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Playing the Last Scene of a Marriage

By Mark S. King

October 12, 2011

Playing the Last Scene of a Marriage

"I'm not in love with you anymore."

He said this at the dinner table as he made the first cut of his steak, a beautiful ribeye he had grilled to perfection. I put down my own knife and fork and stared at him.

"This isn't new, or else you haven't been listening," he said, a bit wary of my gaze. "You knew I wasn't happy a year ago. And we've just ignored it." He took a bite and I hated him for it, for having the digestion for this.

I had dropped the butter, that's how this started. I had been setting the table and I dropped the butter and it made a mess and the dogs were licking it up and he got mad. But it was an accident so I got mad too because he always seemed angry and I told him so and then I provided a litany of complaints about his moodiness and then he sat down to start eating his steak and

"Mark?"

and if I hadn't dropped the butter we wouldn't be having this conversation and I could keep pretending we were still in love with one another.

"Mark. I care about you. You know that. But this isn't working."

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Twice, I wanted to say. Twice this hasn't worked. In our nine years together, we had tried this twice. The first breakup was the result of my disastrous drug abuse. During our first four years together, I became an increasingly deceitful, outrageous mess. When at long last my pitiful lies were exposed and I checked myself into a drug treatment program, he ended it.

That time, that was the bang. This steak and baked potato dinner was the whimper.

I could feel the emotion swelling inside me and didn't feel like being the first to cry, so I left the table for the bedroom. As I began heaving deep, guttural sobs I realized I was watching myself, from a distance, like a performance. I saw the way I held my body, arms wrapped tightly in a hug, knees bent from the force of the sobs. What's my motivation? I found myself wondering, still in the midst of it. Why am I crying? How do I really feel about this?

No sooner had I asked myself these questions, tears streaming, that I posed another. And it was far more manipulative.

How should I play this, exactly?

There were so many options. The shocked and devoted lover. The vindictive injured party. The delicate, recovering addict, shaken to the core by the breakup.

I indulged in this sick game of posturing for only a moment, but it was long enough for me to spot my disease on display. It was my drug addict mindset, always looking for an angle, always trying to deflect blame or skirt responsibility or come out ahead. Despite three years of sobriety, that mindset still enjoys hijacking my emotions.

Mark, I muttered, my face wet with tears, stop it. You crazy fuck.

After the first breakup, he and I didn't talk much. I moved back to Atlanta and, after some false starts, I finally got a foothold on my recovery. Life opened up again. I created My Fabulous Disease. I rediscovered my joy.

We began speaking tentatively to one another, then more often, and as I approached my first year of sobriety we finally admitted we still loved each other. It was such an unexpected turn of events, and so achingly romantic, that we both followed our hearts completely. I returned to Florida and we resumed our life together, minus my drug use and the dramatic sideshow that went with it.

And yet. And yet.

Within a year, we knew. We tried counseling, which only reopened old wounds and created new resentments. Something unspoken told us to stop the sessions, to not reach the finish line with so much misplaced anger. Instead, we coasted silently for another year, and we looked away.

The postscript had been written, like a paper holding an obituary for a movie star that will probably die soon. They're just waiting to print it.

And now, despite my philosophical approach to this, my faith in my sobriety and my gratitude for my friends, I have moments when I am crushed with fear. Being alone. Starting over. Dating. And then there's the HIV.

HIV likes giving a certain zing to relationships. It makes starting one rather tricky, what with the disclosure and the sexual negotiations and the vague fearfulness on either side. It loves ending them as well, but not always in the way you might think.

When HIV treatment drastically improved fifteen years ago, there were people celebrating the world over about their sudden renewed health and vitality. And they often marked the occasion with surprising pronouncements. "I'm going to live another thirty years," one would muse to the partner across the breakfast table, "and not with you ..."

Thankfully, my HIV status had no role in the breakup. But it will surely become an issue as I navigate whatever romantic life awaits me.

I dried my face and walked from the bedroom to face him again. I knew what was true, and I held on to it tightly, unwilling to play this scene for effect or advantage. And I finally grasped what an amazing, unlikely gift had been offered to me.

We should have broken up like this the first time, I realized. It should have been this way, and now it can be.

This time, I can do this gracefully.

He was sitting at the sofa and looked up to me, sadly, hopefully, and I sat down across from him. There was a moment of mutual assessment, and we saw the truce in each other's eyes. Some of the stress melted.

And we began to talk.

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See Also
More on Sex, Dating & HIV for Gay Men

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Drew (Sydney , AUS) Mon., Nov. 21, 2011 at 4:17 pm EST
As my Mother would say ..."Plenty of fish in the sea"

To which I would reply "Oh dear God !! Again with the fish"

Cheer Up !!! From your Aussie Mate.

