Letter To My Ex: I Know Who You Are

Dear Ex,

Because you live your life pretending to be someone you’re not,  you think that I’ll suddenly forget what you’ve done and who you really are.

Because you pretend to be a good father, you think I’ll forget that you left your beautiful children to live with a woman you met on a fetish website. You didn’t bother to tell anyone where you were. You also think I’ll forget that you were largely absent in your children’s lives from the beginning, showing up only for the good stuff, the celebrations, the photo ops. All while pretending to be father of the year.

Because you pretend to have a job and live a normal life now, you think I’ll forget that you haven’t done an honest day’s work in decades. You think I’ll forget the 2,000 pages, in your own words, describing a scandalous and sordid double life–words you wrote compulsively during work hours while you lost clients and and sent your firm spiraling downwards until it collapsed altogether.

Because you speak of your latest girlfriend in such glowing terms, you think I’ll forget that you found the previous ones on Craigslist Casual Encounters, and that they are a bunch of broken and dangerous misfits who should never come near any children.

Because you act like you’re successful, you think I’ll forget that you stole money from me and my family for years. Because you drive around with fancy school stickers on your car, you think I’ll forget that my parents pay for our children to attend these schools.

Because you pretend you have no mental  health issues or a history of untreated addiction and dangerous sexual behavior, you think I’ll forget and think it’s okay when you want to talk to our children about sex and morals.

Because you pretend you did nothing wrong and that I somehow fooled several attorneys, two judges, and an experienced and respected pro-father child custody evaluator about you, you think I’ll forget that I have proof that you are a serial cheater, a compulsive liar, a pervert, an addict, a neglectful parent, a horrible role model, and an abuser who threw me across the room twice, once while I was pregnant.

Because you pretend to be a good guy, you think I’ll forget that you are a sociopath and have no empathy and no soul. But I will not forget. I know who you are.

 

 

 

 

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New Year’s Day: A Divorce History

On New Year’s Day 2011, the year I discovered that my NPD/sociopath ex-husband was living a double life, I woke up at a friend’s house with a hangover and the discovery that my her sweet puppy had died during the night.

After hot coffee and tears, we all trudged out into the January rain, probably a dozen of us, to bury the dog in a field behind the barn. I had no proper shoes with me, and my toes froze, and red Virginia mud covered my fancy party boots.

It was a grim beginning to a grim year. Back in the city, my ex-husband would become more elusive abusive and stranger than ever, disappearing on business trips where hotel operators could never locate his name on their guest lists. Distracted by my two little children, I couldn’t keep up with all his lies. By September, things would reach a fever pitch, until the day I opened up his secret email account and everything became perfectly clear.

2011 was not a good year, and it was followed by several agonizing ones.

***

But by 2014, things started turning around. On New Year’s Eve, a friend turned to me and announced it was going to be a good year. I smiled. “Perhaps,” I said. “Life is mysterious.”

Several hours later, at midnight, this friend received some big news. Her 47-year-old bachelor brother had gotten engaged that night. This was an event no one predicted. “Life is mysterious,” we laughed.

For him, I suppose, it was a year filled with love and light. And for me, it was a good year, a good start to a good new life.

***

This year, New Year’s Day didn’t start out well  – my brother and his family left for a tourist attraction without us. I was packing our car to drive 250 miles home, and I took too long. They did not offer to help as I took trip after trip up and down the stairs of my parents old colonial, carrying my children’s suitcases and toys and hair dryers and stray boots. It took me forever to load our little SUV, and I got angry and raised my voice and said a truthful but not very kind thing about my brother.

And then I couldn’t fit everything into the car. I started to cry.

But then I looked at my children’s faces, teary like mine, but because they were missing this precious time with their cousins. So I took a deep breath and pulled everything out of the car. I placed suitcases and winter coats and piles of gifts on the snowy driveway and slowly started all over again until everything finally fit.

We salvaged the day by skipping the tourist attraction and meeting my brother and his kids after all – for lunch in the city before setting out for our long trip home. I did not say a negative word to my brother. I knew it wasn’t worth it.

***

The drama wasn’t over. As we pulled into our driveway in the dark that evening, I noticed a light in our garage.

And then it went out.

We all gasped. We had been away for a week, the house should have been empty.

Very reluctantly, I called the police. On New Year’s Day, I thought. What did this foreshadow for 2017?

