The Return of Mr. Hyde

This is a hard post for me to write. It’s been two days, and I’m still feeling the aftershocks. For those who know me personally, it may be hard to read. I’ve already respectfully asked those closest to me, not to read it. But I have to write it. I have to. And afterward, I’m calling a counselor.

I’m not going to rehash the history. If you’re unfamiliar with it,  this post will provide you the background. There are other posts under the Toxic Marriage/ Divorce tab.The ex and I have had a ceasefire since I moved over an hour away, almost 3 years ago. We haven’t really had any words in as long. Our communications have been mostly amicable, and businesslike. And for that, I’m grateful. But, as I mentioned before, there’s always a second shoe waiting to drop.

I spent most of the early part of Sunday recovering from a particularly difficult night at work. As the kids were with their dad, I planned to head up early so I could do some shopping before the stores closed. About 3 p.m. I received his text. We had agreed to some changes in his financial support and the text addressed the bills I sent him that weren’t properly prepared. He requires copies of the receipts I have for insurance copays, which I’d forgotten to give. Ultimately, he would be “a fool” to write checks based on a total amount without supporting receipts.

His confrontational nature left me feeling more than weary. I told him this wasn’t a good day for discussion. He started calling me, multiple times, and I refused to answer. I meant what I said. Finally, not entirely unintentionally, I poured the gasoline on his fire when I suggested that going through domestic relations to clarify everything in black and white might be better for both of us and make this all less stressful. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. He immediately saw this as a threat, and berated me for ignoring his calls. The texts grew more tense.

I suspected a confrontation was coming when I picked the kids up, and proactively attempted to get someone, anyone, on the phone before I pulled into the driveway. Well, anyone but Todd, who I knew would lose his shit if my ex got nasty with me. Which is the absolute last thing either one of us needed with him at home an hour away.

Unfortunately, not one person was answering their damn phone. I cursed the gods and pulled into the driveway and, like déjà vu, I see him stalking out the back door toward my car. I kept my window up. He tapped on the glass and made the “roll down” motion with his hand. I said – through the glass – I told you, I am not having this conversation today. I’m not doing it. Why I ever rolled down the window, I’ll never know. I guess I thought if he had his say then the kids could come out and we could leave. (He told the kids to stay inside until he came and got them.)

He started in immediately, making accusations about I-don’t-know-what and he crossed a line with me fairly quickly. I put the car in gear and started to pull away. He jumped onto my car, holding onto the open window with both arms as I was drifting – essentially allowing himself to be dragged. I panicked and stopped, my pulse racing ahead of my brain which was telling me this was going to end with the police again.

He was yelling and screaming at me, all the while holding onto my door to prevent me from leaving. I couldn’t get a word in. I imagined everyone within a half mile could hear. At some point my fight reflex kicked in, and I started yelling back. There’s no trust between us, and there never will be. He changed jobs and never told me. He moved his girlfriend in eight months ago, whose last name I don’t even know, and never informed me. And now, they’re engaged. He never told me that either. I shouted all of this to support my lack of trust in him, and all he could come up with was – what does any of that matter?! It’s none of your business! I said it IS my business because it affects the children, and the custody order dictates that major changes are cause to notify the other parent. He denied that she moved in. He really thinks I’m stupid, I guess.

I kept telling him that I didn’t want to do this right now and repeated step away from my car several times. I felt the tears burning up through me. He reached out to touch my arm on the steering wheel and I snatched it away before he could, hissing don’t touch me!  At some point he was crying, over money troubles and job stress, and missing the kids all the time… it’s always all about him. I promised him we wouldn’t go back to court and now I’m threatening to go to domestic relations. But he’s wrong. I never threatened to go back to court. But he did, in one of his many breathless diatribes that afternoon, that if I go to domestic relations for more money he’ll have no choice but to go for custody again so he doesn’t have to pay more money. I know how ridiculous this all sounds now. But at that moment, I told him he can have them, if that’s what he thinks is best for them. Because it was one small victory in my heart – that I’m no longer afraid he will take them away. It would crush them. And he can’t be that selfish. Or can he?

It was horrible. I don’t even think I can articulate what it was like – other than in an instant I was catapulted back to being married to him again – where he’s controlling me and I can’t get away and he’s screaming at me and making accusations. So many times in arguments we’d had, I’d try to walk away – or even outside – and he would stand between me and that exit, physically barring me from leaving, his face inches from mine, crowding me. And he did it all while belittling me and trying to tear me down. All of my senses were tingling on high alert again, a feeling I haven’t felt in 4 years. A crushing, desperate need to run.

I’m broken. I’ve been broken for a very long time. If healing from a toxic relationship is based on the half-life theory, we were married for nearly 13 years – and so it’ll take me six and a half to fully extricate the subconscious mind from it. To say he is despicable isn’t enough to heal me. To say he was hateful and wrong and unapologetic is easy, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. I still hear his critical voice in the back of my head every now and then, because it’s like a wound that is still bleeding – not a big gaping wound, but more like a papercut. It stings.

I rarely have cause to cry these days, but this day it started and I couldn’t shut it off. When he was satisfied with the results of this interaction, he was suddenly calm and said he would go get the kids. Left me sitting in my car, the tears streaming down my face. Just like déjà vu. And I couldn’t shut it off long enough to drive my children home. I cried intermittently, with Opac zoning out on his iPod and Veruca curled up in the front seat, sick from some stomach pain. She never mentioned Sunday, but he did. He worries over these fights. He admitted to watching from the window, and admitted that he was wrong to do so. But he was worried. We talked about it a little yesterday, but I am guarded. I don’t know what to say and what not to say. The only answers I have for him, is that it wasn’t about him, or Veruca.

