Let’s Get Wicked Deep~ A Podcast~ The Space Between No Longer and Not Yet~ Episode 2

” As I sat across the table from him, just him, I felt as ease. Safe. Happy. Interested. In that moment and for the rest of the night, that was the only place I wanted to be, near him. For the first time in a very long time, Jake was not present with me. With us. It was just the two of us laughing, living, and beginning again”.

Take your time and live in the darkness so you can also begin again…..

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“Let’s Get Wicked Deep” A Podcast with Kelly Smith…Episode 1 “And Introducing”…

Click on the link to hear my very first podcast show. Bear with me as I am still working out the kinks. Soon to be released on iTunes and Google Play.  If you or someone you know is or has been in a narcissistic relationship and you are interested in being a guest on my show, please email me at~ letsgetwickeddeep@yahoo.com

 

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Kelly Smith~Signs in the Rear View Mirror~ Season 2 Opener…Ghost of Christmas Past…

Freedom. According to Merriam-Webster, freedom is defined as the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. It comes in many forms and means something different to all of us. Lately, I have been living vicariously through my second oldest Godson Zackary. Zack is 23 and he is an amazing young man. I don’t mean amazing in a way that only a Godmother would see her Godson but rather, he is amazing in spirit.  He is honest, reliable and incredibly free spirited. He is secure enough with himself to grow his hair out, take crap for it and never think twice of someone else’s opinion of him. He lives the life he wants to live and is only concerned with what he and the good Lord think of his decisions.

Like all kids, they rely heavily on us for support. Whether it be food, transportation, finances or to simply cheer them on from the sideline and be there to lift them up after a major loss, we are there every step of the way.  As we watch them grow, we are proud of the choices they make and who they are becoming. But at some point, we become less and less of a priority to them and we end up observing their lives after they have moved out on their own. Through the sometimes blurry windows of social media, there are glimpses into their daily lives, friendships and careers. They come home when they can and even occasionally take a call or return a text. For the most part, they are on the forefront of our minds and we are in their back pockets as sort of a safety net when they need us. It is nothing personal, but it is part of the growing pains we feel as a parent (Godparent in this case).We love our kids from a distance and watch the wings we have given them begin to expand.

This past Christmas, instead of watching Zack’s typical life adventures that take him snowboarding, cliff jumping or hopping in his car to go where the wind takes him, he let me know he was coming home for a few days. Zack sneaks in and out as to not upset or disturb the lives of the people he can’t see. This year, I was lucky enough to not only get a text back and a call, but I was able to come face to face with the elusive boy turned man that I am grateful to call family.

Five years have passed since our divorce and like every Christmas Eve, Derek has the kids until 10pm. He brings them to my house and they boys and I are able to wake up and spend Christmas Day together.  I was getting ready to go to a friend’s house for a group Christmas Eve dinner when my phone buzzed. I looked down. Zack was on his way! We texted back and forth a few times until his face was finally at my front door. He rang the bell and walked in. Zack standing 5’11 with this dark brown hair grown out to his shoulders, was wearing a giant smile on his face and peaking through his lips were his shiny white teeth. I rushed over and threw my arms around him, squeezing him tightly. Zack, who is not much of a hugger knew the drill… I will not release him from the hug until l get both arms around me. He did what he knew had to and he hugged me back. We made small talk about life and the amazing journey he was on, places he had been visiting and about his love life. We sat outside on the back deck, he took pictures of the water and took in the view, I texted my son, Todd, to let him know Zack was at the house and invited him to come by to see him. As we chatted, laughed, and talked about his future plans, a flash of light bounced off the stone pillars on the deck. I looked behind me and thought I saw a headlight and figured it was my son. Todd and Zack got along pretty well and it was always great when they could get together. As my own kids grew, one ran off to college to play lacrosse in Missouri and the other one went off to school but stayed in Texas and my Godsons, all four of them followed suit. Three took off to play college football in different states and the youngest headed off to serve his mission for two years in Argentina. So, with all the boys scattered, it was a blessing to see all of them together again when possible. It wasn’t a surprise to see that Todd rushed over to see Zach, even if only for a few minutes. A minute or two passed and when Todd didn’t come barreling through the door, I figured it was the neighbors headlight I saw.  Zack and I continued our conversation. After a few more minutes, Zack looked up and said “I think someone’s here”.

