Sunday, July 22, 2018

Leaps & Bounds

Despite the horrific experience that was my first marriage, I would not be deterred from getting my happily ever after.  Read:  I was kinda desperate to find The One.  I searched far and wide, sometimes ... correction ... usually looking in all the wrong places.  And some 14 years later, I found my next project … er … husband.

One would think I would’ve learned my lesson the first time around:  men cannot be saved, nor can they be changed.  Part Two of my love story strongly resembled Part One.  Only this time, it was not the man who needed saving (much), but rather his two young daughters.

We met at a 4th of July party.  On July 5th, he called and asked for a first date.

I was quite surprised, when, after dating a mere nine months, he suggested we look at engagement rings.  We then jetted off to Florida where he proposed to me in front of Cinderella’s Castle.  Truly, I thought, my fairy tale was coming true. 

About a month before the wedding, the wheels started to come off.  I started seeing glimpses of the “real” Jerry.  Glimpses of husband #1 and ideals which didn’t align with my own.  He wrote it off as cold feet and vowed to be better.  The rush to the altar, I (now) believe, his attempt to tie me down before I fully realized what I was getting myself into. 

With invitations sent and non-refundable deposits paid, I was transformed into my idea of Cinderella and we stood up before family and friends and said “I Do”.

The best game of charades ever played continued until about three months into our marriage.  At this point, I think he thought, there was no turning back.  You know, for better or worse - better for him, worse for me.

He was possessive, controlling, his personal views on child-rearing and household cleanliness so very different from my own; I mean … I like Mickey Mouse and all, but having mice running about in my home?  Not a fan. 

Where parenting was concerned, I think he was compensating for having divorced their mother.  Prior to our relationship, the girls had not met a single vegetable that they liked nor had they met a trash can they liked as it was not uncommon for candy wrappers and the like to be discarded wherever they stood. I had hoped to provide them with some structure and introduce them to some food options other than the only two food groups with which they were accustomed:  macaroni and cheese.

He stalked me at work, turning ugly and angry when I didn’t answer my (desk) phone (never mind the fact that I was often in meetings or assisting my manager); from my manager’s office, I could hear my phone ringing – one call after another after another – until she suggested I go answer the damn thing. 

He cyber-stalked me (before that was a thing) by following along on posts I made on a Disney-related message board (I mean REALLY?   What shady things could I possibly get into on a Disney-related board???). 

Knowing my dislike for smoking, he initially hid from me that he was a smoker, then vowed to quit when I made it clear that was a deal breaker.  A few months into the marriage, I wondered why he sounded so panicked to get home before I did when I agreed to fire up the grill for dinner.  Imagine my surprise when I went to light the coals only to find about a whole pack worth of cigarette butts in the grill.

We took the kids to Disney World and he started a fight with me there.  Knowing full-well that husband #1’s preferred means of emotional abuse was threatening to leave, he threatened to go home (while leaving his girls with me to finish out the vacation).  I don’t even remember what the argument was over, but I know that for as much as I loved Disney World, I couldn’t bring myself to go back for several years afterwards.

Serving as chaperones for my son’s band trip to Hawaii, he started an argument in front of the other chaperones – something about a camera or taking a picture, I don’t remember.  The looks on the other chaperones faces a mixture of pity and shock and awe.  I was hoping the magician we were seeing that night would ask for volunteers for his disappearing act!

It wasn’t long after that when we separated; in the middle of an argument, he threatened (again) to leave, and I warned him if he were to walk out the door, that he wouldn’t be walking back in.  Ever.  Unfortunately, the door didn’t hit him in the backside when he left.

At one point, when he was trying to weasel his way back into our home, the conversation went something like this:
HIM:  Were the phone calls at work really so bad?
ME: Uh … yeah … 
HIM:  So you mean to tell me that whenever you tried to call me, and I wasn’t at my desk, you assumed I was at work?
ME:  Uh … yeah … I did.  

Apparently I REALLY didn't pay attention the first time around.

A lengthy divorce followed (as I attempted to regain the several thousands of dollars that he owed me) and we finally said, “I Don’t” a mere 18 months after saying “I Do”.

And that’s the beginning of a personal transformation that would forever change me and my life.

