Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Wherein I wear my e-heart on my e-sleeve Part I & II
Hey folks, sorry that I have been MIA for a little while now, but my home computer recently crashed and burned and it’s been tough maintaining posts on even my personal blog.
However, I think it’s time that I finally disclosed to you the history regarding my relationship with my ex, and our two daughters. My ex and I got together when I was eighteen. We became serious fairly quickly and it was only a matter of months before she was pregnant with our first child, Danielle (GBP). Obviously, I was in no way prepared for having a child, but was so smitten that I foolishly agreed to plan a child with her. Yeah, it was planned. That was my first mistake. Needless to say, my mother was not very pleased with this, but she did help in whatever way she could. In retrospect I wish she had helped less, as it made it easier to for me to accept the situation when my ex became pregnant two years later with Marissa (Bruiser). How might I have felt if we had been left to our own devices in supporting ourselves and providing our own home for a child? I’m sure I would have thought twice about it. Most likely I would have run screaming from someone that would have a child when only one of us was working and we had yet to get our own place. In any event, we were thrust into parenthood, two teenagers blissfully unaware of the hardships and obstacles you place in front of yourself by becoming a young parent. To top it off, we rushed into marriage a few months before our second child Marissa was born. For me it was more out of a sense of guilt and pressure from our parents than any starry eyed vision of the legitimization of our relationship.
Within the span of two years I had gone from High School graduate, to father, to husband and provider. What was I to do? Wasn’t this what you’re supposed to do when you have kids with someone? I think “supposed to do” and “supposed to be like” were the mottos I lived my so called life by in those days. I trudged along, working a dead end full time job to meet my obligations with no hope of furthering my education or my development as a person. I accepted my lot in life, never even revealing to my then wife the thoughts that I had of becoming something more than I was, and how I resented her for being content with this life. I think I resented a lot in those days: I resented her for making me feel like she was comparing me to her father –“Mr. I Can Fix Anything”, I resented her for not working and complaining we didn’t have enough money, I even began to resent my father for not being around to teach me how to fix things: was I less of a man because I didn’t know how to tune up a car of fix a dryer? How much of life had I missed out by getting myself into this? That was a crushing thought. Somehow though, my ex seemed strangely at peace with her role in all of this. I suppose that having grown up in a broken home and having had to take care of her siblings had planted the seed in her mind that this is what little girls grow up to be: a woman whose sole purpose is the rearing of children, regardless of what she wants for herself while her husband toils away at a dead end job to bring home a paycheck.
Much of the resentment I felt manifested itself in my daily behavior: lack of interest in helping her father with odd jobs around his house, spending more time at work and less at home, the inability to face the responsibilities of being a parent. I should have communicated how I felt, but I think deep down I knew it would fall on deaf ears. Suffice to say, these warring emotions and the immaturity brought on by my age resulted in one thing: I was a shitty husband. There’s a feeling of a burden being lifted in being able to freely admit that, now that I can look back on it objectively and through the eyes of my own experiences and maturity. In any event, the marriage was seemingly set to self destruct mode from the very beginning. The relationship got worse and worse, culminating in no small amount of infidelity on her part with someone she had met during her brief stint as an employee at a makeup counter at local mall that resulted in a terminated pregnancy that she admitted to me, and then a child. He also had a wife and two children at home.
I’m a very patient person, but this was something that I could not and would not put up with. Even after attempting couples counseling (prior to the second pregnancy) at my request (of which she only attended one session and I continued to see the therapist for my own sake); she seemed to not care whether the relationship could be salvaged. We even tried a “roommate” situation, where she did her thing and I did my own, but I found I could live like that only so long. It did frustrate me when on “her” weekends, the girls would wake up to no knowledge of where their mother was—only to have her return later on that afternoon.
The last straw was when she admitted to being pregnant with his child again. At that point, I’d still thought we were “trying” to work things out. I knew only one way to deal with this: I moved out. Let me preface this by saying that despite all that was going on, I loved my daughters with all of my heart and the one of the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life was to leave that house knowing that I would not be there to see them every day, to kiss them goodbye in the morning, and to tuck them in at night. It was like tearing out two pieces of my heart and leaving them behind. It was one of the few times in my life that my daughters have seen me cry. If you can show me someone that can look their children straight in the eye and tell them that they are leaving the house and not cry, I can show you someone that probably has no business seeing them in the first place.