Weird, I thought. Maybe it was Todd and he was finishing up a call? I was startled when I heard a knock at the door. I looked at Zack and without reason, my heart sank. I looked at the door and through the frosted glass opening, I could a face looking inside. We made our way into the house and towards the door.  Zack followed close behind me and I began to make out the figure. Derek? I thought to myself.

“Why is Mr. Stevenson here”?  Zack said with slight excitement.

“No idea”. I said.

I thought to myself he must be bringing Joseph, our youngest son, now 15, over early for Christmas Eve, but had no idea why he would do that. As I got closer to the door, I was now convinced it was Derek and I was excited for him to see Zack. As we approached the door we laughed and thought it was a great coincidence that he came by while Zack was visiting. As I opened the door and peeked my head out just a little, my heart, my jaw and my stomach hit the floor. My mouth dried up, chest grew tight and I anxiously locked eyes with Zack. Seconds later, Jake pushed the door open and walked in…

 

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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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Kelly Smith~Signs in the Rear View Mirror~Episode 3: Introducing The Prince of Darkness…

As I text my final goodbye to Jake, I powered down my cell phone and placed it snug in the back of the seat in front of me. I crossed my arms and stared out the airplane window. I had so many things running through my mind. I had a few hours to be totally alone with just my thoughts. The plane began to move and before I knew it I was 30,000 feet in the air and I felt safe. I felt as if no one and nothing could touch me. I felt a sense of ease because for the next few hours I didn’t need to make any decisions. Yet my mind raced and my heart was heavy. I closed my eyes but could not escape the visual I had of Derek.

For the record, Derek wasn’t a bad guy. At the time, he wasn’t trying to nurture our relationship or go out of his way to show me attention or affection. He went to work each day and came home each night. He coached the boy’s youth football team, played semi-pro himself and volunteered his time in the community. We both spent our spare time focused on everything except our marriage. While he was at practice, I was at PTO meetings. While he ran the kids through football drills, I sat on the lacrosse board. We were always busy. We both worked out and occasionally we would spend time together. For me, it just wasn’t enough. Derek didn’t pamper me enough and wasn’t romantic enough. When my birthday would roll around and he didn’t meet my preconceived expectations, I would get upset and tell him he didn’t love me.  Looking back, I could not have been more wrong. His way of loving me was through providing a comfortable, stable and ultimately wonderful life for the boys and I. Again, hindsight is 20/20. So, it’s no wonder, when Jake began to show me the attention I wanted, it was like a drug. It drew me closer to him, almost like a high. “He always knows exactly what to say and when to say it” I thought to myself on the plane. I was starting to believe that maybe we were meant to be together. Maybe the day he talked to me in the hallway at school when I first found out I was pregnant happened for a reason. Could it be that I got pregnant with my oldest son so I could meet Jake and all these years later, find my happily ever after? In my head this seemed possible, and I was starting to believe that it was fate. It made sense because after all, we had so much in common and it was so easy for him to open up to me and be totally truthful. He shared with me that he hadn’t ever been able to open up in that way with anyone. I felt so at ease around him and was also able to just be myself and he seemed to like me just the way I was. It felt so right.

As the plane began to descend into Texas, I felt my stomach begin to rise into my throat. Jake was on my mind, but Derek was picking me up from the airport. I missed Jake. I missed the way he held my hand, how he understood me and how I felt around him. I was afraid to see Derek. How was I going to feel around him? Would he be able to see Jake in my eyes? I felt transparent and guilt stricken. Per his instructions, as soon as the plane landed, I text Jake and let him know I landed safely. I loved that he worried so much about me already. I tucked my phone into my bag and got off the plane. After collecting my luggage, I met Derek outside at the car. The fact that he waited for me outside was a sure sign that he was not changing his mind about the separation. He helped me load my bag into the car and we made small talk on the way home. Derek was still living in the house, but we were in separate rooms. That night we had a long talk and decided it was time for him to move out. This would be an opportunity for us to see how we felt without each other. I truly didn’t believe we were going to actually separate. In my mind, I thought he would move out and realize how important I was to him, he would vow to change  and we would work everything out. After all, he was the one who needed to change in order to fix our marriage, not me. I was everything a man could want. Again, I could not have been more wrong.

