About a week ago, the Daily Post offered up a tasty, psyche-probing prompt that asked us to tell of a time we felt helpless, and what we did about it. At once my mind both embraced the idea and recoiled at it. I had at least three completely helpless times in my life, and while they are compelling stories, I suppose, they would also be hard to talk about publicly. They are personal, painful times. I survived them, through my faith, and time. Some people may not want to know about those times. I would have to be brutally honest, not embellishing for effect, nor diminishing to reduce potential criticism.
I am still not sure I am ready to talk about all of it. Not here. But I will say that all of these helpless moments were resolved through a combination of inner strength, and a certain grace that I credit to God.
When my ex-husband and I divorced, it was a very painful time. It was not an amicable split. There was a lot of bitterness and pain involved. Worst of all, there were two kids involved. At a point before the divorce papers had been signed by the other party, who had been hiding from the person I had chosen to serve him with them, things took a very dark turn.
I was at my new apartment, typing a research paper for my class. I had a midnight deadline, and was just pounding out the last few citations, when I got an overwhelming sense of doom. I had a sudden, urgent need to go to my daughter’s. They were mostly staying with their dad, convinced that life with him would be better. I still didn’t accept that. But all I knew that night is that I HAD to get over there, midnight notwithstanding.
When I arrived, his SUV was not in sight, but every light in the house was on. As I approached the door, I could see my daughter’s backpacks on the floor, through the wooden and glass door. I thought I heard their voices. I began to knock and call out their names. It got very quiet. I continued to knock. No answer, but I felt that someone must be there. I got frustrated and anxious and tried to open the door. There had never been a top lock on the door. The knob turned, but someone had nailed the door shut from the inside on a metal hasp that was attached to the door but had no matching lock to go with it. The door opened 1/4 inch, so I could see that. This just really mystified me and got me pissed. I went around to the side door. Nobody had thought to lock it.
Now, my ex had told me about a week prior that he was taking the girls to Alabama for a ‘vacation’ at his parent’s. School was out for summer break, so I was OK with that, but a bit leery. I had a feeling he may take most of the summer with them. They would be 3,200 miles away. When I opened the door, what I saw were filled and half-filled boxes, messes everywhere, and there were photos and pictures pulled off of walls and stacked,. I also saw clothes on hangers lying on the sofa. My mouth dropped open. I was shocked. This was not a vacation! You do not pack boxes and pull portraits off walls for a vacation. I looked all around, calling out my girl’s names at the top of my lungs. I went upstairs. No sign of them. I began to think they had gone to the store with their dad. It was not uncommon for them to be out and about this late in the summer. My heart was pounding. He was planning on moving! I hadn’t served him papers yet, and he was planning on running off with the girls- for what looked like permanently.
I was beyond panic-stricken. I was nearly hysterical. I decided to just wait outside the house until they returned. They could not be far away, I reasoned. I had to talk to them.
In a few minutes, I saw my ex’s SUV cruising slowly up the street. I could see it was packed full of stuff. He pulled up to the curb, and I was able to confront him. He had made the kids hide in the upstairs bathroom, I found out later. He had been slowly loading up the car, and had parked down the street, to avoid me or process servers! He lied to me and told me they were spending the night at their cousin’s. It turned out to be a very long, horrible night. I ended up agreeing to marriage counseling because I begged and pleaded with him not to take the girls away. I would have agreed to anything to keep him from taking my daughters ! I had no intention of reconciling with this snake, but I was able to charm him into believing I would go to counseling. I made good on my word, though. A few months later, I did go to one counseling session, where I proceeded to call him out in front of the counselor, and tell him exactly why I had agreed to the counseling, and that I had no intention of continuing our marriage! By making that ‘deal’, I secured my kids for a few months, and was able to get him served.
He ended up taking them there again under the pretense of a vacation, but then enrolled them into school there! That was the third most helpless feeling of my life. He had prepared a loophole in the divorce decree that stated he could move ( if it furthered his career) over sixty miles away. He had actually been granted custody of our children! My older daughter was brought to the courtroom after we had agreed neither would be there. He had talked my older daughter into believing that he was going pave her future in gold. I had been made out as the family-breaking villain who ‘left the family’. Nothing was further from the truth. He had representation, and his brother was there with him- the brother who knew better than anyone what this man was like, and who had agreed with me- but in the end, proved the axiom that blood is thicker than water. The day I lost custody, a part of me completely died. This was, without a doubt, the most helpless feeling in my whole life. I couldn’t comprehend how the fickle opinion of my 13 year old swayed the judge. I couldn’t explain, out of fear and shock, why I wouldn’t tell every dirty laundry detail of what he was like aloud in court. I was not a druggie, alcoholic, or child abuser. I was scared, and helpless. I had no lawyer, and not one friend, not one- came to stand by me in court.
Years have passed, and the girls have learned a lot about their dad, and his empty promises. We have re-established a relationship that is much better now than the horrible one we had right after the divorce. At that time, it didn’t matter to them that I was ‘right’, or “justified”. They had believed the lie that I left THEM, not their dad. Despite my continual efforts to be with them, they often turned me down and chose not to be with me, parenting plan or not. I was too weak then to stand up for my rights, because I was scared. I was scared of him, and scared of pushing my kids away even more. That time was hell. Writing about it here has brought up a lot of old emotions I never want to feel again. Helplessness. Betrayal. Being misunderstood. I would love to tell you that everything has turned out great. I will say they have turned out well, but I will never get back the time I missed in their lives. I will never know the pain they felt, lying alone in bed at night, wondering why ” I left”. But I imagine it was a lot like my pain. I will never understand why they chose him over me, and why they alienated themselves from me. I ached and writhed in misery missing them so much. I went through a very early empty nest syndrome, and to this day, I am not quite sure how to be- my kids live together now, ages 19 and almost 18. They are both working, and pretty independent. I still get to help my younger daughter a lot, though, and I am very proud of the young women they are becoming. My older daughter is a successful composer, musician, and chef. My younger daughter has a huge heart, and is brilliant, sensitive, and adorable. She could sell air conditioning to Eskimos. I know they love me, and they know I love them. Their dad is still jobless, unhealthy, extremely overweight, and basically sad and unhappy. This gives me no happiness, but allows me to see that his condition was never my fault- though I was made to feel everything was always ‘my fault’.
So, I am happy, healthy, and loved today. I have a wonderful husband, and beautiful life. I have a good relationship with my daughters, and I have survived- thrived. Though he tried to crush me, and bury me, and almost succeeded, God managed to make something good out of the mess we created.