I exited Part 2 sitting on a lawn, willing determined tears not to spill.
Ilze leaned forward with compassion and concern, forgetting about whether the boys had eaten enough. It was a vacuum-packed scene, all the air and motion and surroundings squeezed out, my words plastic wrapped, preserved.
Ilze didn’t flinch, didn’t demand a plan of action from me, which was extraordinary. Being, on most days, an organized earth sign who cherishes planning and stability because her life and high-flying career demand it (at that time she was on a plane many times a month). An ally who can summon solutions and orchestrate events like a magician.
Years of cementing our friendship, sharing sorrows and smiles, made her a central thread, a support beam who helped me carry the weight of my decision without cracking and collapsing (she became the subject of snide insinuations and animosity from my husband).
We both look back at my ‘collaborative divorce’ plan, and my futile, overly accommodating, guilt-driven, foolish attempts to appease, endure, and understand my husband’s distasteful conduct, with a can-you-believe-it? shake of our heads.
I did believe it, and him, and that was the biggest problem for the longest time.
I asked for a divorce and I got it, but not in the way I hoped for. From the time I told him to the day I appeared in court, approximately 18 months later, it had twists and turns that knotted my stomach.
Quoting my husband is the simplest way to convey what I faced and why every thread was a miracle to me. After our first visit to a lawyer, he was incensed by the financial implications of the divorce and could barely drive, his white knuckles and ashen face rigid with rage. My mind raced, looking for helpful, practical ways to ease the apparently crippling consequences of my choice (I heard the word often. It’s your choice, live with it).
I suggested he cancel my life insurance policy to save money by eliminating the monthly premium.
Not taking his eyes off the road and in a silky, smug tone he replied, ‘Oh no, I’ll keep that. You might be so fragile you don’t last long and it’ll be worth it.’
Referring, of course, to the payout he’d receive should I comply with his wishes and lay me down to die, quickly.
From then on, in word and deed, he made it clear he relished despising me and wanted my children to do the same.
If only he could convince them I was a sinister, ungrateful, soul-sucking, cheating lesbian witch they must fear and distrust (it’s telling and ironic that he considered calling me a lesbian insulting); a ‘dementor’ who’d selfishly betrayed and ‘played’ him and was taking all his money, destroying him and the family, having the nerve to seek something different from life while he suffered so.
He was unsuccessful but that did not make it less abominable.
Our sensitive, loyal, courageous, family-oriented eldest son took it upon himself to take charge of his father’s manipulative misery and erratic drunken behavior, choosing to be the parent to his parent, afraid of what would become of his father if he did not do so. It has brought him, and me, great pain and hurt. I cannot lie and pretend otherwise. But it has never diminished our love and appreciation for one another, nor my admiration and awe for being ‘Mom’ to such a heart-centered soul.
Our brave, insightful, extroverted, protective youngest son, then eleven years old, was targeted, receiving disturbing, nauseating, ‘poetic’ messages. The repulsive cruelty and insensitivity of these messages was astounding. The wounds inflicted cannot be underestimated.
When I looked at the messages I saw the absence, on his father’s part, of any filters, any understanding or acknowledgment that what he was doing was irreparably damaging, not our child’s relationship with me, but our child’s relationship with him.
He alienated his child, and then questioned and lamented the extended periods in which our boy no longer wanted to see him. It cauterized a portion of our son’s heart. The extraordinary child never stopped trying and continues to work at overcoming his difficulties with his dad.
I have remarkable, otherworldly children. They are not of this earth, in my opinion.
I also received messages. One in particular stands out. It was written with many of the words scrambled e.g ‘many’ would be ‘nyam’. He either thought I would be unable to order the words, or he thought it a punishing joke to imagine me trying. I unscrambled the words with the help of the school counselor, who reordered one word I could not.
Of course, the content was insulting: he referenced sensitive information from my childhood, having knowledge of our family traumas and history (he was my husband for 24 years).
If you are treated with dismissive, undermining contempt, you are not engaged in a collaborative divorce. You are being punished and diminished and controlled to aid an agenda that has nothing to do with cooperation, and everything to do with destruction, winning, and deceit.
It created in me a heavy stone of confusion, perplexed disbelief, and shock. For many months I lacked clarity; I’d been figuratively hit over the head and stumbled around my life with invisible wounds and invisible concussion.
Here, I want to stress something in bold letters: confusion can be a blessing. It was for me. Protecting me when collaboration proved to be nothing but a smokescreen.
