Leaving it All Behind

Setting My Past on Fire 2:

It was all gone. Everything. Every piece of furniture. Every book. Every Pot. Pan. Fork. Kitchen knife. Sold or given away. All that remained, my clothes and a few personal items, were packed into my car which sat running outside the front door. I looked back at my empty apartment one last time, locked the door one last time, and got on the elevator one last time. Then I got into my car and pulled away. For the first time in my entire life I was homeless, but not without hope.

Driving west on the 76/PA Turnpike, I found myself looking back, in the rearview mirror and at the past 465 days of my life. For so many nights I had sat alone, hunkered down in my cramped suburban Philly apartment not believing this was my life. If it wasn’t for traveling, journaling and pouring my heart out on the pages, I don’t think I would be where I am today. And if it wasn’t for friends and family, I’m convinced I wouldn’t be alive today.

We humans are social animals, unequipped to go it alone, especially when the shit hits the fan, when our world is knocked off its axis. While men are raised to think we must constantly be strong, the past year has taught me otherwise—it doesn’t make you weak to need people. While on some level I knew this, I didn’t truly understand it until my world literally fell apart. I had always considered myself confident and independent, but on April 23, 2018 I was a shattered replica of myself, afraid to be left alone for thirty minutes, for fear of a crippling panic attack. For fear of my life.

We humans are social animals, unequipped to go it alone, especially when the shit hits the fan, when our world is knocked off its axis.

My family and most trusted friends assured me they were never more than a phone call or text message away. Surprisingly, even the new friends I made in the months that followed somehow welcomed me, embraced me and comforted me, despite knowing my controversial and highly-publicized story. A year later, it was a heart wrenching, and conflicting decision to leave them all behind, to move on to the next phase of healing, to find a new normal, and create a new life.

My wife and I had moved to the Mid-Atlantic, full of excitement and hope for a new start. A little more than a year later, my wife gone, our lives sensationalized across the globe, I found myself escaping that same place, no longer able to hold back the flood of memories and ghosts that haunted me regularly. Villanova. The restaurant where Jennair I were supposed to meet. I-476. West Chester Pike. The damn grocery store. Everything was a trigger. Every day was just a day to get through.

But my escape, was just that. It was mine. And true to form there was no plan. No real agenda. I had only a Google map and a roughly plotted, cross-country route just begging to be veered from if not ignored altogether. This was the kind of trip I had always dreamed of, getting in the car, pointing it in a general direction and just driving, meals and bathroom breaks be damned. Beyond the next 24 hours I didn’t have a plan or place to stay. Head west my internal compass begged. Head west.

I was under no delusion that by simply changing my geographical coordinates that I was no longer hiding from my problems. In the past year, I had been to seven different countries. Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, The Dominican Republic, Argentina, Jamaica and Spain. And not once did I truly escape from the darkness, the shadows that followed me. I had an emotional meltdown in Barcelona, drank myself into oblivion and woke up on the beach in Costa Rica. As painful as it all was, I knew on some level it was all part of my grieving process. I couldn’t fathom the idea of sitting still. “Keep moving,” an old friend told me. And I was hell bent on following that advice.

But this road trip was a trip like no other, starting with packing. During my 24 year marriage, I was never “allowed” to pack the car for a trip. I “didn’t know what I was doing,” I was told. And when I tried to do it anyway, my wife would look at the car in disgust, pull everything I’d packed out of the car and onto the driveway and repack it before my very eyes. “That’s how it’s done,” she would say, smugly dusting off her hands and shutting the trunk with a satisfied look.

No doubt she had two traits I didn’t share: a gift for packing and a need to be in control. After many years I learned to my own detriment, and now I realize to hers as well, to avoid conflict and just go with the flow. I knew I wouldn’t win, so it wasn’t worth the fight. But by avoiding conflict and always letting her win, I enabled her and her behavior, constantly handing her the power instead of working toward a compromise. I wish I had another chance to try. Because some things are worth fighting for. But I just didn’t want the fight.

Now 6.5 hours in, the sun began to set. I had made it. My first stop. Shaker Heights, Ohio. Climbing out of the car and looking into the back seat and trunk at the neatly stacked Ziplock storage bags full of clothing, I felt a slight smile come across my face.

“This is how it’s done,.” I said out loud. I felt another shadow lighten.

