But first let’s toast to the lists that we hold in our fists
of the things that we promised to do differently next time
– Marrow by Ani Difranco
Friday, at the end of a long work day in a long, long work week, I had a text about a rodent issue with a rental unit I manage on the property. When I had this kind of issue last time, more than a year ago, in the midst of a very stressful time, it was the straw that nearly broke my back and made me collapse in tears.
This time, we’re in the middle of a literal fucking pandemic.
My daughter’s preschool is closed.
Every bar and store and restaurant on my downtown street is closed.
I”m working very hard to not take my daughter anywhere but childcare and home. And I’ve succeeded for weeks and weeks now, securing groceries by delivery or during the limited time she’s with her father.
A hardware store is the last place I wanted to drag her after my pristine record so far.
And I’m still working full-time – both grateful and stressed out by that.
I had a really rough week.
I know we all did.
In all kinds of ways.
I was afraid I was losing the childcare I had found two weeks ago, in this time of no-childcare-to-be-found, because my daughter is falling apart over her new overnights with her dad. Even refused to go with him one evening this week for the first time ever.
The chutzpah, man. The self possession she already has awes me. It’s terrifying and so, so admirable.
I had reached out to her father after she started crying just before the second weeknight visit – she was threatening to refuse that visit, too – and after I asked her what was making her so sad, she said she didn’t like staying after dark and going to sleep there.
I reached out to him Thursday morning to ask if he’d at all consider two overnights a month (instead of three) for maybe a couple of months to ease her in – to show her he respected her feelings and would compromise.
I said (and it’s truer than true): there’s a lot of trust to be rebuilt after you left this house so many times and there are small ways you can do that with her- build a bond with her, let her know she can trust you to be there and know you’ll honor her feelings. She’s so young and you have the time to do this in a way that helps her and you come together.
He said no. I’m wrong. Her issues are my fault. Blah blah blah.
I knew that’s what would happen. And I did what I think is the right thing anyway. For her sake. And for my sake (so I can know I always did what was hard in order to try to always do what’s best for her).
I reached out with a way to have him get what he wants while honoring and adjusting for her trauma. Even though it gives him ammo to say I’m controlling and trying to keep him away from her and blah blah blah.
Even though I knew he’d use it to attack.
Then I got the call from the caregiver about her newest meltdown, that afternoon.
I messaged her dad again and told him she’d had enough of a meltdown with the caregiver this week for her to call me at work, to have the other mother talk to me, (I didn’t say:) to feel overwhelmed.
I had to tell him: he’s her dad. Not because I’m legally bound, but because morally right is a planet I live on and try to pay taxes to stay on, even though he’s not a resident here. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even visit here, just sends a postcard periodically.
I knew what sharing that info would unleash. How he would ascribe motives to it outside of my true ones.
I did it anyway.
I said: only respond if you have some constructive ideas or solutions because ‘fault’ won’t help anything.
He answered, without waiting even five minutes to process. It’s my fault and her problems are because of me and she’ll get used to it and blah blah blah.
The blah blah blah is always full of cruel and inaccurate things. The barbs. The jabs. Always.
I waited 24 hours to read it because I knew what it would say. If not the exact words, then the sentiment for sure.
My work has been contacted this week by both a coroner’s office and a mechanical tech for a hospital – both looking for different information about refrigerated trailers in order to prepare for the amount of bodies they will need to store as Americans across the land lose their battle with Covid-19.
As we try to keep all of our employees working to earn full paychecks but also worry about making them come out into the world every day to help keep food trucks running.
As I worry that my daughter is going to be exposed.
As I worry that I could get sick and no one in my company will get paid.
As I also feel gratitude that I am the quarantine equivalent of a weekend dad so I don’t have the full-on get-me-the-fuck-outta-here stir-crazy of those working from home with a small child (or children).
When I got that text just fifteen minutes before my weekend was about to start from a tenant freaking out over something that couldn’t even really be handled until early next week, I instantly thought of when this same kind of text had made me want to collapse on the kitchen floor and cry. Had actually made me cry one night, leaned against the kitchen counter as I tried to also manage the man standing there with me who would roll his eyes when I cried and weaponize any emotions I dared to show in front of him. Who, more than once, abandoned my daughter and I in those moments, calling it head games.
I thought of when the same kind of messages I got this week from him had made me want to scream just a few months ago.
I prepared – and steeled myself – to feel those feelings and then push through anyway.
But, it turns out, I didn’t need to steel.
I thought of the other mom whose kid is with mine every day and how she had sat with me in her kitchen that night after the biggest fit – six feet apart – and told me she wasn’t worried. Kids are kids. We just needed to figure out how to come up with activities and stuff for the kids to do so the caregiver wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed with them all.
