Kelly Smith~Signs in the Rear View Mirror~Episode 7: Through My Children’s Eyes…

With tear-filled eyes, a heavy heart, and mild hatred for myself lingering in the back of my mind, I write this episode. It has been a difficult yet therapeutic process for me. When I first started putting this series together months ago, before pen ever touched paper, I was afraid of my own feelings. I was scared that I would start  feeling something for him again. I was afraid I was going to miss him or fall back in “love” with him. But this process has had quite the opposite effect on me. I feel today as if he never existed. As much as I would love to tell you that he and this relationship were made up in my mind … they weren’t. The tears are real. The pain is thick and it’s heavy. The tears and pain are not for him, but for me. As I write I realize that I love the girl I am writing about. Five years ago, I didn’t. Twenty years ago, I didn’t. As I grew up, self-hatred was as learned skill and was all that I knew, especially when I didn’t know who I was. I had no idea of the anger that lived deep within and the magnitude of the toll it took on me. Today, after years in my recovery program, I see this amazing, strong, intelligent, happy, fun loving mom and woman. I am here for a reason. I have this writing gift for a reason. I lived the life I did for a reason. I am here to write for me and for you. You the one who needs it most. The one who is confused and scared. I write this for you.

From the moment you find out you are pregnant, you have a responsibility to the life living within you. You are responsible for eating well, not drinking alcohol, and not inhaling fumes from the cars driving in front of you. As your belly grows, for most of us, so does the love we have for the little unknown stranger living inside us. We talk to the stranger and somehow fall in love and become totally connected. After they are born it’s a motherly instinct to protect them and care for them. To make sure you pass on the important life lessons and keep them safe, no matter what. When I found out I was pregnant with my oldest son, Todd, I was 17 and not interested in being a mom. As the months passed, I became more familiar with this stranger and I found myself enamored with him. While Derek was away in college, I would lay in bed and talk to the “stranger” living inside me. At the time, I had no idea if he were a boy or a girl so the conversation was gender neutral. One night after my school day was over, homework was done and I finished my shift at the donut shop, I finished reading the baby one of my favorite Dr Seuss books. I asked the “stranger” a question and asked the baby to kick to answer me. We talked about hockey. Football. Whether it was boy or a girl. After a few kicks here and there, I determined that said baby would play hockey when he/she grew up. To this day, Todd is not much of a liar and now, at the age of twenty-two, he’s the captain of his college lacrosse team. I guess Lacrosse is pretty close to hockey, so it all worked out. That night, over twenty-two years ago, sitting alone in my bed talking to this little stranger, we formed a bond. The day he was born, I gazed into those tiny brown eyes surrounded by the softest, pinkest skin and I apologized for being his mom. I told him I would do the best I could for him and I did. Derek and I both did. That was until I did not. Until I gave him and his two brothers all-access passes with front row seats to what an abusive relationship looks like with their mom as the leading lady.

The divorce was finalized in April. Five months and three days from the day Derek moved out and our relationship ended. That summer was the first time we did not plan a family vacation. I began to look into a beach house for me and boys to stay in for a ten-day getaway. I wanted to go home to Boston have them see our extended family and it was just a bonus that Jake would be there and it was an opportunity for him to get to know the kids better. I started to plan with Derek to figure out the details of when he would take vacation with them and when I would. A few days later I had the trip booked and the kids were excited to go to Boston for a vacation. After the ten days with me on the shore they were to fly directly to California to be with Derek for another ten days. I planned to stay with Jake while the boys were with their dad on the west coast and would meet them back in Texas. The plan was perfect. I was excited to have what I thought of as our first family vacation all perfectly planned… but of course, I was wrong. I was still in the denial of who Jake really was and by executing this plan, I chose to put my kids in the line of fire. A decision I regret to this very day.

