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In 2005, my marriage ended.  With the simple stroke of a pen, I lost my best friend of 13 years.  Well, let’s be honest, nothing is ever that black and white, and certainly never that simple.  I also happen to believe that a marriage ends long before papers are ever filed.  That being said, I will take you back to the end of my marriage, when things first started to break down.  The start of this particular relationship was rather ordinary.  We were two artists living in Miami - young, carefree and in love.  I was working as a photographer and teaching and he was a musician who also worked in restaurants.  I was 23 and the world was full of possibilities.  The year was 1993. We were going to move to New York and live out our dreams, which we did...for a while.

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Before we moved to New York, we made a pit stop in Atlanta for about 7 years.  Two years after arriving in Atlanta, we were married.  I had turned down an opportunity in Miami to work for Architectural Digest as a junior photographer, in order to follow my ex-husband and his band to Atlanta in 1995, a decision that would change my life forever.

Shortly after arriving in Atlanta, I became a full time teacher and photography quickly became a hobby.  My ex-husband’s band, like most bands, went nowhere, and he became a waiter with a drug habit.  In the midst of his drug and alcohol abuse, I continued working steadily in the classroom, had excellent credit and was able to buy our first home.  It was a small two bedroom two bath townhouse in Decatur, Georgia.  I was reaching my wits end living with someone so unstable.  He promised to get sober.  He quit working in restaurants and I agreed to support us by taking a job at a television rep-firm while he came up with Plan B.  I borrowed against my 401k to buy him his first computer.  The year was 1996.  When I bought him the computer he had no idea how to turn it on.  Yet he somehow convinced me that he was going to become a programmer and software developer.  He had this idea to develop a software program to make music cd’s interactive.  Let me reiterate that he did not know how to even turn the computer on, but I believed in him.  He kept his promise and accomplished exactly what he set out to do.  Our first client was Carlos Santana, followed by the likes of Pink and TLC -  the list went on and on.

Let’s now fast forward to the year 2000.  We bought a second home, the townhouse had become a rental property, and we had an office in Atlanta where I was then working as my ex-husband’s secretary.  His brother was our business partner and CFO; we had a handful of employees and decided it was then time to expand to New York.  Life was good...or so I thought.

In January of 2002, we moved to New York.  We kept the rental property and sold the main house along with both of our cars.  We made almost nothing on the sale and to my surprise, my ex-husband had not paid the mortgage in over three months, prior to the sale.  I was shocked.  I chalked it up to him being absent minded, or under a lot of pressure, since his insisting on handling all of our finances.  In previous years, I had always handled the money.  My ex insisted on taking over the finances six months or so prior to our relocating, and I allowed it in order to avoid further arguments.  I ignored, or rather did not recognize, this behavior as being a red flag.  Little did I know that this moment was the beginning of the end.  I was so young, so naïve, and so in love with my best friend that I ignored all of the signs.

My brother-in-law ran the Atlanta office while my ex-husband ran the New York office.  We rented an apartment in the East Village and I took another teaching job.  I believed in our dream and was determined to make things work.  Things did work, but only for a short while.

The year is now 2003.  My ex-husband  was staying out all night, money was disappearing and we were struggling financially, but I couldn’t understand how.  I was working full time, the business was constantly getting new clients, and we had a tenant in the rental property.  Where was the money going?  Where did he go at night?  He was drunk or high all of the time, and he was making me nervous.  Even our dog was afraid of him.  At that point, we were no longer intimate.

I was so young, so naïve, and so in love with my best friend that I ignored all of the signs.

I decided to take some freelance photography jobs and opened a separate checking account with the money I earned from it.  I also decided to start an online Masters program in Early Childhood Education.  I had started my Masters in Atlanta but never finished in order to follow my ex-husband to New York.  I had to start my Masters program all over again.  During that time, I also wrote a children’s book.  I didn’t realize fully then, but I was planning my escape.  It took me two years to finish my Masters and two years to escape.

It’s Christmas time 2005.  I remember showing my ex-husband my Masters diploma foolishly thinking that perhaps he would be proud of me, that we could somehow begin to salvage what we had lost.  Upon showing him my degree his response was, ‘You think you’re so smart why don’t you get your Doctorate Degree? Why don’t you take out some more student loans while you’re at it; we could use the money.’  I had taken out loans upon his urging just in case I needed them.  I didn’t use the majority of them so I could have actually paid them back in a lump sum.  Or so I thought.  Turns out, the money was gone. 'If I were you,' I recall him saying, 'I would check my credit report.'  My head began to spin.

That night, like so many nights before, he didn’t come home.  The next morning, I found him bloody, bruised and passed out drunk and/or high on the floor.  I picked him up like I had done countless times before, dragged him to bed, left him there and went to work.  It was on that day when I went into a back room away from my students and tearfully uttered the words to one of my fellow teachers, ‘Oh My God I have to leave him.'  It was a Monday morning.  I would be gone by the following Sunday evening.

