Have you ever just let yourself go off the deep end, and then stood on the other side of the room and watched yourself go crazy? I’ve only really done it twice. The first time was when I was 22 years old, had recently graduated from college and was staying in London with my boyfriend.

He was my first true love. He was handsome and kind and had an English accent. We were together for our last two years of high school and then stumbled through the relationship in college, until it was finally over sometime at the end of our sophomore year. After pining for him for a year or two, I gave up all hope of our getting back together, graduated from college and moved to Nantucket to work and not get on with my life, and that’s when he turned up on my doorstep, wanting me back. It was an impossible dream come true, emphasis on “impossible,”  apparently.

It all seemed so romantic at the time, his invitation to move to London, live with him in a flat, find a job in a proper English pub. And it was romantic, until I actually got to London where I found letters from some college friend of his about their making love in a Louis XIV chair (which I suppose was romantic for them, if not a tad uncomfortable). This love-making must have occurred after his invitation to me and shortly before my arrival in London. Back then, you didn’t have to sneak peeks at cell phone texts or break into password-protected emails to snoop. All I had to do was open a drawer to find the evidence of his philandering, and it was not limited to a chair. I spent several weeks there, acting pathetic and demeaning myself in all sorts of ways and then escaping to “the continent” to visit my family in Belgium. Because my flight back to the States left from London, I returned there for a few nights, with the understanding that my now ex-boyfriend (Neb) would deliver me to the airport. The night before I left, I was informed that Neb would be unable to take me to the airport because he was meeting his new girlfriend at the train station. It was not at this point that I went crazy. It would take more than that. I cried, I wailed, I may have even cursed. I smashed a mug. It was all very appropriate behavior considering the situation.  And then in the middle of my sobbing, from somewhere deep within my suffering soul came a snort. I snorted. Loudly, and so fully that my nostrils vibrated. And that is when I went crazy. How can you not laugh at a snort? I started laughing – a crazy, sad, maniacal laugh and at that point, my consciousness got up from my body and went to sit in a chair on the other side of the room. I sat on the other side of the room and watched myself completely unravel. I wasn’t just laughing. I was guffawing.  As I watched myself acting like a crazy person, I felt love and understanding for that crazy girl who, now guffawing and sobbing at the same time, had just thrown a shoe at Neb. At that moment, I felt compassion for myself, compassion and love and respect that Neb would never have for me. And so if I had to step outside myself for a moment to see that, then it was well worth the trip.


Trust Fund

November 21, 2012


This is Lucky. She is the first pony we bought for our younger daughter, back when our daughter was 10 years old. Lucky has a trust fund. Lucky now lives on a farm with a herd of miniature horses. Lucky is a big shot. She never has to worry about where she’s going to live, or if she can afford to go to the vet, or if she has enough money for oats. Her bills get paid through her trust fund.

When the divorce decision came in over a year ago after a 6 day trial by an arbitrator, it stated that money from marital assets be set aside so that our girls could continue riding until they finished high school. This was done because my ex-husband had demonstrated during the nearly 3 year separation, that he would not willingly pay for the girls to keep their horses.

In 2008, when he left, my husband would turn back up at the house, drunk and ranting. He would stand in the kitchen while the kids sat in the adjacent family room watching tv, and say, “I’m going to sell the horses. I’m going to sell the house. I’m going to shut this whole thing down. You guys can go live with your mother.”

The temporary order for support required that he make monthly payments so that the kids’ lives changed as little as possible. He would go 8 months without sending a check, and I would live on credit cards and overdraft. In the last year before our trial, his lawyer would write me monthly checks out of an escrow fund the judge ordered to be put in place because everyone knew that my husband would not write those checks.

In court, Lucky’s name frequently came up, because my husband did not want to take care of her. She had injured herself while bucking around in a field, taking herself off the show circuit and guaranteeing herself an early retirement. She was our family’s responsibility and, besides, we loved her. She was a part of the family.

We went to binding arbitration.  During the trial, I showed videos that my girls had made about their horses, love poems to their horses, psychologist’s letters confirming the therapeutic value of the horses. In the end, the judge handed down his decision, which included a trust fund (all right, he called it an escrow account), from which horse expenses would be paid. So each month, if I am careful, I can pay for the girls to continue to ride and show on a limited basis, until they each finish high school. So the horses have their support but the children do not. The trust fund cannot be used to pay for groceries, unless it’s oats for the horses.