Drew

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Comment by: Renee Malick (Beaumont, TX) Thu., Nov. 10, 2011 at 11:05 am EST
Keeping you in my thoughts...maybe it's time to go straight...lol. The single thing can kinda suck, that's where I am now, but, the variety of the menu sure can be fun!!!
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Comment by: Brenda (Salt Lake City, Utah) Tue., Nov. 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm EDT
Mark,
I follow you, sometimes it takes me a minute to get to your updates. I just want to let you know that you are loved!! I so loved the time we spent together in San Francisco at USCA at dinner with Kellee and Olivia and Dab. You made me laugh so hard. I know this is a hard time for you and I am proud of you. You have faced some hard stuff and remained clean and sober and you WILL make it through this!!! Just wanted to let you know that I am here!!!
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Comment by: Kirk (Dallas) Sat., Oct. 29, 2011 at 3:03 pm EDT
Rarely have I read something you posted and left feeling sad. But the reality is, it sounds so much like a recent experience I had. Regardless, I am happy that you guys tried and I solute you for speaking the truth, eve if it is somewhat from pain and relief. Waiting to date is something difficult for me to do and maybe for you but self-love and recovery(I am also an addict in recovery)goes against the trend to try to cover some of the pain with another relationship. I am certain (don't know how I know this)that love will come again. The only question left, will we be open to the healthy voice within. May you have peace on this journey that sometimes sucks.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Michael (Raleigh, NC) Tue., Feb. 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm EST
Hi Kirk,
I moved back to Raleigh a couple of years ago,after living in the boondocks for the previous 10 years, and am still single. I am looking for ways to be more visible, like our new LGBT Center in Raleigh, but nothing has progressed. A couple of guys walked when I revealed the HIV thing, but, I was prepared for that.

Now that Valentine's Day is upon us, depression with be my pain to bear until it is past.

Being single is very difficult, especially since I am a true romantic. But, I never give up hope.

My best to you as we wait for love to come our way again.


Comment by: Albert H. (Ft. Lauderdale) Thu., Oct. 27, 2011 at 2:00 pm EDT
A man as handsome as you will find no shortage of suiters. Best advice is if you meet someone you think you might want to have a relationship with no sex for a few dates.

Wish I were ten years younger I'd fly up there and carry you away over my shoulders.

Al
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Mark S.King (Ft Lauderdale) Sat., Oct. 29, 2011 at 9:14 am EDT
Now that's the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day! (And my friends keep telling me to wait, too.)


Comment by: Sherri Lewis (Beverly Hills, CA) Tue., Oct. 25, 2011 at 1:13 am EDT
Oh dear Mark,
I'm so sorry to read that you guys have decided to split. I am grateful I got to share some time with both of you as a couple before this. I hear you beat yourself up and it's time to put down the bat. Three years is great but it's still a beginning in sobriety. You both needed to see what was left in your relationship so it's a good thing you went back to FLA to see what it was . Much love and now the end. You'll be okay, I know you know that. Just don't use, do the next indicated steps, no manipulation and life will be, well life. After 14 years of loving relationships I have enjoyed being single at this stage of my life and like my own company. Finding a peaceful place, a loving place be it alone or shared with someone new, it will be good as long as your clean and sober. God bless you Mark. Pain is growth and sometimes it just sucks, for a little while. oxoxo
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VIDEO BLOG:
My Fabulous Disease


Mark S. King has been an active AIDS activist, writer and community organization leader since the early 1980s in Los Angeles. He has been an outspoken advocate for prevention education and for issues important to those living with HIV.

Diagnosed in 1985, Mark has held positions with the Los Angeles Shanti Foundation, AID Atlanta and AIDS Survival Project, and is an award-winning writer. He continues his volunteer work as an AIDS educator and speaker for conferences and events.

Speaking engagements: Mark King is available to speak to groups. Contact Mark about speaking at your organization or event!


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A Place Like This by Mark King

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Interviews With Mark:

Mark King Looks Back at the AIDS Epidemic's Darkest Hour in the U.S. (May 14, 2008)

This Month in HIV: Crystal Methamphetamine and HIV (August 2007)


Articles by Mark:

Meth Burial (May 2008)

Outliving My Father (May 22, 2001)
Mark recounts how years of caring for friends dying of AIDS prepared him for taking care of his dying father
From The Advocate

AIDS Always Benefits from What We Don't Talk About (April 2001)


For the rest of Mark's articles, click here.


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