The morning we left Texas, we flew into Logan airport and got our rental car. The plan was to go see my friend Julia. After I picked Jake up, we drove to Julia’s house. She had extra bedding and was going to let us borrow it for the duration of our trip. I can’t remember exactly what happened that set Jake off, maybe I was late, maybe I gave him the wrong directions, but he was angry at me. As we pulled up to Julia’s house my stomach was in knots. My mouth was dry and I had no idea if he was going to be upset with me in front of her or if it was just a private show for me and my kids to experience. As he got out of the car, he was cheery and chipper. He thanked her for allowing us to use her bedding. Julia made a face at me and because right away she knew. She knew something was off. She had been dying to see the boys and wanted to hug them and talk to them, but Jake was clearly on a mission to leave. As he hurried things along, she covertly grabbed my hand in support. We drove away from her house and as she became smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror, I broke a little inside. We went to the grocery store, gathered what we needed and we were off to the beach house. But even a small task like a trip to the grocery store turned into an excruciating event. He seemed to find fault with everything and everyone: how slow the line was moving and the checker wasn’t emptying the cart fast enough. He was infuriated. When we finally got to the house, I figured it would all settle down. There was Jake, out in front, putting on his nice guy charm with all the neighbors, his usual. Meanwhile, a storm was brewing inside.

Boys will be boys, they left their bags on the floor and bounded toward the beach to see the water. Jake took issue with their “mess”. He said they were slobs and how could I as a mom let them live that way. I immediately defended them and told him they were excited to be at the beach and they didn’t need to be neat while on a vacation. I did not understand why he was so bothered. To keep him calm, I called the boys back and had them put their stuff away. They were not super happy with this, but they did it. Jake had rules. He wanted everything planned. He wanted everything clean and in order all the time. No excuses. I didn’t raise my kids that way and they had enough on their minds with the divorce. I figured a beach vacation would be fun. Mindless. Good memories. During the day, Jake worked and would come to the house afterwards. We would go to the beach, swim and fly kites. At times, we went to the arcades, played games and stuffed our faces with junk food. Fried dough, cotton candy and beach pizza. We went on rides and played games. The kids collected tickets from skee ball and cashed them in for a harmonica, the same way I did when I was a kid. We drove to the go-cart track and raced each other. Some nights, we made bonfires and roasted marshmallows on the sand. We talked, joked and laughed. Other nights Jake would walk in carrying his bad day on his shoulders and alcohol on his breath. That was a sure-fire sign that it wasn’t going to be a good night. When I sensed a bad day, I cleaned the house the best I could and would leave the kids by themselves at the beach to come in and make sure everything looked perfect. But I was never able to get the house cleaned enough. A few nights in he came to the house and as he walked in he began inspecting. He saw things he didn’t like and he was sure to scold me. Beach sand on the floor (go figure), food on the counter and not in the cabinet and clothes not put away. One night, after inspecting, as he began to roll up his sleeves to clean, the kids came in. He started to throw things in the kitchen. I sat on the couch and my stomach was in knots. My blood was hot and my kids were standing in the doorway wearing their brightly colored swim suits and holding beach buckets full of sand and shells. Their tanned, smiling faces turned red and their sandy feet didn’t move. They watched as he yelled, cussed me out and told me I was a “bitch” and a “pig”. He asked “how can you live this way?” He shouted that he had just worked all day and had to come home to this… that he was miserable. He had no idea what he saw in me and declared he could not ever live with me if I insisted on living this way. I sat there frozen in embarrassment and disbelief. My kids stood in shock. Their smiles they were just wearing turned into sadness and they had no idea what to do. Slowly, one by one, they sat down close to me. I held my one of my son’s hand and he squeezed it, hard. I started to fight back and that only made things exponentially worse. After about an hour, he had calmed down and emerged from the bedroom asking “who wants to go get pizza and play games?”. I instantly felt relieved. This storm was over and he was back to normal… at least for the moment. I learned to enjoy the little moments like this while he was happy but I was always worried when and where he would flip that switch again. The rest of our vacation was pretty much the same. Another night he showed up at the house, freaked out and then just left. I sat outside in front of the house and cried. I called Derek. He answered and immediately, he knew something was wrong. He told me I would be ok. He told me I didn’t have to be with Jake and that I didn’t deserve to be treated this way, but in the back of my head (and years later I would discover) I stayed partly because I felt I did deserve to be treated this way… but my kids didn’t deserve it. They didn’t deserve it at all.

More times than I care to admit, my kids witnessed Jake abusing me. They heard him call me names. They would pick me up off the floor when I was sobbing. They held me when I could not hold myself up. They saw me fall. Their hearts broke for me over and over and I just could not see what was really happening. I could not recognize that they were enduring second hand abuse. They were scared for me and so very confused. They hated Jake and the way he treated me but they were also afraid of him. Afraid of what he might do to them if they stood up for me. Afraid of what their dad would do if they told him any of this. So, they didn’t say anything and they didn’t do anything. They stood by watching their mom fall apart and they suffered, silently and alone. My boys suffered because I was not strong enough to remove myself from this abuse. Not strong enough for me. I let this happen to them and I may never be able to forgive myself because I didn’t protect them from him. I did eventually get out and away, but the damage had already been done.