Right now I’m feeling fragile. I don’t want to talk. I’m stronger than all of this, but I’m going to need some help. Help I should’ve gotten long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Shoe

These thoughts have been circulating around my brain like flies on shit, and – like most things unpleasant – I chose to ignore them and/or pretend they aren’t there.

Those who know my back story will remember that I ended a rather toxic marriage and subsequently survived a very nasty custody battle started by my ex. I absolutely hate hate hate dealing with him on anything unpleasant or anything with even the remotest chance of disagreement. I literally get physically sick.

Above and beyond that – we mostly keep away from each other, other than periodic conversations that, for the purpose of efficiency, occur outside of texting because there’s just too much to cover.

Most of the time we get along just fine this way. So much so, that I tend to forget the damages he inflicted. Not to my detriment but rather to my inner peace and happiness. I’ve found my happy place and I don’t have to look back, nor do I want to. However, forgetting about the history usually leads to my letting my guard down. Comparatively, I used to do this during peaceful periods when we were married and then … WHAM! He’d go on the rampage again and attack me for some perceived wrong I’d committed.

I’d chronicle these days in my journals, once referring to him as Jekyll and Hyde. There was a line from a book I read that jumped right off the page. It was like the author, who was sharing her own story, had seen inside my front door. I don’t remember the title, or the author, or the exact quote… but it was something about walking through your house on any given day and suddenly he steps out of a doorway and sucker-punches you, and you never saw it coming. This epitomized the state of my daily life with him. I was always, always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So we are more than 5 years apart now. Sometimes we can have a conversation and laugh about something. And that feels good, even though deep down I know it shouldn’t. Because soon enough, something happens and the tension is back and he’s on the attack. He’s so quick to attack. So quick to mistrust me, or accuse me. This is the hard part, the part where I see that the other shoe has dropped once again, and I let my guard down and allowed myself to get hit.

I get physically ill. My heart races, my nerve endings are on high alert, and my breathing comes faster. I imagine all the ways that I can defend my position. Thank God for Todd – he grounds me and reminds me that the fight is over, that our goal is to work together now. He’s incredibly sane about these matters, all things considered. Which is what makes me love him all the more – this boy I’ve loved so long, the boy who once drove loud fast cars, who wore an earring and held no loyalty to any high school clique, with the temper of teenaged angst just always simmering below the surface – now a mellowed out and responsible adult, with a cool head on his shoulders.

Without sharing details of a recent exchange, a request I made was met with essentially a how-dare-you attitude. The language and the manner in which it was used… those old familiar fight or flight feelings returned like lightning. I chose flight. How many years are left with this? I don’t want to deal with it. And that, folks, is why we have lawyers and judges and court orders and domestic relations.

Coincidentally, I got a letter yesterday from my lawyer, with a notice of the court’s intention to close the case due to inactivity for over two years. He requests me to advise him of my position. I am, by the way, ONE payment away from paying off all of my legal fees. One payment. One payment terminates my relationship with my lawyer, and with it – a nail closing that chapter in my life. Does anyone have any idea what that feels like? Nearly five years and thousands of dollars later and I still have primary custody of my kids, and I can’t get him to take them for more than a weekend over the summer.

Does anyone know what that feels like?

It’s Over – Our Children in the Middle

 

Divorce is not pretty.  It’s not pretty for you, it’s not pretty for him… and it is NOT pretty for the children who have to cope with their lives changing forever.  Now here’s the part where I tell you – and you will hear this refrain over and over in the divorce and custody process – your new focus is what’s best for the children.  What is in the child’s best interest?
 
Some people expressed surprise that I was able to get my divorce before the issue of custody was settled.  Apparently, people don’t usually do it this way.  I think I’ve already covered the “amicable”  factor enough in my past posts but, in case you missed it, my ex-husband and I filed a no-fault divorce and agreed to handle all the details ourselves because we were amicable.  Long, LONG story short – the divorce became final and he went after primary custody.  Amicability went right out the window.  I already addressed this factor in divorce proceedings: once divorce is on the table, there is rarely an amicable resolve.  I don’t have an answer for why I actually believed it was possible, given our tumultuous history, but I suppose I am naïve enough to always believe that everyone has some good in them.  This won’t change, by the way.  I’m just programmed to be a nice person – that is, until you piss me off.  Nevertheless, I was soon catapulted into the wonderful world of court proceedings and forced onto the nauseating custody wheel of anxiety, unrest …. and education.
 
The first meeting with my attorney was initially a consultation, whereby I explained my circumstances … and he did an awful lot of eye-rolling at what had already transpired.  I paid a retainer.  He gave me some “homework.”  I filled out a form to be filed with Domestic Relations for child support.  I was to keep a “journal” to record details of our custody exchanges and any and everything he said and did – like one day getting rid of the family dog before I returned to our house (which, by the way, I still own today), and later changing the locks to prevent my access to it.  (I mentioned the importance of this journal in a previous post.) I had to write up a “response” to my ex’s Petition for Emergency Custody – essentially discrediting all his accusations which, incidentally, had absolutely nothingto do with custody.  I had to provide my Factors for Custody – which included answers to questions like “which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between child and the other party,” “which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, educational, etc. needs,” “the availability of extended family,” and “the level of conflict between the parties and the willingness/ability to cooperate with one another.”
 
