Here’s my latest book review about Planet Heartbreak by Vikki Stark, which is a companion piece to Stark’s previous book, Runaway Husbands, which really resonated with me on a personal level. I decided to write a text-only review because I know I would totally lose it if I even attempted to do a video review.

In September, 2011 I underwent hip surgery. My loving husband took great care of me before and after my surgery. He took a temporary leave from his NASA job so he could take care of me while I recuperated. He drove me to my outpatient physical therapy sessions. Once he had to return to work a couple of months later, he lined up various friends who drove me to and from physical therapy. One of my friends later told me that when we went to their home for a Christmas party they threw we seemed so happy together. On Christmas Day he made a lovely dinner for the two of us where he said he used beer as a themed ingredient while he made French onion soup and a seafood dish in a beer broth.

Imagine my surprise when, just three days after Christmas, my husband arrived home from work. He had a wild-eye look on his face as he blurted out “I’m moving out,” said that he had rented a room, and threw three pieces of paper in my direction before bolting out the door. I looked at the three pieces of paper. One was my first alimony check. One was a schedule to separate our finances he had written out that would culminate in our eventual divorce. The third was a letter where he essentially blamed the fact that I had purchased a doll the day before my hip surgery as a reason why he had to leave home because the doll added to the clutter of our home.

At first I thought he had just snapped. I knew he was under stress from my surgery, the stresses at his job (he was working on a major satellite project at the time), the fact that he was battling bronchitis, and he had just been diagnosed with high blood pressure. But he refused to speak with me even though I tried leaving voice mail messages (he refused to pick up when I called his phone), text messages, and emails. I found out through friends that he had left me for one of our friends who has been battling severe depression for most of her adult life (she had just been granted SSI disability shortly before he left me).

In the wake of his leaving me, I did a Google search on “my husband ran away from home” and I was directed to this website that also served as the promotion for a book written by Vikki Stark called Runaway Husbands. I ordered that book from Amazon and even paid extra to have it rush-delivered to my home. I read and re-read that book so many times over the past few years that I think I have gotten it memorized by now. It was such a great help to me as it helped me to brace myself for whatever horror my husband threw at me (such as the fact that nearly a year after he left home he sent a divorce petition in a .PDF format that was attached to an email he sent on Christmas Eve). My ex-husband married the other woman just two months after our divorce was final.

In one of our very rare and brief face-to-face conversations my husband said that it was my fault that he had to leave home and hook up with that mentally ill woman. I later found out through friends that they saw him flirting and actively pursuing that woman at the cafe where she used to work two nights a week while I was home recuperating from that surgery. Given his current state of mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if he blames me for the fact that he married this woman soon after our divorce was final.

Not too long ago I found out that Vikki Stark had published a companion volume to Runaway Husbands, which I have recently finished reading. This one is called Planet Heartbreak and it’s a series of essays written by women whose spouses have abruptly left them. While the original Runaway Husbands book had testimony written by women whose husbands had left them, they were interspersed with Vikki Stark’s writings about her research into not only the abrupt demise of her own marriage (her husband suddenly walked out on her the day after she returned home from a tour promoting her first book that she wrote about sister relationships) but other women’s marriages that had also met a similar quick end.

Planet Heartbreak is different in that it consists entirely of essays written by women whose marriages had ended with no advanced warning that their marriages were even in trouble. Vikki Stark included women who had young children, women with adult children, women who never had children, young adult women, middle-aged women, even senior citizens who had been married for a few decades. There is even an essay written by a woman who had been in a long-term same-sex relationship with another woman until her spouse abruptly left her and their two adopted children. In short, there are essays written by women who come from all walks of life.

The one thing that struck me as I read these essays is that all of the husbands are depicted as suddenly switching from being kind and loving spouses to being incredibly cold, indifferent, distant, and even nasty. This fits my ex-husband perfectly. He has gone from being a very sweet, friendly guy who had a great sense of humor to being this totally distant unfriendly stranger—the kind of person I would never even consider dating in the first place let alone marry him.

The only silver lining is that many of our longtime friends have noticed a change in him as well. They have told me about how unhappy he looks these days and his second wife also looks unhappy. Sadly I can’t do a thing about this, especially since he divorced me. He was the one who left me for a mentally ill woman. He was the one who sued me for divorce and married her just two months after our divorce was final. It’s like what Dr. Phil frequently says on his TV show, “When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.”

At the beginning of the book Vikki Stark advises the reader to try not to read the entire book in one sitting, which I personally think is good advice. Many of the stories in these essays are gut-wrenching to read at times. Some women had to sell their marital home because they couldn’t afford to keep it. Some women with minor children still had to deal with the minefield of coparenting with a now-hostile ex. One of the women wrote about how her husband has not only cut her out of his life but has also cut out their adult son and 8-year-old grandson as well.

There were two essays where the husbands regretted what they did and wanted to reunite with their wives. One of the women decided to remain separated for the time being and just take things slowly by seeing her ex once or twice a month. The other woman, who’s a devout Christian, welcomed her husband back into their home as he told her that Satan made him leave her and she has basically forgiven him for what he did to her. Those two essays are a far cry from the fairy tale ending “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Vikki Stark wrote that Planet Heartbreak is meant to be a companion volume to her previous book and people should really read the first book before reading her latest one. For me Runaway Husbands helped me deal with what to expect regarding my husband. Planet Heartbreak only further drove the point that what happened to my marriage wasn’t really 100% my fault and there was absolutely nothing I could say or do to get my husband to change his mind and return home.

While Planet Heartbreak isn’t required reading for those who are dealing with their own runaway spouses, I would recommend it for anyone who’s still reeling from an unexpected divorce and has read Runaway Husbands so many times that they have memorized it because reading other people’s stories does provide a chance for healing and hope for the future.

I have one minor quibble with the book. At the beginning of each essay there is a mention about how long each woman had been separated from her husband (which ranges from two months to over 10 years). I wished the essays had been better organized according to the length of the separation (meaning that the essays written by the newly separated would be in front of the book while the longer separations being located towards the end) because it would’ve been easier for someone who’s been separated for—let’s say—three months to find the essays from the recently separated while people who’ve been separated longer can find the essays from the women who have also been separated for over a year or more. I think grouping the essays according to length of separation would provide one with an idea of how it’s possible to recuperate from something as traumatic as a spouse who has ran away from home.

For me reading Planet Heartbreak has helped me to accept the fact that the man I once knew is gone for good and some stranger with an unfriendly personality is currently inhabiting his body. I don’t regret getting this book.

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