1996: My then 9-year-old daughter walked confidently into the living room and matter of factly told my abuser, “My daddy was the love of my mommy’s life!” I don’t even remember how anyone responded or what she did after that. But, it was a bit of a running joke for years after. And, it was true.
1985: I sat waiting to give my friend a ride to her waitressing job when one of her roommates arrived home from a ski trip. He was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. I was instantly in love and, from that moment on, felt as though I couldn’t breathe when I wasn’t with him.
2017: My youngest two children played in the next room while I scrubbed my client’s sink. Typically I don’t answer the phone when I’m at work, but it was my oldest daughter and it was her birthday….so, I made an exception. She told me that she’d just received a call from her biological uncle. Her dad had dropped dead at the gym that morning. Her dad died on her birthday. Immediately, my face burned, and I could feel cold sores welling up under my entire bottom lip. The only other time that happened was when I received the call that my own dad had died.
I’ve spent the last 31 years longing for my first husband. I’ve idealized him. I often fantasized that he’d return and whisk us all to safety. Even lately, I’ve allowed my mind to think about us hooking back up as we watched our grandchildren play. What if we realized, as we watched those babies that share a bit of both of us, we have always belonged together. Three decades of wasted time living separate lives.
And, now he’s dead.
The first week I privately mourned. I couldn’t express myself. I had to be there for my poor daughter. I had to pray for and message my grieving ex mother-in-law. It would be inappropriate to dwell on myself and my undying decades old love for a man I will never reconnect with now.
By the second week I began to remember things long forgotten. Like, how he made me sit in a hot car and wait for him while he visited some old family friends. Or, how he told me he checked the oil in my car but had lied. I only found out after my engine began knocking and overheating. Or, how he’d shoved me to the ground and spewed his seed all over me the last time we were intimate. And, then, without a word, he got in his car and drove away. There was that time he tickled me so hard I cried. It was at the city park, I was pregnant, and a couple stopped and asked if I needed help. And, the time his 12-year-old brother blocked the front door after dinner at his mom’s house. His brother demanded that I stay there, saying, “No one should go home with a husband who treats them like that!” He’d seen the bruises on my legs from where I’d been pinched any time I began to speak “out of turn.”
Anger began to replace grief as more and more memories flooded back.
My daughter’s glowing reports of how successful he was or how many hundreds of friends he has or how much he truly loved her pricked my heart. His family and girlfriend tell her how much she really meant to him. He had her name tattooed on his body. They had even discussed having her step-father adoption reversed. A year and a half ago….the last time they spoke. She needs to believe her father loved her and wanted her, and I won’t remind her. Instead, I sit silently and absorb it all as though it’s the truth.
Naturally he was successful and has accumulated more in his lifetime than I have in mine. When the doctor told us that I needed an abortion and a hysterectomy to save my own life, he left me to wrestle with fear and face my own mortality alone while he ran off to Hawaii and chased other girls. While I struggled with caring for her, he was living with his grandparents, being cared for by them. Every decision I made was with consideration of how it would affect her, and I did so without a healthy support system or any idea what that even looked like. He joined the Navy, got kicked out, went to training and school, and enjoyed the help of his doting grandparents. While he was paying for martial arts lessons and buying guitars and motorcycles and lavishing a lifestyle on his girlfriends, I was trying to clothe and educate and feed our child.
My life has been spent divided between work and home, trying, and failing, to be the best mother I could be. His life was one self-indulgent romp after another.
I’d asked him to please not divorce me. Please remain in the same house with me so we could raise her together. He flatly responded, “I don’t want to be a husband or a father.”
When she was 18 months old he came for his second visit. I begged him to visit more often, to be involved in her life. He said, “It’s like I’m a father, but I’m not a dad. I look at her and feel nothing.” I thought the lump in my throat would choke me. How could anyone look at that adorable face and those bouncing tight curls and not love her madly???
This past week my daughter shared with me how angry he had been when she shared with him how my abuser had forced us to live. He told her that he should have come and taken her away from me and out of this mess, but she told him she wouldn’t have gone with him. He asked her why not, and she told him that she would not have left her siblings because she needed to protect them. Though she felt she’d done a poor job of it, she still felt responsible for them. She continued to explain to me that her dad had wished he’d come for her.
Now, wait a minute! Okay, I kept my mouth shut again. But, but, there is so much wrong with that entire conversation! She tried to protect them??? She spent a majority of her time in her room, listening to music, or at youth group, or with friends. He needed to come take her away from me??? Um, no, he needed to have not abandoned her as a newborn. He needed to have been involved in her childhood. He needed to pay child support and help provide for her. He was too busy living for himself, not caring for her, but had the audacity to try to come off like the loving father full of regret for not removing his daughter, once she was an adult, from her unfit mother??? What the hell? Whoa, whoa, whoa!
Oooohhhhhh…….in walks the third wife. The mother of his other two children, both quite young still. She wants his estate to provide for the children. His family is claiming it all. And, they’re all gearing up for a legal battle. The family thinks she has no right to anything. If they can reverse my daughter’s adoption post-mortem, they think she can control the entire estate on their behalf.
Suddenly, I could see more clearly. They pushed out the third wife, too, just like they had pushed me out. He had wanted to stop fighting for custody of those kids, but my daughter convinced him to continue. Once he had them, he complained about it. He didn’t want them any more than he’d wanted our daughter. He’d just been guilted and forced this time (by my own daughter) instead of being excused and coddled (by his family) like last time.
This Hawaiian god for whom I would have drunk the Kool-Aid at any given point over the course of the last 32 years was also an abuser. His family was/is controlling and manipulative. There is little difference between him and my second husband. LITTLE DIFFERENCE. Other than looks. Why did I hold him up so in my heart and mind?
I’m shocked to realize how much alike they were. Even in little things. They both had union jobs and were pro union. In fact, my 1st husband, in the end, worked for the union. They both HATED country music; they were metal heads. They both lifted weights and practiced martial arts religiously. They both preferred to eat fast food over home cooked meals. They both dabbled in satanism. They both rode motorcycles. On and on I could go!
And, yet, I’m staunchly anti-labor unions. I’m extremely entrepreneurial minded. I HATE rock. I rather enjoy country music. I love to cook and won’t allow my kids to eat that poison that is sold as food at all of those drive ups. I’ve lifted weights some in the past, but I have zero interest in martial arts. I prefer to get my exercise from hiking or dancing. I’m a devout Christian. And, I can’t stand motorcycles. I’d rather ride a bicycle if I want to feel the wind in my hair.
What attracted me to two similar men who are so incredibly different from me? I went to counseling at a large church in town once. My second husband was supposed to come with me but didn’t show up. The counselor did some family mapping with me and then tapped the paper and excitedly said, “You don’t hate your mother nearly as much as you think you do! You married her twice!”
I didn’t see it then. But, this week my eyes have been opened. Another chink in the chain that has bound me broke and fell to the ground. I’m sorry for his family’s loss. I’m sorry my daughter lost her dad on her birthday. I’m sorry her birthday will never be the same again. I’m sorry that they never made peace with their past outside of that once expressed regret for leaving her with me. I’m sorry she’ll never have that closure. But, I’m free from loving the memory of someone he never was.