I never thought I would be on my own at 45. I still feel plaintive when I see at happy couples sitting side by side in church. I wonder, "Where's my husband?" and "How come that isn't us?" I don't go as often as I used to, some might say I don't worship at all, because the last time I went a woman in her seventies stood up to tell the assembly, "You can do it girls!" on the occasion of her 50thwedding anniversary. I don't agree with what she said. I need my husband around to "do it," and he walked out on me. I do still worship, though, in a different manner.

My first marriage was a short five years of difficulty and pain. I really couldn't understand why getting along was so hard. My first husband spoke often of "unconditional love." He attended the famous New Age mega-church "Agape" located in Culver City. In an effort to comply, I swallowed every uncomfortable feeling. In our last round of therapy he was diagnosed as a narcissistic. I blew a sigh of relief. I admitted defeat. I knew now why it was so hard, how he was incapable of loving me, of loving, despite unconditional feelings on my part. Unfortunately, leaving him kicked his paranoia into high gear, soon I was more than uncomfortable, I was fearing for my life. He was acting crazy.

Then Howard rescued me. A slender electrician with a goofy sense of humor, he quietly accepted me with all the parameters. He calmly informed my first husband that police would be called whenever he harassed me. We went to court. I won a restraining order. I enforced it. A deep and abiding gratitude grew in my heart for the man who restored me. Howard and I married in a church with every member in attendance. My entire far flung family made the trek, my college roommate. I felt absolutely loved and accepted for the first time in my life. In the course of our ceremony we took communion together. We were joined as one flesh.

For the first time in my adult life, really for the first time since I was 12, I quit working. I was able to chaperone or attend every function of my son's senior year of high school. Howard encouraged me to do charity work, which I enjoyed. I delivered Meals on Wheels. I met with some ladies who cleaned our church. For a long time after I spoke of that fondly as the happiest years of my life. I thought I had won the lottery. Every morning while he was brewing coffee I would silently give thanks for him and all he had given me. Two years into my bliss things started to get strange.

Howard was by that time on the board at our little church. He also volunteered one night a week at a healing prayer room. At home he made much of his ability to hear the Holy Spirit. His choices became increasingly odd. He made bad investments. He worked less and less. Each time I asked him about his strange decisions he would counter by saying the "Holy Spirit" was guiding him. Yet he was acting more and more sketch. A man who never swore and didn't cheat, was now flaking out on jobs. His last paying job was done almost completely by his employee.

Meanwhile a series of accidents in his truck concerned me. He seemed too loopy to drive, although he wouldn't stop. He never drank. What was causing his strange behavior, and why oh why wouldn't he take advantage of his VA benefits and get checked out by a doctor? In his last spectacular accident, which occurred ten days before he walked out on me, he was airlifted from our small community to the nearest emergency room, to the tune of $40,000. Hello, uninsured person. After two hours of testing, the ER doctors ascertained that while he sustained no lasting injury, he was high as a kit.

Howard was addicted to the prescription drugs he had been stealing from his customer's houses! I confronted him, and he confessed he was taking more than he wanted, of prescribed medication for his aching back. While on morphine he agreed that I should rid our house of his stash in our bedroom. I called his primary care physician who agreed to treat him through a withdrawal. Dr. Grant warned me that Howard wasn't going to like me very much during the process. On the car ride home from the hospital Howard started talking to me about his need to go in the bedroom before I did so he could commune with the "Holy Spirit." I assured him that he could have as much privacy as he needed as soon as I removed his drugs. He argued with me the whole forty minute ride home. After I removed the drugs he found he no longer needed to commune with the Holy Spirit.

Ten days later he was gone. The man I vowed until death do us part was done with me. I wondered at first if he was coming back. I attempted to pay all the bills. Slowly things got repossessed. I sold what I could. I filed for divorce. I received angry letters from him at various addresses. Despite my prayers he did not get clean. It took me two and a half years to end our marriage, as he steadfastly refused to sign paperwork. Each additional trip to court crippled me financially. Meanwhile my son, who stayed with me past his 18th birthday to help me with rent, eventually moved out.

I never thought I would be all alone at 45. I look at my car and remember fondly, how Howard used to keep it full of gas for me. He took care of everything. Now I carefully note the oil change schedule, buy it new tires when necessary, check the fluids. I work hard, yet work was scarce. An injury made me slower at my job. A girl young enough to be my daughter was hired at a lower wage than mine. I was laid off. Unable to make the mortgage I rented my house and roved east with my wolf-dog, Mango. In a strange vet's clinic in Arkansas I lost my last companion. She was apparently, older than I had suspected. I cried like a child. I was utterly alone.

I was in debt and homeless. Even the car was not fully paid off. Unable to shoot myself in the head, I took myself to Texas and visited a friend, then moved on to California. After three tries I found a roommate who blended well with me. I rent a room in a house two miles from a part time job. With the enforced free time I took up new hobbies. I walk in the wilderness of the Los Padres National forest. I write poetry. I bake bread. Solitude suits me. I find I enjoy things I could have never done with Howard. A heavy smoker, he could not have endured the seven mile hike I took at 8,000 feet, nor enjoyed listening to live music in small venues. I find this has become the happiest time of my life.