They may have seen me fall, cry on the floor, insulted and bruised, but they are also now seeing my rise from the wreckage. They are seeing me stand up, proud and tall. They are seeing me help others. They have witnessed me fight and become the strong woman I am today. A woman who can take care of herself. A woman who has met abuse face to face and has won. I fought for me but I also fought for them.

Whether the kids were his or not, they should never see their mom or dad being abused in anyway shape or form. Kids, even from infancy know exactly what is going on. They do not deserve to be in the middle of such toxicity. If you or anyone you know is in this sort of relationship, know you do not have to stay because you have kids. You are teaching them it is OKAY to be treated this way. Please, I implore you to not let them grow up thinking this sort of relationship is normal or even acceptable. They deserve a happy life without second hand abuse. By staying, enduring and “taking it”, you are allowing their minds to be distorted, just the same way I did.

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Kelly Smith~Signs in the Rear View Mirror Episode 6: Discovering You, Discovering Me…

I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. Or when it began to happen. But somewhere between the romantic texts and calls, gifts and door openings, he morphed into who he really was. Over time and in his own sloppiness, pieces of him began to show. Each time a piece of the real Jake began to peek through, he quickly diverted my attention and I thought I was imagining things. But I wasn’t. He was just good at what he did. He was good at his craft. He had years and years of practice before seeking me out. In the beginning, while he was “courting” me, we discussed deal breakers and what our turn offs were. I was not attracted to men who smoked and I could not be with anyone who did. He told me he didn’t smoke, but he used to and quit because it was a “gross habit”.  We talked about our families, our past relationships and everything in between. I told him about my dad and how he passed away at 50 because he was an alcoholic and never took care of himself. I told him how awful it was growing up with an alcoholic dad who was also addicted to gambling. It was no way to live and I refused to let that back into my life. He told me about his parents and the abuse he endured while growing up. He said he didn’t like the environment he was raised in and because of the way his mom would yell, he hated to be yelled at. He told me about his drinking habits from years ago and how he didn’t do that anymore. He also revealed that he used to gamble, but it was too risky now. At the time, this was all music to my ears because Jake was a changed man and he had learned from his mistakes. Derek never had any of those vices. He liked ice cream and coaching our boys’ teams. This was a whole new kind of relationship and although different, I assumed it would be fundamentally the same. As Jake and I talked and I learned more and more about him, I felt better during my discovery phase. Little did I know my “discovery phase” would continue long after our relationship would end. The years and years packed full of lies, skeletons in his closet and the real Jake would eventually reveal himself.

As the time passed, I realized more and more of what we had talked about was not the real him. During a visit home to Boston, I drove past the car dealership where Jake worked. As clear as day I could see him standing outside smoking with one of his coworkers. The cigarette went from his mouth, down to his side and back up again. I watched him smoking as I sat in traffic. Now, because I know I was a bit of a tyrant with Derek, I didn’t want to be a crazy person and freak out on him. Instead, I texted him and I asked him if he was outside smoking. His response was that he was standing near someone who was smoking but he would never, calling it “a filthy habit”.  Wow, I thought to myself. He just lied to me and… So easily. I saw with my own two eyes him put a cigarette to his mouth and he just told me he didn’t. With further questioning, he eventually fessed up that he does smoke when he’s at work because it “helped relieve some stress”. After finding this out, I thought back to our conversation about it when we first met. I thought to myself, “Ok so he smokes when he’s stressed, that is not so bad at least he’s not a gambler and doesn’t drink very often”. Later that night, I picked him up from work we talked about it his smoking and the fact that he blatantly lied to me. This is when I learned that he didn’t like being pressed with questions and in fact, it made him very angry. I began to notice a trend…he got angry very easily and often. I could not understand why he just didn’t tell me in the beginning that he was a smoker. He didn’t like those sort of questions either so when he began to yell, I backed down.

