The call came in on a Saturday morning. I recognized the voice right away. It was Micah’s mother on the other end, and she sounded like she’d been crying. Her son and I were divorced, and I knew there was only one reason she would call me.
“Glenna,” she said in a hoarse voice. “Micah died in an accident last night.”
I listened as she told me the story. The police had found Micah’s body next to the railroad tracks. He had a head wound, and there was a six-pack of beer on the ground next to him. Micah’s mom said she wasn’t sure whether he was fooling around down there and got hurt or whether he’d jumped in front of a train on purpose. I wanted to believe the former, but the latter was more likely. Micah had threatened suicide several times since we’d broken up. I thought he was just being manipulative when he said it. He was nothing if not manipulative.
Micah’s mother said she’d be in touch, and I hung up the phone and sat down on my bed trying to push away what I was feeling. It wasn’t that I was sad or distraught, but I knew that would be a more appropriate response. Instead, a single word kept repeating in my head.
I felt like the world’s most horrible person. My ex-husband was dead, and I couldn’t drum up an ounce of sympathy. I had hated him with the fury of a thousand white-hot suns when he was alive for all the torture he put me through over the years. He shattered me into pieces, and I still had a hard time putting myself back together. I still suffered from severe PTSD from the years we were married, startling, and then shaking at the mere mention of his name.
It wasn’t like Micah stopped trying to bother me even after we divorced. He’d write hostile messages to my new boyfriend and then send me emails about how much he wanted me to live with him again. He treated the daughter I shared with him like a pawn to get to me. He was so manipulative that even at age ten she figured out he was trouble. Micah was constantly demanding his right to see her even though legally it didn’t exist. He’d make me feel guilty about keeping her away, but the few times we met him at the mall for lunch, all he did was pry her for information about me.
Micah could never bother me again, and it made me feel relieved. I never had to hear him yell at me again or wake up to 25 emails he sent in the middle any given night. I was free, finally, and maybe I could relax a little bit even if I felt guilty for not feeling upset.
Another emotion took over in the days following the bad news. I found myself angry and full of rage with nowhere to direct it. There were still so many hard feelings about the way Micah treated me. Sure, my life was much better after we divorced, and that should have been good enough, but it wasn’t. Instead of moving on with my life, I felt stuck in the past with no way out. The hate made it hard to take a deep breath or concentrate on what was right in front of me.
Part of that anger was at me. It was so much easier to look at our marriage objectively and see how much gaslighting and abuse he threw at me. All my friends told me Micah was no good for me from the beginning. Why couldn’t I have seen that for myself? What was wrong with me that I would let somebody do that to me? I felt like I’d wasted years of my life, most of my 30s, on a man-child who only ever got me in trouble.
Micah didn’t have a funeral, not that I would have gone. There were no events related to his death that our daughter could attend to get a sense of closure. She didn’t seem to be upset about her dad except in the first few minutes after I told her. I suspect she felt a lot of pressure taken off as I did. He couldn’t call and yell at her anymore for not reaching out to him more often. He pulled that with her many times. Toward the end, she started yelling back. I wondered if she felt the same relief as me. I’d never badmouthed Micah in front of her, and I vowed not to start doing it after his death.
Even a year later, I still carried Micah around on my back wherever I went. I still locked the door when taking a shower because of the way Micah used to bang the door against the wall and start yelling at me when I was my most vulnerable. There was certain music I couldn’t listen to anymore. In a strange way, Micah was still controlling me from beyond the grave because I was letting him. As time passed, I knew it would have to stop. The only way to get Micah out of my head was to forgive him, which seemed like an impossible task at first.
Part of forgiving Micah was acknowledging the mistakes I made in our marriage. I’d stopped loving him long before we broke up, but I let him think otherwise because I needed a place to stay. Far from being an angel, I said cruel things to him toward the end when we would fight. In my mind, he was not a human being but a monster who deserved whatever I threw at him. The day I actually called him a monster to his face, I saw the hurt look on his face and turned away smiling. I would have given a total stranger more consideration.
It’s not an excuse, but Micah had challenges that started right from his birth. His family was dysfunctional with a capital D, and he was shunned by friends at the church he attended his whole life because he got caught smoking pot. After he died, I heard awful stories from his friends about him being bullied in high school.
Micah was different, and that would not stand with any of his peers. He had trouble making friends even as an adult. He never had more than a hundred dollars to his name at any given time because he couldn’t hold down a job. A doctor had diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, but he refused to take medication. Micah was a loner who was terrified to be alone, which he was at the time of the train incident. It scared me to say it out loud, but I know he jumped.
None of that means he had the right to abuse me, but it helps me to understand that he truly was a human being suffering from a disability. He lived by a completely different set of rules because the world had been so cruel to him and because of his mental illness. When I first met him, I was fresh out of a divorce, and he looked like somebody I could take care of and help turn his life around. I was one of those women who thought they could change their men. Later on, when I wanted to get away from him, I couldn’t let him go. He’d tell me he changed, and I wanted to believe it so much I gave him chance after chance; however, Micah was who he was. When I accepted that, I started to heal.
I realized if I wanted to make space in my heart for my new life, I had to get Micah out of my head. Forgiving him was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but once I had the grace to go forward, I looked at the situation differently and more objectively. When I stopped blaming him for all my misery, my resentment washed away. I realized that our relationship was toxic on both sides and not just his side, and I felt extreme gratitude for not living that way anymore.
I hope that in death Micah found the peace that he never had here on Earth. He wasn’t the monster I made him out to be. He was a human who made mistakes, just like me. I forgive him for my sake and the sake of our daughter. There’s no reason to hold onto the pain anymore.
This essay was originally published on PS I Love You. Relationships Now.