I moved back in with my mother, brother and my mother’s partner at their house in Buena Park, CA, and thus began my tenure as a weekend parent. I saw the girls on weekends and alternating holidays. Any single parent will be familiar with the pro forma visitation schedule: pick them up after work, keep them for the weekend, and bring them back Sunday evening. Wash, rinse, repeat. What some of those single parents may not tell you is how god damned fucking horrible it is to watch your kids cry because they don’t want you to leave, watching the tears well up in their eyes as if they’d never see you again and the “daddypleasedon’togoiwannastaywithyouwhydoyouhavetogo”…If I ever go to Hell, I’m sure I’ll be made to relive that particular memory for an eternity. As hard as it was to leave the house, nothing could prepare me for that weekly heartbreak and the 45 minute drive home with only my thoughts and the image of their tear-filled, red rimmed eyes replaying in my mind. I missed them terribly when they were not there, but at the same time dreaded Sunday nights as I packed their things and got ready for the drive. The pain got lesser and lesser as the weeks, months and eventually years went by and we became use to the routine. Being that I was the weekend parent now, I was no longer there to play with them daily, watch them grow, or be there for them when they got hurt. I did talk to them at night on the phone, usually about two to three times a week (more if I wasn’t working late) but it was obviously a poor substitute for being there, and having to answer the question of “When are you coming home, daddy?” was like having my heart ripped out of my chest and tossed onto a freeway. Nightly. Try and explain to a 6 year old that you don’t live with her and her sister anymore because mom cheated on you. On second thought, don’t unless you want to screw your kid up even more. My answer to them was something along the lines of “It’s something I had to do, and it’s something you wouldn’t understand right now. It’s not your fault, ok?” As I said before, for them it got a bit easier as time went on, although for a while the tears turned into attitude and I had to turn on the stern father voice to get Marissa out of the car on occasion. For me, my one constant was the inability to make eye contact with their mother for very long without that white hot ball of hostility and anger flaring up inside of me and clouding my thoughts. This too, passed, although I can still feel it rolling around inside of me to this day.
Well, the months passed and we all acclimated to the situation and I found out something that I may have forgotten in all the animosity and name calling: I’m a damn good father. While other single dads may have been content to ask someone to watch their kids while they ran errands, I took the girls with me wherever I went: the mall, the market, friends houses…you name it. If I was invited somewhere, I made sure I was able to bring them with me. I played with them, read to and with them, helped with homework, took them to parks, and made sure they knew they were loved every day they were with me, even when they weren’t. In actuality, they fact that they were not with me during the week allowed me time do something I hadn’t had the time to even consider prior to all this: I rediscovered myself. I was finally able to sit back, take stock of myself, and actually enjoy life. As selfish as this may sound, I was grateful for the time I had away from them as it afforded me the time to decompress and focus on things that were not necessarily more important, but important in a different way. Things like actually finishing my education, taking a different career path, getting back into the social arena of dating, and reconnecting with old friends seemed possible now. In fact, I can remember a conversation I had with their mother one day when I was taking my daughters and my nephew out to lunch: I had received a call on my cell phone from her as I was at a drive thru window. Apparently her and her boyfriend had gotten into some kind of argument and he asked that she call me (why, I can’t seem to remember), but after realization the inappropriateness of carrying this conversation on in front of the kids and that this was really a pointless and insane conversation anyway, I actually thanked him for taking her off of my hands*.
Part two on Friday
*To clarify, the kids didn’t know who I was talking to as they were in the back seat playing with their cousin and a large portion of the conversation was me listening to her boyfriend prattle on about something ridiculous.
Sorry for the delay folks, but I was out of town this weekend and I wanted to polish this up before posting this. So...
Fast forward about 1 year. My mother confides in my brother and me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer some time ago but she was, and would continue to, actively pursuing treatment. So, this was quite a lot to digest within the span of 1 year after moving back in to her house. I know now that she didn’t hold out much hope for her own survival after looking back: the expensive family trip to our hometown of New York that she knew my brother and I could never afford, making sure my brother and I tied up any of our smaller financial loose ends, and just making sure our lives were generally in order. After she passed, it was left to me, my brother, and my mom’s partner to take care of the house and ourselves. It’s funny how even a houseful of people can seem empty at times. It was months of just going through the motions, watching the loss eat away at Liz, and wondering how long we could keep this up.