During the trial, my lawyer asked that all support be paid up front, or placed in an escrow fund, because we knew that my ex would defy any order. While I appreciated that the judge found a way for the girls to keep riding for a few more years, I question how he did not see this coming. My husband had already had 8 contempt of court violations filed against him by the time we went to trial. His arrogance and defiance has stunned and shocked even the most seasoned of judges and lawyers. The arbitrator’s decision did not go far enough in protecting my children. Expecting that my husband would suddenly start complying with an order for monthly child support was very naive and careless on the arbitrator’s part.  My ex-husband continues to defy the courts, forcing me to pay attorneys to try to enforce his compliance.

In the 18 months since the decision was effective, my children’s father has not written one monthly child support check. After the binding arbitration decision was announced, he fired his attorney and did not pay any support for over 6 months. Finally, a money judgment was ordered against him, and I received back support. Then he did not pay for another 8 months, and only recently paid because he was threatened with jail.

Next week, I am back in court, asking for 3 years of advance support to be placed in a trust fund for my children. My lawyer says this would be highly unusual. He says to prepare to be denied. I imagine myself speaking in court. I have, at times, spoken up in court, but never without almost breaking down. I’m tired. I’m tired of having to stand up in court and repeat the same story over and over, of my ex-husband’s physical, emotional, and financial abandonment of our children. I’m tired of having tell the court of my children’s loss and pain; I see and feel it every day.

Maybe I should have named one of the kids “Lucky.”

Wishing Well

November 11, 2012

I am not good at Armageddon. I learned this from Sandy. First of all, I did not prepare well. When they say you should fill your bathtubs with water, I always thought, “Why? It’s not like you’re going to drink bathtub water.” No, but when you have a well, and your pump stops working and you have no water, it would be nice to flush the toilets.  And speaking of wells, remember that scene from Snow White where she’s singing as she pulls up water from the well? That’s what I pictured when I bought my house with well water.


It’s not like that.

My iphone was a lifeline to the outside world. I learned we would not have power for 1-2 weeks, so I got my kids settled in homes with either power or generators. My old neighborhood, where my ex lives in the house my kids grew up, never lost power. My ex never lost power. Is there a metaphor there? God, I hope not. Anyhow, seeing his house all lit up, knowing that my children could not, would not, seek shelter in their old home, in their father’s home, in the midst of a natural disaster, magnified the fact that my children basically had no father. He never texted or called them to see if they were okay. It apparently never crossed his mind. He lacks the most basic of instincts, to protect his children. This is demonstrated again and again by his deliberate decision to not pay child support, but also carries over into not caring for their physical safety and well-being.

After getting my kids safely settled, I was worn out. My house was cold, but I could boil water on the grill for instant coffee. It’s embarrassing, but I actually like instant coffee in the morning. It’s like having a colonic. TMI, I know.

I discovered a gadget in my garage that allowed me to charge my computer through my car, and so every night I watched episodes of Parenthood until my battery wore out. I wore my hat and down jacket, and curled up next to my pets, and ate Halloween candy in the dark. Despite the reported phenomenon of the “Sandy 10,” my pants were starting to fall down, because if all you eat is KitKats and Reeses, chances are you will lose weight.

I kept up with what was going on in the world through Facebook. There was a group I had joined called “Chappaqua Moms.” Originally, it was a great resource if you needed a referral for a plumber, or a dance class, or a babysitter. It became the best source, hands down, for information about road closures, Con Ed, and other storm-related issues. It also became a place for encouragement and support and an occasional bit of humor. It was there that I found an electrician who I thought took pity on me because I cried when he came over to see what kind of generator I would need, but in reality, he was nice to everyone. He drove upstate and filled his truck with generators and spent the next several days hooking people up. I hugged him after he was done at my house, and paid him what was a more than fair price for his work, and was heartened by his goodness.

Still, I did spend some time feeling pathetic and sorry for myself. I resented having to be the man of the house, but felt a little proud, too. I went out hunting for gas, proud because I never came home empty-handed. It was kind of like Pa Ingalls going out in a snowstorm to find food for his family. Laura, her nose pressed up against the window, her breath making clouds in the cold, waiting for Pa’s return. Yeah, that’s what my kids did. And when I returned with the bear, I mean gas, I would lug it to the back of the house and attempt to fill the generator gas tank without spilling too much. For 3 days I smelled like gasoline and worried that someone would light a match near me.

And so, now that we have gotten through the storm, I am thinking what’s next? I feel better prepared for the next storm, although the next storm already came, with 6-8 inches of snow. My neighbor kindly snow-blowed (snow-blew?) my driveway. I’m thinking of getting my own snow blower. And an axe, maybe. And I’m going to learn how to use a chainsaw. I’m going to wear more flannel and eat more steak. But first, I’m going to get a pedicure.

Dr. Jen Gunter

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