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I didn’t think it would hit me like that.

I mean hit me. Like a sucker punch to the gut.

I cried on my way home.

It’s been an emotional weekend anyway, but that came out of nowhere.

My son flies out tonight for his military exam.  With all that’s going on in the world, he’s enlisting. He scored a 93 on his ASVAB but is considering infantry.  His recruiter encouraged him to split his life insurance 50/50 between his dad and me.  His dad.  The man who failed to provide anything except torment will benefit from my son’s death.

His dad called last night to talk to the younger kids and asked them,  “This is my weekend; do you want to come spend the night?”

“No!” was their emphatic response.

That angered him.  He began threatening them in a very harsh tone that he could take them anyway for the entire weekend.  He then stated, more like a threat, that he could take them every other weekend.

They went silent.  He then began berating them about why they were mad at him.  He demanded, “What’s going on over there that you don’t want to come see me anymore?”

It went on and on until my 14 year old took the phone from the two young,  bewildered children.  His dad started in on him.   Then, it was my turn.

He wanted me to answer him:  What’s going on that all of a sudden the kids don’t want to visit.

I had to gently remind him that they’ve never wanted to visit.  I’ve, at times, told them they had no choice.  But, I’m not doing that anymore.  He started to balk at that, as though he expects me to force the children into visitation.  He used the word “we” in an us against them, we can’t let them run us, argument.  He zig zagged in his direction, accusing me of telling the vistation supervisor that I didn’t want him giving the kids soda.  That was three years ago.  That wasn’t an affront to him.  It is a dietary choice I make daily for the sake of their health and to keep them from going ballistic on high fructose corn syrup.

Forty five minutes later I had diffused him; the kids were free from a forced overnight with the man they rightfully fear; and he was thanking me for helping him understand what’s going on.

The day was a long one.  I needed a glass of wine.

I’d gone to bed at midnight the night before because I hadn’t got off work until 10:30 p.m.  I awoke early though to get the kids to church on time since they were part of the worship team this week.  As I sleepily let the hot water of the shower pour over my face, I realized it was rising around my ankles.   I was horrified to open my eyes and find sewer backing up where I stood.

We made it to church on time but hurried home to fix the plumbing issue.  I bought a snake and some sulfuric acid, and we got it flowing out again.  Hurray!  We still had time to clean up and get to the family reunion!

As we stepped out of the bathroom my 18 year old, not thinking, began to remove his mask with his gloved hand, accidentally touching his cheek below his left eye. I yelled, and he dropped his hand.  But, it was too late.

He argued with me that we can’t afford a visit to the ER, but he agreed once his eye began to get glassy and sting.  He became worried, too, at that point that the acid was continuing to burn deeper.

By the time we left the urgent care facility the family reunion was well under way.  I decided, however, that we needed to show up though we’d certainly missed all of the games and picture taking at that point.

Everyone was nearly finished eating by the time we got there,  and most of them left shortly after.  I missed my dad’s family gathering because of another problem with and caused by this dump.

Fortunately, a few of the family members were getting together for breakfast this morning, so I had a second chance to spend time with and get to know these strangers with whom I have so much in common.

More in common than I realized.

I stayed with my uncle and his cousin after everyone else finished breakfast and left.  And, that was when the sucker punch came.

They shared memories from their childhood, and we laughed.  The cousin said that my dad had always been her favorite.

(Mine, too.)

She said he was effervescent.

(He was.  He smiled with his whole face.)

Their stories continued briefly when my uncle teased his cousin with a play on words and, chuckling, asked, “You mean I made a pass at you?”

She looked serious and responded, “No!  That was left up to Uncle H.”

My uncle tried at first to laugh it off,  “The old man always wanted to keep it in the family.”

The cousin didn’t laugh.

Neither did I.

She said she’d told him to stop.  They expressed that he’d always “had his thing.”

Sucker punch.

When grandpa quit coming after me, I didn’t understand.  He’d said I was his special girl.  He said I was his girlfriend.  Suddenly he acted like I wasn’t even in the room.  So, with the last bit of 5 year old innocence I had left, I crawled up in his lap and asked, “Grandpa, am I still your girlfriend? ”

He shoved me off and snapped, “I’ve got a lot of girlfriends!”

With my dad’s cousin’s confession I was hurled from the diner and back to that couch over forty years ago.

His other girlfriends were the other girls in our family.

I sat quietly trying to recover from the revelation while she talked about her mom’s bitterness and my grandma’s bitterness over (she shifted her eyes downward) “their things.”  I felt she was implying someone had got to them as little girls, too.  She pondered why they couldn’t let it go even in old age or for the sake of their children and instead remained “mean.”  She stated that the rest of us try every single day to be better than what was before us, better than that for our kids.

It was like she knew my dirty secret and was encouraging me.  In just sharing her story and feelings, she was speaking to my spirit.

Get up.  Keep going.  Don’t be bitter over it.  Give your kids better than what you received.  You have a choice.  Don’t make your kids suffer for your pain.  Let it go.  Love them and live your life like it didn’t happen.  Don’t let him rob you of anything else.  It’s not his to take.  It never was.

Grandpa had a lot of girlfriends, and I was one of them.  That was a long time ago though.  I’m old and tired now.  My heart aches, and my body is weary from dealing with daily life in a slum and an abusive ex husband while working hard to climb out of this pit. But, I don’t want my kids and grandkids sitting in a diner fifty years from now saying that I was mean and bitter because of my painful memories.

So, I’m going to get up.  Keep going.  Not be bitter over it.  I’m determined to give my kids better than what I received.  They aren’t going to suffer for my pain.  I’m learning to let it go.  I’m going to love them and live my life like it didn’t happen.  No one–not my mom or grandpa or R–are going to rob me of anything else. My life was not theirs to take.