In 1953, on the day after my third birthday, our parents divorced. That explosion scattered my brother, sister, and me to different states, towns, houses, schools, stepparents, and half-siblings for ten chaotic years. Our second stepmother brought us some stability for the next ten, but her alcoholism was another kind of chaos.

My mother had three children by three different husbands before she and my father married. A custody modification to their divorce put us in her care for a year and a half, but she returned us to our father in 1957, when her sixth marriage (of eight) failed. We did not see her or communicate with her for sixteen years, and then only briefly.

Our dad raised us, but our paternal grandparents and an aunt took us in at times.

Our first stepmother was mean, abusive, and negligent. She whipped us for small transgressions, humiliated us, and locked us out of the house when our father was not home. It caused in me a life-long feeling of betrayal by our father.

Our second stepmother, despite her terrible addiction, brought us some order and permanence, but even that did not last; they divorced after ten years—another explosion in our critical late teens and early twenties.

We were so small when our father and mother divorced that we have no distinct memories of our feelings then. But I always longed to be together with them, at least until my early adult years, when I was married and had a child. The longing passed, but a bitterness then seeped in.

We should learn best how to be married from our parents and grandparents. When that education is not possible, we enter unprepared into marriage ourselves, for wrong reasons, and with the wrong people. I am, finally, happily married. But my rearing taught me false ideas of marriage, and I destroyed my first two as a result. Now I live with the horror of what I did to people who didn’t deserve it.

Even happily married, I still—and will always–have a gnawing sense that things might suddenly, and without explanation, go to pieces. The feeling is a real one, but I know now that is not the reality.

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