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5 thoughts on “Leaving it All Behind”

  1. Mark, I am so sorry that you’ve had to endure such heartbreak. We all make mistakes and we all need love. I watched my sister emasculate her husband and control every aspect of their lives, he was never going to win against her, and he begged her to get help. Over 25 years he went from a confident (almost cocky) doctor to a shadow of his former self, and of it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. Was it right to look outside your marriage before you divorced? Of course not, but when you’ve been beaten down, emasculated, and had your entire identity stolen, it doesn’t take much love, much adoration to turn your head. There were many wrongs done here, by everyone involved, but focusing solely on the wrongs won’t fix anything or help people understand what mental illness truly looks like. That should be the focus, because a normal, mentally healthy person would not do what Jennair did. You are not to blame for her mental illness or her actions! Never own that! Only own what you did, and come to peace with what the fallout was, because none of us can ever go back and change things, no matter how much we wish we could. I wish you many blessings, and I hope one day you find love; true, real love, with no need to control. Peace and love on your journey. ♥️
    PS. Please don’t read the hateful things people are saying, they serve no purpose other than to hurt, and you’ve had more than enough of that.

  2. I’ve been there – where you have had to take the past and push it deep down…then let it go. It took me five years to feel normal and in some respects I am not all the way there. I applaud your courage in facing your own shortcomings but realizing you still have a life to lead. Letting go of demons and guilt isn’t easy. But the learning is in the journey and it makes the destination all the better when you get there…wherever “there” is. Namaste.

  3. Hi Mark. I just finished reading your book and I have so many things to say, I don’t know where to begin, but my heart certainly goes out to you. You gave an excellent in-depth look into your life, thoughts, and emotions on all levels to give us an understanding of your life, what happened, and who you are. Firstly, you come across as a loving, caring, person never wanting to hurt anyone. So let’s start at the beginning of your life. You grew up in a home where your mother berated your father, you, and probably your siblings with put downs and belittling that stuck with you where subconsciously you also found that in Jennair, and this was your comfort zone. Unfortunately, you didn’t realize when she was doing that to you all of those years, it seemed normal to you. It was definitely not normal. She gave you insight into her psyche when she told you that she figured out how to manipulate people in her early years in the relationship with her father. She knew the right buttons to push to get the reaction she was looking for so she could be in control. Being in control at all times was the essence of her existence. And she most definitely was in control of you and your life. She took over everything… and to maintain that, she had to continually squash you emotionally so you felt inadequate. That is clearly unhealthy. You were in constant pain and didn’t even realized it until you met someone who believed in you, encouraged you, loved you for who you are. It felt good to finally not be in pain, but to finally have feelings of joy and happiness. Who wouldn’t want that? I get that you lied about your relationship with Meredith probably because you didn’t want to hurt Jennair before you had time to figure out your own feelings as to what was happening. Here’s the bottom line…..you have no control over what others do and say, and the choices they make. We can’t beat ourselves up thinking woulda, shoulda, coulda, and if only. Once you told Jennair you wanted out of the roller coaster relationship that defined your marriage, she flipped out….unfortunately leading to unimaginable tragedy. How are your responsible for that? Obviously she was extremely mentally ill but you didn’t know that. How could you have known? You are in no way responsible for what happened! Please, please, please….forgive yourself, let go, and move on with whatever happiness you can find with the rest of your life. Life is too short to waste it by reliving the past over and over when there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change it. What’s done is done. I’m not trying to be heartless by any means, I’m hoping to encourage you to just let go of the past because it’s done, it’s over, there’s nothing you can do, but try to let today be the first day of the rest of your life. I hope this helps 🙂

  4. Wow, Barbara Jane – that was the best analogy of Mark’s life I’ve read, after reading his book & this entire blog site! I was raised by a very controlling, Italian mother and jumped into the arms of a man that was much like her at age 19. I thought I was getting away from her control but like you commented about Mark subconsciously choosing a spouse like his mother because it was his comfort zone, I believe I did the same thing. I left the marriage after 37 years and 5 children later & your insight has helped me acknowledge the reasons I could no longer stay. I think I will always live with the guilt of not keeping my vows (for better or worse) but at least I understand the why? Thank you again for sharing your insight!
    Mark, keep doing the good work you’re doing & be well!

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