Getting Happy... when you wish you were dead

One week since our anniversary. Two days since our last argument. Maria and I haven't said a word to each other.

I didn't go upstairs this morning when everyone was leaving.

The doorbell rang a little after nine am. Silas was downstairs with me, and I decided to run upstairs with him to see if it was a delivery of some kind. I didn't usually bother answering the doorbell during the day.

As Silas and I ran down the hallway and past the kitchen counter, I glanced out the kitchen windows. I stopped dead in my tracks. A sheriff's car was in the driveway.

Something inside me said this was bad news. For a minute, I actually considered locking the front door and going back downstairs. Then I realized that couldn't possibly bring good results, so I opened the door.

A Deputy Sheriff was standing on the step and asked, "Hi. I’m Deputy Sheriff James Beech. Are you Conrad Hall?"


"You're wife has filed for an order of protection, and a petition for divorce. I have some paperwork here that I need to read to you, and then I need your signature. May I come in?"

It has always struck me as ludicrous that people pretend to give you an option when they clearly intend that you have no options.

I stepped clear of the door to let him in and angrily said, "I don't need you to read anything. Just tell me: Do I have to leave the house?" I was already furious and thinking poorly. I would, unfortunately, choose this pattern frequently in the months to come. Old habits are pernicious when ignored.

"Well, sir, I have to read this to you. Would you like to sit down?"

Of course I gave in, sat down, and listened. We all make bad decisions when we let our emotions run away with us, but I wasn't going to argue too hard with a gun-toting cop.

As the officer read through his paperwork, I was thinking about other things. I was enjoying being hurt and wronged because obviously I hadn’t done anything to justify this, right? Maybe it seems strange that I was enjoying it, but it’s the truth. Even though I was minutes away from being homeless, I was feeling vindicated because Maria had again chosen a path that avoided talking things through. (Letting anger run away with you usually leads to poor decision making.)

When Deputy Beech finished reading, I asked “So does this mean I have to leave the house?”

“Well, I just need you to sign this first,” he said calmly.

“I’m not signing anything,” I said sternly. I was angry, but I wasn’t blaming this guy. “All I need to know is whether I have to leave the house.”

“Yes, sir. You’re welcome to pack your clothes and personal belongings, but you do have to leave the house.”

“Fine,” I said curtly, and walked away.


It was thirteen years ago. The door was closing again.

My parents had taken everything. I was living out of my van, and commuting between St. Catharines and Toronto to work as a carpenter in the film industry. I kept coming back to the shop my father and I had used knowing it was over, but desperately hoping to find a way of keeping the shop going.

I hadn’t seen my parents since they cleared out the shop, but we talked on the phone occasionally. My mother wanted to know how I was doing.

Then came the week when the rent was finally running out on the shop. It was the week of Christmas. My mother called again.

I don’t really remember what we said, but I remember the conversation. She wanted to know whether I had found a way to pay the rent for the shop. I told her I was working in Toronto and was making enough money, but I couldn’t be in both places at once. The only way the shop would work was if Dad was willing to honor our agreement to work together.

She confirmed the answer to that was “No.”

The last thing we did was make arrangements for them to pick up the key to the shop.

December 24, Christmas Eve, I left the key to the shop in the mailbox. I got in my van, left for Toronto, and haven’t seen or spoken to my parents since.


I went to my office. Instead of thinking things through calmly so the situation could be handled well, I decided to send Maria a contemptuous e-mail. I actually thanked her for destroying my life, and choosing this path rather than taking time to talk things through with me.

Clearly, the last thing on my mind was that anything I was doing could possibly be confirming Maria in her thoughts and actions.

When I left the house, I took very little. I had my backpack with some current files and laptop, my wallet and cell phone, and the clothes I was wearing. I wasn’t planning anything. I was utterly despondent. The one thing I kept saying to Deputy Beech was “It’s finished. If she wants it all, she can have it.”

So I left the house and started walking down the road toward town. I didn’t even know where I was going.

Deputy Beech drove up behind me a couple of minutes later. He rolled down his window.

“Would you like a ride into town?”

I thought for a second and answered, “Sure. Why not.”

There isn’t a lot of leg room in the back seat of a cop car.

“Can I drop you off somewhere?”

“No,” I answered with a big sigh. “I don’t really have anywhere to go.” After a pause, I said “Maybe just drop me off at the sheriff’s office. You’re probably headed there anyway, right?”

“Sure, I can drop you off there.”

After a little bit of silence, he asked “How long have you and Maria been married?”

“Three years.”

“How did you meet?”

This seems like a strange conversation when I look back on it, but I didn’t give it any thought then.

“I came down here to work for a client. I had asked the cleaning lady if there was anything to do in town, and she suggested asking another lady named Nancy.

“Well, Nancy happens to walk around the corner right at that moment, so I asked. It turns out she works part-time at a wine shop, and they have a single’s night.

“I told her that wasn’t my scene. I was only supposed to be in town for five months. The she says ‘Oh, that’s okay. We get lots of couples coming to the single’s night.’

“So I laugh and say ‘That’s really not my scene.’

“Anyway, I ended up at the single’s night, and Maria was there. We didn’t talk or anything, but we definitely noticed each other.

“When she was leaving, I thought to myself ‘If she turns around before getting to the door, I’ll ask Nancy who she is. Sure enough, she stopped two steps short of the door and turned back to look at me.

“I ended up asking Nancy about her, and we got together.

“Why do you ask? Do you know her, too? Everybody in town seems to know her, or be related to one of her patients.” There were only a couple cardiac surgeons in town, and her boss was also head of the department at the hospital.

“I actually knew her husband better. Me and his dad used to work together, so I’ve known Maria for years.”

The conversation dried up at that point. I got very uncomfortable with the idea of an old family friend - who also happens to be a deputy sheriff - being the one to drop this bomb. Understanding was starting to dawn for how Maria could have gotten an order of protection when there was no history of violence, or even police involvement, between us.

After Deputy Beech dropped me off, I just started walking south; out of town.

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