From Medium: Chapter 7, Standing When The Ground Shakes

*This is the seventh chapter of a story that left off here last week.

So, today was awful. Yesterday was good. Today was horrible. It started with me melting into a puddle of inconsolable messiness in front of my neighbors after learning he was taking the kids to his new girlfriend’s house to watch the football game.

His. New. Girlfriend.

The same lady he carried on a relationship with about a year ago after deciding to strike something up while coaching her kids in baseball. Splendid. Oh, and the same woman who has signed her son up for his team again this season.

Should be really fun.

Because I’ll have to eat shit every Saturday for eight weeks. Next to her. With him coaching. And now my kids knowing her and her kids. It’s just. There are no words.

And as soon as I found that out, I went out to talk with my neighbor — who, by the way, is one of the most sensible, rational, sound-minded people I know.

“File,” she said.

Only thing is I tried on Friday. I took time off work, went to the courthouse, requested the separation paperwork (because I thought divorce right out the chute would be too jarring — I wanted to be nice) and I stopped short when I saw one question.

“Is there any history of ‘significant’ domestic violence.”

So, it was worded like a question, but structured like a statement. Because you check a box. And I just couldn’t check the box. Even though I knew the answer. I couldn’t check the damn box because I thought it would irreparably harm him in the long run — in front of a judge who may be deciding “parenting time,” which is the new age word for “visitation” or “custody.”

I stopped short, again, to protect him.

And, before I went I sent a carefully drafted email to his mother giving her a heads up that I had planned to file for separation. I thought it was the right thing to do. The email, not the separation. I was seeking something legal just to get a schedule on file with the court for the kids. That’s it. I was in no rush to dissolve the marriage.

She asked to speak with me.

It was the same conversation we had, basically, previously. Why won’t you talk to him? Why? Are you scared? I told her yes. I was. I have been having nightmares. And, I didn’t want to subject myself to his bullshit blame-game. Also, the court had issued a no contact order and a protective order, which apparently neither of them understood.

She said he didn’t fully understand what he’s done.

He didn’t understand. Huh.

So, I’m a puddle, wearing sunglasses, holding a handful of tissues on my front stoop. My neighbor’s husband walks over, tears in his eyes, and hugs me. He’s pissed. And sad. Can’t believe what he did. Then his wife comes out. Sits next to me. We chat a bit. And, she drops another bomb.

“You know his first wife served him with a protective order, don’t you?” she said.

I didn’t. It was like the ground moved under me when she said it. I got up from where I was sitting and I walked to the other side of the driveway.

I didn’t know that. Why would I know that? He never told me. And, I bet that he never told anyone.

I spent nearly 17 years with this guy and he never told me that she needed a protective order against him. We met when they were separated. And he never said a word.

I was speechless. I almost had nothing left but to repeat how badly I felt like an idiot for ever doubting if I was being too harsh or too hard on him. Like, I felt that way 20 minutes before finding out about this big plans for the day.

The rest of the day is a swollen blur.

I ran three miles, farther than I’ve ever run. Like, by more than a mile. And, it felt so good — or it did at the end. During? I couldn’t feel my legs. So, yeah. I ran meaningless errands. I mean, they had meaning. I needed to run them, I just was numb while doing it.

I almost cried while running at the very thought of him and his girlfriend having those certain couple-like exchanges in front of our kids. Because, I know they were having them.

I told his mom about his first wife’s restraining order, which she said she knew nothing about. And, I believe her. He seriously fucking conned everyone. Including his own mother.

I let her know that my well for compassion, goodwill, good faith, etc. had run dry. I’m out. I’m fresh out. I won’t protect him anymore. I won’t pull back for him. I won’t do it anymore. Every time I do, the universe tells me I shouldn’t have. It’s uncanny.

I’m exhausted. I need a remedy for puffy eyelids. I need a glass of wine. I need to get some sleep. I need to not have nightmares. I need to buck up. I need a tattoo. I need to run. I need to work. I need to do a million things.

The last thing I need to do is think about his well being. Not anymore.

— –

He took half the money. Just took it. And had his mother send a text message after he did it to let me know. He said it was half. But he didn’t account for all that was pending on the account.

Or, he just didn’t care.

We didn’t have much, but we had just gotten paid. Both of us. And, all of our household bills are due. All the bills I have kept up with in his absence. And he took that money the day before his son’s birthday party. One he knew I was having for him.

And he has like literally no expenses. Except for his girlfriend.

So, I got that message while shopping for one final birthday gift for our son at Wal-Mart. And, I sniffled and cried the entire way through the store. I couldn’t even help it anymore once I got to the checkout.

Surely people have cried while checking out at Wal-Mart before. But, I don’t think my cashier had seen it. Maybe he had. I mean, if you work there, you’ve probably seen just about everything at some point.

And, I’ve looked pretty rough at that store on some occasions, like when my kids were in diapers, but I’m positive this episode took the cake.

“I hope the rest of your day gets better,” he said to me as he handed me my receipt.

He was probably, like, 19.

I went back and forth on text message with his mom for a bit, until I had just reached my limit. She sends these robotic texts as him. He literally dictates what she should send. I told her he would need to get me his portion for the bills by Monday. She wrote back that he would like a mediator to decide what he needs to pay, since he’s not living here.

I told her there would be no need for a mediator. An attorney would help me hash it out. Then I called her. It was a brief call. And, I told her that his kids live in this house. They drink the water. They watch the TV. They use the electricity. They use the Wi-Fi.

“This probably could have all been avoided if you would have just had a phone conversation with him,” she said.

Un-fucking-believable. Seriously un-fucking-believable.

I was in panic mode. I was almost hyperventilating. I only got my bank account changed thanks to the persistence of my heaven-sent neighbor.

She almost pushed me out my door and insisted I get that taken care of before the kids got home from school. So, I did. And, I thanked her later for helping me find my spine.

I also spoke with the victim’s advocate through the local police department, and she gave me great advice. It calmed my nerves.

“He thinks he’s won. But he hasn’t won,” she said.

She said my name, too. Which somehow made her statement hit home.

I calmed down, celebrated no cavities, and focused on getting dinner done, a cake made for my son’s party, and handling stupid house stuff. Dinner was chicken nuggets, and one of my daughters wanted blue cheese salad dressing as a dipper. We didn’t have any. So I wandered the neighborhood in search of some.

My first stop was across the street. The husband was sitting outside having a beer with a family friend who happened to be a sheriff’s deputy. She asked how I was. And based on my appearance, she really didn’t even need to ask.

I told her what had happened that day. And she went into mama bear mode.

“You need to be someone else. You can’t be you for this,” she said, leaning forward and pointing her finger at me.

She told me to get to the court Monday. To file an emergency petition to cover my ass on finances — to make sure he wouldn’t hang me out to dry. And she assured me I’d get it.

She said I can’t be on defense anymore. I need to go on offense, and that doesn’t make me a bitch for doing it.

“You have to be someone else to get through this,” she said.

It made sense. Finally. Other people had said the same thing in different ways, but it didn’t take hold until that moment. Maybe it was the way she pointed at me.

So, I guess I will find another me.