Our first court hearing before a judge was to address the aforementioned Petition.  I was scared to death.  My mom and my dad accompanied me (Todd and I decided it would be best if he was not there at this point).  My ex-husband appeared only with his attorney.  No one from his family was there on this – what I considered a very important day.  What was peripherally unsettling at the time was the fact that there were at least a dozen strangers participating as an “audience” to the most important drama of my life.  I had no idea that these proceedings are open to the public. The judge issued a temporary custody order – granting me primary physical custody of the children, I’m assuming because I was a stay-at-home mom and had always been the primary caretaker and this temporary order would be the least disruptive to and therefore “best” for the children (see, there it is).  We would also have to attend the All Children in the Middle program and a mediation orientation – both mandatory (translation: court ordered).  Additionally, there was also a court order to undergo psychological evaluations (more on this later).
 
The All Children in the Middle program is a “parenting class” that each party must attend separately.  I thought this was a marvelous idea.  Until I realized there were limited times available, there was a $45 fee to attend this mandatory session, and it was a 3-hour round-table (well, in this room it was a rectangle) type of presentation with at least 15 other sorry-ass parents in there fighting for custody where we had to introduce ourselves, how many children we had and their ages, and how long we’ve been involved in a custody litigation.  First off, I loathe introductions like these.  Loathe.   Nobody in this room wanted to make eye contact with anybody else.  I was tense and emotional and kept my gaze in my lap. This beautiful woman across the table from me with the perfectly manicured nails looked familiar – like somebody who has dined in my mother’s restaurant, and she probably did, seeing as she drove off afterward in a Lexus  – and was no less a rookie than me.  The equally beautiful woman sitting to her right, though far more casually dressed, introduced herself – she had 3 children and she was in the midst of her FOURTH year in this battle.  I glanced sharply upward and met her gaze and felt the uncontrollable and familiar rush of tears fill my eyes.  I will never forget her face, as long as I live.  She looked resigned and yet she clearly wasn’t giving up.  I felt bile searing the back of my throat, as I silently contemplated the idea of fighting the father of my children for longer than one more month. 
 
Nevertheless, there were people in there from all walks of life.  This room represented the very essence of America – there were whites, blacks, and Latinos, women and men – in sweats, blue collar uniforms, casual clothes, dressy clothes, suits.  No one is exempt from this type of drama.  No one.  I found we were all ultimately the same.  And I felt this constant pressure from the dam behind my eyes.  I wanted to run from this room, I wanted to hug everyone in it.  And the counselor who led the program did all the talking, asked a few thought-provoking questions for discussion, and apologized a handful of times for the dated 80s hairdos and shoulder pads of the first video.  The second video was actually an old episode of Oprah, about two boys of divorce whose parents each believed the children were handling everything well.  They couldn’t have been more wrong.  The guests all agreed to be interviewed by M. Gary Neuman, the author of the Sandcastles program for children of divorce(his book, available at the local library is called, Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce, the Sandcastles Way).  He found that both boys were really very upset by all the fighting and bickering that has continued for years since the divorce.  Both parents clearly loved their children, but both had behaved very badly.  The boys felt they needed mom’s permission to hug their father in front of her, and dad actually played back an ugly phone message mom had left him to the 7-year-old and asked if he (the son) thought they should play it for the judge.  Think that’s despicable?  Think it can’t happen to you?  Think again.  The most powerful message these two tear-jerking videos delivered was that these children – all of these children – needed to feel loved and protected and …. not to be put in the middle
 
Your child feels like an extension of you AND the other parent – she identifies with BOTH of you.  If you say dad is a selfish SOB, then your child is in danger of considering that he too is a selfish SOB.  Your children love both of you, they have the right to love both of you, and they have the right to see each of you as wonderful, competent, awesome human beings.  This helps THEM thrive, become healthy successful adults who can go on to have healthy successful relationships that hopefully don’t fail like yours did.  It doesn’t matter what YOU think of your ex.  It doesn’t matter what happened in your marriage.  Your children have the right to have you keep your opinions to yourself.  And guess what? You can only control your own behavior.  You can pray like hell that your ex “gets it” too and that when he tells you he “really learned a lot,” you can be assured he won’t try to malign the children against you.  Unfortunately, even amicable ex-husbands sometimes can’t accept responsibility for what they did wrong.  Stick to your guns.  Do what is right.  Don’t fall into the trap of sharing with your children how much you hate their dad for x,y, z.  They don’t need to hear it.  They don’t want to hear it.  All my children ever wanted, was “for everyone to just get along.” 
 
My son just said to me again yesterday – over a year since the divorce and one month since the custody litigation ended – “I just don’t understand why everyone can’t just get along.”  Well, I have an answer for that – but I’m not sharing it with him.  To have “friendship,” one must have trust.  There is no – nor will there ever be – trust between me and that man.  Marital transgressions aside, anyone who exchanges custody with their ex on the day of a custody trial, and knows full well that the other parent is misinformed about what time the trial actually begins, AND allows them to show up in the courtroom an hour late before the judge deciding the fate of your children without saying a word to you – IS an SOB.   But my children don’t need to know any of that.  They are already questioning things he says to them, or things he’s done.  I remain neutral, I try to answer when appropriate or encourage them to ask him these questions, I do not verbally tar and feather him or otherwise tear him down.  I let them draw their own conclusions.  I listen to them when they want to talk, I support them and allow them to vent.  But moreover, I encourage them to be happy.  I encourage them to move past the events of the past – as I did just this morning when my daughter wanted to discuss the incident between the adults on December 23rd that quickly went nuclear.  I stopped her mid-sentence and told her simply, that’s over now.  We are all past that and let’s look forward to good times!
 