Desperate to discover why I was so attuned to picking the wrong guy, I got into counseling.  What did I hope to get out of it?  I wanted to know what my part was in the downfall of not one, but two marriages.  (If you must know, it was my counselor’s professional opinion that I simply did not see or act on the multitude of red flags.)  Ever so patiently, my counselor helped me work through those issues (and several more) until I was ready to fly.  And fly I did.

At the time marriage #2 was falling apart, I underwent a spiritual awakening of sorts.  My faith walk began when I attended a spiritual retreat, the Walk to Emmaus.  It was through this retreat where I formed some incredible friendships with ladies that would help to see me through the dissolution of my marriage and who I still enjoy a loving friendship with today.

I became more active in my church, volunteering as a Stephen Minister (someone who helps others who are going through personal crises).  I was then asked to become a Stephen Leader for the ministry at my church.  It was during my Stephen Leader training that I read Speaking the Truth in Love:  How to be an Assertive Christian by Ruth N. Koch and Kenneth C. Haugk; the key word here (and the reason I share this is):  ASSERTIVE.  Where self-help books are concerned (and this wasn’t even meant to be one), this was the best!  My uber assertive co-worker even questioned what was happening with me, as she noticed my assertiveness in the office.

Just prior to accepting the leadership role at church, I was selected for my first management position in my Social Work career.  Along with my co-manager, we designed our own job responsibilities and that of our staff for the newly minted Quality Assurance section.  I loved building something from the ground up, as it were, and I was able to put my writing skills to work as we drafted procedures and other tools that enabled our staff to do their jobs.  And did I mention it was QA work?  I love structure (always have)!  As my son neared his high school graduation and prepared to leave the nest, I now had someone else (actually … about 50 someone else’s) for whom I was responsible.

It was this series of events that increased my confidence level and made me more self-aware.  I felt value in what I was doing, and I felt valued.  My self-esteem blossomed.  I grew by leaps and bounds (figuratively, of course).

No longer desperate to find a man, someone to make me whole, I made myself whole. 

I focused on my career with it’s ever-changing direction and tasks, I busied myself with my leadership role at church, and I enjoyed time with my friends – movies, dinner and drinks filled our evenings and binge-watching the Hallmark channel during the holidays was always a favorite.  I even enjoyed the time I spent at home alone.

I was content. 

It was at that point, when I was no longer actively looking for a man and I was happy with “me”, when a friend of mine said “There’s someone I think you should meet.  His name is Keith.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

An Ounce of Strength

I am a two-time loser in the game of marriage.  Yes, I eventually found my happily ever after, but before finding my prince, I did indeed have to kiss a lot of frogs.

This is part one of my not-so-beautiful love story; it’s about a young girl who fell madly in love for all the wrong reasons and who found an ounce of strength within herself.

As a college Freshman, I found who I thought was the love of my life:  Emery, a bartender at a nightclub I used to frequent.  He was from the other side of the tracks; not the wrong side necessarily, just the other side – his upbringing so totally different from my own.  And I was going to save him!  Because, you know … that’s what we girls (especially at a young age) do.  But I was young and naïve, in college and seeking my M.R.S. (isn’t that the point of college?  Kidding!)

He was raised in an alcoholic home, by a single mom, his dad (from what I gather) mostly out of the picture.  He was several years older than me.  And come to find out, he was married.  And he left me to go back to his wife.  Big surprise. 

I was destroyed. 

As time went by, I met and began a beautiful relationship with a wonderful guy. 

And then, Emery returned.  One knock on my door changed the course of my life.  I said goodbye to ‘wonderful guy’ and took Emery back in just about two heartbeats.

I’m sure there were good times, but the bad times are what stuck with me. 

I spent many a night watching him get trashed, he, being an alcoholic himself.  Yet if you asked him, he was not.  Because unlike his mother, whose choice of drink was liquor, he liked beer.  And lots of it.  And frequently.

Not only did he like beer, but he liked women.  Apparently, lots of women.  Other than me.  My sister tried to hold an intervention of sorts - sharing that he had hit on our roommate and told her countless stories of how easy it was to cheat on me.  And I found evidence of there being other women in his apartment - on more than one occasion and in more than one of his apartments.  And there were tears.  Lots of tears.  And yet I couldn't gather the strength to leave.  

And there was abuse of the emotional (and probably verbal) variety.  Forget having friends of the opposite sex, much less friends of the same sex.  I know now that he projected his infidelity onto me; as he made constant accusations, calling my monogamy into question (with both my male and female friends).    