One officer arrived, listened, and told me that others were on the way. Out here in the suburbs, the officers park up and down the block, no flashing lights,. I started adding them up then lost count. They brought a dog. They fanned out across the yard and finally went into the house. I sent my children to their friend’s house. And I sat in the car alone and watched the flashlight beams in my house. Ah, they’re up in the attic, I thought. They’re in the basement. My bedroom. My closet.

And finally, laughter, as the officers came outside, ducking under the plastic sheeting protecting the newly painted door from the rain.

Was someone in there? We don’t know. The officers said it could have been my painter, and I could have just missed him by a moment or two – the light stays on for exactly 4.5 minutes. Or it could have been a thief who slipped out the back door and jumped over our fence and into the darkness.

I thanked them, and it was over. My children came back, a friend came over, we poured wine and ordered pizza, and somehow the evening was saved in our bright, warm house. The first evening of 2015.

 

 

Thank you World, I Needed That

Thank you to the person this morning who noticed that I dropped a sweater on the sidewalk on the way to the dry cleaners. Thank you, for picking it up and draping it over my driver’s side mirror.

Thank you sweet, efficient ladies who work in the dry cleaners and say yes, I can pick everything up on Wednesday because I have a funeral on Thursday.

Thank you sunshine and cold morning air that’s sure to warm up today – I can sense it, finally, spring finally breaking through after weeks of chilly gloom in this city.

Thank you funny Starbucks guy who understands people like me who say grande when they mean venti, and venti when they want grande.

Thank you, boss, for understanding that I sent my daughter to school today with no sports equipment, even though she has team practice after school – and that I sent my son to school saddled down with sports equipment even though he has no team practice after school – and that I had to go home and then go to their school to sort it all out on work time.

Thank you friend for telling me it doesn’t matter if my date liked me or not last night – that it only matters if I liked him – and, after all, that you can’t start out a funny story about a date by keeping a scorecard on previous dates.

….

Thank you world for being a generally good place. Because later today I need to deal with my ex and his lies about how our dog escaped in his care, and how he signed up my son for a sport – that he’s coaching – behind my back. And then I need to check to see if my mortgage check bounced because my ex gave me a custody check ripped so carelessly out of the checkbook that the check number was completely torn off. But I had no choice but to try to deposit it in the machine on Saturday anyhow because it was so late. So I guess I’ll take the small everyday kindnesses of the rest of the world.

 

Divorce and Yoga: Stability First, Then Expansion

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Warrior pose, swivel foot, triangle, warrior pose, swivel foot. My hips, wonky from running, don’t like it. But I push it because I want to get good at yoga – really, really good. And so I reach. And reach. I’m not certain if my swiveled foot is really stable though. And are my knees still lined up with my hips? Not so sure, but I reach more. And I feel a warm searing sensation before I crumple.

I get back up and try again. But this time I accept the correction from the instructor. She is in her fifties, with gorgeous skin and a perfect body, and at that moment I want to be just like her. She lines me back up, and I try again, slowly, not reaching until I feel stable.

Another wonky remnant from past injuries is my stiff shoulder, something that I can normally hide from the world. I reach up, but it hurts. My instructor is there again, correcting my arm, pulling it towards the front of my body. It hurts, but it’s done correctly, so it hurts in a good way.

The next time I do it, I reach to the same place, but I correct myself. The instructor spots this, and congratulates me. “See, you corrected yourself. See that?!?”

I smile. I did see that.

. . .

Step by step, with lots of help, we build stability again. When we try to rush things, we fall. But we can get up again, and hopefully we are a little stronger, more stable, and more resilient. Each fall teaches us something.

I wish I could be a yoga expert in six months. I wish I could rush through my recovery from my high-conflict divorce, my serial-cheating, NPD ex-husband. I don’t like the middle parts of things – because, as author Brene Brown says, this is the hard part, this is where the hard work must happen. But it is necessary, and so I guess I need to slow down and do the work.

Stability first. Then expansion.

I think I finally got it.

Divorcing a NPD, Part 5

When you’ve divorced a narcissistic personality disordered person, and things have been going well for months, you will get email like this out of the blue:

This is serious. I can see his ribs in the bruise.
How did this happen?
Did he get x-rays?
Why didn’t you tell me?

And attached to this email, will be a huge photo of your son’s latest bruise, which he got by pretending to be a famous baseball player in the shower. Until he slipped.

And you will think to yourself about how much you love your child, and how gentle you are with him, and how you have never laid an angry hand on him, and how you would do anything for both of your children.