One of the hardest things I think I’ve had to accept over the last 10 months is that although I don’t like what he did or how he treated me while we were married, or how he subsequently attacked me without warning or provocation and systematically tried to decimate my character to everyone including our children – he is still their father.  One thing – the ONLY thing – he and I could ever agree on today, is that the sun rises and sets on those two beautiful creatures.  He loves them as much as I do.  And – he would never intentionally do anything to hurt them (the fact that the Children in the Middle program fell on deaf ears apparently notwithstanding).  They are safe with him.  I know this.  Your ex may not always make what you see as the best or most appropriate decisions with regard to the children, but you have to find a way to believe that his intentions are essentially “good.”  It was the hardest thing I’ve had to accept – that I had to essentially, let go.  I think there are many moms out there who can empathize with the sensation that once you have a child (whether by birth or adoption – I don’t believe it’s much different) you have to come to grips with the fact that there’s a part of you – like some vital organ – that is walking around out there in the world away from you.  That outside of your orbit, this life force is beyond your immediate protection.  I explained it on one particularly emotionally difficult day to Todd like this:  it’s like there’s this part of my body walking around out there that I have absolutely no control over.  It’s a very helpless feeling.  I had this feeling first when I sent my son to school on his first day.  And again – though more intense due to her life-threatening disease – with my daughter on her first day.
 
Like it or not, you are – or are getting – divorced.   Like it or not, your children will not be with you every single hour of every single day, anymore.   Now it’s up to you both – with or without a judge’s intervention – to work out a way of sharing custody of these children in a way that best benefits the children.  There are lots of variances on custody and visitation arrangements.  A common one, it seems, is one parent having primary physical custody and the other parent having visitation every other weekend and Wednesday overnight.  That was our temporary order and, 10 months later, it became the permanent order.  Summertime is the exception, where we alternate weeks with one another and every Wednesday overnight.  Last September I would’ve been sick over this arrangement – today, it is the best possible outcome for my children.  They get us both equally during the relaxed, unscheduled weeks of summer and revert back to the original schedule once the school routine begins again.  The judge – and the evaluating psychologist – felt that the children’s best interests overall were met in mother’s primary care during the school year.
 
It can be very difficult to accept that what was once your authority over what’s best for your children, is suddenly out of your hands.  I struggled daily with my anger over my ex’s actions – that we “could” have worked out a schedule we could ALL live with – without outside intervention or litigation that cost us thousands of dollars.  That by his actions – where our children lived would now be decided by strangers.  Strangers charged with deciding the best interests of the children, strangers who get paid to do it every day, but strangers who don’t know any of us – at all.  To them, we’re just another “case.”  This made me so angry.  And feeling furiously helpless.  I had to refocus my energy on my faith to get me through these days.  I’ve never been a hard-core religious person so like anyone else who has a slippery grip on a personal crisis – I decided I needed God to help me walk through.  And I was perpetually amazed how things came to me, even as my fears so often took over and subsequently made me worry that because I couldn’t close the door on them, I wouldn’t be as blessed as I am.
 
So, with that, I think it’s really important to take a step back and see this crisis through your child’s eyes.  Put yourself in their shoes, imagine how you would feel.  Dig deep and be strong – at least in front of them – and then cry your eyes out with a trusted friend or relative and rip your ex a new anus.  Things you might consider as ways to punish him, are really punishing the child.  Think of how you can keep your child balanced and stable amidst the uncertainty they may be feeling.  This does NOT translate as buying them things all the time, as “some” parents do.  Nor does it mean letting them get away with bad behavior, because you are feeling badly about the circumstances.  The same rules you always had for them, should remain intact.  Get them counseling if you feel they need it, or even if you don’t.  And, though it may be uncontrollably tempting, do not engage in your feelings of competing with the other parent.  You will surely lose, in more ways than in your wallet.  Children quickly learn who and what they can manipulate – and if you think your angelic child would never do it, think again.  
Incidentally, in many schools there are groups that guidance counselors put together – specifically called Banana Splits http://www.bananasplitsresourcecenter.org/ – that  children of divorce can interact with one another and share.  Worth looking into.
 
Forthcoming: Mediation Orientation, Custody Conciliation Conference, Child Custody Psychological Evaluations and how it all ends.
 

 

**I will again reiterate that I am not a legal expert, I am just another mother who survived a toxic marriage, divorce, and a bitter battle for custody of my kids.  This blog represents MY experience, and is not intended to be or replace professional legal advice.

It’s Over. Now What?

 

This is part 2 of my drama series.  I will call it drama – because there’s no Joy in this.  I created this series of posts in an effort to help those who aren’t where I am yet, and to remind them they aren’t alone.  It’s a scary road, once you step outside your “safe place,” but – although I can’t tell you how long it will take – I can promise you that you will find Joy again somewhere at the end of the journey.  And now for my religious interjection:  God doesn’t want you to be miserable.  God doesn’t want you to suffer.  He will take you higher.  Have faith.
 
So your marriage is over.  Now what?
 
