October 18, 2014
So much has happened in the past four months, I have hardly had time to process it all. Instead, the thoughts are crowding my brain, bumping into each other, making so much noise that they wake me up at night, interrupt me at work, and threaten to ambush me at any time, leaving me with not one moment to rest. What I wrote about last time, my mother’s diagnosis of cancer, is only part of the story. The other part is everything else, everything else that really matters.
My mother is very beautiful. She has always been beautiful, the kind of beautiful that was annoying when you’re her awkward, less beautiful teenage daughter, but I’m over that now. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I made up my mind that the last part of her life would be beautiful. That she would come to live with me and she would be surrounded by her loving family, and that would bring her comfort and make her feel safe. That is not what happened, but we had our moments. My mother and I had conversations I will never forget, filled with tears and hugs and kisses and sweet words. My mother forgot those conversations within three minutes. Still, there is a part of me that believes, that knows, she felt them and the love seeped into her mind and her heart and if she could not recall the moment, she could at least recall the feeling.
It’s a blessing, some people say, of my mother’s lack of short-term memory, of her inability to remember she has cancer. It is not a blessing. It is not a blessing to feel sick, to feel weak and confused and not remember why. It is not a blessing to wake up in your daughter’s home and not know where you are, to believe you’re already in a nursing home, or worse, being held prisoner. It is not a blessing to not remember that your brother or your daughter or granddaughter or grandson or niece or friend spent the day with you. It is not a blessing to be losing your mind and to know that it is happening.
And so, I am sitting here feeling all the ugliness of cancer and dementia and loss in so many forms and my mother, my beautiful mother who I felt was leaving me a long time ago, offers me a gift in a moment of my complete despair.
I visited my mother at the nursing home, after I had been away for a few days. I found her lying in her bed, very sick, nearly unconscious, hooked up to oxygen and looking like she was dying. I crawled into bed with her and, silently I wept. I had not cried in front of my mother in a very long time. I had shed some tears when we told her she had cancer, but she quickly forgot, so I could not stay in my sadness. But this time, because I thought my mother was asleep, I allowed myself to weep, and soon I was trying to stifle my sobs, gulping them down so as not to wake her, but she woke. My mother put her arms around me and held me and told me not to cry. She told me that we would be together again some day. She told me that we had so many blessings in our life, so much joy, but that we also had to have some pain. She told me that we had to take what was ugly and make it beautiful and that we could do that by loving each other. To have my mother back, to have her comfort me and hold me and love me, like a mother holds and loves her child, was a blessing, and it was beautiful and it was only a moment but it was everything.
August 9, 2014
This is how it happens. You are doing something ordinary. Maybe something you do every day. You just got out of the shower. Or maybe you’re vacuuming. Or you’re at work and answer your cell phone, not recognizing the number. I was at the grocery store, but not in the produce aisle where most things happen. I was at the deli counter and I was ordering cheddar cheese. I don’t often get cheese from the deli because I am not a good wrapper. None of us are good wrappers. We are careless, so within two days of buying deli cheese, it dries out and turns into hard pieces of plastic that break when you try to make a sandwich. We do better with Kraft singles. I know, it’s probably not even real cheese, but it lasts forever. So I was ordering cheese, trying to be a better mother, with plans for better wrapping when the phone rang. I had just asked for a half pound of cheddar when I got a call from my mother’s doctor and heard the news that would change everything. It was at that moment that I knew there would be too much sadness. More sadness than I thought I could bear, so I said what we say when we hear this kind of news. I said, “No,” as if that was going to stop what’s happening from happening and, of course, it doesn’t. I was alone at the deli, surrounded by people, and I was crying and trying to understand what the doctor was telling me and the man behind the counter said, “Would you like New York or Vermont cheddar?” and I looked at him with tears in my eyes and I said, “Vermont, please.” That was such an easy question with such an easy answer.