When I shared with Jake that Derek was moving out, I was sort of surprised at his lack of reaction. He asked a few pragmatic questions like “when is he moving out?”, “where will he go?”, “will he pay for the house, bills, etc.?”. I did my best to answer his questions and the weight of what was happening washed over me. It was 3am when I hung up the phone and I sat on the floor of the bedroom that was “ours” just a month prior. I sat against the wall and I sobbed. I was scared. The fear of the unknown overwhelmed me and I had no idea what to do on my own or where to even start in figuring it out. What did my life look like without Derek? I knew he and I had problems, but would we end up divorced? Nothing was certain in that moment. All I knew was that after seeing Jake, I had feelings for him. Strong feelings. It was those strong feelings that help me up off the floor and into my bed that night. I covered myself with the same sheets and comforter that once covered Derek and I… and cried myself to sleep. I woke up the next day with a mean case of cry face. As I moved around the house getting the kids ready for school, I convinced myself that it would probably take anywhere between 5 and 10 days to get over Derek and then I could move forward with a relationship with Jake. Up to this point, Derek was my only relationship and I was incredibly naive to the toll a heartbreak takes on a person. In my defense, I was clueless as to how long it actually took to get over someone and having Jake as a distraction certainly helped me get through the day.

As the days went by, the reality set in that Derek was moving out. I got closer and closer to Jake and began planning another trip to see him. It was perfect timing because his brother’s 40th birthday party was coming up and he wanted me to go with him to meet his family. This had to mean something – he wanted to show me off. I didn’t quite know how to handle this but I was excited and flattered. The day Derek moved out, I went to my sister’s house. I couldn’t bear the sight of  him moving things out. He told me he would take everything he wanted and whatever was left, I could keep. After he called to tell me he was finished, I slowly made my way home. I was afraid to go in and had no idea what would be left, if anything. He did tell me that he had hired movers to help me move to my new place so I assumed he left some items. Derek decided to sell our house and move in with his business partner and I was moving into a house of my own. Jake told me he didn’t want me to be in the same house I lived in with my ex so it made sense. Within a week, we were totally moved out, living separately and our house was for sale. We were officially separated and I was totally lost.

The first weekend apart Derek had the kids, and I hopped on a flight to Boston. I was sad about Derek, but seeing Jake was exactly what I needed. Up to this point Jake was supportive but he didn’t like when I talked to him about Derek, so I learned to avoid that topic. Instead, I talked to my friends about the separation and with Jake all was well in my world.  At the time, I understood why he didn’t want to hear it and I was focused on moving forward. This time, getting off the plane in Boston was different. I was filled with excitement and couldn’t wait to wrap my arms around Jake. I left my thoughts of Derek in Texas and I was focused on my time in Boston. When my flight touched down I text Jake to let him know I had landed. He responded quickly saying he was already at the airport and couldn’t wait to see me. The butterflies in my stomach danced around so happily that I could almost taste their colors. I rushed off the plane and practically ran to the baggage claim. I almost fell as I went down the stairs to meet him, I was elated to see him standing there waiting for me. A soon as I could, I threw my arms around him and hugged him tight. My eyes closed as I felt every ounce of him against my body. I inhaled his cologne and time stood still. He grabbed my waist and at the same time, he kissed my face. In that moment, I had never been happier. We joined hands and together we looked for my bag. Hand in hand, we made our way to his car. Honestly, we could not keep our hands to ourselves. I felt amazing. I felt loved. I felt wanted. I felt things I had never felt before and I was in love with that feeling. With him close by, holding my hand, I felt safe. We got to his car and he had a bottle of water waiting for me. “It’s the little things” I said to myself as I got in and buckled the seat belt. On the way to the hotel, we talked and laughed and I felt free. He had my hand in his the entire way there and each time he looked at me from his seat I melted. Those brown eyes, they got me every time. They held some sort of trance over me and I let them.

