The Week of the Sisterhood and a small rabbit-hole of regret
April 23, 2014
Last week was so weird. If I were the astrology type, I would have blamed the planetary alignment ( there WAS an eclipse). If I was the religious type, I would have felt some divine intervention. I’m neither of those things, so all I can say is “That was the strangest and most unpredictable series of events.”
Now that you’re dying to know what it was, let me just interrupt myself to thank you for reading. It’s always awkward to secretly fear that everyone in my world is reading this or to secretly fear that no one is reading it and then to be confirmed that apparently everyone who has ever BEEN in my world is still reading it. That’s sweet. Creepy, but sweet. Don’t let the comment section scare you 🙂
OK- so last week 4 people came back into my life. Each of these people has a strange set of things in common with one another. I’m going to do a list, because this is so weird.
- Each of these people are female
- Each of these people are moms
- I knew when I met each of these women that we could have SO MUCH FUN together
- I distanced myself from each of them during my marriage/divorce (so many reasons)
- There was a soul-sistery feeling I got with each of these women that I knew I’d been craving for many years
- They all have chickens (nothing is more awesome than having your chickens follow you all over the yard)
There’s more… intangible things like a twinkle in the eye and the habit of hugging and a deep understanding of WHAT LOVE IS. Sometimes you meet someone and a friendship grows fast and deep and even if you go YEARS without seeing them or hearing from them again you’re still richer for having known them. Maybe that’s the best way to say this.
Anyway, so every day last week was spent catching up with old friends. During the past two years, we have all
- Separated or gotten divorced
- Started new careers
- Continued to be badass moms
- Grown stronger and wiser and happier
- Enjoyed decorating our new spaces
One of the final most difficult things to let go of during this whole divorce process was the idea (translation: in my head) that I so rarely find women I enjoy connecting with on a deep level and that during the last ten years 6 or 7 of them have passed me by because I was in no position to engage in any kind of meaningful friendship. No worthy soul sister would stand by and watch her sis live under such horrible emotional conditions.
I have a couple girlfriends who I’ve had in my life for more than ten years and when the marriage declined, I just limited contact with them. I COULD NOT SAY “I’ve lost the will and the energy to fight about the growing pot in the basement.” Or “We’re not leaving the house today because no one has clothes that fit because I had to wash them by hand and we’re out of detergent.” Instead, I just stopped talking to them. When nothing you have to report sounds like anything you want to hear yourself saying it’s easy to avoid making contact with people. Just pretend you’re busy. You’re always busy anyway.
It’s not that I don’t think she’d understand (and she refers to probably three women I’ve stayed in touch with over the past ten years or so). It’s that those realities were so AGAINST MY NATURE that I didn’t know how to live in them. I couldn’t be ME and continue being the lady with the holes in her floor, with the shower plumbing exposed, without enough gas in the car to get to the park, feeding the kids pasta day after day because it’s so versatile and cheap. The Lisa they know and love wouldn’t put up with that shit. Who had I become? It’s just easier to stay away.
I wasn’t “being me.” SO I couldn’t really spend much time or energy focusing on friendships with people “the real me” felt drawn to.
PLUS- apparently these 4 newer women were having issues of their own. And maybe that feeling of connection at the time was just deeply recognizing someone who was as miserable as I was. I won’t know ’til more time unfolds. And at this moment, all that matters is that I have further confirmation that:
- They didn’t think I was a bad mom. One reason I distanced myself from them was because my ex drilled it into my head that everyone thought I was failing my kids. Two of these women actually never saw me with my kids. We met at conferences or through writing or some other setting where kids weren’t part of the package. At the time, the idea that someone would contact him to report this seemed odd but now it’s ludicrous, in fact one friend was upset with me for believing it. Also, she’s so right. How could I have believed someone would be such a jerk, and not see that the true jerk is the one making up the lies?
- It’s not SO BAD to be the girl who doesn’t cling to every shallow friendship with the hopes of making a deeper friend. My life is busy. BUSY. Single-momming, facilitating all my kids’ educational activities, working from home (three distinctive businesses), cooking, cleaning, making art… And each of these 4 women are just as busy and just as kid-focused as I am. Our time is precious.
- I wasn’t so crazy and disconnected back then that I didn’t recognize that each of these women were amazing.
I don’t know why I was dumb enough to be so deeply affected by the fact that he was telling me I was crazy. When I look back and see the way each of those conversations played out it’s so clear that I was scrambling to react appropriately to whatever I detected his moods and specific affliction was that day. It’s impossible to honestly relate to someone who changes the secret rules to his game all the time.
In order to not be insulted or yelled at (his weapon of choice) on any given day I’d have to dress appropriately, only look at specific things, not comment on specific things, not make eye contact with specific people, not bring up certain topics, not complain about money, never suggest he was wrong about anything, not make certain faces, bring him his (acceptable) lunch quickly, make sure he had clean socks and underwear (even without proper laundry facilities) and keep the kids away from him when I could see his angry body stance. And yet- when this beastly tyrant of a roomate thought he was qualified to diagnose me with a mental illness, I listened. I was SO HURT. After all, he should have known me best. But he could never have known me because I couldn’t BE ME, I had to always try and conform to whatever he found acceptable. Whatever.