My gnawing, growing unease made me pause and question. Over time I was being gifted the evidence that the feelings that prompted me to seek the divorce were warranted and without a doubt, valid.
If someone operates with ill-intent, I believe (and admit finding some consolation in the belief) the black energy has its own peculiar way of biting the perpetrator back in the dark.
I understand anger, bitterness, and the longing to wound and annihilate, but when we consciously, consistently, and actively extend an invitation to ourselves to justifiably (we believe) act on those emotions, we’re creating a diversion to distract ourselves, and onlookers, from who we are when we’ve got no one to victimize, and what we might have hidden in a closet we want no one to suspect or sniff out. It becomes a decoy.
I long to write a ballad for the sing-song quality of the weaving of all the threads that made the safety net, that broke my fall, again and again. But that will take too long. I’ll settle for a lyrical quality (if I can summon it):
When I did tell my Mom divorced is what I would soon be, she was sad, but not surprised. Had she not been the one to witness the slow demise? When she came, in previous years, to visit from over the sea, was she not the one who tried to help us mend, and be happy?
To Ilze I said I do believe to my hometown I will be returning. I see myself in the road of my youth, the same road you live in? A few weeks later Ilze gives me a call. She spoke to a kind woman over a wall, a few doors down. This woman wants to rent out her furnished house at below market rates, she’s leaving town. I needed that abode. I left with only a small trailer of goods, my big brother taking everything in just one load.
There, in that house, stood waiting for me: a toaster, a kettle, a fridge and cutlery; an oven and stove, pots and pans, beds, a kitchen table and chairs, bowls and a broom, and most of what I would need. I could breath. My divorce settlement would be long in coming. My earnings and the maintenance for the children could not even cover the rent, never mind buy a fridge or a stove, I had no funds to spend…
My Dad, with no questions asked, said how much do you need? (my parents are not wealthy, they live simply indeed). He paid the deposit for my lawyer, and he paid for new beds and a microwave and sheets and duvets and things. He paid for petrol and food and a steady trickle of family visitors from overseas; first he and my youngest sister – she made warm, gourmet meals, and hugged and healed.
Little sister loved and laughed and took me lingerie shopping; absorbed my sad reflection when I saw myself in the all-round-mirrors, thin, and the weight still dropping.
Dad would return from a trip to the village with apple crumble and cream. He delivered it to me, first knocking on the bedroom door, with a smile and a cup of strong, hot tea.
Then there was Jean, who before family arrived, said take all my stored boxes and use what you find (she was now a nomad, no longer a librarian). I used her blankets and frying pan and spoons, I used her towels and antique mirror and big cloths for curtains in my room.
My sister and dad left but my Mom arrived a little later, purchasing a gift – a television and DVD player. Much more than that, she was there to assist, to cheer me on for a job well done; to calm my fears, dry my tears, make the tea and pat my knee. To giggle with my sons and tell the dishes to go to hell, and above all else, tell me over and over again all will be well.
Three doors down lived Ilze & Co. What we would have done without them I just don’t know. They fed us chicken and green veg and poured me a sherry, provided lifts whenever necessary: sometimes in the dark to fetch my youngest son home, and in the day to my surprise birthday party where roses are grown.
My little job with little pay came to an abrupt end one day. My boss was emigrating, she was closing her optom practice. I didn’t panic. I remained beautifully calm. I knew, just knew, there was no cause for alarm. There were so many frames she could no longer use, would I be so kind as to drop them off at St John’s, in the Avenues?
So I did, and while I was there, I booked an appointment for some much-needed eye care. My boss was going to do an eye test, but with her illness and moving the timing wasn’t, for her, the best. I was struggling to see with my now too old specs, and at this clinic everything costs so much less.
The optometrist there was interested in my work history. Did I do any of the technical stuff, did I know the lab equipment? I said no, but I sure wouldn’t mind giving it a go. I had an interview lined up at a chiropractor, and the practice where he worked when he wasn’t at the clinic, well, the timing was bad, they did not need someone right this minute. He did say, however, if I did not get the job, I must give them a call. I left with a strange feeling, as if I was being led to a beckoning, unopened door.
On the day I went for the interview I was convinced I’d soon be working for a chiropractor. She was lovely, we got on like a house on fire, but the job was reception, and I can’t say it’s what I desired. The pay wasn’t great and the prospects slim.
On my way to that interview I did phone the Optoms. Their practice was just across the road! So why not kill two birds with one stone? So from one interview to the next I trotted. As I walked into that practice I was totally besotted.
