That’s What She Said.

October 5, 2009

girl holding skeletonSo my partner is currently on a ten day journey of learning in Vermont that I am paralleling with my own journey of learning here in our hometown. While he explores the pot-hued college scene to discover his passion, I am learning my well honed triggers and the unhappy outbursts they incite. I hung up abruptly the other day when he told me it would be too rude to talk to me with other people in the car. As he said, “I love you.” I said, “Whatever” and pushed the end button. I know, not my best hour. I apologized and felt pretty awful– not my usual way of being at all.  I wanted him to make talking to me, in that moment when I was feeling ill and vulnerable, more of a priority than the possible discomfort of the strangers in the car. Not super rational. Certainly demanding. And totally understandable.

My wife said she loved me. That she would stand in the fire with me. That she was utterly devoted to making us work, regardless of what it took. She said a lot of things that sounded pretty and would make a Hallmark writer weep. What she DID was walk away. What she did was threaten and extort me. What she did was publicly spew her rage and sorrow at everyone in our world. What she said was worthless compared to what she did.

My husband said he would never treat his children badly again. He said he realized they were the most important thing he’d ever done in his life and he would spend his days honoring that. What he DID was run the moment he felt like someone else could take care of them. What he did was break their little hearts. What he said was worthless compared to what he did.

I realized after we got to talk as a family (finally) that I was just not interested in hearing how much I was loved, how much we were missed. I wanted to see it, too. He’s been gone for 5 days and today was the first time the children have gotten to visit with him. As soon as we completed that conversation, the energy coming off of them had changed, vastly reducing my stress level. I could visibly see them calm down — no more nervously biting their nails or clinging to me. No more slightly drawn shoulders to brace themselves.

I was too afraid that I was being overly demanding, overly needy, to say what was needed — to see their fear. When their Dad moved out, he didn’t talk to them for weeks.  Of course their little hearts are waiting for another rejection. It’s all so wrapped together when the threads got tangled, I have trouble seeing what’s there.

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kitten and puppy cuddling

I find myself wondering that, more and more. I am supposed to start my masters program in the fall and I find myself very ambivalent. I love school. I love learninig. And I feel like it would suck too much of my time from my family. Time that is so precious as they get older and find more and more interests. I am so excited and happy for them. I used to be so afraid I would be like my mother and spend the rest of my life chasing my children– and driving them further and further away. Recently I realized that I get this time, right now. I get 18 years. That’s the longest relationship I have had with anyone, ever. And if that’s all I get, it’s enough. So instead of hoping for later to work out, I am spending now with them. And when it’s time for them to fly away, I will be able to let go.

changeI realized last week that none of my friends in my life knew that growing up, my mom was my favorite person in the world. She was my confidante, my support, my co-conspirator in practical jokes and the eating of hot fudge sundae’s … I don’t know why things changed. Some of it was her need for me. It was overwhelming. When I left for college, she held on hard. She was actively against my marriage. (Although when she flew out for it and my fiancee and I told her we weren’t sure it was a good idea for us to go through with it, she was mad that we were considering cancelling it. I don’t get people.)

I think one of the reason’s it is so hard to be around her now is because I miss who we were together. I miss the fun we had, the jokes we shared. The Saturdays spent watching old westerns and laughing together. The traditions we had of family trips in the fall to see the leaves turn color. I miss early morning snuggles. I miss the silliness.

Some of my traditions are all about my mom. I put my holiday tree up the day after Thanksgiving, every year. It’s how we did it. My kids get to open one present the night before, just like I did.

I invited her to spend the holidays with us this year. We’ll see how it goes. I am trying. I still love her. I just need to accept that who she was is who she was. It’s not any less real because it’s no longer how things are.

That’s kind of hard.

Regret.

August 4, 2009

we accept the love we think we deserve I shocked my friend today when I said I regretted saving your life. The past 15 months, watching how your decision to abandon them has hurt in ways you will never understand, I have had to question who I am and the choices I made. I was so certain we could choose to give them the love and support they deserved, regardless of our decision to remain a couple. You always wanted to leave. If you couldn’t have your family your way, you didn’t want them. I thought it would be better for them if you were in their life and I made the necessary sacrifices to keep you there. You made sacrfices, too. None of that matters anymore.

I can’t predict the future. And I couldn’t predict it then. I did the best I could with what I had. I wish I had done better.

Legally yours.

June 26, 2009

lonelines

I feel so very broken by this whole legal mess. I don’t know why, I am very anxious about this process. I worry that I have been unfair to my ex. I worry that somehow I have made major mistakes that will create problems for my children. I am stressed over the debt I have created by doing this. I hate that he is legally less and less to his kids. My stomach feels tight and I perpetually feel like I want to cry.