I don’t remember much after that. I walked around the store and wondered how I would get home. I did not go home. I went straight to my boyfriend’s home instead and when he opened the door, he found me crying, unable to speak, until I stumbled through words that made little sense because I could not say the truth. “I can’t say it. I can’t say it. I can’t tell her” because I knew I had to tell my sister but I also knew the words would not come out. And so my boyfriend did everything right. He listened and he held me and then he called my sister’s home and was able to talk to her husband who then would say the words that no one wants to say. I could only speak to my sister after she knew, because I could not say the words that would break our hearts.
Since then, I have learned to say them. Sometimes I can say them so casually that you would think I am telling you it might rain tomorrow. And sometimes the words get trapped in my throat and I start to cry and eventually I will whisper that my beloved mother has cancer.
January 27, 2014
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” is uttered by Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth. I don’t think I read that one, but the line is sure ringing in my head right now. I am sure there are some good lawyers out there. My dad is a lawyer, and he is one of my favorite people in the world, but truth be told, he should not have been a lawyer. He should have been an actor. He is handsome, with a deep resonant voice, and a french accent. He is debonair. And he’s funny. I bet he was great in court, but he should have been Perry Mason. If he had starred on LA Law, it would still be on. But I digress…
Here’s a joke… How many lawyers does it take to write a check? Answer: None. They only know how to cash them. Ba-dum-bum.
I know, it’s not funny. True story, I went to court in August 2012, because I was owed 5 months of child support. One year and a new judge later, an order was signed requiring ex-man to place into escrow 6 months of child support in case (haha) he did not send a check each month. Finally, in October 2013, 14 months after I went to court, the escrow was placed in an account with ex-man’s ex-lawyer, who had been acting as the well-paid escrow agent for the horse trust fund. Shockingly, for two months in November and December 2013, I actually received support checks directly from ex-man. This has not happened once in two and a half years. I should have made copies and framed them. Now, it is the end of January, with no child support received, so I requested a check from escrow agent. He won’t write it. He won’t write a child support check for a woman with three children because ex-man’s new lawyer and my lawyer have not been able to settle on how escrow man is going to be paid, and this man won’t work for free, so he has said, repeatedly, ad nauseam. Does anyone think he is really not going to get paid? But he will not write that check. Admittedly, I was given the option to have him get paid out of my son’s summer program escrow fund, but I refused. No one is touching that money. I mean, really, you’re asking my son to pay escrow agent? Quick, how long does it take you to write a check? An hour? Here’s $450.
So, yeah, maybe Dick was right.
December 15, 2013
First of all, I am generally not a miserable person. Really, I’m not. I’m quite cheerful, content, even happy much of the time. Earthworms in my garden, sunshine on my face, the dogs being silly, my kids being nice to each other, that’s really all it takes. Sure, sure, you’re saying, she’s weeping all over this blog. It’s in the name of the blog, for Lord’s sake! And that is true, I do a lot of weeping here. And, aside from here, I have wept in some rather unorthodox places. There’s my car, for example, but who hasn’t wept in their car? I used to cry in my car all the time. Sometimes I would be crying, driving along, and I would catch someone looking at me and I would think, “Please save me. Motion to me to pull over. Hold up a sign that says, Are you okay? and I will shake my head No, and you can rescue me.” That never happened.
I have wept in the produce aisle at the A&P, more than once. I have wept there with a friend and I have wept alone. One day, a produce man said to me, “Smile, you look so sad.” And I replied, “I am sad,” and I started to cry. The poor man followed me through the store, trying to comfort me, which made me cry more because I could not bear a stranger being kind to me. I have cried in the post office, embarrassing my son. I have cried while I’m running. I have cried at the hair salon, the dentist, and the Lexus repair shop. All right, so sue me, I cry a lot. Actually, don’t sue me, I’m already in court almost every month with ex-man.
My point is that lately I am feeling rather miserable, and I do not like it one bit, but misery sure has a way of sucking me in. It’s seductive. Let me give you a few pointers if you’d like to join me there.
Think about death. Don’t worry. I don’t think about my own death, I worry about everyone else’s. I’d say I’m healthy as a horse, but if you’ve ever had a horse, you know that would not be saying much. Let’s just say that I’m very healthy and plan on living until 120 and I have the same expectation for my parents. Some may say that I’m in denial, but we all know I have a lot of experience with that.