That night was his brother’s 40th birthday party. I was meeting his family for the first time and I was terrified. Not yet divorced, I felt what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyway. Jake reassured me that his family would love me. As it turns out, one of my very good friends, Erika, was married to Jake’s brother’s best friend. So, I relaxed knowing she was going to be there. As we drove to his brother’s house I was quiet. I didn’t know what to expect, but Jake was amazing. He told me to just be myself and have fun. I smiled at him and appreciated how patient he was with me. As we pulled into the driveway, I started to sweat and I am pretty sure I had a small, unnoticeable panic attack.

After walking in and meeting everyone, I felt better. Erika arrived soon after and helped to ease me into the party with a drink. At one point I was standing in the living room talking to a stranger. I had what was probably the second drink of the night in my hand and I stood there chatting with my new friend. I could feel eyes on me. Eyes burning a hole in the side of my head. I slowly glanced over to my left and there was Jake. He was standing next to his dad and they were both looking at me. Jake holding a drink of his own, wearing that smile and showing off those dimples. Suddenly my body warmed and I melted all over the living room floor. I returned a smile and his widened. His dad looked at him then back at me and he smiled. Right then and there as those familiar brown eyes were set solely on me from across the room of a crowded party, I fell in love with Jake Williams.

As the night grew stale and darker, the drinks flowed heavily between all the party guests, (myself included). Jake’s brother, Pete, lit a bonfire at the top of the hill. Jake and I hand in hand walked up the hill to join the group. Waiting for us at the fire was Erika and her husband. Erika disappeared to get a drink and I stayed with Jake and talked to her husband. We continued to talk as Jake made his rounds. A few minutes later, Jake angrily paced around the bonfire a few times then he grabbed me by the hand and quickly led me down the hill toward the house. By the time we got to the door, he was now sort of pushing me in the direction he wanted me to go, but still holding my hand, tighter. I noticed as I tried to keep my balance, his brother and dad were close by looking at us. When we got in the house, Jake began to yell at me. He demanded to know why I wanted to make him look like a fool by talking to another man in front of him. He wanted to know and he wanted to know now. I struggled to make sense of exactly what was happening and when I stumbled over my words trying desperately to tell him what he wanted to hear, he began to call me names. For the first time in my entire life, a man was calling me a bitch… a whore. He was screaming at me and telling me that I had embarrassed him and myself in front of his family. I began to cry and he stormed off leaving me standing alone, intoxicated, scared, confused and in a strange place. As I was trying to figure out what exactly I had done wrong, I looked around and saw Pete talking to Jake. I didn’t know my way around the house so I made my way to the hall entrance, stood against a wall, slid down and cried my eyes out on the hardwood floor.  Moments later his dad found me and he sat next to me on the floor. He said Jake was not good for me. He told me to go home and never look back. He said Jake didn’t know how to treat a woman, especially not a good one. He insisted that he would end up hurting me and that I deserved better. Just then Jake walked up to us, told me to get up and that we were leaving. “You’ve embarrassed me enough for one night and it’s time to go”, he said angrily. Both his dad and Pete tried to convince him to stay because Jake had been drinking, but his mind was made up- he wanted to leave, so we did. We got into the car and headed back to the hotel.

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Kelly Smith~ Signs in the Rear View Mirror~ Episode 2: Heart Wide Open, Eyes Wide Shut…

As we enter any new relationship, we go in blind. For the most part, we trust until we are given reasons not to. That is what I did anyway. When I met Jake for the second time, I had no reason to not trust him. I had no reason to ever suspect him of lying about anything. After all, I went into it not expecting much of an outcome. I lived in Texas and he was far away in Boston…1956.7 miles away to be exact. I was in the middle of a separation with no idea if Derek and I would work things out or not, but I moved forward. With an open heart and open mind, I got on that plane to Boston.