But I just couldn’t see myself without him (I think that’s the way it is in abusive relationships).  It wasn’t even a matter of caring what would happen to him.  I really didn’t know what would happen to me.  And the strength to find out was all but non-existent.

As I prepared to graduate college and make my way into the world, my sister and brother-in-law gave me my out:  a place to stay, in another city, three hours away, where upon graduation, I stood a chance of getting my Journalism career off the ground.  And I jumped at it.

I told Emery I needed only to get settled in and get my career started before he could join me.  The truth of the matter was that I had absolutely no intention of reuniting with him.  This was the break that should’ve been made permanently when he left me the first time.  And yes, this was cowardice.

And then, there was a plus sign on the in-home pregnancy test.

What little snippet of confidence I might have gained in myself and my ability to get out of this toxic relationship just melted away.  I had a couple of decisions to make and they were big, not to mention difficult, ones.  To keep the baby or not?  To even tell him or not?  To marry this guy or not? 

At the age of 22, I didn’t feel strong enough to raise a child on my own, much less to be able to withstand society’s downward glances for having a child out of wedlock (as was common back in the day).  And so, I did tell him.  And we did get married.  And a week before my 23rd birthday, my son was born.

You would think that would be a joyous occasion.  You would think.  But as we sat down to our “complimentary” steak and sparkling fruit juice dinner in the hospital (I say complimentary because really … we all know NOTHING is complimentary in hospitals), this asshole looks at me and says, (and I quote) “so … if he was born on the 26th, when exactly did you get pregnant?”  He was trying to calculate whether he was really the father.  And there were more tears.  I did say he was an asshole, right?

I spent eight hours a day working my retail job (my dreams of a Journalism career denied) and the remaining hours trying to take care of an infant and worrying about where my husband was off to and how much he was drinking at any given moment.  Our son was colicky and so there wasn’t much sleep to be had either.

Then finally, at six months, my son began to sleep through the night.  At least there was that. 

Until … Emery came home one night, already toasted, and as I tried to feed our baby his cereal, Emery was throwing empty beer cans at me from across the room.  And that night, our baby did not sleep.

Abusing me was one thing but raising my son in an abusive home was quite another. 

I called my sister and brother-in-law the next day and said I wanted out.  The next phone call was to my mom.  Between the three of us, we set a plan for mine and my son’s escape.  And that’s exactly what it needed to be – because I truly feared Emery would never allow me to leave otherwise.  My family was strong for me when I couldn’t be.

Shortly before moving day, I found in his wallet, a phone number with the name “Debbie” written on it.  Rather than confront this hussy myself, or even confront my husband (wow – there’s an idea!), a friend of mine volunteered her husband to do my dirty work.  Pretending to be one of his (my husband’s) friends, he called Debbie, asking if she knew when Emery would be home.  This pre-dated Caller ID.  She knew exactly where he was (at work) and what time he would be home.  And that was all I needed to confirm that I was doing the right thing.  Oh!  And one other thing, the girl who caught me on my way to do laundry one day and fawned all over my son – her name was Debbie.

The day of my escape, my brother-in-law, mom, and aunt sat lying in wait until Emery left for work.  In the time it took him to work his 8-hour shift, we packed up my belongings (and yes, left him with the things he brought into the marriage) and fled to my parents’ home. 

I refused all of his phone calls for at least a week.  And when I did finally answer the phone, of course, he vowed to be better.  He denied any knowledge of Debbie.  And the cherry on top?  He knew we were drifting apart and thought perhaps we should have another baby to bring us back together.  With one ounce of strength, my answer was “NO”.

My son and I saw him for the last time around my son’s first birthday.  And his parental rights were terminated a few years later.

I can't explain why people like Emery exist in this world, but I know now that no one deserves to be treated that way. 
Knowing the person I am today, I cringe when I think about that time in my life.  How could I have been so blinded?  Why was I so weak?  How could I have allowed myself to be controlled and abused that way?  And yes, I ask myself often, what would’ve been if …

But I can’t dwell on that too much.  And I see that this was the first step in leading me to my happily ever after. 

Were it not for Emery, I would not have had my son.

Were it not for Emery, I would not have had my son who grew attached to one of his daycare providers, who became one of my best friends.

Were it not for Emery, I would not have had my son, who grew attached to one of his daycare providers, who became one of my best friends and who introduced me to my prince.