Mostly, I worry about my pets dying. You see, I got my pets all within a rather short span of years, and now they range in age of about 6-11 years old. My dog, Frisco, has lymphoma. My vet calls it “indolent” form, so that’s like lazy lymphoma. That’s lymphoma that can’t be bothered to get up off the couch to kill you, but you never know when one day it might. His lymph node in his neck is getting bigger and I think something terrible is just around the corner. My other dog, Zoey, is lumpy. She has been lumpy for years and every once in a while, we take out a lump and test it, and so far they are all benign, but one day they might not be. So I think about them dying. My cat, Simba, is looking skinny. Skinny is bad. Skinny could mean something is wrong. When I am sad or stressed, I tend to get skinny. Maybe Simba is sad. Or maybe Simba is sick. Before you go jumping all over me about bringing these animals to the vet, did I tell you how much I spent at the vet in the past year? I can’t tell you. It’s embarrassing, but it is approaching, hold on, I’m counting,.. five figures, not including horse vets. Back to my death watch… My cat, Mimzy is obese. He supplements his diet beyond the Fancy Feast and Iams. I had to stop filling the bird feeder because I felt like an accomplice to a serial killer, but that has not stopped him. He’s so fat, I worry he will wind up diabetic. My vet says he’s not that bad, but Mimzy does have a heart murmer so I worry about the strain of carrying around all that weight. And please don’t get on me about Mimzy being a girlie name. “Mimzy” is what happens when you let your kids name your cat. He’s very masculine and can handle it just fine.
Pets never live long enough. That fact makes me want to not love them, but I do. Sometimes I think loving anyone is a set-up. It is a set-up for sadness and loss. Of course, somewhere in between is joy, and warmth, and laughter, and comfort. I will remind myself of that when I am ready to stop being miserable.
November 17, 2013
It’s time to clean out my basement. Not the basement in the house I live in now. My old basement in the house I left behind when my three children and I moved out two years ago. My old house where my old husband lives with his new girlfriend and the five Russians in the basement. She may not know about those Russians, and he may not remember them, but I do and they scare me still.
Back in 2006, on my oldest daughter’s 13th birthday, my husband was drunk. A birthday celebration with cake and presents ended with the children disappearing into their rooms, with him becoming belligerent and threatening. Ended with tears and angry words, and the word “divorce” tossed into the air like a live grenade. My birthday girl could be heard crying in her room and my husband stumbled upstairs to make promises he would never keep.
The next morning, he declared that he would stop drinking. The weekend unrolled, with the children and I tiptoeing around my husband as he appeared restless and agitated. At that point, I had no idea the extent to which he had been drinking in the past months. I later learned how masterful he was at hiding it, and how truly easy I was to fool, especially within my nest of denial.
Because I did not know how much he had been drinking all those months, I did not know that what I was seeing was delirium tremens, or DTs. As the weekend progressed, so did his symptoms. His hands were shaking and he was sweating. He seemed disoriented and was hostile to any advice or help I offered. He insisted that these were signs of cirrhosis and that he had a letter from the doctor telling him as much. In fact, no such letter existed, but warnings to him had apparently been given about his risk. Doctor-patient confidentiality had precluded me from knowing his true condition. I kept an eye on him, suggesting several times that he should call his doctor and he refused.
He stayed home from work that Monday, and some of his symptoms seemed to lessen. That night he woke me in the middle of the night, shoving me, saying that he saw someone on top of me. I told him he was dreaming, and fell back into a light sleep. A little later, I woke up and heard him downstairs. I found him walking around the house with the fireplace poker in his hand, saying that he heard noises. I offered to sit with him and watch tv and eventually we went back to bed. Again, he insisted he heard someone in the house and he went downstairs, grabbed the poker and walked around the house. I waited for him in the family room, where, upon his return, he told me that there were five Russians in the basement and they were there to kidnap me.