Speak to a lawyer immediately.  Again, it doesn’t matter who started it – it matters that at least one of you had the guts to say out loud, and act on it – that you don’t want to be married anymore.  All bets are off after this.  I don’t care what you say – there is no turning back.  A good attorney will offer you a consultation – many do charge a nominal fee for their valuable time –  where you explain your situation and they advise you that of course they can take your case.  He/she will tell you what their fees are,  what their retainer is, and what you have to do next.  This is the part that scared me most – and what kept me from speaking to an attorney in the first place – money.  I was a stay-at-home mom with very little income of my own – how the hell was I going to pay a lawyer??  I don’t really have an answer for this one – other than I am a proud person who does not like to ask for help – but found that my family stepped up and offered some financial support to move forward legally when hiring a lawyer became unavoidable.  And guess what?  I have an astronomical bill that I will be paying monthly on until the kids graduate college, but it was worth every single dollar.  All it is, is a number.  Get a grip on it.  You WILL pay it off.  Everyone’s situation is different.  All I can say is please please PLEASE don’t let money prevent you from legal advice ASAP.   You need to know what your rights are, and how to get what you need.  Don’t assume, no matter what he says, that your significant other hasn’t already seen an attorney.  Oh yeah – and just in case he comes back and says he’s sorry and doesn’t want to break up – please don’t give up a consultation.  Go find out what you need to know – don’t, like me, let him convince you that you don’t need a lawyer.


Do NOT, under ANY circumstances, agree to live under the same roof.  Once you’ve (or he has) decided to separate/divorce, you need the physical separation.  It doesn’t matter if you’re broke, the mortgage is in his name, you agree to be “amicable” (we’ll address this later),  you’re a stay-at-home mom with no income, or even if you are the breadwinner and he’s the one who’s broke.  Nothing good can come of this arrangement.  


With regard to the aforementioned living situation – he should leave the house.  You are the mother of his children and, particularly if you’ve been their primary caretaker, you should not be expected to leave the house.  The children deserve to stay in their home.  Displacement for them is just WRONG.  I left the home because he adamantly refused, because he was walking around after the divorce was final behaving like I was still his wife, badgering me daily about child support and other material things, and because a certain late night incident brought the state police to the house.  


And since I’ve already touched on this…This is a risky thing for me to say, but I have to say it.  If there has been any abuse of any kind, by your spouse, either to you or to your children, consider filing a PFA.  Yesterday.  That shit has to stop immediately, and he needs to know you are serious.  A friend of mine who once worked for Domestic Relations quoted me the statistic that it takes 7 times before a victim of abuse will actually go forward with legal action.  There IS a certain fear of the repercussions of doing so, I understand.  Sometimes it’s threat of more serious harm, sometimes it’s just a misplaced sympathy and sometimes not wanting your children to see their father hauled away in handcuffs.  However, your allegations, if not backed up by documentation, are just allegations.  And you can bet your fat lip he will deny it and accuse you of trying to destroy him.  **Again, I need to point out that I am not a legal expert, this is simply opinion – nothing more.  Always seek legal counsel on these matters. **  


If you don’t already keep a journal, start one.  Today.  I have been keeping journals for over 25 years, so this was easy for me.  Not only did it provide legally-recognized documentation of the “unfortunate” events in our marriage over 13 years, it also provided an ongoing commentary on what was happening during this entire legal process.  My attorney advised me at our first meeting to keep one.  Document.  Memorialize.  This would become a constant refrain from him.  I wrote about anything my ex said to me, anything the kids said to me, what occurred during custody exchanges and where they were done, text messages I received from him and email communications, and anything else he did that I found relevant (like changing the locks on the house I still own  before I moved my things out).  You do not want to be trying to remember every last detail of the previous six months, trust me.


Amicable.  A family friend – who also happens to be a lawyer – told me one day before the divorce was final, after I told her we were remaining “amicable” for the children’s sake, that there’s no such thing.  She’s a “tell it like it is” kind of person.  And I, of course, said, “oh no, we are working together and we’re going to share the house until we work out where we each will be living.”  What did she say?  No.  That’s not divorce – that’s marriage.  He needs to move out, she went on to say.  Why didn’t he move out yet?   This is not to say that two sane people can’t amicably decide not to stay married, and file a no-fault divorce and remain in each other’s lives and co-parent their children so they don’t need a lifetime of counseling.  I was told this is a pipe dream; however, I did recently have dinner with a couple that appeared to be doing just that.  BUT – again I will reiterate that once one of you has decided you’re not in love anymore and don’t want to be married (whether you shout it out or he announces it as he’s walking out the door with a loaded suitcase) – somebody’s heart is broken.  No amicability is born of heartbreak.  I won’t say don’t try to be amicable – I certainly have done my best not to be on the attack even in the midst of all the BS he’s pulled – but I am pointedly telling you that you need to lower your expectations.  That is what *Eleanor was saying, essentially:  amicability is married, divorce is not.  If you were amicable, you’d still be married. (*C’mon…You didn’t think I’d use her real name, did you?)


A lawyer will advise you on how to proceed with custody and child support.  There are procedures, and everything takes some degree of time to get resolved.  None of this will be resolved overnight. Or even in two weeks.  Just to give you an idea, I filed for support in September 2011 – a final resolution is expected at the end of August 2012.  Support is important so you can continue to maintain the children’s lives as they are accustomed, and if there is any dispute (as in my case) over the amount of support a temporary support order will be entered  (which means you get money weekly until a final order is entered).  Support hearings occur in a closed office in the Domestic Relations office, and conducted by a DR officer with both attorneys present.  I have also seen people in there with no representation. 