And then you think of the terrible, horrible things that your ex has done to you and your family. You will even think of the time when he threw you up against a wall, at the very end of the marriage, when you finally finally got hold of his cell phone. And how you banged your head on the wall before falling down in a heap. And how he calmly pulled the cell phone from your hand and got into bed. And how you were staying at your friend’s home on holiday, so you didn’t make a sound.

And then you will feel the fury building in you, the unjustness of it all and how it seems like it will never ever end and you will never, ever get away from him.

And then your survival instincts kick in. You will need to take a breath and be smart and answer his email calmly as if a judge was looking over your shoulder reading it. You will write that by lucky coincidence you went to a social event at your child’s pediatrician’s house right after the bruise occurred. You will briefly and succinctly point out that the pediatrician looked at it – and called it a bruise, nothing else, no x-rays or anything else required.

You will thank your lucky stars that you are friends with a pediatrician and that the stars were aligned the night she had a barbecue and your son got a bruise that would be blamed on you.

You know you shouldn’t, but you also point out in your email response that you think it’s wrong for your ex to be lifting up your son’s shirt and taking photos of his back – that it must be upsetting and confusing for your poor child. Traumatizing, really, though you don’t use that word.

And you feel the anger for hours afterwards because every time your children go to their father’s house for visitation, you worry about their physical and emotional safety. You know that they are finally truly thriving after the long divorce. But you know that this is a tenuous place to be when their father is a sick NPD.

When you divorce a NPD, it’s never over. You just hope and hope that he fades away into the background, hoping that more and more time passes between these accusations and episodes. You followed all the directions and detached. But can you really ever really escape?

Children You are Loved: The Gift of Divorce

I always teach them that they are loved and chosen, no matter what; that God’s got it, no matter how hard and unfair things seem; that all we have to do is take care of the poor, the hungry and thirsty, including ourselves, and give thanks for the tender mercies of our lives. -Anne Lamott

These are Anne Lamott’s beautiful words yesterday. I’m taking them a bit out of context because she is referring to three children that she teaches in Sunday school. Two of them have brain cancer, an extraordinary coincidence in a class of three children, within a church of only thirty regular parishioners. Imagine that. Two little children out of three with brain cancer.

It certainly puts divorce into perspective.

Lamott puts into words the things that children need to know while going through divorce or other difficulties: you are loved, you were chosen. No matter what, God (and at least one grown-up) is in charge, even if it doesn’t seem that way sometimes.

Yet life is sometimes hard and unfair. And so we must keep moving forward, laughing as much as we can, loving each other, while we wait it out.

And sooner or later, things will get better.

These are the lessons my children have finally learned this year, after the three-year divorce from hell. They waited it out until things got better, much better, finally blissfully better once again. Perhaps not perfect, but my children know that life isn’t perfect. It’s up and down and wonderful and secure and joyful and sometimes scary and sad. pst people are good but some may disappoint you, and some could even hurt you.

And as my little ten-year-old told me, “If you don’t know what sad means, you don’t appreciate happy.”

When I grew up, bad feelings were not allowed. We were the perfect family, on our way up in the world. Of course this was an illusion, but one that was highly encouraged in my world of country clubs and sororities and The Preppy Handbook. And thus I learned to stuff down any unpleasant feelings or doubt or hurt – anything less than perfect. And that left me looking great on the surface but woefully unprepared for the world. It allowed me to ignore the red flags flapping all over the place before my marriage. It allowed my ex-husband to gaslight me for years while I ignored my instincts and looked the other way. I thought everything was perfect: I did not know any better.

Now when I see my children, I realize that they are way better prepared for the big world ahead of them: the good, the bad, the joy, and the pain. The honesty.

Are there easier ways for my children to learn these lessons than through a three-year divorce? Of course, and just writing these words fills me with sadness. But in some ways, this a gift nonetheless, and I’ll take it.

St. Patrick’s Day: What a Difference a Year Makes

St. Patrick’s Day means so many different things to different people: green beer, a buzz, too many drunk people, new friends, an excuse to go out, parades, heritage, fun, too much fun, trouble, shamrocks and green, whisky and corned beef – the list goes on and on.

I’m named for this saint, and so is my son. St. Patrick’s Day is special to us. It’s also special because my grandmother came here from Ireland all by herself when she was 16, and she lived to 94. Now when I think of her, I smile. I’ve finally absorbed the words on her mass card:

Grieve not,
nor speak of me with tears,
but laugh and talk of me
as if I were beside you…
I loved you so —
’twas Heaven here with you.  (by Isla Paschal Richardson)

I love these words because my grandmother loved us all so, and it was heaven here with my her.

