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, 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 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, and an interesting one. I smiled. “Perhaps, I said. Life is long and mysterious.”

Several hours later, at midnight, this same 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 go 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 furious and raised my voice and said some truthful but not very kind things about a certain relative or two.

I couldn’t fit everything into the car. I was furious.

But then I looked at my children’s faces, teary because they were missing this precious time with their cousins. I took a deep breath and pulled all the packages out of the car. I placed them on the 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 for lunch in the city before setting out for our long trip home.

In 2017, I will have to remember that sometimes we need a break. And I might need to redo the simplest of things – thankful that I have a second chance to make things right.

But also, I can’t depend too much on undependable people, even if I love them and my kids adore them. Make my own plans and stick to them if they are important. Sway, but don’t bend to theirs. Don’t agree to do things that make me angry and resentful.

***

But the drama wasn’t over yet. As we pulled into our driveway in the dark that evening, I noticed a light in our garage. I said something about it.

And then it went out.

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

Very reluctantly and apologetically, 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, silent helpers in the dark. 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 a 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. For me, relief, and complete embarrassment.

Was someone in there? We don’t know. The officers were nice. Really nice. They told me I did the right thing. They 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.

***

When I think about our start to 2017, I will think about the helpers – those solid men and women in the night. I will marvel at the courage to walk into a house where danger might be waiting. I will remember that we all need help sometimes. And we are ridiculously thankful when people arrive to offer it, even if we’re also embarrassed.

For better or for worse, 2017 probably won’t be dull. I’m guessing another year of moving forward, falling back a bit, trying to do it myself, having to re-do it, and asking for help sometimes. Hopefully offering help too – and maybe even some happy endings.

 

They Always Come Back 2

bad-panny

Mr. Perfect is back. The first man I dated after my divorce – a man who looks great but shares a lot of extremely undesirable traits with my ex husband.

Like lying.

He started popping up last spring with short perky texts asking me to go for coffee. Most of me was annoyed, but a teeny part of me was thrilled that he just couldn’t stay away, and finally I relented out of curiosity and maybe a little bit of hubris.

But then he tried to switch coffee to a different day. And I remembered who he really was: an unreliable and not trustworthy person.

No thank you, I wrote, and I’m going to be very busy for a long long time so I will not be able to go to coffee with you, Mr. Perfect, not for a very long time in the foreseeable future.

Or ever.

But now, several months later he’s sending texts again. My memory is short these days (Is this the effects of my single working mom life, or too much social media, or just being in my forties?). But I distinctively remember Mr. Perfect looking at me in the eyes and lying to me.

So he’s back, like a bad penny my grandmother would say.

I looked up the expression: Proverb. a bad penny always turns up. A person or thing which is unpleasant, dishonorable, or unwanted tends to appear (or reappear), especially at inopportune times.

I hate the idea of someone being mad at me, or not liking me, especially someone with so many overlapping social ties. But I did nothing wrong. He did.

Should I ignore or block or write a blunt note back? I haven’t decided, but it’s time to get rid of my bad penny for good. I’m finally ready.

Divorce, Hope and Perseverance

I visited a divorced friend this weekend, to help her pack boxes for a move from her marital home. When I got off the highway, I made a right on Hope Street and then a Left on Perseverance Drive . And then a few more twists and turns and I arrived at her home.

She’s poised to start a new life in a new home. I love that when she’s finally on her way out of the marital home for the last time, she’ll turn right on Perseverance and then head on down Hope Street on her way to a fresh start.

Expired

All the spices in my cupboard expired in 2012. I learned this tonight as I started to pack up my kitchen for my move.

I bought all my spices in 2011, the last time I thought my life was normal.

I toss every single bottle: cumin and coriander, Hungarian paprika, hot chili flakes, cinnamon and nutmeg, curry, basil and mustard powder, rosemary and thyme, marjoram and parsley, cloves and turmeric, sea salt and black peppercorns.