Finally, remember the children.  It doesn’t matter how bad your marriage is/was, how ugly the divorce gets, what an asshole your (ex) husband is, how far the custody battle goes, or how the extended family tries to annihilate your character.   You’ll hear this refrain over and over again:  what’s best for the children… In the children’s best interests…. Etc.  My mom kept asking me, over the last 6 months to consider in everything I do, everything I say as – “how does this benefit the children?”  It did give me pause long enough to think through my decisions, rather than react  (which is sooooo easy to do when you’re up against the “dullest” tool in the shed).  My lawyer said, “the children come first.”  I’m sure he was relieved that I made his job easier by agreeing with him.  It’s not easy to look past the bs.  Especially when your ex is telling the children inappropriate things.  The key is for you not to get sucked into it, no matter what.  You’ve got to dig deep.   My sense of justice was just too strong to just “let it go” when my children came home asking me if it was true that I left dad for Todd.  I felt because they had asked, I could answer, “that’s not true.”  However, the psychologist that evaluated all of us felt differently about how I handled it.  Apparently I was wrong – because I, in my response, indicated to the children in a roundabout sort of way that their dad is a liar.  Well, if the shoe fits….   Ok, sorry.  I will always stand by my actions – I believe I did nothing wrong.  I never, EVER, said anything negative to the children about their dad.  However, the psychologist’s perspective caused me to consider what I say before I say it –regardless of how the children present it to me.  I think about how they might be affected by my answer.  I think about how my response might color their picture of who their father is and, while there is no love lost for me, they deserve to have only the best image of him – for their sake.  They will see who he is – or isn’t – in time.  

It’s Over. Can I Help?

 

Ok so several people have suggested that I write something resembling an advice piece, based on my recent (not to mention traumatic) experiences; however, my intent was to save it all until my own trial was over.  Unfortunately it has come to my attention that there are more than a few beautiful women out there who either live in their own toxic world or were recently slammed into a new reality by their partner.  And so – I’ve been feeling like I really want to help other women out there in similar circumstances and I just don’t know how.  And then it just occurred to me that I could start with my blog.  *A brief comment to the guys: I’m sorry to exclude you but I can really only speak for my own gender in this specific case.
 
So what makes me think I know anything?  I don’t.  But, I was married for 13 years.  It started out okay – I mean, we were in love and he said all the right things and he was really sincere and heartfelt and sensitive and a little silly like me (though as the years went by it became more and more clear that he just didn’t appreciate my silliness – or anything else, for that matter).  It didn’t take long before the real people we were, went to war against the two people we thought we were.   There were multiple disagreements about anything and everything. We fought about everything: money, my work in the family business, my friendliness to customers on the job, my mother, my father, birthday parties for the kids, spending, vacations, my returning to work in the restaurant business, me wanting time to myself, or wanting to go to mom’s night out with friends, sex, my journals, my attitude, my mistakes, past arguments and incidents. I wasn’t allowed to have male friends.  I wasn’t allowed to keep sentimental things associated with past relationships (like photos, letters).  I wasn’t allowed to write negative things about him in my journal.  There were short periods surrounding the births of each of our children that were mostly peaceful.  I wanted us to try counseling so many times, but apparently the idea of actually living in a healthy relationship just wasn’t as appealing.  Then came Ava’s diagnosis.  The shock and subsequent period of adjusting to “the new normal” was like living on the edge of an active volcano – the subtle rumblings of disaster always underfoot, the constant threat of eruptions left me feeling like I was walking on eggshells all the time. 
 
Fast forward to Spring 2010.  The disillusionment I felt over my miserable life came to a head as my daughter finished preschool.  A year earlier I had turned 40, and really wanted to have a party with our family and my friends to celebrate.  He didn’t want to.  He thought my idea to commemorate my milestone with a tattoo was a bad idea too.  Well, I picked the lesser – and less painful – of the two evils.   I fixed myself a pitcher of margaritas and threw myself a party.  My ex-husband, in his usual style, bitched and complained right up until everyone arrived and then suddenly turned on the charm and had himself a “decent” time, though he still didn’t lift a finger to test Ava’s blood sugar or look after her for this one afternoon.  This was the Jekyll/Hyde MO: act miserable every single God-forsaken holiday and birthday, bitch and moan about the interruption to his isolation until I reached my boiling point and my moody twin popped out…. and then he’d relax and look at me with wild eyes and ask me, “why are you acting like this? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to have a nice day?”   Anyway…. It was that year that the revelation hit me hard that I had reached the halfway point in my life… and I couldn’t wrap my brain around how I would survive another 40 years of this shit.  I’m sorry – I love a good time, I love being around my friends and family, I love being social and – for the love of God –  I love to laugh.  None of these things was easy in the life I was living, without fighting for it.  Who needs to fight for joy?  It’s a choice, not a war.
 
And then came my daughter’s best friend at preschool – a beautiful, happy little girl who took her by the hand from the very first day and became inseparable.  And her parents.  These two people reflected light from each other that was enviable and, for me, unforgettable.  They didn’t know how they inspired me to either get what I wanted from my marriage (which I already knew wasn’t going to happen) or get out.  I wanted to have that kind of love and respect from a soulmate.   And then came Facebook.  Which, by the way, is quoted countless times in divorce cases across the country.  Well, I didn’t end my marriage because of one man on Facebook.  All the re-connections I made, with the men and women I have known throughout my life, forced me to face the cold reality that my life was definitely NOT what I wanted it to be.  Several people seemed to have really great lives, great loves and family.  It inspired me to reach for more, to stop settling for less than what I deserved, less than what my children deserved
 
Yeah, yeah.  Things aren’t always what they seem.  And that is exactly why so many people I know are suddenly coming forward to leak their own little secrets about just how “perfect” their marriage isn’t.  I am perpetually amazed by how my going public with my drama has driven others to admit – ya knowthat they’re not really very happy either.
 
