When I was much younger, one of my favorite happy accidents was catching Paul Harvey on one of his famous “The Rest of the Story” radio broadcasts. I loved his folksy voice and the unexpected story behind the story of famous people and events. He always managed to surprise me with an ending I hadn’t anticipated.
After focusing so much in my previous posts about the end of Randy’s life, I knew that I would not do our story justice if I left it at that. There is so much more to be told. You know about the cancer and the hospital and the funeral, but it’s time you heard, as the venerable Mr. Harvey would say, the rest of the story.
I sit here now, fingers poised over the keys, struggling with how to tell of the years between the first “hello” and the last “good-bye”. There are so many moments I could share, quite a few filled with laughter, but oh so many that were raw with tears. Those raw-with-tears moments are the hardest to describe, but to fully appreciate the laughter and joy-filled moments, they need to be told, and, like yanking off a band-aid from a healing wound, it’s going to hurt.
One of the traits that attracted me to Randy 29 years ago was his exuberance. He didn’t live life quietly. He was always active, taking charge of situations, laughing with head tilted back, mouth wide. But along with that exuberant, forward-leaning excitement came a darker side, like two sides of the same coin. The problem was, I never knew which side would be flipped up at any given time.
Not long after we met, I was at his house for dinner on a weekend he had the kids. He had a great house on two and a half acres with plenty of space for the three children to run and play. We were making the meal when he got mad at me over some insignificant thing. In front of Janelle, Michelle, and Mike. Their wide eyes all pivoted to me. I stood with my mouth open wondering what I had done. Randy volleyed another venom-laced criticism, and I withered. I stepped away from the kitchen and walked out the door. Feelings hurt, heart wounded, I strode down the long driveway to the street and walked away. For a while, at least. It was dusk and I wasn’t planning to go far, but my tears needed time to dry. This was the first angry outburst Randy had directed at me, and several years later, I looked back on that day and told myself it would have been better if I had just kept walking. We weren’t married yet. It wouldn’t have been a messy thing, not as painful as divorce. But no. I already loved him, and I really didn’t want to be without him. I turned back and walked into the yard to stand outside the kitchen, watching Randy and the girls through the window as they finished making dinner. He was laughing and joking with them like nothing had ever happened. Or maybe like I had never been there to begin with. He certainly didn’t look concerned about where I might be. And after I walked in the door, he acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred and I hadn’t been gone for the last half hour.
Unfortunately, that weekend’s eruption of hurtful words was not unique. Though infrequent at first, there were more and more as time went by. I learned before long that acting like nothing had happened after an outburst was his standard method. He never apologized for anything, telling me once that “love means never having to say you’re sorry”, a line from the movie Love Story. Well, not having to is one thing, implying that forgiveness is an integral part of the relationship. But never apologizing for hurting someone is a whole different thing.
Every flare-up on his part chipped away at my self-esteem. I had never been around anyone with such a volatile personality, and I didn’t know how to respond. I found safety in no response at all, hanging my head, drawing inward, vowing to myself to avoid that particular trigger in the future. Unfortunately, it turned out there were a lot of triggers to keep track of, and inevitably I would press one again.
The hardest part for me was the unpredictability of the outbursts. Things could be going along smoothly for days and weeks, and I would grow comfortable, feeling settled in our relationship, when out of the blue something I said or did would make him fly off the handle.
There was the time I was sitting on the loveseat, nursing my two-month old baby. Randy sat across the room in his chair and we were talking. I probably said something off the cuff, teasing him lightly like most people who are comfortable with each other can do. Sadly, teasing was often a trigger to him. He had a small bag of candy in his hand which he angrily rocketed across the room at me. My hands immediately moved to protect the baby, and the bag of candy struck the back of the hand I was using to shield Joel’s head. There was enough of an impact to startle the baby and cause him to start crying. Randy stormed out.
It was my first moment of genuine fear, and the first time I really considered leaving for good, taking the baby somewhere safe. I made a promise to myself that day that if he ever struck me, I would leave. Thankfully, that was the only time in our lives together that something he threw ever actually hit me.
Those out-of-left-field angry outbursts came at random moments over the next few years, like the sunny Saturday morning eating pancakes on our weekend to have all of the kids. Randy was making the pancakes and I was sitting at the table with the kids, assisting them with butter and syrup. I don’t remember what triggered it, but the next thing I knew, a plate of pancakes sailed past my head and through the picture window behind me.
There was the time he punched a hole in the wall, thankfully instead of hitting the child he was angry with. And the New Year’s Eve he stormed out around 11:00 and didn’t return until 2:00 in the morning. And the oh-so-many instances of just plain mean words that were intended to wound. All of these dark moments came in the midst of otherwise normal, often upbeat days. The term “bipolar” was not part of my vocabulary then, but looking back now, I often wonder if that would have been the diagnosis…
After the first few tumultuous years, Randy was prescribed an anti-depressant, and suddenly, his emotions became more manageable, more even-keeled. Life was actually pretty doggone good, for the most part, but I’ll save that tale for the next post.
Because eventually some abnormal cells began to divide and conquer his pancreas and over the next few years, spread like an invading army into a multitude of organs throughout his abdomen. We hadn’t even the tiniest clue what was going on, but because the pancreas controls a body’s hormones, Randy became an emotional firestorm. Some folks blamed it on the strong pain medication he was taking, and I secretly blamed it on the devil, believing my husband was under severe attack in the spirit world. He had stopped attending church with me over a disagreement he had with our pastor, and he became venomous whenever in the presence of someone with whom he didn’t see eye-to-eye. His very demeanor changed, and sometimes looking in his eyes when he had descended into a dark place, I saw nothing but evil.
I was at a complete loss as to how best to survive these dark days. All I know is that our lives came to a point when I was given an ultimatum: I could continue in my marriage, or I could continue doing ministry at the church. I chose my marriage, and for the next four years, I lived apart from the loving support of my spiritual family. I never shared with anyone the darkness that enveloped my home. There were little bright spots here and there, but for much of the time, I lived my life disconnected from other people, covering for Randy as best I could, protecting him.
So you’ve gotten a taste of some of “The Rest of the Story”, but thankfully it isn’t the end of the story, because God promised me He would make beauty from the ashes of my marriage, and like all of His promises, this one came true.