My hands smell like faraway places and possibilities.

Letting Go: How I Talk to My Children

Like every big revelation in my life, it came out of nowhere.

One day I woke up and realized that I’m doing my children a disservice by treating them like babies, trying to protect them from the big, bad, scary world out there. I have some serious helicopter mom tendencies, which I try to hide from my cooler, more freewheeling mommy friends.

Plus there’s the divorce, which breaks my heart a million times every single day for my beautiful children; makes every, single cell in my body want to grab my babies and protect them from any more pain and vulnerability.

But this summer my nine-year-old son asked to go to sleep away camp for a week with his friends. I agreed.  I hoped it would give him some male bonding time, which he sorely needs after spending three years with me and his eight-year-old sister. I also believed that this particular camp would have good male role models, another thing my son desperately needs.

And for once, I was right. When he arrived back home, he seemed more confident, more secure, more grown-up in the very best and most healthy grown-up way. I find myself standing back to watch him interact with his peers and grown-ups, and I feel awe of who my son has already become and who he may someday be.

I made the right decision by letting go.

It made me realize, with a terrible pang, that I need to keep pushing my children off into the world instead of holding them back. Within reason of course. And at the same time, I need to tell them the truth about things, so that they can protect themselves and learn how to make good decisions all on their own as they grow up.

So now my children Know Things. They know that there is a Big Mess in the Middle East. They are not allowed to watch images of dead babies and bombed-out schools on television, but they understand the basic facts about the history of Israel and Palestine. I don’t answer questions about who is right, and who is wrong. Instead we discuss how we would feel if we lived other people’s lives.

Today my children learned that because I’ve gone back to work, I sometimes have to carry my laptop over to the playground to finish up a project. They got bored after a while and started hanging over my shoulder. When they saw I was writing about a John F. Kennedy speech, they started interrupting each other to tell me they knew that speech. And then my son paraphrased the following words:

So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

We rushed home to find the speech excerpted in my children’s favorite JFK bio. They opened the book and read the president’s words out loud to me. I could barely breathe. My children are so wise, and it has nothing to do with me. They teach me.

And then my son looped President Kennedy’s words back to the situation in the Middle East. I hug him, and because he’s not quite ten yet, he hugs me back.

My children leaned other things recently. They know that their mom is tired at the end of the night. If they stay up too late, she will snap at them – she is no longer “nice mom” after 10 pm. They know that they must load their dishes in the dishwasher after lunch and dinner and they must empty the dishwasher while I’m at work. They must clean up after themselves. If they don’t put their dirty clothes in the hamper – rightside out only! – the cleaning ladies will not wash them and put them away in their drawers, all nice and folded, every Wednesday. They also know that the weekly “ladies” are a big luxury for our family, but that they help their mom keep the house running as normal while she works.

Maybe it’s terrible for my children to know these things. Maybe it’s even child abuse, or something that more privileged and enlightened people would never force their children to do, as someone recently insinuated to me. She told me that she expected her children to do “better things” like sessions with their tutors or lacrosse traveling team practice. Things to improve their bodies and minds. But what about their character, I wondered? What about cultivating grit and responsibility and a strong work ethic in our children? It’s only a few chores, I thought. But most of my children’s friends are encouraged to leave dishes on the table and would never dream of taking care of laundry. A friend recently told me that she didn’t know how to do laundry until she went away to college, and this is pretty much how she is raising her own children.

For now I’m betting that my way is what works best for my little family of three.

My children also learned this week that the funny scratchy thing on my arm is another squamous cell cancer – in situ. “Which means it won’t spread, right,” asked my son. “Absolutely,” I answered before explaining that it’s no big deal, really, and that my doctor will take care of it. Oh, and this is why I drive them crazy about rash guards and sunblock.

The next day my babysitter innocently remarks that both children put on their sunblock at the pool without any reminders from her – and they did it cheerfully.