For nearly two hours, my husband made me sit in the family room, as he whispered to me of the Russians’ plans. Of course, I tried to tell him that the only person in the basement was our housekeeper, asleep in her room. I tried to tell him that we should call the police for help, but he would not let me. All the while that I tried to reason with him, (an impossible task, as he was psychotic), I thought of my children sleeping in their beds upstairs. I thought of what would happen if his hallucinations led him upstairs, with that poker in his hand. I made contingency plans in my head for such a scenario and knew I might not be able to protect my children from his insanity. He would not let me leave the room, except for a moment, when he told me to grab his jacket from the office. He watched me, not giving me the opportunity to pick up the phone and call for help. Wild-eyed, he told me that if the lights flickered, we had to run out the back door. His panic grew, and he grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the sliding glass doors, his hand grasping the door handle, ready to run. He had on his shoes and a jacket, but I was only in my nightgown. I imagined us running through the backyard and into the woods. I imagined him pulling me behind him, brambles tearing at my nightgown and sticks and stones bloodying my feet. I imagined my children upstairs, waking to find me gone. I imagined my neighbors’ dog waking, barking at the noise outside and I imagined my neighbors’ confusion at finding us. I imagined being rescued, but only for a moment, because I realized that I would have to rescue us.
I told my husband that I thought he was going to have a stroke and that I had to call 911. He told me no. I told him he was going to have a heart attack and I had to call 911. He told me no. I told him that if he died, the Russians would get me. Finally, he gave me permission to call, with strict instructions. No sirens, no lights, be quiet. The police had to call me when they arrived and ask permission to come to the door. They were told to come around the back, because if the Russians heard them, there would be trouble.
The police never did look in the basement. My husband would not let them. He only agreed to go to the hospital if I rode in the ambulance with him. He was still afraid of the Russians. I don’t remember much after that. I don’t know if I wore my nightgown to the hospital. I don’t remember if I kissed my children good-bye. I remember all of us leaving through the back door, at my husband’s insistence. I remember wet grass. I know I rode in the ambulance and I remember lights and colors, voices and movement, but that’s all.
I do remember the Russians and I wonder if being kidnapped by them could have been any more frightening than the years that would follow that night.
* Delirium tremens is very dangerous, and, if untreated, can have a mortality rate of up to 35%. To learn more: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000766.htm
October 28, 2013
I have a court date the day before Thanksgiving. The day before my whole family comes to my house to celebrate Thanksgiving and my father’s 90th birthday. This is typical. Not quite as ironic as my Valentine’s Day in divorce court, but still… Did I mention that I have to be deposed on Election Day? This deposition will not get in the way of my voting, but it does get in the way of my plans to spend the day with my kids, who happen to have a day off from school on a day I am not working. My plan was to either visit colleges or simply spend some time with my kids, whom I miss terribly. You see, I’m exhausted, and when I come home from a day of work, I am sometimes too tired to eat, and my kids are busy with homework, and the house has golden retriever tumbleweeds floating down the hallways, and there is no milk. And none of that is really what is exhausting me. I’m exhausted because I know that ex-man will never stop trying to break me. I’ve stopped trying to make sense of a man who destroyed his own life and now wants to take down the very people who tried to help him. I’ve stopped trying to understand how a man can deliberately and methodically try to take everything away from his own children, and then turn around and buy them dinner. What I want to understand is how our court system can allow this to go on, and on, and on.
I hate resentment and I am full of it. It eats away at me, does nothing to the object of my resentment (ex-man and the legal system), and makes me less available to the people I love and who love me, and less available to myself. So what’s a girl to do? How can I not feel angry when ex-man is now dragging me back to court because he wants to have his support obligations reduced? This is the man who has not paid one on-time support check without court intervention, despite having millions of dollars of assets. This is the man whose support obligations for the children end when they each will still have two more years of college. Does anyone imagine that when my kids complete their sophomore year of college, I will say to them, “Adios, fare thee well. Good luck out there in the world, being on your own.” Of course not.