Weeks later, after I was back in Texas, I started to realize how much he drank. There was a pattern with him going out after work. At first, it didn’t happen all that often. While he was at work we would talk and text throughout the day and by the time he was off, he was in his car and I was on the phone with him. We would talk all night and then slowly, he started to call me less. Our conversations were shorter and his after work bar visits increased. While he was out, he would still text or call, but more often than not, he would ask me to call him at a certain time to remind him to leave the bar and go home. Eventually, my calls would go unanswered or he would pick up and yell at me for bothering him, hang up on me and then not take my calls. The next day he would apologize and express how bad he felt, stay home for a few nights and then the cycle would repeat. He had a pattern and I was beginning to become very familiar with it. One night, while I was home in Texas with my kids, he called to let me know he was going out. He again asked me to call him at midnight to remind him to go home. I reluctantly agreed and when I called, he got mad and hung up on me. A few hours later, my phone rang and Jake was on the other end of the line. He was panicked. He had been pulled over and had no idea what was going to happen. The call was cut short and I didn’t hear back from him that night. That was the night he was arrested with a DUI. The next morning, when he called he was a complete mess. He was crying because he was already on parole and was terrified that this would be a major violation and he would be sent back to prison. As we were on the phone, my heart was breaking for him. I was so upset and so scared. I immediately booked a flight for the next day so I could be there with him when he went to see his probation officer. He had previously been in jail for five years and that was because his best friend set him up by placing drugs in his house so the FBI would find them and he would take the fall. He was sentenced to sixteen years but got out after five for good behavior. Years later, I would come to discover the truth about what really happened and the role he really played in ruining other people’s lives. That day, I dropped the boys off at Derek’s, hopped on a flight to Boston and tried to comfort a pathological liar for the next ten days. I held him as he cried and he promised over and over he would never drink again. How this was all “too close to home” and he should have never been out partying. Over the next few months, I paid for the lawyer Jake needed to defend his case. Luckily, he didn’t have to go back to jail but he had to attend classes for alcohol treatment and was going to be drug tested more often by his parole officer. After he got comfortable in his classes, he got comfortable going out after work again… and reacquainted with drinking in bars. I was absolutely floored when I found out. I had just spent thousands of dollars on a lawyer and he was back to calling me a bitch for giving him the reminder he so sweetly asked for just a few hours prior. Back to binge drinking and even more frightening… driving home afterwards.

I wanted to protect him. I wanted to save him. I thought if anyone could love the darkness out of this man, it would be me. There were times when I saw such goodness in him. Once, when my grandmother was sick and in a nursing home back home in Boston, my mom called me and she was in a state of panic. She was worried about my grandmother and didn’t want to be alone. I told Jake what was going on with her and minutes later he was in his car headed to comfort my mom. He sat with both my grandmother and my mom until she was stable. He talked to them, made them laugh and held their hands. I felt better and my mom did too. He then began to go visit my grandmother in her nursing home. She had no idea who he was, but she had a smile on her face when he would enter the room. He visited weekly and for Christmas he gave her an angel that sat on top of her dresser. It would light up different colors and she adored it. I remember one day driving on the highway, a car almost hit me and as I swerved, I almost drove off the road. I called him upset and shaking. He talked to me calmly, had me pull over and asked me to check for something in the trunk. As I got out of the car and looked in the trunk, he told me there was nothing in there and he wanted me to breathe. There was a good man deep down and I saw a light in a very dark place. I thought, “If I loved him enough, the light would shine brighter and he would be ok”. We would be ok. I tried for years and finally I had to give up. As I incessantly tried to search for that dim, dull light inside of him, my light smoldered and eventually was extinguished. I could feel it burning out, but I thought I would be ok. I thought I could be enough for us both. Jake didn’t want to be saved. He felt there was nothing wrong with the way he talked to me. A few months into our relationship, we were at his parents’ house. He was living with them at the time because financially he could not get on his feet. He got into an argument with his parents and I remember my stomach turning and feeling sick listening to the way he spoke to his mom. Listening to the names he was calling her and when his dad tried to step in, he got even more verbally abusive. I remember thinking, “wow, surely he would never talk to me that way”. Man, was I wrong. I learned that if things were not going his way, he would get upset, aggressive and angry. The best thing to do was to keep him calm and happy which, was almost a full time job in itself. A job I happily accepted because of the good I thought he had in him. I took pride in the fact that his friends said I could handle him better than anyone else. At the end of each day, I was exhausted from being a mom, figuring out my new life and in a sense, being his “handler”. I was trying to keep him out of trouble and for the most part I was successful. If I looked away for even a few minutes, he would derail and his emergency would become my fire drill as he would call crying about the trouble he was in and insisting “it wasn’t his fault”. Nothing was ever his fault. Ever.