I just smile. I think we’re finding our groove again.

Divorce, the Narcissist, and Guerilla Warfare

I am finally ready to write about something that happened two weeks ago. The details don’t matter, which is good, because I can’t share them because I am afraid that my soon-to-be-ex will find this blog and kill sue me.

In short it was a week of chaos, confusion, wildly flip-flopping opinions, setbacks, last-minute scrambling, extreme stress, come-to-Jesus talks leading to tears, and disappointment in experts who suddenly seemed very fallible and suspiciously unexpertish.

How did things get so off track? The answer is obvious: my soon-to-be-ex-husband. I’ve learned a lot of things since the afternoon in fall 2011 when I opened his email account and my life changed in an instant. The most important thing I’ve learned is that one determined person can start so much trouble and create so much chaos that everyone else eventually just wants to give up or run away. An NPD will exhaust, beat down, and disgust his opponents. And then he wins. Chaos ensues when one cunning person is willing to play dirty, make outrageous accusations, twist every truth, change his story regularly, break all rules, and refuse to feel an ounce of shame or embarrassment or remorse about anything. And then there’s the NPD smear campaign. It leaves its victims shell-shocked, bent over and gasping for air, trying to figure out what just happened to their reputations and sanity.

What kind of person acts like this?

Someone with narcissistic personality disorder. We all talk about narcissists. And of course we live in a narcissistic society that celebrates reality television stars and people with thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers – I suppose one might even argue that people with personal blogs are a bit narcissistic.

But narcissistic personality disorder is a different beast, and it’s serious. According to Medical News Today, narcissistic personality disorder is defined as: a personality disorder in which the individual has a distorted self image, unstable and intense emotions, is overly preoccupied with vanity, prestige, power and personal adequacy, lacks empathy, and has an exaggerated sense of superiority. NPD is closely associated with egocentrism – a personality characteristic in which people see themselves and their interests and opinions as the only ones that really matter.

People with narcissistic personality disorder are not interested in the feelings of others – they lack empathy; they are unable to feel or appreciate feelings which are not their own.

For most of us, it’s difficult and stressful to live in chaos. Most people crave order and calm and peace. This is why we have rules, laws, and traffic lights. However, most NPDs, including my soon-to-be-ex, thrive on chaos. The more the better, because he believes that opportunity lies in chaos. It’s a great time for a power grab – he pounces when every sane person runs away. I have come to believe that he has not enjoyed a moment of peace in several years. And he’s fine with that.

I have a friend who asked me recently about the divorce. I explained that I was following good legal advice, the judge seemed to agree with me, and I had achieved a small victory that week. I believed the truth would prevail and a judge would do the right thing for my children.

She looked at me and said, “But you have to understand that you are waging some pretty traditional warfare, battle by battle.”

I’m not a big war analogy person. I’m more of a Brene Brown and inspirational-yoga-quote kind of person. Also, at the time, I preferred not to think of myself in battle. After all I started off the Divorce of the Century by  hiring a collaborative attorney, believe it or not.

But then my friend said, “Your soon-to-be-ex is engaged in a different kind of warfare. He’s going from bunker to bunker, throwing terrible shit at you. And if it doesn’t stick, he doesn’t care. It’s not a setback to him, like it would be to you or me. He just moves on to the next bunker. He lives to throw more shit another day.”

I recall freezing when she said this, as a terrible wave of recognition passed over me. Yes. That was it. That was the very definition of the way he was acting.

Since then, two other observers have made similar analogies. One called my soon-to-be-ex a guerrilla, throwing bombs everywhere, completely irresponsibly.  Just today someone said he’s just lobbing thing after thing at me, wearing me down a little more each time.

I recall asking the first friend what to do. She is the wife of a West Point grad, and I figured she would know how to deal with a guerrilla.

She replied, “You either give him what he wants – or make him believe you’re giving him what he wants. Or you need to destroy him.”