But now, just when I’ve got that down, and I feel peace when I think of my grandmother, St. Patrick’s Day has become the anniversary of my aunt’s death. She died in hospice one year ago today. Her death was not peaceful or fair or welcomed in any way. My aunt was angry. Pissed. Fucking furious and bitter that she, a non-smoker and all-around good person, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.

At the very end, she grew tired of us, distant and distracted. She had the most tolerance for me, her troubled niece who was in the middle of a child custody evaluation to protect her children. But even I couldn’t comfort her or distract her at the very end. She was moving to another place, one in which we didn’t matter anymore. I knew it and it broke my heart.

While she was dying, my blog glossed over her pain – her mental anguish over having to accept a death too soon. In real life, I glossed over it too. It was too big, too much for me. It still is.

On Facebook today, a friend posted that yesterday was the day to go out and meet the love of your life. She has many Facebook friends – married couples – who met on St. Patrick’s Day, and she gleefully pointed them out. I thought about this for a while, at work yesterday, before i had to run to pick up my children from school.

Maybe next year is my year.

Instead, I rushed through the aisles of Whole Foods last night while my daughter was at ballet class, and suddenly everything grew blurry because I was crying. I miss my aunt. I miss having an aunt. I am sad my children don’t have her. I am tired of my family getting smaller and smaller as the years go on.

Next year will be my year. By next year, maybe I’ll absorb my aunt’s unfair death, and the day will be filled with green beer and adventures. I remind myself that we all move at our own pace. Just one year ago, I was still trying to get a divorce; I was in the middle of a child custody evaluation conducted by a very strange man; my ex was threatening to sue me and my attorneys for an imaginary key logger; I was still in my old marital home; and I didn’t yet have a job.

I wonder where I’ll be in my life next year?

I Reserve the Right to Change My Mind

My kids want a dog. Really really want a dog. As in, “if we just got a dog, our divorced family would be complete and perfect, mom!”

A good yank on the divorce guilt heartstrings.

Recently I started considering it. Now that the divorce has forced me from my awesomely fabulous city neighborhood and into the boring old burbs, we have more space. We have a fenced-in yard. And I can work from home once a week.

It’s a good time for a dog.

Or is it?

I asked three friends to be dog references for me. One enthusiastically stepped up to the plate and easily won over the doggie rescue folks. They loved her so much it was scary.

But the other two friends independently called me and begged me not to get a dog.

They are too nice to say, “Madness, you don’t like dogs. You don’t even like my dog!” Or “Madness, you are a neat freak and would lose your mind if your dog ever smelled or messed up your furniture.”

Instead, they said, “This is your time to shine! You’re finally relaxed and happy! A dog will keep you chained to the house, and you need to get out there!” (Or something to that effect.) One bluntly told me that she was a stay at home mom, and even she needed her husband’s help at night with the dog. Then she started describing her dog’s “delicate stomach” and I imagined all my future rugs soiled and destroyed. My other friend asked me what I would do on my rare nights off from the kids: “What about the time when you went to work, got your hair cut, and then met me for drinks? You couldn’t have done that if you had to go home to walk a dog,” she pointed out. And then the first friend reminded me that dog walkers around here charge something like $25 a visit. I cringed. I could buy a lot of wine for $25 a day!

My friends are right. And it’s not really that I don’t like dogs. I like some dogs very much. (At least a few of them, anyhow.) And its not even my house. I think I could manage the mess, maybe. But it’s the commitment. I’ve spent the last decade or more managing the unmanageable: a mentally ill, addicted, serial cheater  husband. Then I spent three years fighting him like a dog in court to protect my children. Now that I’ve finally escaped from him, I can finally begin to breathe for the first time in probably 15 years.

So I told my children tonight that we must wait to get a dog. They wailed, they sobbed, they made me cry. But I already have a full plate: I’m a single mom with primary physical custody who works full-time and constantly needs a break. Someone who couldn’t recover from the flu in less than ten full days. Someone who is now worried about pneumonia and what would happen to her job and kids if this comes next.

It’s my time to hang out in bed on Saturday mornings when my children are with their dad, to go to long yoga classes and meet friends for coffee afterwards. To go to the gym  after work when my kids aren’t around and then to go out for drinks or dinner. To actually make it to a book reading or a museum instead of school fundraisers and mommy nights out. To pull together a life, independent of my children, for the first time in a decade.

I’m so sorry, but I made a mistake. I’m not ready for a dog. Not this, not now.