When I landed, I text Jake that I had arrived and I would meet him in the baggage area. He responded quickly that he was almost to the airport. As I got off the plane and walked toward the baggage claim, I had butterflies in my stomach and a dry mouth. I had no idea what to expect. I felt a rush of excitement and lingering guilt at the same time. I was still married to Derek, separated, but married nonetheless. The thoughts of “what am I doing here” and “should I be doing this” were slowly creeping to the forefront of my mind. I arrived at the baggage claim and waited for my luggage to drop. I knew Jake wasn’t there yet, so I waited patiently until I spotted my bright pink suitcase. I scooped it up and walked around the airport with my roller bag behind me, I nonchalantly surveyed my surroundings to see if I could spot him. As I went to sit down, he text me: “I’m here, on my way”. I began to sweat. That sensation of fear and excitement hit me like a ton of bricks and immediately I had second thoughts. My hands were shaking. I had clue what to do when I saw him, so I started rummaging through my bag looking for nothing but hoping to find my composure. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him walking toward me. I knew it was him without looking up because he had a distinct walk. I actually felt him approaching me and was eager and panicked at the same time. Guilt overwhelmed me and I thought I was going to throw up. There I was, yet again, sitting on the floor when I heard his voice.

I looked up and there he stood; dark hair, dark eyes, tanned skin, and that cologne. As I stood up, he opened his arms to me and I was enveloped by him. My nerves began to simmer and I felt myself relax in his arms. We made small talk about my flight and he grabbed my bag as we headed toward the rental car area. I didn’t know Jake very well so I made a reservation to rent my own car.  He apologized to me for this tardiness and explained that he had asked a friend to drop him off at the airport so he could keep me company on the drive to the hotel. On the shuttle headed to the rental car area, Jake and I sat close together, our legs touching. His cologne infiltrated my senses, the warmth of his body floating toward mine, and his presence somewhat calmed me. I looked at him and just felt safe. No idea why, but I did. We had spent a lot of time on the phone talking and texting over the past few weeks and I felt as if I have known him intimately my entire life. As I looked him over, I admired the way he was dressed. He wore a blue and white gingham button down shirt with the cuffs folded up, jeans and those all too familiar penny loafers. For whatever reason, I had always associated him with those shoes. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn he was wearing the same exact ones from high school. He wore them well. He wore all of it well. His familiar smile rested across his face almost the entire time we sat together. I asked him why he was smiling and he said it was because he couldn’t believe I was there, with him, as he placed his hand lovingly on my knee. That sensation made my heart melt and felt myself falling deeper and deeper into a feeling that this just may be going somewhere… and that scared me.

As I sat close to Jake, I thought about my marriage. That sick feeling came over me again and this time I couldn’t shake it. As we locked eyes, I could not help but think about my estranged husband, the father of my three sons. In a flash, I began to relive every moment of the past twenty years with Derek. Everything from getting pregnant, reciting our vows, the happy moments, and to him slowly losing interest in me over time. I can’t say I blamed him. I wasn’t exactly a joy to live with. I was needy, demanding and co-dependent. Although at the time I thought I was perfect. There was so much history between us. So many memories both good and bad. Right then and there…for a few moments, I felt sad and wanted to go home. I was jerked out of my thoughts of Derek as the shuttle grinded to a halt at the rental center. Jake bounced to his feet, grabbed my bag and escorted me off the bus. As we walked, he dragged my bag behind him and opened the doors for me. This was new. And it felt good. “I could get used to this” I thought to myself. Those haunting thoughts of Derek were fading with each chivalrous gesture I was shown.

We talked as we stood in line waiting to pick up the rental car. Laughter ensued and my smile grew as he slightly touched my shoulder and arm in a flirtatious way. He knew what he was doing. Texas was a distant memory and I was fully present in the moment with this handsome man who wanted to be with me. We got into the rental car and drove to the hotel I reserved for the duration of the trip. His car was already in the parking lot when we pulled in. As I checked in to the hotel, Jake was by my side with my bag safely behind him. I know it may not sound like much, but the way he cared for my bag made me feel wanted, appreciated… cherished. It was something I never really felt with Derek. Now, it wasn’t that Derek didn’t want me or didn’t appreciate me, it was that he showed it in a different way, his way. The way he displayed affection didn’t mirror my way of receiving affection. It is only now that I can acknowledge this fact and understand where the wires often got crossed.