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Kelly Smith~Signs in the Rear View Mirror~ Episode 5: Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear..

 

As the days turned into months and life moved forward, my divorce became more and more of a reality. One afternoon while the kids were in school, Derek came over. He walked upstairs, cut through the living room and sat at the solid wood, custom ordered dining room table we picked out together. He took his usual seat and I pulled out the chair next to him. He opened my laptop that was already sitting on the table. As he began to type we made small talk and I watched the clock carefully. I was not expecting a call from Jake, but I was anxious. I was afraid he was going to discover my soon to be ex-husband was not only in my house but sitting at my table, next to me. He would not like that. As sweat began to produce in my hands, Derek and I filed for divorce…together. We picked out who would have the kids on which days. Who would have them on their birthdays and for which year. I would take Christmas and he would take Thanksgiving every other year. We had to decide who would have them on every single holiday, even Flag Day. As Americans, we have so many holidays. So as Derek and I figured out where our kids would be on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I continued to watch the clock and my phone. We discussed health insurance, car insurance and who would pay what for the kids. He did the math in his head and I felt nostalgic because I loved that about him. He sat there with his eyes closed as he crunched numbers in his head and I just wanted to reach out to him one last time. I wanted to tell him I still loved him and wanted us to work, but I didn’t. I knew we no longer wanted the same things out of life. He spat out a few numbers, jotted them down and we moved on to other things. We sat next to each other for about an hour and dismantled the life we spent over 20 years building. And just like that, it was done. Over. Filed. We were getting divorced. Derek and I, who had our oldest son as teenagers, were homeless, on welfare and managed to somehow build up a thriving company, have 3 amazing kids, become pillars in the community and volunteers extraordinaire, were over. Our annual 4th of July celebrations were no more. Our weekly game night with our neighbors who turned into great friends were finished. We faced the end of our family as we knew it, and we were both lost. Confused. Sad. Now what? We had no idea how to move forward except that we still had three great kids who needed us both. Maybe now more than ever. We had to co-parent. At this point they were our main priority. We were both facing death. The death of our marriage and of our family in the only way we knew it. We even discussed that if we were indeed meant to be…we would one day find our way back to each other.

That day after Derek left, I made my way to my bedroom, crawled onto “our” bed and cried. I began to mourn the end of the only thing that was ever familiar to me. The only thing that was ever home to me. Derek and I in a sense grew up together. We had to figure out a lot of life while we were together. Now, I was on my own. But then again, I had Jake to lean on. I knew I had to call him before he began to wonder where I was. I sat up in my bed, wiped my tears, cleared my throat, and called Jake. I told him we filed and now we had the two month “cooling off” period and then it would be done. I had on a strong, cold can’t wait for it to just be over voice on while I talked to Jake. The truth was I was dying inside. I wanted to tell Jake how sad I was. I wanted to be able to open up to him and let him know I was hurting. I wanted him to take care of me and tell me everything was going to be ok…but I didn’t. I didn’t tell him what my heart was feeling. I didn’t think he would understand. I was not sure he was even capable of comprehending what I was going through. After we hung up, I threw the covers over my head and cried until I had to pick up the kids.

I had a lot of moments like that. A lot of telling him great things about my days and what I was busy with, but in reality I was beginning to fall apart. The 5 to 10 days I thought I needed to get over Derek were turning out to be a lot longer and a lot more intense. I called Derek a lot. I cried to him a lot. He would take my calls and try to help me though it. He would respond to my texts and take me out to dinner to see if I was doing okay. I could tell Derek how I felt. I could tell Derek I missed him. I could fall apart with Derek… but not with Jake. So, I began to see a therapist. I knew I needed help getting through this. I knew Derek and I were not good together and that I wanted to be with Jake but I could not figure out why I was still so sad. Jake had no idea how much pain I was in. To this day, he has no idea how much I was suffering with the end of my marriage while trying so hard to begin something with him at the exact same time. A few times I thought about ending it with Jake, but then I would panic. I would be alone and that scared me. I thought it would be better to suffer than it was than to be alone. Suffering seemed to be my hobby at this point. The only thing I knew how to do and I did it well.