I got a full-time job there, had my foot in the door, doing something new, stimulating, challenging, something I’d never done before. Those patient optometrists, and the soon-to-be-leaving dispenser, trained me daily in the nuances of diopters, and how an OC is measured.
Everyone there, who I will not name, played a part in helping me overcome my pain:
A quiet receptionist stood quietly alongside me while I briefly, unexpectedly, and quietly, cried; the other fed me pizza and nibbly things in every which way, to fatten me up, she said, for the demands of the day. My youngest colleague made snobby, foamy coffee, and laughed with me in the lab. The oldest, who was hard of hearing, had us giggling when she spoke with surprising, deafening boldness.
My inspiring female boss taught me a lot about confidence and assertiveness, while the men pulled my leg and monkeyed around – they were merciless – schooling me in not being so sensitive, so guarded all the time. It served to teach me more than a thing or two. I was re-introduced to the funny, enlivening, human zoo. I thank them all and to them take off my hat. It requires special people to make a difference like that.
The patients were, on the whole, amusing, grateful, and kind, making us feel we were angels with halos sometimes.
I’ll never forget my time spent there, it was special and sacred and filled with ‘we care.’
Just three days into that new job, my son had a crisis and couldn’t go to school. Oh dear god, what do I do? I can’t be seen as unreliable and slack, but my child needed care, and who would provide that? Somewhere out there lurked another thread that stepped in to help, and put my mind at rest.
I was at the clinic after a terrible fright, my son being checked. Should he be kept overnight? No, they said, he can go home, but tomorrow rest is required. If I remember correctly, I was sitting next to the hospital bed, chewing my lip, feeling overwhelmed and tired. My phone rang. It was Maire.
Maire who I seldom saw, but when I did, it was always with joy. Why she was calling, I cannot remember. ‘You absolutely have to bring him here’ she said ‘we will look after him and if needed, put him to bed.’
Maire is a busy, successful, professional writer, with published books, writing workshops, an ideas igniter. She and her husband work from home. On the way to work I could drop off my son, and fetch him later when my work day was done.
Not once, not twice, but three times Maire and her husband took care of my child. And they would have done it many times more, if that was required.*
Lyndsay adopted my son for many an afternoon. She was the school’s art teacher. He spent time with her sons, which was preferable to aftercare, the fixed, unpopular after school feature.
Finally, what you’ve been waiting for. Daisy and Jo?
I needed a car but had no cash flow. What would I do until my settlement came through? Daisy mentioned to Jo this predicament. Jo told me her husband was relocating to England. He was particularly fond of his white Suzuki Alto, and would I like to use it, keep it on the go? They’d be delighted if I did just that, and would I mind paying the small insurance premium?
They honestly made it sound like I’d be doing them the favor.
My jaw just about dropped to the floor.
And Oh, Jo added, if I really liked the car, I could buy it when I was able, no rush at all, no pressure if it wasn’t favorable.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Such generosity, such gracious giving, I was accustomed by now to joyously receiving. It was extraordinary, unbelievable, and kept me believing. Believing that life has an incredible flow, especially in times when we have to let go – let go of security, fear and fuss, taking each day as it comes, with serenity and trust.
For months and months and months, I zipped around in sweet Suzi Suzuki. With her comfy black seats and cheeky, growling engine, we were undoubtedly a match made in heaven. Then came the day I could make her mine. What is the price, Jo, I’ve got the money, it’s time? Jo named the price, well below market rates, and even said I could negotiate. No blooming way was I going to do that. It was not a sale, but a gift on a very grand scale.
Here, I must mention a woman named Mignon, who had a car for her partner’s use. It was she who gave me the key, before Suzi Susuki days, and let me use it when he was away.
Shoo. Like me, you must be tired. This has been tough going, time I retired. Please forgive me if there are spelling or grammatical errors, this was emotionally taxing and, initially, full of (t)errors.
I feel I must warn you, there will be a Part 4. There are still a few loose ends to tie up, some final things to say, explore. And then, surely, hopefully, I can firmly shut the Move On door.
Thank you for tolerating this rhyming rhythm. It’s not literary but once I got going I just couldn’t put a lid on.
I’m so glad you’re here. It’s scary sharing my experiences so openly. It feels risky, but also brings release and relief.
Your love, encouragement, and support, is appreciated and treasured.
‘Til next time (see me wave).
*After this period, my son was ill on quite a few occasions, but wouldn’t go to any of my willing-to-help friends. I’ve subsequently written a post about that challenge.