In those seven days I learned that my ex-husband had stolen my identity.  In seven days I learned that he had taken out loans in my name, credit cards in my name, and maxed out everything to the sum total of $165,000.  He had a PO Box in Jacksonville, Florida, which is why I never saw any of the credit card bills.  Nothing came to our home.  In seven days, I discovered that he had not been being paying the mortgage on the rental property, even though the tenants had being paying the rent.  The rent in our East Village apartment had not been paid, there were cell phones in my name that he had not paid the bills for, the passwords on my accounts had all been changed including the private one I had just opened, and everything that I had worked for was gone.  Everything that I thought was real was a lie.  My life had gone up in smoke.  I called my mother and asked her to come and get me.  She drove three hours from Boston.  After thirteen years of building a life together with this man, I had escaped in the middle of the night with my dog, a few boxes and less than $3,000.

After thirteen years of building a life together with this man, I had escaped in the middle of the night with my dog, a few boxes and less than $3,000.

Two days later my mother took me to see a financial advisor.  He told me I needed to do two things.  ‘You need to file bankruptcy,’ he said quite plainly, ‘You are just a teacher and you will never be able to pay this back. The second thing you need to do is find a good divorce lawyer.  Let me guess... he gambles?’  Rather wounded I reply with a simple ‘no’.  ‘Ah, yes well then, he has a drug problem and obviously owned his own business.'  Shocked I said, ‘Yes, how did you know?’ ‘I see stuff like this all of the time, you are one of many.  It’s a sad but true statistic.  He's a hustler and the family and spouses suffer the most.  Families invest in their business and spouses, well, all they need is your social, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name and they can do a whole lot of damage.’  He almost chuckled.  I was nauseous at his cavalier attitude but mostly nauseous at the thought that I was simply one of many.  My pain and suffering was not unique and barely noteworthy.  My great love, my marriage, with its ordinary beginning would have a very ordinary, though devastating, end.  It was not special.  I was not special.  I was 36 years old.  I was bankrupt.  I was broke.  And above all, I was heartbroken.

I moved back home to Massachusetts and lived in one of my mother’s rental properties.  I had the good fortune of being surrounded by family: they were my rock.  For the first few weeks, I lived like a troll; I only came out when absolutely necessary.  My grandmother and my aunt left food outside my door.  They would call to let me know it was there and I would open the door and bring it inside, thankful for the nourishment yet equally as thankful not to have to make eye contact with anyone.  On the rare occasions when I did have to be in the presence of others, I was tactfully reminded by my loved ones that I needed to remember to shower (even though I was living like a troll, I didn’t need to smell like one).  I finally decided it was time for me to re-enter the world of the living when one of my nearest and dearest friends told me, with love in her heart, ‘For God sakes woman, you can at least shave your legs!’  It was time for me to stop feeling sorry for myself.  I laughed, took a shower, and for the first time in over a month, shaved what had now become, caveman legs.  It was a glorious moment.  I knew then that I had a choice: I could resign to become a victim and feel sorry for myself, or I could choose to be happy.  Regardless of what had happened, how I chose to move forward was entirely up to me.  I could choose to be happy, or I could remain bitter.  I could choose to shower and shave my legs, or I could choose to look like a caveman.  It was that simple.

I chose joy.  I wanted to be happy again, so I made the decision to make happiness my pursuit.  Once I made that shift in my outlook, the possibilities for my life suddenly seemed endless...

It wasn’t always easy, but I knew deep down that I wanted a happy life.  I didn’t want to become an angry or embittered person.  I wanted to - one day - fall in love again.

I chose joy.  I wanted to be happy again, so I made the decision to make happiness my pursuit.

Bad things happen in this world: People suffer in all sorts of ways.  Sometimes we can prevent the suffering and other times, we endure it.  We can’t always control the actions of others when they intend to do us harm but, what we can control is how we choose to respond to the inflicted harm.  We can allow suffering to defeat us or it can empower us.  We can allow history to repeat itself or we can learn from our experiences.  I chose to learn from my experience and to move on.  With the help of family and friends, I returned to New York, went back to work, dug myself out of the hole my ex had flung me into and eventually, after time and healing, allowed myself to fall in love again and marry.

What I hope to impress upon you with the sharing of my story is this: If you fall in love, at some point you will experience heartbreak.  We all have a tale.  A broken heart is not the end though. You have the capability to write the next chapter of your story on your own terms.  You are powerful and worthy of love and you are not alone.  Turn to family and friends: they will understand, elevate your spirit, and give you the strength to stand until  you can stand on your own.  A failed marriage or relationship does not make you a failure.  The union failed - that's all.  Cry and mourn the loss of that relationship until you no longer have tears.  Learn from the mistakes.  Apply those lessons to your life.  Then, when the tears have dried, choose joy.  Every single day, wake up and choose to be positive.  Never let anyone take that away from you.  When you decide to become joyful, and are open to the possibilities of love, love will always find you.  

 

April Leite is originally from Massachusetts.  She attended Barry University in Miami where she received a BA in Communications.  She started her Masters at Fort Valley State in Education and finished at the University of Phoenix.  April has published two children’s books, has a novel coming out in the spring, and owns and operates pupwalks.com. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and their two dogs.

 

 

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