Between dealing with my divorce and my relationship with Jake, I was a complete mess. While I was working through being on my own and trying to figure out who I was, Jake was asking where I was, who was I with and why didn’t I take his call. “Who do you talk to at the gym? Why do you find it necessary to workout?” he would ask. It became too much for me. All of the arguing with Jake was no longer worth it…so I gave up the gym. I began to eat fast food, cookies, pie… you name it. I was indulging daily on everything I was taught not to eat while I was competing and modeling. I began to add weight but I figured as long as I could still see my lower abs, I would be fine. Well, that didn’t last long. I was traveling back and forth from Texas to Boston twice a month and when I was home in Boston, I was eating and drinking. I no longer cared about working out and Jake insisted that he loved the way I looked…but deep down, I felt sad and gross. I missed my workouts and eating routine. But because it was less stress on my new relationship, I pushed those feeling down and covered them with burgers and fries.

The only place I felt safe was when I was 30,000 feet in the air. Only then, could I be myself, let it all out and cry. Jake could not reach me and I didn’t have to pretend to be happy. The days I volunteered at the school slowly fizzled and soon I wasn’t helping out at the school anymore. I was slowly becoming a shell of my former self….I would later realize I was falling into a deep depression. I was either crying over the end of my marriage, my family or I was explaining myself to Jake. Things started to get dark for me and the walls were closing in. I became unrecognizable to myself. One afternoon, after the kids left for their dad’s house, I was talking to Jake. After the call ended, I found myself on the bathroom floor, barely able to hold my head up. I was gone… so was my will to live. I rummaged through my pill bottles and  swallowed as many as I could. I could not do it anymore. I could not take it anymore. I had no direction. I had no desire. I felt that I had nothing left. I felt I had no choice. I layed on the cold tile floor wondering what I had just done but not able to muster up the strength to react. Luckily, not long after, a friend who was in the neighborhood, dropped by to say hello. She found me there, limp on the bathroom floor, picked me up and managed to help me vomit. Needless to say, I failed at my attempt. To this day, neither Jake nor Derek, much less my kids knew I wanted to end my life that day. It isn’t until now, that they may learn of how gone I really was.

It was a tough time in my life but I managed somehow to get through it. I kept seeing Jake and putting on a strong front when he was around. I put up that front because I knew Jake wouldn’t understand. I was not protecting him from anything. I was protecting me from him. I didn’t want him to know I was sad. He wouldn’t have liked it very much and it was just easier to pretend to be okay than it was to be honest with him about my feelings. He would not understand that I wasn’t still in love with Derek but mourning the loss of my marriage. I was just sad. So I faked it. I faked being happy with the way my life was going. Truth be told, I felt defeated, destroyed. I was in pieces and I needed some time to feel and recover from the end of my marriage. I needed to be on my own to figure out who I was. I needed time to just be with my kids and be there for them. I didn’t take time for me or for my kids. I chose to put Jake first. I chose to talk to him and listen to him bitch about his day rather than read to my sons or watch a movie with them. I chose to explain every single move I made to him over sitting close to my boys to make sure they were okay. I made these choices and I regret them to this very day. My kids needed a healthy mom more than I needed a man. A man who made me anxious and paranoid if I missed his call. A man who called me names and put me down when I was suicidal. A man who was so concerned about himself that he never once asked me if I was okay. A man who was so upset about my social media page that I had to go through and delete every guy friend and every picture I had of me, Derek and the kids. I was not ready to do that but I did it to please him. I deleted it all just to make things “easier” in my relationship with him.