So what makes me think I have anything to offer?  Well, for one – I made a life-changing decision for not only myself, but my children too, about 18 months ago.  I have now been engrossed in a nasty fight for custody of them for over 9 months, which will be coming to an end in just 5 days.  I have been hurt, I have been angry, I have been broken, I have been shocked, I have been weak, I have been strong, I have been scared to death.  It has without a doubt been the absolute worst thing I have ever had to endure in my life.  But it has been worth every bankrupt second of this terrible ride, because NOT fighting was not an option.  He wanted me to give up.  He thought he could break me, but he was dead wrong.  No one and no man ever comes between a mother and her children.  I didn’t do everything right, I didn’t do anything wrong.  But I learned a lot about what I didn’t know – about the law, about divorce, custody and the real purpose of psychological evaluations.  And so – I am no expert – but I have experience.  And that is what I intend to share.  Because you’re not alone.  
 
Next up:  It’s Over.  Now What?

Coming out of the Dark

 

My life has been turned upside down in the last two months.  I am living in limbo, while all the legal issues I can’t talk about move like molasses in a cold jar.  I am not living where I should be, or where I want to be… and I am paralyzed by the tyranny it took me years to escape.  It is frustrating, infuriating, and – at times – depressing. 
 
I had a really, really bad night two weeks ago, a night that followed Ava’s heart wrenching cry-herself-to-sleep-“because I miss you” routine that precedes every night she will spend with her dad.  I had to work, but that didn’t stop me from choking back my own tears all day long remembering the sound of her little voice and the feel of her small body quivering in my arms, the tears silently slipping away as sleep overcame her.  Knowing I couldn’t hold her again for 3 days.  Feeling helpless to comfort her when she seemed so devastated by all the necessary changes.  And missing my son who, at 11 now, is careening toward adolescence in the forward-backward jerking motion of the 6 local… burying himself in online games and not talking about the divorce, he seems frightfully “well-adjusted” and yet feels compelled – after every genuine and unsolicited acknowledgement of the good in others – to declare his father the greatest man who ever darkened a doorway.  Not that he shouldn’t.  Every boy deserves a Superman dad – a man capable of amazing, improbable things while still harboring real human weakness.  And from this day forward I promise to pray (at least once a year) that his dad will be that for him, for his sake.  And that he’ll never let him down so hard he cannot be forgiven.  Or at least break that family’s belligerent chain of fathers vs. sons.
 
I digress.   Work has become a welcome respite from the anxieties and stress that plague me every hour of every day.  Keeps me from focusing on absolutely everything… like whether I should say this, or do that, how or whether it can be used against me, what it says about my character, parenting skills or my judgment… you get the picture.  I begrudgingly look forward to work, until I get going and my stress melts away as I “forget” for a few hours who I have been all week and what horrors pass through my mind like a camera’s flash.
 
So – anyway – on that particular night I tried to focus on the folks around me and the beautiful house I was standing in… and these people were all so kind, so real … I felt blessed to be there and to be received so well by so many strangers.  It went very well.  I got in my car to go home and turned on the radio.  I don’t remember which song it was, or how many minutes into the drive, but I snapped back into reality and I thought my heart would explode.  To feel so alone in the car, in the dark, hearing my daughter’s voice crying to me and feeling so far away from my children, knowing I can’t just “go home” where they are all snuggled up in bed and fast asleep like angels in heaven.  That – for now – I don’t have “home.”  And the floodgates opened and I just lost it.  I cried tears for every injustice, every reality and every imagined reality… I even cried tears for things I didn’t even know mattered to me.
 
I pulled into Todd’s driveway and tried to pull myself together, you know, Miss-Joy-come-knockin’ – and I did a pretty good job…  it was dark so the makeup I’d lost on the way home would be less noticeable.  I found him inside – the love of my life for 25 years – smiling and welcoming me into this peaceful home where I should have been long ago… and I just dropped my bags and felt my knees buckling under the weight of 50, 000 more tears.  And it just didn’t stop.  Couldn’t stop.  I never shed one tear since I’d filed for divorce – I’d always known it was right, never looked back, never felt sorry for him or had any regrets  – and on this night it felt like the final release of anything and everything I’d felt over the last ten months.  It had to come out.  I felt shattered.  And I wanted desperately to write about it while it was still fresh and steaming, to capture the pain I was feeling right then, before it slipped away into my history’s many compartments and I “forgot” about how horrible it had been, as I always do.
 
But I didn’t.  I chose to bury my head in the proverbial sand… the other defense mechanism that works very well for self-preservation.  Meanwhile, after the storm, I began to realize how blessed I was to have the flexibility to do what I wanted, when I wanted.  Sort of.  Finishing up a divorce, fighting over property,  child custody and the dog… nobody ever told me it was a full time job.  And in the middle of this mess, moving forward with my life because that’s where God sent me. 
 
It occurred to me that in the middle of this mess were many blessings… I have spent so much time with my family since the divorce and subsequent, not to mention sudden, move from my home.   Time I haven’t really spent with them since my marriage began.  My father has opened up his home to us since all the ugliness began, and I have spent hours talking to him by phone and at his home as I sort out the legal bullshit.  My daughter has grown closer to my stepmother, and developed compassion and caring for the elderly as she assists Sherry with the care of her parents.  My children and I have spent far less time in front of the television, and far more with our family. 
 