On Thanksgiving, I will have to clear off my dining room table which has been littered for years with legal and financial documents related to my never-ending court dates. Because ex-man wants his financial obligations reduced, I have to provide every bank statement, credit card statement, tax return, paycheck, life insurance policy, loan application, etc… since the 2011 date of our divorce decision and order, the one with which he has never complied. But wait there’s more: a list of all gifts I have received, including giftor’s name and address, value, and date received. Forgive me if I call to ask how much you spent on that sweater you gave me for my birthday 2 years ago. I have to provide a list of my furniture; my latest purchases from Ikea are sure to impress. I’m supposed to provide a copy of my parents’ wills, or wills of anyone else who might be leaving me something, so you might want to write me out of yours, if you’d like to keep it private. And they want my passport., which is fine because I’m not going anywhere. And there’s more but I’m too tired to tell you about it.
My blood pressure is rising right at this very moment. And I want to cry. I have no secrets. Truly. Except perhaps the true depth of my sorrow. Having to take the time to dig up, gather, and reproduce copies of every piece of paper related to my life since 2011 makes me want to weep. I would rather have the FBI come into my house and raid it, take my computer, turn my underwear drawer upside down and dump it on the floor, sweep everything off my desk and dining room table, shake out my cereal boxes and flour bin, and rifle through my file cabinet in search of evidence. Evidence of what? Evidence that I need less? They will not find it. I need more but I accept less. I accepted the binding arbitration decision. I accepted that it was unappealable. I accepted that my children’s father’s financial obligation to them would end before their childhood was over. I accepted that I would be the only parent that would love and care for our children, the only one there for the challenges and joys of raising them. What I cannot accept is that ex-man’s actions take me away from my children, make me less available, make me less of a person, and less of a parent when they still need me oh so very much.
August 7, 2013
Last week, my subconscious ran a preview for Shark Week. It came in the form of a dream, and let me tell you, my dreams are not that complicated to analyze. And just when I think, yeah, I’m doing fine, I’ve got this all figured out, my subconscious slams me in the head with a dream to tell me, “You’re messed up.”
So I happened to know that there was going to be a shark feeding frenzy. Have you ever seen a shark feeding frenzy? Terrifying. I saw a picture of one in the encyclopedia when I was 9 and apparently, I never got over it. So, anyhow, I also happened to know that my ex-husband was going to be going snorkling near the feeding frenzy. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Great. Good riddance,” but I was thinking, “Snorkling? He doesn’t even know how to swim!” And then I was thinking, “I have to save him.” This, as you may know, was the theme of much of my marriage. I had to save him, and Lord knows I tried, but you know how that went… So I called him, and called him, and called him, to warn him not to go snorkling with the sharks, but he would not answer my calls, so finally I called his house phone and his girlfriend picked up. His 30 year old girlfriend who could be his daughter, but that’s another story, and I told her to tell ex-man to not go snorkling with sharks. And while I had her on the phone, I told her that since I was saving his life ONCE AGAIN, could she please tell him to pay the child support ON TIME. Got that settled, however, despite the feeding frenzy, the kids and I were going boating. In a tiny boat that sharks could bite into bits. I was ignoring my knowledge of the imminent feeding frenzy, and we were going boating. Sure, I went the extra mile to protect ex-man. In fact, I was so busy trying to save his life that it never occurred to me that my kids and I were in danger. Finally, it hit me. PROTECT YOURSELF. PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN!. And I cancelled our boat trip. Then I woke up.
That’s messed up. That was pretty much my life when I was married to ex-man. I kept trying to save ex-man, all the while, not even being aware of the danger I was putting myself and children in. So that was then. Why this dream now? Because it’s SHARK WEEK!
Ex-man is back in the picture. He’s been gone for years, 4 miles away, except for texts here and there. Now he’s back, asking to see the children. Of course, they were a little excited. a little curious, and I was a little scared. Scared because my kids, after having pieces of their hearts stomped on and left by the side of the road like they didn’t matter, are doing okay, and I don’t want him to hurt them again. So when my middle one asked what I thought about them seeing their dad, I told her the truth. I told her that I felt like I was letting them go swimming in the ocean, where there was a riptide. Where there was an undertow. But I had to let them go. I had to let them go, even though we know there are sharks out there. So I’ll be standing on the shore, and when they are in danger, when they get pulled under, when they are drowning, I will swim out there and I will save them.