I’m just not hurt anymore.
Not true- I’m not hurt by his accusations anymore. For a long time (perhaps you read about it here) I was angry about everything that happened. I’m not angry with him anymore. In fact, I’m not angry with myself anymore either.
I’m still angry with the other people involved. I’m angry that people who could have helped decided instead to participate in his game. We could have been spared the worst year of (our/my) life. So much darkness, so much fear. So many unspeakable moments of horror that we didn’t HAVE to endure, if only his family and mine had the sense to devote their energy to learning the truth rather than reacting to his kooky stories. No one bothered to tell me what he was saying so I didn’t even know what the accusations were against me. I didn’t defend myself because I didn’t recognize the chaos as an act of war. I was used to his chaos, they were not. I was an easy target. He even told me so.
“How come you don’t defend yourself better?” he asked in October of 2011. I had no idea what I was supposed to be defending myself against, I just knew that it was taking every bit of mental stamina I had to face my children with a loving heart and to wake up and not scream my head off. “Defend myself against what? I don’t care what people think. If they don’t have the balls to come to me directly then I’m not going to waste my time reaching out to solve the problems in their head.” I had no idea that the problems in their head were placed there deliberately, or that they were all engaged in private gossipy conversations that he orchestrated. I just didn’t know. Suspecting such a thing felt paranoid. He ended that conversation with the words “Your problem is that you don’t care what anyone thinks of you. They might think better things if you defended yourself.” yet another cryptic conversation that stands out as a red-flag-moment.
I still don’t waste energy on reputation management. I stand behind the fact that if someone has a problem with me they can screw off or confront me on it. I don’t look back at that moment and wish I had understood it better. But it does stand out.
I’m hurt that some of my family believed his lies. Apparently he told them all that I didn’t want to be a mom, that I wanted to get rid of the kids, that I wanted to run off to some commune or to Mexico and that I wanted a break from the kids, that I was cheating on him all the time, that I was spending all of his money (ironically), that I was abusing drugs and alcohol, that I neglected the kids… Ridiculous stories that in no way reflect who I am or what I’m about.
The ONLY pain I have left right now is wondering what have I ever said or done to make you believe that shit was true? I can’t imagine someone telling me such complicated stories about my own child- that were so opposite to her nature- I can’t imagine believing those stories. I can’t imagine acting on those stories without calling her to say “Hey. Tell me what’s going on in your head, because ______ says ______ and that sounds crazy.” That one conversation would have ended it. But no one asked, they just continued to talk, fueled by occasional new lies fed into the grapevine.
The pain here comes from the fact that WHO I AM for the past 18 years has always been “a devoted mom” and every non-good-mom-decision I’ve made over the years has come from exhaustion at not ever getting the financial or emotional support a family needs. When I was pregnant with my 11 yr old I was working over 50 hours a week as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant plus we were on food stamps because my “other half” was choosing not to make money. All I ever wanted, all that time, was for him to take financial responsibility for us so that I could be the mom that my kids needed.
I was told that complaining (whether to him or to family and friends) about his lack of income was unsupportive. How did I ever expect him to be successful if I wasn’t supportive? See… his lack of contribution was MY FAULT. Clearly, I couldn’t change him, so I just worked. The few times I did mention to his family that he wasn’t being supportive, it ended in an all-out war. See, I should NEVER TELL ANYONE anything bad about him ever. Never mind that it was a fact.
I’m sad about the years I lost with my kids because I was trying to be responsible for income production AND parenting without much help on either task. If I had parenting help I could have made more money. If I had someone else contributing income, I could have been a better mom. I always imagined marriage as a teamwork thing and, for us, it never was. It took every bit of my energy to simply survive.
I’m still angry with myself for being blind for so long. I guess I wasn’t blind. I guess I was choosing to ignore the bad parts so I could focus on trying to “do the right thing” and be supportive and keep my kids from having a broken home.
When I think of the peak moment- the day I put three of my kids on a plane for his sister’s house and the younger two and I left the New Orleans Airport to face 5 solid weeks of fear, anger, mood swings and insanity alone on the road with him….. I’m grateful. It’s taken a long time to get there.
Apparently I’m so hard-headed that it took something that extreme and traumatic to set my mind solidly in the “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HIM” position. Once my kids were en route to be cared for by someone who hadn’t taken the time to stay in touch with them for the past 9 years, who I’d been told was actively trying to cure her own empty nest with MY KIDS and who clearly had an ego wrapped up in “saving” them from horrible me… that was rock bottom. That was the single most traumatic moment in my life. That was scarier than having his hands wrapped around my throat while my kids screamed and cried in the next room, begging him not to kill me.