When we got to my room, I opened the door and began to settle in. We made small talk as I unpacked and put away my things. We talked about our plans for the next day. He had to work and I had decided to catch up with some old friends. We started making plans for the next evening and I could feel my stomach begin to knot. As we talked, he moved closer toward me and soon he was finally close enough and gently grabbed my hand. We continued to talk as his face got closer to mine. As he slowly moved in, he carefully placed his hand under my chin, and pulled my face closer to his. I could feel his body moving toward mine and I knew what was about to happen. I thought about stopping him and for a moment I thought again about leaving. But as soon as his hand touched my face… my mind went blank and I let myself go. The excitement rushed through my veins, my heart pounded and my mind raced with all the possibilities of what could happen… what I suddenly wanted to happen. We had our first kiss in that hotel room. Moments later, we walked hand in hand, happily moving down the hallway to his car.

That night we had dinner and we talked for hours. He openly shared the details of his past with me. We sat at that restaurant table and he told me about his life after high school. As he moved from story to story, I took it all in with my eyes and ears wide open. I had questions and he had answers. Nothing to him was off limits. I remember thinking how great it was that he was so open. That he was so eager to share so much with me so soon. The way he shared made me feel as if I could trust him, and I started to. I had never met anyone willing to be that raw. His past was colorful and complete with jail time, drug sales, and domestic violence. All the red flags were there that night, but the way he presented them, it all seemed normal and almost romantic. He had reasons why everything happened as it did and said he just felt unlucky. I stared at this man from across the table and felt bad for him. I believed everything he said because he was so “open and honest”. I mean, how could I not? By the end of the night, I was convinced that Jake was a sweet and genuine man with a string of bad luck who just wanted to be loved… and maybe, just maybe, I was the woman to love him.

Jake stayed with me that night at the hotel. I told him I wasn’t ready to take our relationship (whatever it was) to the next level and said he respected that. When he didn’t try anything at all that night, I was impressed. He truly respected my boundaries and that made me trust him even more. The next morning, I had plans to meet up with my friend at the local track for a workout. I woke up before Jake, got ready and I kissed him goodbye. From his groggy slumber, he told me he would call me later and I was already looking forward to seeing him that night. I grabbed my keys, flashed a giant Kool Aid smile and with a little pep in my step, hurried out the door.

In the car, I was now alone with my thoughts. I began to compare Jake to Derek. I focused on the things that were seemingly unimportant yet they meant the world to me. Opening the car door, kissing me gently and being so open with his feelings and his past. When I thought about Derek, I thought about all the times he didn’t wait up for me at night, turning his ringer off when I called and not touching me nearly enough. At the time, I was more enamored with the illusion of love than I was with the reality of the situation and what really mattered in a relationship. My marriage was ending and Jake seemed like a perfect filler for the void that Derek left in my heart. If I knew then what I know now, I would have listened to my intuition when it told me to get my ass back on that plane to Texas. That gut feeling to go home and fight for my marriage.  As I drove, I marveled at Jake’s honesty. I thought about the numerous ex-girlfriends he mentioned and couldn’t believe how they treated him. I could not fathom how anyone could treat such a sweet, honest and loving guy so poorly. I’m sure he made mistakes, but doesn’t everyone?  A man who was set up by his best friend and served time in prison for something he didn’t do. None of that mattered now. All that came into focus was that he was out of jail, safely in my life and the rest was water under the bridge.

The days with Jake passed in an instant and by the time I knew it we were headed back to the airport for my flight home. We said our goodbyes and I boarded that plane with a full heart, hope for the future and a mind in a state of total confusion. I had a lot to consider as I flew back home. From the moment we parted at the airport, I was on the phone with him. Jake wanted to make sure I got through security without any issue and I assured him I did. We stayed on the phone the entire time I waited to board my flight and up until the plane took off, we were texting. I loved the feeling of him wanting to know I was ok. I loved the feeling of being concerned for. I loved the feeling of being wanted. At most, Derek would check on me once a day so this kind of attention for me, was irresistible. As if I were a dry sponge seeking only love and affection and there he was, ready and willing to give me what I craved. All at once I was swimming in an ocean of emotions that were not only foreign but intoxicating. I had no idea that I would slowly drown not only in his attention, but his lies, manipulations, and everything in between.

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