I made him a Long Island Ice Tea and he went home and told his mother he was going to marry the bartender. It was my first summer as a full time resident of the small east end community I had visited frequently in my youth.
As for this Long Island Ice Tea drinking customer, I wasn’t thinking about marrying him, but I was thinking about him.
He was 6’1” with braids and brown skin that glistened in the sun (<pretty sure I just inadvertently quoted a Don Henley song there), as he strolled up and took a stool at my waterfront, outside bar.
He left after that one drink and I immediately pumped his two sisters, who waitressed at the same establishment, for info about him. It was light hearted and not pursued after I learned he had a girlfriend.
I went on to have a fabulous summer fling with another local, which lasted beyond the season and finally ended just around the holidays.
It was at the employee Holiday party that, he who shall remain nameless from now until the end of time, reappeared on the scene. He also, had recently found himself single.
I took him home and he stayed. That’s the long and short of it. My kids liked him instantly. He was funny, and easy enough to spend time with. It progressed so quickly.
I had assumed he was the older brother to the coworkers I had since become friends with, A short time later I learned I was mistaken and he was actually eleven years my junior. Upon hearing this I had said, and I quote…”oh well, it’s not like I’m gonna marry him”….I was wrong.
In merely two months time from that fated holiday gathering, I would find we were expecting a child. My youngest of the 3 children I had being 7, I had not been planning to have more. However, when I saw the second line appear on the stick I held in my hand, I couldn’t help but be overcome with a rush of excitement and pure love, for the spec sized seed growing inside me.
His reaction was equally joyful and he vowed in that moment to always be there for me, my children, and ours.
It’s with great difficulty I write about these joyful recollections. Times in our early relationship that I was filled with love and hope. I don’t typically allow myself to recall the happiness, because of the shame it fills me with. The shame that stems from knowing that it was I, who not only allowed him into our lives, but willfully fought to keep him in them.
Just months into the pregnancy things began to change. I recognized the signs of active addiction and it brought all the chaos with it, it possibly could. There were fights, and tears, and cheating, and violence. Finally it was done, and I stepped into a future where I would continue as a single mother, now with an additional babe in arms.
He made it to the birth of our daughter and we briefly attempted to be a family. The attempt failed quickly. With him out of the picture, feeling alone and overwhelmed, I struggled with my own demons. I made questionable decisions and walked some dark paths.
I walked a road so dark, I found him on it. We hadn’t made it work in the light, but now in this shadowy world we came together and formed a twisted connection woven together with lies and betrayal.
I became unrecognizable to myself until one cold January morning, staring at my reflection, I saw a glimpse of the woman, the mother, who I used to be. She was still in there. And in that single moment of Grace, the lights, though dim at first, flickered back on.
I stepped out of the bleakness and back into the warmth of the sun. Once again my life evolved quickly and smoothly, somewhat seamlessly, as I fully embraced all that felt right. He joined me, and together, both he and I, as well as the four young lives on this ride with us, grew.
There was a wedding. A beautiful, simple, celebrated wedding. There was community. There was a church family to be joined, where we worshiped together, where we volunteered together. There were sports played and coached. There were family vacations and romantic couple getaways. There was continued education for all. There were good jobs and career paths. There was hope. There was a life.
Those are the highlights I held onto. That is what I knew the world saw and I desperately wanted that illusion to be real. I don’t mention the fights behind closed doors. The general uncomfortableness I felt so often. I wanted this perfect picture so badly, that I ignored the feeling in the pit of my stomach. I pushed the dark, spreading dread down so deep, and polished up the shiny exterior. I exerted an enormous amount of energy into not only playing a part myself, but assisting him in pulling off his.
I dressed him up and fed him his lines. It took me a long time to admit this, but that is what I did. He completed the picture I had strived to create and I forced this jagged, misshapen piece into the puzzle of my life.
I like to think my motives were pure. My intentions good, but what is it they say…the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Ah yes, yes it is.
“He’s not the person I would’ve chosen today”…I uttered those words to a confidant many times as the years passed. And though I felt that way, I continued to honor my commitment to this man.
That changed on June 5th, 2013, as I innocently reached into his laptop case and unexpectedly pulled out two packages of condoms.
The confrontation was met with lies on top of lies. The days and weeks following were a systematical unraveling of what ultimately turned out to be a double life.
A double life that included secret email accounts, profiles on adult sites, eBay accounts on which items of value stolen from elderly customers of his handyman business, were sold. Low paid drug addicted employees on jobs were used in place of himself as he met with the women he’d found on the aforementioned adult sites. And there was the drug and alcohol abuse, abuse that great lengths were gone to to hide.
He first moved out of our room and into the partially finished basement. The air hung heavy in the house. The pain and confusion so palpable. It was mid August by the time he moved out of the household. Bittersweet relief came with it.
A brief marriage counseling attempt only to be derailed by the uncovering of yet more lies. Then the introduction of a new family onto the scene.
His new girlfriend came as a complete package with a son and daughter. The daughter strikingly similar to our daughter. Enough so to inspire whispers and rumors. None ever substantiated. The announcement of a baby on the way in about as quick a time frame as he and I had found ourselves expecting our child. He had moved onto his “take two”.
The divorce was messy, expensive, and included a custody battle. A battle I fought with the tenacity of a mother who was willing to walk through fire to reach one of her children. The standard visitation rights he won, later completely abandoned as the final horrific truth of his masquerade was revealed a full four years after the veneer had first cracked.
On a summer day, as I was driving down the main road, my then 20 year old daughter, finally found the courage to blurt out the truth she had buried deep inside her years ago. A truth that four years earlier began to push its way to the top of her memories.
The struggle between remembering and forgetting led her on a path that included abandoning the NYC conservatory her talent had earned her a spot in, and inspired suicidal thoughts that required multiple stays in psychiatric hospitals.
With the unburdening of these truths she had carried alone revealed, the healing could begin, but first we had to break my youngest child’s heart as we shared these harsh facts with her.
Her love for her sister strong, and guided by the support of a trusted therapist, she slipped right into a place of acceptance. As she had digested the information being told to her in a safe environment, neither her heart nor her head doubted the accuracy.
At 14 years old, my youngest daughter severed all ties with her father. Her childhood vision of the man she believed him to be had already been altered drastically in the previous years, and now the last of that illusion lay there quietly on the floor of the room we had all bravely spoken only truth in.
We went to the police and the police failed us. I won’t say more than that, for to list all their shortcomings, is another post. Perhaps one better made in an opinion column of a national paper. That day may yet come. For now the focus remains the continued overcoming and rebuilding of ourselves.
Perhaps I could write you a long list of my own failings. Point out all the spaces in time I feel shame and regret for, but I choose not to dwell there, for me not at my strongest weakens our whole family structure. I rise above those failings, and I look beyond. I look at the strength and resilience I have played a part in fostering in these incredible young adults. The bond amongst them and myself. The course of our lives tethered together with a flourishing thick, sturdy vine impossible to sever. The momentarily strongest of us there to pick up the slack when another is at a weak spot. That is how we not just survive, but continue to grow.
This is why his continued attempts to destroy our peace fail. There are too many hurtful, spiteful actions he still to this day does to even bother to name, but his cruelties fall softly upon the floor of our lives, where we let them lay. Unaffected by them, they are ignored and flattened by our footsteps as we continue to stay the course and walk our path in the light.
Wishing y’all continued light for your path.
Air hugs & salty kisses to you, my friends. Xo