July 29, 2013
Last week, I noticed a posting in our local Facebook group, offering up free 40 year old rubber trees. Now, not a lot of things get me as excited as a free rubber tree, so I rushed over to the address and met a nice neighbor who explained to me that the former owner of the house had been crying at the thought of her rubber trees being homeless and picked up by the trash collectors, who were scheduled to come that afternoon. This kind person promised the crying lady that she would try to find the trees new homes, so she posted the offering on Facebook. My new Facebook friend Ellen and I sadly concluded that we would not be able to fit this tree in my car, so she helped me load a palm tree into my car and I returned home. Undaunted, I drove back to the rubber tree and tried to lift it into my car by myself. After several tries, the song “High Hopes” started to run through my head and I realized that I, the ant, would not be moving this rubber tree plant. Finally, I flagged down a man in a van who helped me put the tree into my car. The tree is now taking up a nice portion of my living room, impelling me to consider getting rid of my piano. There just isn’t room for the both of them. I hope Ellen can tell her former neighbor that her tree has a good home and I will do my best to keep the cats from peeing in the pot, because cats do stuff like that.
Here’s where I hope I don’t lose too many of you, (although you non-tree lovers are probably already gone), but I think I may have been a tree in a former life. It all is starting to make sense. I’ve always loved trees. Not too long ago, in one of my grad school discussions on authenticity, I commented that I was my most authentic self when I was alone in the woods surrounded by trees. Of course, now we know, it’s because when I’m in the woods, I’m in my old ‘hood. I’m with my peeps (yeah, this is the correct spelling according to Urban Dictionary).
As you may remember, my house, my first house ever that I OWN, is called “The Tree House.” I bought it before I knew that. Then I discovered my weeping oak and started writing, and named my blog after her. So, it is all adding up, this obsession with trees. While visiting Vanderbilt with my daughter, a National Arboretum BTW, my daughter had to endure my exclamations of delight over the trees, and warned me that I would get us kicked off campus if I didn’t stop trying to sit in the trees.
Some may say that perhaps I was a forest ranger or a squirrel in my former life, but I still think I was a tree. The powers that be knew that this life was going to be a bit of a challenge, so I would need a respite to gather my strength. As a tree, I swayed in the gentle breezes and I withstood strong winds. I endured floods and drought. I listened to the birds singing and provided shelter to those who gathered close to me. I found peace in the woods, and I carried this knowledge into my current life. Life was simple as a tree, and this simplicity should guide me now, but sometimes I forget.
My weeping oak is hardly weeping anymore. Her branches are lifting skyward and they are strong enough to carry her wealth of leaves. She is still standing in that awkward spot on the edge of the hill, and her trunk still bears the scars from the vines that choked her, but I think she is going to be ok.
June 11, 2013
Beautiful things can break my heart. And they are everywhere. Impossible to avoid. A father crouching down and tying the hood on his daughter’s winter jacket. A child sitting on her father’s shoulders, fingers grasped in his hair, holding tightly. A little boy, sitting in a shopping cart, tossing groceries to his father in the checkout line, as his father calls out in encouragement. Saying to my father on the phone, “I love you, too,” and worrying that my children can hear me and wondering if it makes their own father’s absence more acute.
There are a lot of good fathers in the town where I live. I know, things are not always as they seem, but really, there are a lot of men here who clearly love their children, who show up for them, who take pride in being a good dad. My children’s father is not one of them. If you were to ask him, accuse him even, he would say that he texts them all the time. The truth is that months can go by without my children hearing from him. The truth is that years can go by without them seeing him even though he lives about 4 miles away.
My friends tell me that my children are lucky to have me, that I am a great mom, but I worry. I want to be twice as good, but twice as good does not make up for a father’s absence, and I’m not even half as good a parent as I wish I could be. I’m tired. It’s exhausting being the only parent of three teenagers. I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, worried about mistakes I’ve made, the things I’ve neglected to teach my children, and despairing of the father I chose for them.