The loss of my mother was especially hard on her partner, Liz. As far as I know, my mother had been her only significant relationship. I know she must have felt lost, and incredibly alone. Not too long after my mother died, pictures of my mother that were once featured prominently around the house began to disappear. A handmade pillow with my mother’s photo on it vanished. I discovered later that all her old things had been packed away and put in a storage box in the garage. I couldn’t help but harbor not too a little resentment towards her for this. This was my mother, and to me it seemed like she was trying to forget she ever existed. A few months after that, issues of finances began to drive a wedge between everyone. It became commonplace for my brother and I to avoid Liz completely simply because it became too difficult to even carry a conversation knowing that the slightest thing could set her off. Eventually my brother moved out and into his now wife’s mother’s home. Now how the hell did I get stuck living in a house where I felt like a visitor? A sense of loyalty to the person that had been the only other real parent I had ever known, I suppose. But even that would only last so long. As time passed she made it known to me that it was becoming an impossibility to maintain the house with only her income and the meager contributions I could make after paying my own bills and support for the girls. So it was that in the month of August of 2004 that I moved out and moved in to a two bedroom apartment with my friend Torre and his girlfriend at the time, Michelline.
It wasn’t the ideal solution, moving in with Torre and Mish, but it was the only option I had at the time. I certainly couldn’t afford rent on my own, and they needed help as well. It was a draw-win situation, I suppose. They got help with bills and rent, and I did have my own room, but I had to share that room with two growing girls every weekend. They knew I had kids, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was imposing on them every time the girls came over. Things went as well as they could: I was eking out a meager living as a sales rep in the sales pit at a somewhat shady company. My income was just enough to meet my support obligations, pay the bills (usually) and have a few dollars left over if I felt like splurging on a burger at AM/PM, unless my roommates took pity on me and paid my way to a club or bought a couple of rounds at a bar. Yeah, it was just as depressing as it sounds. This was another point in my life where I was existing simply to continue my existence. I was working another dead end job at another dead end company, but oddly enough there was no end in sight.
At least during the time that I lived at my mother’s house, I could entertain the thought of having a social life: I had some extra income, a house that I often times had to myself, and definitely a more positive outlook on life. Now, it was a struggle simply to keep my head above water with a fluctuating income, the cost of feeding two extra mouths, and an increasingly negative outlook on life. I can’t even recall the actual number of times I had to forego eating in order to make sure that there was enough food to provide for my daughters when they were with me. In fact, on more than one occasion, I had to inform their mother that I could not in good conscience bring them over simply because I had nothing to feed them. I don’t know if there is a worse feeling for a parent to have than the uncertainty of not knowing how you were going to feed your children.
Now it was around exactly the time that Mish moved out that I had begun to date Kristine. I decided to chance a date with her after scraping together some extra cash, and having some extremely stimulating phone conversations with her after meeting online. I held no real hope for a long term relationship, though. As a matter of fact, I had actually made mention of this to her after one of our dates. In hindsight, this was probably not the smartest move for me to make considering I hadn’t gotten any action in…well, a while. Strangely enough, she decided to continue seeing me even after my admission that I had no intentions of having a girlfriend as I didn’t feel I had anything real to contribute to a relationship. As the days went by and we spent more and more time together, things began to change. Simply being around her made me more confident: she laughed at my jokes, she encouraged what few dreams I still clung to, and she made me comfortable with just being myself. I realize now that she was everything I had ever wanted to find in a person to share myself with.
Of course, this all begged the question of how I would introduce Kristine to the girls. I had never before allowed them to interact with anyone I had dated before, simply because I knew that none of the prior relationships had any chance of becoming anything serious, and it wouldn’t be healthy for them to see me with a different girl every time. They were still too young to understand, and still held on to some hope that their mother and I would reconcile. However, I knew that my relationship with Kristine was special, and I wanted her to be in my life, and that meant bringing these two worlds together.