By Ken Honeywell
When I was thirteen years old, the house we lived in caught fire in the middle of the night. Nobody died. But my brother and sister spent some days in the hospital recovering from smoke inhalation. My mom was there longer, and even when they released her, her burned hands were balled in bandages. My dad was in intensive care for months with burns over most of his back and legs. The doctor told him his fingers had been cooked.
I escaped with a tiny cut on my foot from broken glass on the porch. And a bad case of survivor guilt. The fire was not my fault. But I was the oldest son, and I walked out because I couldn’t breathe and left everyone else inside.
Thirty years later, I still couldn’t breathe.
“The fire was not my fault. But I was the oldest son, and I walked out because I couldn’t breathe and left everyone else inside.”
I was in an unhappy marriage. My wife and I didn’t like each other much. We spent a lot of time avoiding each other. We needed to end it.
But I was paralyzed. It was as if my marriage was my burning house, and I couldn’t abandon it. I had made a promise, for better or worse, which didn’t leave much of an out for “don’t want to anymore.”
So told myself that my happiness wasn’t important—that happiness was not the destination but the journey, and I was always just a better attitude away from bliss. Nobody deserved happiness, anyway.
Then I met a woman. She was smart and warm and beautiful. She didn’t just turn on the lights when she entered a room. She repainted the place. I was smitten. But I was married.
“Happiness was not the destination but the journey, and I was always just a better attitude away from bliss.”
I never cheated on my wife. I never kissed another woman, never played footsie under the conference table, didn’t flirt, never took off my wedding ring.
And although I am blissfully married to that other woman today, I didn’t leave my marriage for her. I left it for a thirteen-year-old kid still trapped in the ruins of a smoldering house in New Jersey. Who once had to save himself and felt bad about it for thirty years. Who wouldn’t let anything smother him, as long as he never abandoned anyone ever again. That kid.
When I was forty-four, I took a risk to save myself. I walked out of a suffocating marriage. Finally, I could breathe, and I felt as dizzy and as hopeful as a teenager.