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.