I will never forget the smell of the airport, the echoing sounds of the dropoff zone, the woman who came forward and paid the $25 fee to check their bag because I couldn’t afford it, the empty hollow feeling of walking back through the airport not knowing when or if I’d ever see them again. And then when I came back in he wanted to hug me. My skin ached for the children that he had sent away without my consent, without my approval and instead of fighting like a warrior, I allowed him to mentally beat me down and convince me that I was crazy, that I was unreliable, that I was unfit and that everyone knew it but me.
Over the next few weeks, he’d threaten to send the younger two away also. His mood swings were so scary that I sometimes thought maybe that would be better for them, except that children and moms belong together. They were 3 and 5. He wanted to get rid of them so he could turn their bedrooms into grow rooms for more marijuana. I just wanted to be safe, and for them to be safe too.
Listening to his lies, watching the truths come out and trying not to piss him off during that time was hell. I had friends who were pooling resources to get my kids home to me as soon as possible. My kids weren’t being treated well. No allowance was being made for the fact that they were undergoing the most traumatic time in their lives. They were dumped into a private school environment, criticized and condemned for not instantly adapting to the academic environment (your parents have failed to prepare you for life, you’ll probably never be as smart as other kids your age, your mom just didn’t love you the right way, your mom is secretly in a wiccan coven, your mom is cheating on your dad, when you come home she’s going to make you babysit) instead of being held close, loved and reassured. My kids knew these were lies but they heard it so much, kids should NOT be treated this way.
They were introduced to such ridiculous concepts as weekly graded spelling tests and grounding-as-punishment instead of being strengthened, encouraged and understood. Instead of getting to know them and discovering their awesome selves my kids were taken on their first mall-shopping-spree trip and introduced to Los Angeles style life values, like build-a-bear and competitive group sports. They were immersed in a foreign land with strangers who didn’t care who they were or how their hearts were during this troubling time. They were measured, graded, evaluated and determined to be failures, and told that it was my fault.
The kids who wrote stories, poems, love letters and screenplays were deemed illiterate. The kid who calculated plane fares to Disneyland, measured and build her own toys with real tools and wood was declared a math failure because she couldn’t do a multiplication worksheet on command (nevermind that she’d been doing it in her head for years). The real-life skills that my kids had were completely dismissed and they were basically TOLD that they were dumb losers because of me. Who the hell would treat a child that way? Only someone who had devoted her life to institutionalized education and had a personal vendetta to prove something. Not someone who actually cared about the future of these children. It was selfish and ugly and my kids didn’t HAVE to go through all of that.
After an apparently magical 5 weeks of tutoring the kids came home right before Thanksgiving. Two of them started school that month and I kept my (then 8) yr out of school until after the winter break. I think she was the most traumatized by everything. She had nightmares that they were kidnapping her. She needed solitude, reassurance, tons and tons of hugs and one-on-one time with me. She was terrified that her dad was going to kill me, that his sister would kidnap her. Sending her into yet ANOTHER stressful school environment didn’t seem right.
At that time she enrolled, I had 5 in public school and they were FINE. Still adapting to the rigors of institutionalization they managed to do just fine in school. Living at HOME with their mother where kids belong, they could ask questions and navigate their new worlds with love and guidance rather than judgment and criticism. When I held up one of the girls’ teacher notes, declaring that her reading skills were totally in line with the rest of the class and her writing skills were awesome (even though she was apparently illiterate 2 months prior) I was told “It’s a good thing my sister tutored her.” Which really blew me away, because if there’s actually some magical kind of tutoring that could bring a kid from illiterate to on-par with the rest of 3rd grade in just 5 weeks then imagine how that would revolutionize the field of education. Yeah there’s no such thing.
Yeah so I guess I totally am still angry that adults could behave this way and pretend it was in the kids’ best interest.
I’m just so glad it’s over.
I’m so happy to be free.
I’m so happy to raise my kids in a happy home where we don’t have to worry about running out of food or being evicted or an angry man storming through the room at any given moment. Toys and projects can be left out on the table and picked up the next day. Or the next. Tent forts can be built and rebuilt and it’s OK. We can run out of chips or pickles and not have every cabinet in the kitchen slammed while we’re each singled out in a quest to find the jerk who ate the last of it. Life is so good and so peaceful and so free.
Catching up with these women- and watching a few more soul-sisters lives unfolding on Facebook has been such a blessing. The women that have come into my life over the past few years, plus these 4 that came back last week are some of my favorite people ever. For the first time, since I’m finally allowed to just BE ME, I have fulfilling friendships with women who know me and I don’t have to pretend life is anything other than what it really is. It really is awesome.
To end this diatribe, let me leave you with a song that came into my life last week from a band that I first learned of about 3 or 4 years ago. Rising Appalachia are sisters and the first song of theirs that I fell in love with was Swoon. The song that’s been with me this week is called “Long Haul” and here’s the video:
Anyway- welcome back into my life you four ladies… you know who you are.