She rolled her eyes, affectionately, about her own son needing to go to the office at the preschool our kids attended together. She said her son was overwhelmed too and we bonded over dads who refuse to pay for anything and don’t show up for their kids in the really important ways.
We commiserated over how much that shows up in the actions of each kid and how sad that is – for the kid, yes, but also for the dads who can’t see beyond their own wants to know these amazing kids and help them grow with the kind of ease and security they could know.
I left there feeling seen. And less alone.
I thought of my friend who had messaged me Monday night because she knew only one small anecdote I had shared with the group about my daughter refusing to go with her dad that night and my friend, who has been with me through this whole journey, automatically knew that it meant tension and stress for me.
Because she knew it not only meant I would have tried so hard to gently coax her to go, but also what it meant for me to spend fifty long minutes with him on the porch as I tried to get her to spend any time with him that night.
She knew the tightrope that was for me as well as what it would mean to spend that long in a small space with a man who is still actively trying to destroy me both personally and professionally.
The discomfort of standing my ground and ignoring my own repulsion for him to help my child push through fear while tamping down the actual physical pain of standing that close for so long to someone who is still attempting to abuse me, still swinging every emotional and verbal arm he can to knock me loose from the safety I now live in every day.
My friend knew that without me having to say it.
I felt known. And loved.
I thought of the other friends who I zoomed with the same night I sent him those messages and had to meet with the caregiver, one of our three times a week quarantine meet-ups, where I looked so tired and shot and almost didn’t join but did and then told them I was freaked out and overwhelmed even though it might have been easier to just not mention it.
And then they made me laugh about polygamy hair and pandemic pubic hair overgrowth and quarantine hair roots that were making us all feel old.
I felt heard. And not alone.
I thought of the beautiful piece of custom hydrangea art another friend sent me this week with a lovely card thanking me for my friendship and love and support over the last decade and a half. The heart she threw in for my daughter that made her smile ear to ear this morning as I read the message out loud to her.
I felt grateful and loved. For things totally detached from the chaos of the week. For who I was, and am, before, during and after him.
When I got home Friday, I handled the issue with the tenant and I made dinner for my daughter.
And I finally read and cordially replied to the ex’s message from the day before. And I shared it with my friends who have let me vent this all for months now to help stave off the holy-fuck-is-this-real kind of craziness that people like my ex thrive on creating in the world, especially love yielding against anyone audacious enough to stand up to them.
So I can remain seen and supported.
I went in and ate with my daughter and then we colored together. I taught her, again, who Selena is and she mumbled bidi bidi bom bom while coloring in a picture of Selena, making her look downright creepy while saying how beautiful she is and smiling widely.
When I leaned back on the couch, she curled up next to me, leaned into my side while pushing her head and shoulders under my arm so that it wrapped around her and I smelled her dirty kid hair and pulled her close and told her I can’t believe that she used to fit between my elbow and my palm as I looked at her legs dangling over my lap and hanging off of the couch, as she squirmed and I gently pinched her side to make her giggle.
I realized after I kissed her goodnight in her bed later and said my fifth or sixth buenas noches and she one-upped my te amo muchos over and over with te amo mases until I gave up and said, ok, good night, mi amor – as I walked out of her room and quietly shut the door, I realized that I felt completely at ease and relaxed.
What a day. What a week.
What a world we’re all in right now.
For that minute (& for the rest of the night), I felt loose. Ok. Peaceful.
I am making a life free from the madness I spent nearly a decade in… I know his attacks will come, they always do… but they are, thankfully, less jarring to me.
Because of me. And the work I’ve done.
Precisely because of the nylon thread I’ve woven and then used to stitch up every triggering laceration as I locate it.
Stitch, stitch, stitch. Heal, heal, heal.
Because of the freedom I’ve fought hard to keep and the life I have rebuilt night by night in this house, I can stand next to the attacks and simply acknowledge them.
Not engage in them.
Not be crushed by them.
My home is calm.
I have people. (I always did – I just used them to keep me alive for too long instead of to boost and support each other).
I can help my daughter. I can. We will struggle. And lord, she is definitely my child and so she is strong and smart and difficult and emotional and invested in whatever moves her to a point of stubborn rigidity.
But I can do this. Help her navigate this world that feels so hard for her sometimes.
Love her the whole time so she knows that love is not conditional and prone to disappearing.
I felt healed. More than a little.
And that’s huge.
Not treading. Not surviving.
Even in these unbelievably sad and scary and uncertain times.
Keeping a promise to myself.
Doing it differently.