Judging Divorced People: Just Don’t

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The moms were bored. They were about 20 hours into a 36-hour Girl Scout camping trip, an experience that was incredible and life-changing for the little girls.

For the moms, its was the old familiar mix of joy, laughter, hard work, responsibility – and lots and lots of sitting-around boredom.

And so it started.

“Oh, I feel so sorry for this dear friend of mine. She’s divorced….”

And the story unfolds. I try not to bristle. The friend cheated on her husband and has spent the last four years trying to win him back, unsuccessfully. And now he’s getting remarried to someone else, and she’s falling apart.

Oh, and she’s an alcoholic.

“It’s so sad, but I won’t let my daughter go over to her house anymore….”

I sigh to myself. The biggest alcohol abuser I know is a married mother down my block, and everyone seems to allow their children to go to her big fancy house….

The story leads to another one – divorce and alcohol and heartbreak.

And then a third one, the best yet. “My husband and I just went to a funeral this week of an old college friend who died from drinking. Of course his wife had to divorce him, and that made it worse….”

At this point, I got up and walked away. It was abrupt. I didn’t look back, but I know they all must have looked at each other, shocked and guilty. None are bad people. They were just caught off guard; they forgot they had a divorced mom in their midst.

But it was the tone of over-the-top sympathy that got me. I don’t know the private lives of these particular women. But I know enough about the lives of our peers. Enough to know that feeling sorry for others must make at least some of these women feel better about their own problems, marital and otherwise.

And so I walked away, from them, from the group – feeling proud and ashamed, independent and pathetic, filled with anticipation of what’s to come and regret for all I’ve lost – another few steps away from my old life.

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The Journey Back

My son got sick on Tuesday morning, really sick, with a nearly 104 degree temperature. Burning up, hacking, crying that his head hurt.

My daughter got sick, but not as bad, on Wednesday.

Last night I got it. I haven’t been this sick in ages and ages. I wanted to just lay in bed and sleep until the pain went away. I lost track of time.

And today was another snow day. My children, 8 and 10, made themselves soup and read books and watched tv. They did not fight once, as far as I know. I knew that some of their friends were probably out sledding, but I didn’t want to call in any favors today. I just wanted to sleep and wake up better tomorrow.

About halfway through the afternoon, my son came up and opened my blinds. Pale winter light entered my sick room, and I sat up to watch the fat, happy flakes come down. My children helped to clean up the kitchen tonight, and for a while, they sat on the sofa singing a song from school together. They both hugged me good night and said, “I hope you feel better, mom.”

Perfection is not the goal. Perfection is in the journey.

Divorcing a NPD, part 2

When you divorce a NPD, and the support is several weeks late as usual, and you write a pointed email to ask when it will arrive . . .

you very well may get a garbled and rambling email in return, informing you that you should be thankful for all the money he is providing for you, and that in addition to this court-ordered money, he is paying for food and clothes and medicine when the children are visiting him during his court-appointed time, in his home.

The email might even go on to say the he pays for sporting equipment for the sport that you don’t want your child to play, expensive Nike basketball shoes that your child doesn’t need, and a camp that is an hour away and again involves the sport mentioned above. Of course you will think “But I didn’t ask for these thing. I don’t even agree with them. I disapprove of them.”

And then you will start to wonder why he is so proud of paying for those basketball sneakers when he hasn’t paid his court-ordered portion of healthcare expenses for his children . . . ever.

And then, as a kicker, you will see the last line of his email, chiding you for putting your son in snow boots that are growing too small.

And then, if you are like me, you hit the ceiling, thinking of how beautifully dressed your children are every day. It is thanks to you, even though you go to work now, full-time at an office, unlike your ex who has mysterious clients and elusive and wildly fluctuating sources of income. You think of how your sweet children always show up with their homework and signed permission slips and book reports and class projects and sports equipment and new ballet shoes and and multiplication drills and new books and haircuts and ballet buns and proper vaccinations and white shiny teeth thanks to the dentist appointments you take them to. And the teacher conferences and the extra trips to the school with forgotten lunch boxes and the countless hours clocked with other moms anguishing over and redshirting and little girls with summer birthdays and big boy bullies and mean girls and organic food and everyday math and building resilience and self esteem. And the things you’ve taught your children like folding a sheet and making a bed and how to do laundry and hold a fork and say please and thank you and use the microwave and tie their shoelaces and brush their hair and floss their teeth. And the playdates and parties and endless carpooling and the hugs and family meetings and values and lessons learned and pep talks after a lost soccer game and all the talks about love and values and self-esteem and doing right and how we don’t practice perfect in this house because anyone who tries their best is doing good enough.

And then you will remind yourself to stop, because otherwise you will go crazy. If your son’s boots will soon be too small, it is okay. You will remind yourself that your ex is not well. And that his goal is to gaslight you and undermine you and start a long fight. But you will not rise to the occasion. You will write a short email correcting the facts only to make sure the truth is documented because you will never forget the words of your attorney: “Madness, even though this divorce is technically over, this guy is going to bring you back to court again and again because he’s so crazy.”