I look forward to this being truly completed.

One more for the road.

June 10, 2009

neglected children feel invisible

After years of amicable relations, my ex (mormon) husband and I no longer speak to one another.  I filed for sole custody because making necessary legal decisions for minor children when the other parent won’t speak to you is challenging. I should say good riddance. I filed with the court a few weeks ago and he responded last week. Agreeing with most of what I put in the petition. He can’t really win. If he’d replied with disagreement I would have been frustrated, because we’ve really already agreed on everything. And by agreeing, he just made it all so real.

And sad.

May 19, 2009

pepsi

August named for Augustus Caesar, conquering ruler. August, the month that conquers me with cravings. Years of habit made manifest in compulsions that open me to melancholy I have only begun to understand. End of summer, when I would fly back to my mother and leave my desert home for another year. Stuffing myself with food, until my belly is gorged, until even the idea of food is repulsive, and then opening the fridge to consume more ice cream, more Pepsi, more of my past assimilated into my cells. More of my grief consumed and stored as fat on my thighs. 

My first love, my father. The reason dark haired, unemotional men drew me in. Long haired hippies with bristly mustaches and a twinkle in their eye were irresistible and dangerous. I wove a blanket of excuses for him to keep me warm. That clothe protected me from the fear that somehow I wasn’t enough to catch his interest. While he chases windmills, I chase my dreams of having him care enough to call. I expect so little of him, he rarely lets me down anymore.

I try to cover my craving for my father’s interest with other, more attainable cravings. I know he loves me, but in the passive way that someone loves a painting or the precise way in which someone loves a car. He admires my qualities, and details them. He is always happy when happenstance unites us. But he attends to me in a dutiful manner– tune up cards and gifts for the appropriate holidays. A relationship through others, through god. When I ask him to come and help me work on my house he tells me to call my home teachers. The men assigned by the church to take care of me. He’s not responsible as my father, god is. He spends all his love and energy on god, the third party mediator in our relationship. If he loves god enough and I choose to be his kind of righteous I’ll be taken care of. But if I don’t fit into his god’s kind of righteous, why waste the effort? God needs it more, right? God may have thousands of worshipers, I may have only one father, but somehow god’s need is greater. 

When I was 2 years old my father shaved his mustache. I remember going into the bathroom to watch him do it. I stood beside him as he looked in the mirror and carefully removed the thick black facial hair. The first mask he wore for me. When he turned to me and asked “What do you think?” I screamed and began to cry. “Where’s my daddy?” I ran from the room, terrified of the stranger before me. Shortly thereafter my mother left him. He’s never worn a mustache since — and I still want to ask, “where are you dad?” but I think know, and I can’t go there with him. 

I spent my summers trying to be the daughter I thought he wanted. Copying my Barbie –like sisters with their perfect blond hair, delicate features, and model make up. I belonged in another world, but this was the world he wanted to share with me. I dutifully submitted to hair perms and cuts that fried and frizzed my carrot colored hair. I let my dad buy me clothes that felt strange like a costume. I tried to be what he wanted, I was so grateful for any interest he showed in me, it never occurred to me to be myself.

My father was generous with me but always on his terms. I remember asking him to come to my high school graduation. He was too busy, it was too expensive. 11 years later when I invited him to my wedding he was too righteous to come. Reality was still something we couldn’t share.

Every year my father and I would go deer hunting. He used a compound bow that required a strength beyond mine, Ideaddeer could barely pull the practice arrows out of the hay stacks we used for targets. My sisters and I would start on one side of a wooded area and drive the deer through the forest while my father waited on the other side for a shot at the fleeing deer. The memories associated with those yearly trips are assorted vignettes of love and absurdity. My sister leaping 5 foot cactus plants when I screamed in pain from a bee sting in the eye. Boiling hot chocolate melting spoons in styrofoam cups– melting shoe rubber when the car had a major malfunction. The power of the desert in my blood; dreaming of magic beside a blazing moonlight fire; yearning for something beyond the everyday. Flannel, scratchy and dirty, frosty wet mornings, family love– somehow they stay connected and just the scent of summer desert fills me with the peace of being at home. 