I had a choice in all of this and I chose him over everything, myself included . I didn’t love myself. I didn’t know how. I was lost and confused and I was weak. I thought at the time that what I was doing was right. But it wasn’t…

 

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Kelly Smith~Signs in the Rear View Mirror~ Episode 4: The Red Flags Come Marching In…

Gone. Gone were the days of family movie nights. Gone were the vacations where we all loaded our luggage onto the airplane and headed somewhere sunny, somewhere beachy. Gone were the late nights on Christmas Eve staying up together complaining about wrapping presents and stuffing stockings. Gone were the summer days that would turn into late evenings grilling in the backyard and jumping into the illuminated pool for a late night swim. Gone were shows we watched together where we sat close on the couch to share ice cream and candy. Gone were the days we forced the kids to do homework and rolled our eyes at each other while we were being parents. Gone were all of our inside jokes. Memories from our earlier days and conversations about how hard we worked to live the life we had. It was all gone. They were packed up and put into Derek’s suitcase and loaded in the back of his car the day he finally left for good. Left in their place were the egg shells I would be walking on for years. The three, four and even five times I had to think before I spoke and was still put down and insulted for being an “idiot”. The drunk rants took the place of tv shows I used to watch and the insults replaced the ice cream and candy. The name calling replaced walks down memory lane and lies filled the space that once occupied inside jokes. I was now living a different life altogether. A life I chose. A life I could have stopped but I didn’t because I was afraid of being alone.

After we left Pete’s house, the ride home was awful. Scary. Jake was mad at me and I was crying. As he drove too fast, switched lanes like a mad person and yelling at no one, I was trying to figure out what I did wrong. In my intoxicated mind I must have done something for him to be this upset. Instead of trying to figure it out, I begged him to forgive me. I told him I was sorry and I didn’t mean to embarrass him. I honestly didn’t think I did. I thought about the many times I was with Derek and I spoke to other guys. He never had an issue with it. But maybe Jake was right. Maybe Derek didn’t know how to say anything to me the way Jake did? Maybe you’re not suppose to talk to other men when your boyfriend is around. I sat with those thoughts stewing in my head and continued to cry because now I thought I messed things up with Jake. “Is he going to break up with me?” No, he can’t. The idea of being without Jake, without Derek and being on my own terrified me. I reached for Jake’s hand and he let me put my hand on his. This was something I would soon come to recognize as a sign that he was calming down. I tried to control my tears and told him how sorry I was, how wrong I was and that I would never do anything to disrespect him like that again. He squeezed my hand and pulled me in close. I made a mental note to never talk to a guy in front of him ever again. As my brain processed what just happened and justified his actions, my gut was screaming something else. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I ignored my gut that night ……and for the next 5 years.

The next morning as we woke up in the hotel room, Jake pulled me close. I laid my head on his bare chest and could still smell his cologne and everything felt right again. He had his hand on my back and moved his fingers along my spine. He apologized for getting upset and blamed his behavior on the alcohol. I forgave him and apologized again. We had our first fight and we got through it. I smiled and sunk into him, relaxing and somehow convinced he was the right one for me.

A few days later Jake dropped me off at the airport. I was headed back to Texas and was just sick over it. I knew that all that was waiting for me was an empty house. I hated being a mom without kids. I knew I would get the boys back the next day but it was always tough coming home to no one. I took solace knowing that Jake, although 2,000 miles away, would always be close by. As soon as he dropped me off at the airport, we were on the phone. We were texting up until the plane was going to take off. 30,000 feet in the air was the only place I was ever truly alone. I had so much time to go over the events of the weekend and it was all I thought about. I could not believe how mad he was at me. It was only then, sober, days later and away from him, that I could really dive into what had taken place. I knew he was wrong for reacting the way he did and I knew I was wrong for apologizing to him for something I didn’t do. I wasn’t used to apologizing. Then again, was it really that big of a deal for me to give up just a little bit of who I was for someone I loved? It wasn’t hurting anyone…or so I thought.

A few months before Derek and I separated, I was still working out and building up my name in the fitness industry. I had lost 100 lbs and that seemed to impress a lot of women. A high profile magazine ran an article on me and my success story. That began a roller coaster of events. I began fitness modeling, and in fact it was a picture of me modeling that attracted Jake’s attention to begin with. It was one of the things he had said he most admired about me. So when I got the news I was yet again published, I was more than thrilled to share it with Jake. Moments after I sent him the article with the very same picture that attracted him to me in the first place, my phone rang. The voice on the other end was the guy who published the book and he was calling to offer me two magazine articles. He said the book was doing well and he would love to publish my success story along with a new photo shoot. I was shocked. Everyone in the fitness industry works so hard for this moment and it is not often you get one offer, let alone two. After we hung up I immediately called Jake. I was so excited to share with him my news. He answered almost instantly and sounded happy to hear from me. He was busy at work but told me to hold on so he could go to another room to hear me better. When he got back on the phone, I could have never predicted what he was about to say. Before I could tell him about the offer I had just gotten, he laid into me.