And so you write the note and then you call a friend or have a glass of wine or laugh with your kids or go for a walk or run. Or you blog and vent and hope you’re not the crazy one, as your NPD ex wants you to believe.

And because you didn’t engage with him and continue the fight he wanted, you’ll have the energy to step back into the light again, moving forward into a bigger and happier world, full of possibilities.

Divorce, PTSD, and an Early Mother’s Day Gift

My son shut down my laptop when I walked into the room tonight. He is ten.

I froze, panic sweeping over me as I thought of everything his father had hidden on his computer. I got the old familiar jolt of adrenaline, stronger than electricity, that raced everywhere from my core and made my fingers tingle. My chest got tight – and hurt. As always, I think: shit, finally, a heart attack – I’m too young to have a heart attack – and HE will get my children.

On that last thought, I sit up and breathe and suck it up.

This was my son, not my ex-husband. I would not ruin this special evening with him and his sister. They returned from their father’s house at 5 in good spirits, pounding on the door and throwing themselves into my arms. We grabbed a basketball and walked down to the playground in our new neighborhood and hit the courts.

It was fun. No fighting over the ball, no cheating accusations. For the first time, I really saw my son exceed my physically at basketball. It felt good – and bittersweet. Afterwards, we walked back together up the big hill to our new home.

But after they went to sleep, I opened the computer, finally.

BEST GIFTS FOR WOMEN.

I nearly died. What in the world? I remembered the strange charges on ex’s credit card, and on my credit card – he was even once stupid enough to order bizarre sex items (trust me) using his father-in-law’s credit card, which he stole from my wallet, probably in some drunken stupor. Or worse, someone else stole the card from his wallet.

It haunts me.

But I look again. Another page is open on my laptop.

It is Amazon.com, one of about ten sites my children are allowed to visit on Safari.

BEST MOTHERS GIFT. It’s filled with things called gold rose foil flowers and superpower mom mugs.

I get teary as the adrenaline leaves my body and I realize that I have left my ex behind more than six month ago. He is no longer allowed to affect me this way.

I breathe. The world is a good place, generally. People are good, generally.

My children are good, period.

We are going to make it.

The Moving Blues

It’s the little things that bring me back.

The horseradish sauce with the Hebrew lettering on the side of the bottle. I am in second grade, back in the Bronx, eating a Passover seder at my friend Jody’s house. The horseradish has been mixed with beets, and I am mesmerized by the color. Something so beautiful must taste so good, I think, but I am disappointed.

Her grandfather hides the matzo in a cloth napkin, and her littlest brother finds it. He gets a dollar and I am envious. We should all celebrate seder.

. . .

Then I spot the Gravy Master in the back of a cabinet. No expiration date, which makes sense because I don’t think it contains real food. My grandmother Mary, who came to the United States from Ireland all by herself when she was 16, used Gravy Master all the time on her famous roasts. You could smell them as soon as you got out of the elevator at her Yonkers apartment building: roasted chicken, roasted turkey, roasted pork chops – and roasted beef for special occasions.

My grandmother taught me: Take the pan drippings and pour off the fat. Add flour and Gravy Master and make a nice, dark roux. Add water, or chicken broth if you’re feeling rich. Beat the lumps.

My grandmother didn’t have to go through Ellis Island because she had a sponsor. This was special; my grandmother was lucky. Then her sponsor took her to Vermont to scrub floors and didn’t get my grandmother a winter coat. More than 60 years later when I married someone from Vermont, my grandmother shivered and said she would never to step into that state again.

Before that I never knew that my grandmother was a maid.

I miss my grandma Mary all the time. I wonder what she would think of me, getting myself into all this trouble with my bad husband. With children involved, too.

I somehow think she would understand. I’ve never heard the entire story about my grandfather, a handsome and dashing Irishman who seemed to be chronically unemployed and who died when I was a baby. I suspect something dark, but no living person will confirm it.

His secrets died with my grandmother.

I wish she was here to talk with me.

Crazy Crap My Ex Wants

I know I should be above this. I know it. I shouldn’t blog about it. I should smile serenely and understand that these are just things. And that things don’t matter; people do.

But a full three years after EX left this house, and after three years of refusing dozens of requests by me to come and pick up his clothing, books, personal items, photographs, baseball hats, winter coats, suits, old pants he’ll never fit into again, hundreds of ties, boxes of personal papers. . .

He now wants to fight me over a bunch of crazy crap.

In reality, he doesn’t really want any it because he refuses to pick it up, despite dozens of email requests from me. Countless people have warned me that his stuff is a fire hazard stored in the utility closet in my little home. And it looks terrible to potential buyers looking at the house, which was just put on the market last week. These things make him so happy because he knows they upset me.

