It isn’t until this moment that I finally make a decision about him.
About what’s best for our family.
Ryle is amazing in so many ways. He’s compassionate. He’s caring. He’s smart. He’s charismatic. He’s driven.
My father was some of these things, too. He wasn’t very compassionate toward others, but there were times we spent together that I knew he loved me. He was smart. He was charismatic. He was driven. But I hated him so much more than I loved him. I was blinded to all the best things about him thanks to all the glimpses I got of him when he was at his worst. Five minutes of witnessing him at his worst couldn’t make up for even five years of him at his best.
I look at Emerson and I look at Ryle. And I know that I have to do what’s best for her. For the relationship I hope she builds with her father. I don’t make this decision for me and I don’t make it for Ryle.
I make it for her.
When he glances at me, he’s smiling. But when he assesses the look on my face, he stops.
“I want a divorce.”
He blinks twice. My words hit him like voltage. He winces and looks back down at our daughter, his shoulders hunched forward. “Lily,” he says, shaking his head back and forth. “Please don’t do this.”
His voice is pleading, and I hate that he’s been holding on to hope that I would eventually take him back. That’s partly my fault, I know, but I don’t think I realized what choice I was going to make until I held my daughter for the first time.
“Just one more chance, Lily. Please.” His voice cracks with tears when he speaks.
I know I’m hurting him at the worst possible time. I’m breaking his heart when this should be the best moment of his life. But I know if I don’t do it in this moment, I might never be able to convince him of why I can’t risk taking him back.
I begin to cry because this is hurting me as much as it’s hurting him. “Ryle,” I say gently. “What would you do? If one of these days, this little girl looked up at you and she said, ‘Daddy? My boyfriend hit me.’ What would you say to her, Ryle?”
He pulls Emerson to his chest and buries his face against the top of her blanket. “Stop, Lily,” he begs.
I push myself up straighter on the bed. I place my hand on Emerson’s back and try to get Ryle to look me in the eyes. “What if she came to you and said, ‘Daddy? My husband pushed me down the stairs. He said it was an accident. What should I do?’ ”
His shoulders begin to shake, and for the first time since the day I met him, he has tears. Real tears that rush down his cheeks as he holds his daughter tightly against him. I’m crying, too, but I keep going. For her sake.
“What if . . .” My voice breaks. “What if she came to you and said, ‘My husband tried to rape me, Daddy. He held me down while I begged him to stop. But he swears he’ll never do it again. What should I do, Daddy?’ ”
He’s kissing her forehead, over and over, tears spilling down his face.
“What would you say to her, Ryle? Tell me. I need to know what you would say to our daughter if the man she loves with all her heart ever hurts her.”
A sob breaks from his chest. He leans toward me and wraps an arm around me. “I would beg her to leave him,” he says through his tears. His lips press desperately against my forehead and I can feel some of his tears as they fall onto my cheeks. He moves his mouth to my ear and cradles both of us against him. “I would tell her that she is worth so much more. And I would beg her not to go back, no matter how much he loves her. She’s worth so much more.”
We become a sobbing mess of tears and broken hearts and shattered dreams. We hold each other. We hold our daughter. And as hard as this choice is, we break the pattern before the pattern breaks us.
He hands her back to me and wipes his eyes. He stands up, still crying. Still trying to catch his breath. In the last fifteen minutes, he lost the love of his life. In the last fifteen minutes, he became a father to a beautiful little girl.
That’s what fifteen minutes can do to a person. It can destroy them.
It can save them.
He points toward the hallway, letting me know he needs to go gather himself. He’s sadder than I’ve ever seen him as he walks toward the door. But I know he’ll thank me for this one day. I know the day will come when he’ll understand that I made the right choice by his daughter.
When the door closes behind him, I look down at her. I know I’m not giving her the life I dreamed for her. A home where she lives with both parents who can love her and raise her together. But I don’t want her to live like I lived. I don’t want her to see her father at his worst. I don’t want her to see him when he loses his temper with me to the point that she no longer recognizes him as her father. Because no matter how many good moments she might share with Ryle throughout her lifetime, I know from experience that it would only be the worst ones that stuck with her.
Cycles exist because they are excruciating to break. It takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to disrupt a familiar pattern. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep running in the same familiar circles, rather than facing the fear of jumping and possibly not landing on your feet.
My mother went through it.
I went through it.
I’ll be damned if I allow my daughter to go through it.
I kiss her on the forehead and make her a promise. “It stops here. With me and you. It ends with us.”