 

“Are you fucking kidding with that picture? You are mother. You look like a whore. Why do you feel it’s necessary to show off your body to everyone? Why do you need so much attention from men?” I was speechless. I felt my eyes begin to fill with tears and they slowly ran down my cheeks. I suddenly felt stupid for being so excited about the magazine publisher calling me. I sat on my couch in the living room crying silently while he put me down for goals I had worked so hard to achieve. He ended the call a few minutes later. After I hung up the phone, I let myself fall to the side of the couch and I sobbed. I let it all out, then picked up the phone again but this time, I called Derek. I sent him the picture and told him about the magazine offers. He said he was so proud of me and that he would buy up all the copies of the magazines. We chatted for a few minutes and I had tears running down my face again, but for a different reason. After we hung up, I felt better and I was excited again. A few minutes later Jake sent me a text. He told me he loved me and I looked great. He said it was hard for him to share the woman he loved with other people. After reading that, I felt happy. I felt as if he was jealous and that was sweet. I told him I loved him too and right then, made the decision to not shoot for either magazine. I loved Jake and if he was not going to be ok with it, I was not going to do it. Again my brain agreed, but my gut shouted “ What the fuck?’

The next weekend, when Derek had the kids, I was off again to Boston to see Jake. I wasn’t able to spend Christmas with him, so we decided to celebrate early. He picked me up from the airport, we had dinner and headed back to the hotel. As we checked in and I got settled, Jake asked me if I needed to take a shower. I looked at him with confusion and told him I didn’t. He insisted I take one. I gave in and took and unwanted shower. After I got out, with a towel wrapped around me, I headed toward my bag. When I turned the corner, it was dark. He had candles all over the room with rose petals all over the bed and he was holding a box. A jewelry gift box. He threw me on the bed, told me he loved me and asked me to open it. As I sat up looking at him and all around the room, the colorful butterflies were back and I was in love all over again. No one had ever done anything this romantic for me. It was like a scene right out of a movie. I started to tear up, put my free hand on his face and got lost in his brown eyes. He kissed me and insisted I open the box. As I began to unwrap the paper, Jake looked like a little kid. He was so eager for me to see what was inside. I opened the box and looking back at me was a beautiful three stone diamond necklace… one for past, one for present and one for future. It was the most beautiful necklace I had ever seen and I instantly loved it. My hands were shaking as I pulled it out of the box and tried to put it on. He sat behind me and helped me with the clasp. It hung perfectly in the middle of my chest and I was over the moon in love with both him and the amazing gift he had given me. I couldn’t have known then that, years later, this was the same necklace that he would be helping some other girl clasp as a birthday gift… one he would meet at work and “fall in love with”….behind my back.

That night we went to a Christmas carnival. It was about an hour or so away from the hotel, but the ride there was full of long talks and laughter. I really enjoyed being in the car with him. We liked the same music and I loved the way he handled the car. Risky, but safe as the same time. We arrived at the park just at the last train ride of the night took off. I didn’t think it was a big deal but Jake…just sort of lost it. He started to raise his voice to the elderly ticket taker and I tried to pull him away as I flashed an awkward “I’m sorry” smile. My heart raced and I had no idea why he was reacting so intensely. Moments later, after he settled down, we went into the park. The scene was beautiful. Lights covered every inch of each tree, decorations and tons of kids waiting to see santa. The smell of fried food and cotton candy lingered all around in the frozen New England air.  We pranced around the park, played bumper cars, and we tried to win one of those giant stuffed animals. We giggled and huddled together trying to stay warm… it was so cold out. Each time a gust of wind blew, I would close my eyes to protect them from the cold and each time I slowly opened them, there was Jake, standing close by. We munched on fried dough and sipped hot chocolate. We got in line for the ferris wheel and boarded when it was our turn. That night, as we sat at the top of the wheel looking at the park and taking in all the sights, everything that I thought was bad in our relationship, suddenly disappeared. I felt happy again. Secure. I looked at Jake and smiled. He pulled out his phone and we took our first picture together. I rested my head on his shoulder, he put his arm around me, pulled me in close and kissed my forehead. Round and round we went. I closed my eyes and could not imagine being any happier than I was at that moment. Both tucked safely into one another.

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