I wanted him to be happy, and I didn’t think it was with me… even though he assured me that it was.
I’m sitting on my grandmother’s old, stained mattress, where she used to knit and watch old black and white, Mexican charro movies. After a 5-year marriage, I’m here. In my parents’ house. On her old bed. There’s another mattress I could use. A clean, queen-size, pillow top on which my ex-husband Jack and I used to sleep. I spent most of my time in that bed sick, physically and mentally. That mattress is in the garage, leaning against my dad’s totaled Volkswagen Jetta, objects of yesterday.
Growing up, when I used to look in my grandmother’s room, I’d often see her praying and crying on her bed. A long time ago, her marriage fell apart when my grandfather left her and their eight children. I’ve heard that he couldn’t handle her. I couldn’t stand the thought that Jack had to handle me.
It’s true—he took care of me even in the toughest times. Being with him was easy. Being with me… well, unfortunately for Jack, I have bipolar depression, anxiety and, after years of digestive issues, was eventually diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Even though he struggled to understand it all at first, he stuck around through the panic attacks, melt downs and days when I couldn’t get out of bed.
He loved me, buck teeth and all. I often wondered why. I would sometimes tease him about his crush on Alison Felix, an Olympic sprinter, and other women, to try and get him to leave me, so I would be spared from breaking this sweet man’s heart. What a coward. But how could I leave someone so perfect for a mere chance at the life I truly wanted in music and risk failing? Either choice, leaving or staying, could end in regret.
When we met, we connected through running and, more importantly, music—something both of us wanted to make into a career. We talked about everything from jazz to Coldplay to Amos Lee. Our lives moved along like music notes—little black blots spilling onto a page, composing a love song that only we could hear.
Even though he was and still is one hunk of a man—GQ model material—I don’t think I really felt a physical connection with him.
In the beginning, I told myself that it was okay if the sex wasn’t the greatest. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t know. I’d only been with one other guy, and it’s not like I expected it to be like the sizzling sex scenes on TV where both parties roll around in the sheets, panting and satisfied.
I fell in love with Jack’s personality—his drive, tenacity, intelligence and creativity. The man lives up to his name. He is a “Jack-of-all-trades.”
I never thought I would get divorced. But he wanted kids soon. I didn’t.
I always hoped the issues would go away. That he’d change. Or I’d change. Or we’d find some sort of compromise. I even suggested an open marriage at one point. There would be rules, of course. Like no butt stuff. And no falling in love.
Jack, a devout Catholic, wasn’t a fan. The subject was dropped but not forgotten.
But it wasn’t just the sex stuff getting in the way of having a happy life together.
When we talked about music as a career early in our courtship, he seemed excited and interested in making that happen. But then, he turned his attention to his other passion: horticulture. I knew that’s what he really wanted to do. I wanted him to be happy, and I didn’t think it was with me… even though he assured me that it was.
Deep into my depression, I stopped singing. I quit trying to learn the guitar. I had no motivation. And no one to really push me closer to my goal of being a professional musician.
I let go of many internship opportunities because I couldn’t move without Jack. He didn’t want to do long-distance because we couldn’t afford to pay rent and a mortgage. It made sense, but I didn’t care. I’d figure it out along the way if I had to. I'm a Gryffindor, brave, even if at times it's reckless. Jack just didn’t understand my madness.
I needed to be on my own. I needed the freedom to travel, the space for great sex and maybe new love. But not before learning to love myself first. I filed for divorce. No lawyers. No kids. Just two people, who cared about each other enough to let go.
On August 2, 2016, we commemorated our Divorce Day with a sushi date at Sakari in Des Moines, where we lived. After we ate, we left in separate cars. We held back tears and waved goodbye. It was official. I was a free woman. I was alone. Free to do whatever the f— I wanted!
In reality, our marriage had been over for several months. Both of us started dating before the divorce was final. For awhile, we talked to each other about our matches on dating apps—something Jack started. But that got uncomfortable for me. I wanted him to move on without constantly drawing a comparison between me and some girl on a screen.
Not to mention, we seemed to be looking for different things in our respective searches.
Recovering from my nearly sexless marriage, I turned to Tinder to hook me up. And it did. Again and again and again. But, that got old, real quick. I ended up feeling empty and alone. I knew it would be that way, but I didn’t care. I wanted a warm body, and guess, what, others need warm bodies, too. So, that happened.
Just as I was about to delete my dating profile, this hippie redhead messaged me. Cale had recently moved back to Des Moines from Boulder, Colorado. He was a gardener who loved to cook. 420-friendly. Excellent taste in music.
We chatted on Tinder about what we were looking for on there, our interests, and what we did for a living. Well, at the time, I was barely living because of my declining health. So, working was difficult.
I had given up on my job at Wells Fargo, and I was thinking about moving back home. Jack and I were divorced and still living together. He wanted me out so he could move on with his new lady friend, and I wanted to get the hell out of there too. But at the time, I couldn’t afford a place to live on my own.
Then, Cale offered me a job as a residential landscaper. I accepted. And, because that wasn’t enough, he offered to help me find an apartment, too. He was wonderful. But it seemed too soon after leaving a marriage to have thoughts of love like this. A hopeless romantic, I decided to give it a shot, anyway.
As much as I hate to admit it, in some ways, I’m a lot like my grandmother: stubborn and, at times, moody, but also strong and determined. But I don’t want to end up like her or my parents. Unhappy and alone—or together in a marriage lacking passion.
I’ve done both. But with Cale, it was different. We had a good thing going. For awhile.
I ended up moving back to Sioux City for a few weeks, then back to Des Moines to to prove that I could make it on my own, and to be closer to him.
Cale lived just two blocks away from my apartment. He was so close, yet so far away. That’s how most of the relationship went. All six months of it. Me, trying to make us work, optimistic yet depressed and riddled with anxiety attacks. Him, holding back, drifting away.
We were both going through some s— with our mental illnesses. We took a couple breaks before the breakup. I felt truly alone.
I finally realized that my parents were right. I needed my family. And, I knew that I needed to focus on my relationship with myself.
Now I’m here, back in Sioux City again, sitting on a stained mattress, making strides toward a music career, and what do you know, recovering from another heartbreak. My heart is sore. It’s like the universe is telling me that I need to save some love for myself instead of giving it all away. And if I do that, maybe romance will come.
An upbeat banjo blares from the speakers of my iPhone. A fiddle joins in. I know this one by heart. It’s “Sing to the Mountain” by Elephant Revival. Cale and I used to howl along with the track every time it played in his car.
It’s time for a new song. Many new songs. That are my own.
Bertha Iñiguez is the host and producer of the Triple Good Music Show, which features local and regional music every Friday at 10 p.m., only on Siouxland Public Media. She’s also one of our weekender announcers. Outside of her duties here, she enjoys discovering new artists, running, yoga, and spending time with her cat, Duke.
Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.
Our next show is Friday, October 6 at ISU Design West in downtown Sioux City. The theme is “Home.” We’ll have live music by Angela Lambrecht and Shawn Blomberg of Ultra Violet at 6:30 p.m., followed by stories at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.