But here are some highlights of the things he pretends to want:

  • the never-used KitchenAid mixer that was a wedding gift 19 years ago
  • some long-lost Waterford glasses – another wedding gift never taken out of the original boxes
  • five $8 champagne flutes
  • all the wedding china
  • all the wedding stemware
  • artwork purchased by my parents
  • outdoor furniture purchased by my parents
  • the wine he left here three years ago, a few bottles, which he now claims was a dozen bottles – and has escalated in price to more than $3,000!
  • baseball hats – dozens and dozens of them that he claims I threw away
  • the smallest little broken table that I bought at a flea market eleven years ago as part of a set for $20.

But then again, he doesn’t really want any of this. I am a free storage space for him. And as I slip away more and more into blissful No-Contact Land, he gets to continue to engage me and try to fight me.

So I’ve told him he can have most of it, at least if it wasn’t purchased by my parents.

Oh, except the wine. That’s long gone.

He Found My Blog

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. – Anne Lamott

I’m back on WordPress after locking down my account for several months.

The night before my divorce trial began, I looked through my soon-to-be-ex’s Discovery. For those of you who are lucky enough to know nothing about Discovery, it’s the process of submitting documents to court. You have no choice about all of this. You must produce everything by law – thousands and thousands of pages of documents. And you must produce them in a timely way, which does not ever mean the night before court.

But the rules do not apply to EX. So I received many of his documents the evening before my three-day trial began. And among those documents I found a photograph taken of a page from my diary.  On the diary page was my MadnessandEuphoria log-in information, in my handwriting. He submitted it to court as evidence against me.

To sum it all up, the photograph of my personal log-in information was taken by my soon-to-be-ex, nearly three years after our Separation, when he was visiting the children in the “marital home,” which to him means that he can sneak into my bedroom on a regular basis and go through my personal things and take photographs. The journal was in my bedside drawer. He must have taken the photo soon after I started this blog, because right after that, my attorneys told me to get a lock for my bedroom door. (They also advised me to hire someone to search my home for listening devices, and they told me to shut down all of my email accounts and open new ones.)

It was not the first time I discovered that soon-to-be-ex had gone through my things. He had also taken photos of notes to my attorneys – notes that were hidden in the back of my closet. He brought them to court, claiming bizarrely that they were some admission of guilt. Also, a few things started to go missing around that time: artwork, an antique mirror, random cookbooks, and quite a few restaurant gift certificates given to us by my parents – gift certificates that I kept in my bedroom.

Following all of this, I wrote him an official email, asking him to stay out of my bedroom and my personal things. But things like this don’t apply to EX. So the night before trial I locked down MadnessAndEuphoria out of fear. I imagined all my personal thoughts here coming up in court, being read aloud by a mocking soon-to-be-ex, while I cowered on the stand like a guilty criminal, while the court reporters laughed at me.

Thankfully, this did not happen because EX came up with all sorts of other stories to tell on the stand. My blog didn’t make it to the top of his list, probably because he never did find bother to look for the WordPress website.

I like to believe that the judge saw right through EX. The final decree took six weeks because of multiple motions filed by the Other Woman who appeared willingly on the stand to testify for EX and then asked for her name to be redacted from every court document. Her motions were denied. Today and forever, her name will appear throughout my divorce decree, a legal document freely available to the public. The judge noted in this document that she impeached herself twice, probably not a good thing if you are an attorney. At any rate, I never cared too much about her, one way or the other – if EX didn’t find her he would have found someone else. (And in fact he did, many times over.) But I don’t think that someone like her could ever understand this.

So I am divorced, after nearly three years of fighting. I feel vindicated by the judge’s words in the 53 pages, and by the things he shouted at EX on the very last day of court. I will never forget him hanging over the bench, pointing his finger at EX. It filled me with gratitude – finally someone had the moral courage (and the authority) to shout at EX for all that he had done to me.

Afterwards, shell-shocked, my lawyer said he had never seen a judge so outraged in all of his 30 years of practicing divorce law. Yet in his next breath, my attorney told me that EX would get every other weekend with the children. That’s the way things go where I live. So, in the most important ways, it’s a hollow victory because my children will be spending more time with EX because I was unable to block this legally. If I lived about ten blocks south, I would be in another state, and I believe that things would be very different.

But that is where I am today. I am glad to be back here writing, even if I’m just writing to myself. I survived something I never thought I could survive. I told the truth. The judge listened, and I believe he did the best he could. I’ll always remember his words to EX. “YOU did this. You are here today because of the TERRIBLE way you treated your wife. I don’t believe one word you say. You would lie about anything. You are a LIAR.”

So, my blog goes on. I had hoped for a sunnier outcome, something like sole custody, and my children and I living in a camper on a beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But nothing is impossible, I remind myself. I remember a psychologist telling me that I spent so many years and so much energy worrying about EX. She said I would do well once this is over: that I could channel that energy into things that would never have been possible for me within my marriage. And with this, she gave me this little tiny, crazy little sliver of hope.