I was on the main level of my house trying to get to the basement to turn off the boiler. If I didn’t reach it soon something terrible would happen. But I kept getting delayed; either  I was moving too slow, or I was delayed by Lonna trying to tell me something. I finally made it down the basement stairs and my heart sank. The furnace took up almost all the space in the basement. Its body was wide and tall, and it had large, wide tubes and pipes extending from it to different parts of the room – it was an ancient make called an “octopus furnace” for the reasons I have just described. The boiler was having a serious seizure. The torso was heaving, pulsating, throbbing madly, rocking back and forth, out of control. Steam was shooting out of  fissures in the metal caused by intense inner pressure. It was one of the most violent things I have ever seen. The pressure that had built up inside this large, strong boiler could not be contained. There was a terrible explosion and the boiler morphed into a thousand pieces of flying shrapnel. There was a liquid all over me, but it wasn’t blood – just the sort of goo you get on you when a boiler explodes in your face, I guess. I was alive and felt in one piece. I looked across the room and saw a young woman I didn’t recognize. Her face was horribly, grotesquely scarred. Then I realized that my face was equally scarred. The dream ended.

The boiler was my marriage. Or perhaps it was the heart of our marriage. As a boiler provides heat and warmth to a house, so does a heart provide heat, warmth, and love to a marriage. If the heart is exposed to too much stress it can become enlarged to compensate. It can fibrillate, experience searing pain, palpitate, shudder, even explode in a heart attack.

The first thirteen years of our marriage, we had a good boiler. Life gradually took  its toll on our marriage, our lives, the lives of our friends. A lot of our friends died. In my line of work people die routinely. During a 3-4 year stretch I lost over twenty souls. Additional souls lost were friends of our family – relatives, and people we loved or relied on. One of the souls lost to us was through a miscarriage. Another soul lost – to me, anyway – me is still alive: my oldest son. He is bipolar and angry that mom and dad had him outside the bonds of marriage. I can’t blame him for either thing. But he demanded more attention and created more stress in our household than our other six children combined.

That is how it seemed to me anyway. From my son’s viewpoint, he was probably scared and bewildered by what was happening to him, and didn’t know how to ask for help. We lived in a rather insular religious community where problems are what happened in the godless secular families – not upright religious families like ours. Our son had several psychiatric hospitalizations and an extended stay in a locked residential treatment program. When he got out the troubles started all over again. It was just too much for his mom and dad, who were already overwhelmed trying to feed and clothe six younger children. Mom and Dad disagreed on how best to deal with their oldest son, and the rift grew and became permanent. The oldest son exploited the rift he had caused to get what he wanted. Soon mom and dad didn’t know how to deal with each other. Marriage counseling only seemed to inflame things. The counselor said our marriage was in crisis. Then my wife said she didn’t want to go to counseling any more. This was a year before we separated.

The last desperate days were like the dream: I was trying – alone – to fix something I didn‘t have the power to fix. I was trying to get us to talk to our parish priest in the hopes that we could work out a temporary separation. I remember my pious wife snapping “Hell no” to this suggestion. I went over to our parish alone. It was all locked up. I tried several doors, they wouldn’t open. With each locked door I grew more afraid. I was feeling desperate. Finally I got in to talk to the priest, who said it was okay for us to separate, and even to divorce if the separation didn’t work. Coming from a very traditional priest, this was quite a concession.

I wasn’t able to talk to my wife about this – or anything else. She could not talk to me for more than a few sentences without losing her temper and shouting or swearing; she was a wall of seething rage. I once asked her, “Why don’t you just leave?” because she seemed so unhappy. Well, eventually she did leave, under the worst of terms. And the boiler exploded.

I filed for divorce so I could see my children again. Lonna was keeping them captive, and not allowing visitors. Losing the marriage and the children was heart breaking, but my heart had started breaking eight years ago when I lost Annie, and then when she killed herself, and then when my son got sick, and then when people around me just kept dying or being killed or killing themselves. Too much death – and then the death of my marriage, the one thing besides God that I thought was permanent, even eternal.

After a while it seemed best to hide my heart, because there were people in my family who I did not trust anymore – people I had once loved dearly and pledged my life to, but who now seemed intent on punishing me for crimes I was not aware I had committed, intent on publicly slandering me, destroying my reputation and even my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my marriage would blow up the way it did. And when I see my ex-wife I can see the scars on her face from the explosion. I imagine she can see mine too. We are both still alive even though our marriage is dead. Our children are still alive and we limp along with each other as best we can. No one talks about the explosion. The divorce people told us not too, and the kids are very shy about this topic. Can’t blame them, but one day they will find out exactly what happened, if not why. Then they will make up their minds about things one way or another. Or perhaps they will just move past it and focus on their own lives, and leave their scarred parents to deal with their own pain.

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