I was with my father when he got his last deer with a bow. I begged to hunt with him every year because I knew my sisters didn’t like to go. It was one part of my father that belonged to me. Despite my hatred of death and pain nothing said love like hunting with my dad. Our last hunt together we used a tree stand. We spent the day sitting together on a five by five platform 15 feet up drinking pepsi and waiting for dusk. I read fantasy books all day with my walkman on while my father sat quietly with his thoughts in the wild trees–listening to the sound of nature the way a musician listens to a symphony. Occasionally he would tap me to show me wildlife my book obsessed self wouldn’t notice. I wonder now what he thought of me. This strange female creature, blood of his blood, talkative, loud, cerebral. Did he know how I yearned to understand him? That he knew things I dreamed of knowing? 

As dusk fell, my bladder reached its waiting limit. Unfortunately, my timing was off. Getting down at that point was not an option. So I held on and watched the cautious deer approach the river while we predators waited for our chance. THWACK! the bow string smacked his wrist guard, the leaves below us jumped and writhed. “Let’s go,” he said with eager determination. We climbed down and Dad told me to wait where I was. 

“I didn’t kill it,” he said, “I paralyzed it.” He stooped below the underbrush and came back a few minutes later with his knife casually at his side. I fixated on the blade, smudged brown in the fading light. It wasn’t until later that I heard the story of its death. When I overheard him tell his friends the story of having to kill a deer with his daughter. It was only through these overheard tales that I learned of the fountain of blood he’d had to avoid in his grim reaper role. This was grimy reality. This was death. This was something I couldn’t share with him. While he proudly told me stories of teaching his boy scout troop how to hunt and kill rabbits for dinner, I couldn’t watch him finish the deer we had waited all day to kill. 

I watched him wash the blood off of his hands and knife but he bagged the carcass without me ever seeing the body. He struggled to put it in the truck alone. Grimy, bloody reality– it was too much for his image of his daughter. It wasn’t something we could share.

byebyeloveMy kids have been through two divorces. Their father and I used to be very close, despite the legal separation, doing family holidays, vacations, and birthdays. Despite our desire for very different things in a relationship, in parenting we worked to give them as much stability and love as we could do. 

Until he met his current lover/wife. She loved everything about him, except us. She insisted that as long as he was spending time on his first family, it was because he was in love with me and they could never be happy. So he calls and says, “I’m starting over, like the kids. I get to have my own life. And my own kids.” Then he calls and tells his kids he wants to be their uncle, not their father. 

I don’t blame her, although I think she is off-the-hook selfish. He’s the dad. He chose. It was his responsibility to choose his children. Of course, this brings up lots of guilt on my part. Guilt that creeps into me in the early hours of the morning when I should be sleeping. Guild that inspires me to doubt myself and my judgement in very fundamental ways. Guilt. So very productive. Going hand in hand with sorrow and shame. 

I loved him, deeply, as a friend, co-parent, and partner. And my son is so very like him, it is nearly impossible not to remember all the things about him that I adored. And a few of the things I found exasperating. So the kids start over (mostly). And he starts over. And I have moved on. And I embrace the love I have for him in the mannerisms of our son. And I hope, with all my heart, that I will give my children enough to find the strength in themselves to know who they are and how to be joyful.

And I try, really hard, not to wish him ill. Most days, I succeed.

I grew up in complete denial that I had emotions. I could see how very dangerous they were. I convinced myself it washeart simply a case of mind over matter. And I was fairly good at delivering on that. Of course, they eventually erupted, volcano style and I’ve spent the last several years letting the lava flow and cool. 

I can still remember the very first time I saw my mother cry. It almost ended my world. She had lost everything in a bad business deal and we were living her sister’s two upper rooms trying to adjust to our new, dependent, lifestyle. Moving in with her family brought to life some lifestyle issues we had been unaware of. Such as my aunt’s raging alcoholism and her husband’s petty stinginess. The good news is that when your home life sucks, you become a very active student, so I can honestly say that at least some of my success in life is due to my desire to be home as little as possible. 

At one particularly low point, my mom called her mom and asked if we could move in with her. My mom idolized her mom. And she really wanted to be cared for — to have a safe place of retreat– something she never felt she had. Grandma said, no, she really didn’t want anyone to live with her. My mom hung up the phone and wept in her little room that overflowed with bed, desk, and living room furniture. A few months later, my cousin and her family moved in with Grandma and I saw something break in my mom that I don’t know was ever fixed.

Maybe this is why I have always been so terrified of leaning on anyone. Between my mother’s bitterness and the things I witnessed, is it any wonder I got the idea that people will let you down when you need them most? Any wonder that it took me until I was 29 to be able to turn to someone and let them comfort me when my hurt was hurting? Any wonder that I denied the power of emotion when I saw it consistently create sorrow in the one person I loved the most in the world? 

I am learning, slowly, to be present with my heart. To allow my feelings to exist without catering to them. To risk and love without losing myself in the process. 

Very slowly.