Even more amazing is how I’ve watched people open their arms to me, offering help and their compassion or even just a shoulder to cry on.  People I hardly know, people I haven’t seen in years, people who occupy space in my everyday life.  I’ve always believed I was blessed.  But in this I have discovered just how blessed one can be… once you open your heart and speak your truth, and become yourself again.  A few weeks ago Todd and I went to church for the first time, and I sat next to an old acquaintance from my children’s preschool who held my hand and welcomed me with joy in her heart while her brother is fighting cancer in the hospital.  I’ve discovered just how many other women out there are living in similar circumstances to those I have left, and I felt the tears well up in my own eyes, because I know how hard it is to finally admit you’ve had enough, and the fear of  mountains that lie ahead.  And I’ve found that my own family has grown, as Todd’s family has welcomed me as one of them since the day we reunited, without question or suspicion.  Finally, I learned that no one is immune to the travesties of divorce, and that we must all pass through the hell before we can truly embrace the Joy on the other side.
 
I was out with my mom one day, after another thousand dollar day with the attorney, and we decided to have lunch, after which she told me she was picking up my grandmother.  I decided to ride along.  I’ve actually been able to spend more time with Mom-mom too, between dropping off and picking up the kids and killing time before appointments, rather than go somewhere and be alone.  This is a blessing, as before I never seemed to find the time to see her often enough and she’s 86. 
 
So, we take Mom-mom to this Consignment store she had wanted to go to and she just disappears in there for an hour, looking over used furniture and housewares until finally arriving at her destination: women’s clothing.  And my mom is up there with her, just perusing the goods to kill time.  Mom-mom holds up shirts and asks mom what she thinks; mom says “no.”  Mom-mom looks at me and says, “she never likes anything I hold up.”  She continues moving through the racks.  Mom pulls out a pretty top, looks at me and says, “watch this.”  “What do you think of this one?” she asks Mom-mom.  “Oh! I saw that one but wasn’t sure you’d like it.”   
 
So we’re driving me back to my car and I’m riding in the backseat watching the conversation between my mom and her mother, as I had done so many times as a child some 30 years ago and I felt so at peace with them.  Not to mention amused, as they two can banter like the best of them.  We’re coming up on a manure spreader but thankfully mom turns off at the first road to get away from it.  About three minutes later, a noxious odor fills the car.  I’m having immediate flashbacks to last week’s elevator ride with Mom-mom to the first floor of her apartment building.  Mom interrupts the conversation to ask Mom-mom to hand her “that little can in the door” (which turns out to be air freshener, which also raises the question –to me – of how frequently an item like this is needed if it remains in the car).  Nevertheless, Mom starts spraying the air with it and I start to crack up.  Mom-mom’s head whips to the left and says to Mom, “if you’re spraying that because of me, I’m getting out.” Yeah.  She’s going to get out of the car on a back country road with her cane and walk eleven miles home. With this, my hysteria breaks the silence that follows and Mom-mom says to me, “you! You shut up.” 
 
Joy is back.

Who Broke You?

The time of reckoning one day comes. One day you wake up and the revelation hits you like lightning. It can be particularly worse when you’re spending the afternoon with someone who seems really content with life as it is. Or, maybe it’s meeting or knowing a married couple, down on their luck but still laughing together, and still loving and appreciating each other. Maybe it’s a final straw – the last injustice he can deliver you, the last condescending syllable he uttered, or the very real sting of flesh meeting flesh.

How many years can or will you endure the control – over how much money is spent, or if family can visit on a Sunday afternoon, or whether your son will have a birthday party this year? How many times did you have to ask for $20, only to be answered with “what do you need that for?” Did you buy the groceries, or did he? How many items on your list never made it into the cart?

How many times did you hear, “you can’t do that”? When was the first time you were called a bitch? Or a whore? Or worse? When was the first time your child heard it? When was the first time the word divorce fell from your lips? How long ago did the physical confrontations begin? How many times did you pick up the phone for help and have it ripped from your hands? How many things were broken, or airborne objects missed you by inches? At what point was a line crossed where you knew it was ENOUGH?

When the time comes, will you be crying, raging, or smiling? All the emotions will be there – every last one – and they all tumble together like ice in a glass… hollow and cold. And how do you leave? Do you do what you must to appease, just to get through the process without being destroyed? Do you attempt an amicable situation, to protect the children and therefore yourself? Or, do you cast fate to the wind and throw him under a bus at first light? And if you don’t, how do you know he won’t? It’s never going to be easy, no matter which path you choose. Someone in control for so many years will not just step aside and relinquish it, just like that. How do you trust someone who’s taken all of that trust away, to do what they say they will? Or, what they will not?

The day of reckoning. No more time to feel alone. No more moments of weakness. No more fear of what you cannot do, without him. It doesn’t matter whether you have any money – and – at some point, it will no longer matter whether you have anywhere to go. You will look at the beautiful faces of your children, and you will know they deserve more than a decade of watching a toxic marriage slowly destroy itself. That they deserve to know what real love looks like, so they stand at least a fledgling chance of love without pain and unhappiness and loss of self-esteem. You will notice the other couples around you, who love and respect each other with no obligation other than to accept love and respect in return – and you will want that, more than anything you have ever wanted before.

You might take that long, long gaze at the unfamiliar face in the mirror – and want desperately to resurrect that woman all your friends say they’ve missed. You want the joy you scratch and claw at every day to stay with you always, without risk of losing it the minute the wrong person walks through the door. If not for them, do it for YOU. You are worth it; every bit of Joy that permeates the earth is yours – you just have to step up and claim your share. And when you do, prepare to be amazed by the warm embrace of people who see the light in your eyes again. Life is short. There’s no time like the present. The time is now. Right now.

We all walk in the dark. And it is up to each of us to turn on our own light. ~ Katherine Hepburn