There is a moment I think of often. My son, about 13 at the time, had been sporting a shadow above his lip for several months, and had been asking when he could start shaving. I was aware that this was supposed to be one of those hallmark moments between father and son, when father teaches his son to shave. At that time, like most times, my children’s father was out of the picture. And so, I bought my son a razor and some shaving cream. We stood side by side in front of the bathroom mirror, and I watched him cover his upper lip with shaving cream and drag the razor through it. As he shaved, I unconsciously drew down my upper lip, as if I were shaving too. I tried to give him advice, but really, I didn’t know if he was supposed to shave up or down or across. We muddled through it and at the end, I took the razor from him and carefully went over a spot he had missed. We stood together in front of that mirror and looked at our reflections and at each other and I think we were both a little proud and a little relieved. My son didn’t need his dad to learn how to shave. It would have been nice, but it was okay because he had me. I doubt my son thinks of this moment often, as I do. For me, it is is incredibly poignant. Painful and beautiful.
So to the dads who are there for their children, I wish you a very Happy Father’s Day. You matter. The love you give your children makes a difference in their lives. And to the moms who try to fill the empty space left behind by a missing father, I wish us strength and encouragement.
May 15, 2013
It’s been a long time! I was busy writing a paper so I could finally graduate from my Master’s in Mental Health Counseling program. I did it! It has been a very long road and during the four plus years I was going to school, I got divorced (which took over 3 years), fell in love (which took about 3 days), ran my first (and only) half-marathon (which took 2 hours and 23 seconds), and jumped off a telephone pole (which took 3 seconds). I had two kids graduate from middle school, one graduate from high school and go to college, made new friends, moved out of my home of 19 years, bought my first house, started writing again, and got a job. You’re probably wondering about the telephone pole.
Going back to school was life-saving. Sometimes, it was my respite from the insanity of trying to divorce my alcoholic husband. When I first started school, I had only recently gotten my husband out of the house, but he kept coming back, unannounced, to alternately woo and threaten me back into submission. Of course, no one at school knew any of this. No one knew that when I left my house for my evening classes, I worried that my husband would turn up at the house and scare our children. I worried he would come back to the house and refuse to leave. He was always drunk when he came over, and I always put myself between him and the children, in an attempt to shield them. What would happen if he came when I was not there?
About a month into the semester, my girls and I were driving home from the barn when we saw ambulances and police cars surrounding a vehicle in a parking lot just up the road from our house. Standing in the middle of it all was my adult stepson; he was next to his father’s car and he was crying. I stopped my car and told the girls to wait, to not get out of the car. I was afraid of what they would find. The EMTs were pulling my husband out of his parked car. He looked dead. Apparently he had been on the way to our house. Maybe he knew he was too drunk to make it up our stairs. Maybe he wanted to sit in his car and drink some more. Whatever the reason, I’m glad he never made it to our house. Instead, he had pulled into the tennis court parking lot and, at some point, called his son, who then called 911. The policemen told me that they had found him unconscious in the car. During the few minutes that I spoke with the police, I knew my children had seen something frightening and confusing. When I went back to the car, they cried and asked me, “Is Daddy dead?” I tried to reassure them that he would be okay, but really, I wasn’t sure. As I drove them back to the safety of our home, and it was safe, for he would not be coming that day, I intercepted my 10 year old son and his friend who were on their way to discover the reason for the sirens. I lied to my son, telling him that I did not know what had happened, but later, I knew he knew, and I looked into his tear-filled eyes and told him the truth.
What do these moments do to a child? I wonder, because, as an adult, I continue to be haunted by these memories. I write of these memories here so that they have a place to live, instead of in my head, and I feel a little freer. Free from the idea that my children and I are trapped in our history. Because the truth is, bad things happen. Most of us do not have perfect childhoods, do not have two perfect parents. When I look at my children, I see that while they have their wounds, they are, in fact, strong. Stronger and wiser, braver and kinder than they might have been had they not lived through these challenges. I work on seeing them not as victims, but as the heroes they are. We are a family of heroes, standing up for ourselves and each other. And we are going to be just fine. Better than fine. We are going to be awesome.