. Meanwhile, she thought they were extremely happily married–they had lunch together every day, talked on the phone each day. From all outward appearances they seemed like the perfect couple. He dumped her after a LOVELY weekend together. She hid in her bed with the curtains drawn for 3 months before anyone even knew what had happened (he showed up at a big fundraiser party with his new girlfriend–everyone went up to him and asked “Where’s Pam?” He was beaming the whole night, evidently…

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