The End (part one)

I check my phone because I have a nagging worry in the back of my mind. Physically, I’m sitting in a booth next to Kulia and across from two friends, ready to sip my wine and dig in to the appetizer that was just delivered. Mentally, I’m away, back at that tiny apartment with a dingy, rented couch. I take small, quick breaths because I shouldn’t be here. I know that. Yet I am and it frightens me.

For the past three months, I have changed. I can feel it. I’ve been exhaling with force, depleting the bad oxygen from my lungs so they can take in more fresh air. I stand taller. I’ve said yes when I never would have had the gumption to in the past decade and what I have also noticed is that the ballsier I get, the scarier I’m making my situation. I now have to walk home from work because I refuse to have him pick me up. I want the movement and the time alone so I can think about my next moves. He has noticed, too, and I see him coming to grips with the inevitable. He’s been trying to be accommodating, encouraging me to go do things that he has never allowed before. A girls night dinner with friends on a Saturday evening? I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened in the past eleven years. Three times and the previous two should be history enough for me to know better about tonight. This is why I’m nervous.

I glance down at the screen of my phone and see notifications. I’m not going to look yet at what his texts are. I can already imagine and dinner hasn’t arrived yet. I just want to enjoy dinner. I feel my pulse quickening. It’ll probably be about the boys because he knows how to leverage responses from me. Last week he allowed me to go get a pedicure and then texted me the entire time during it about how selfish I was because we could barely put food on the table. My pedicure was taking food out of their mouths. You know, it is some shit to tell your person to go get a pedicure because they deserve it (really you’re just trying to gain their favor back and are grasping) and then pull the switch after they leave and call them names for doing what you told them to. I sat in that chair shaking my head, knowing I had to shit or get off the pot soon, and not knowing how to to do it safely. Can you imagine? You need to poop or you’ll die but you’ll bleed out once you do. What do you pick?

Anyway, dinner arrives while I’m playing devil and angel in my head. I’m half here for conversations but I cannot help it. I see the screen illuminate again. Another text. Things are going to get dire. It has been about five months since he drove off before I got home and had the boys tell me goodbye on the phone while he drove them to friggin ice cream. Five months of mind games and I need to leave. I know I need to leave. Three months since I told Kulia that I loved her and meant it. Two months since he pulled Samuel into the living room and told him he had to pick who he would live with, right here and right now. One month since he told me he could tell I wanted out but I was the love of his life and I looked him dead in the face and said that was laughable. I can’t be the love of your life, because you can’t love someone you beat up. You can’t love someone you would put a hand on. You can’t love someone you would say terrible things to. I told him all of that and braced myself for his response. Which surprisingly wasn’t physical. Last week I spent every lunch break with a damn phone book in my hand, calling one divorce attorney after another. Who would have thought that zero dollars in your possession would equate to zero help? Not even one piece of advice. Every single call I made felt like the noose around my neck was getting tighter and tighter.

I want to have fun at this dinner. I want to laugh and share stories; I mean, I do a little, but I can’t fully be here. In fact, I’ve been treading water and I’m probably about to drown. I’ve been pushing him to the edge and one of us is about to tumble. Why have I been so brazen? I should have stopped myself for my boys except I feel like I’ve been trying to pull a piece of my cage off and finally have a good chunk coming up and all I feel is this desire to rip with all my might and go. Two feelings, not mutually exclusive but simultaneous. Stay but go. Breathe but suffocate.

I excused myself for a bathroom break and decide to look at the screen finally. This damn phone has been busy. There’s about fourteen texts that begin pleasant.

Enjoy your dinner. 

If you have leftovers, please bring them home. I would love to try what you are eating. 

The boys say they miss you. They’re going to bed soon. Maybe you can take a break from your girls night and say goodnight to them.

I guess you’re too busy to call your children. I’ll tell them that. I’m sure they’ll understand.

Abraham has a fever. Where is the medicine?

Did you see my text about Abraham? There is no medicine. Do you even give a shit? 

…on and on and on. There it is. The dangerous progression that I knew was coming. As I’m sitting on the toilet, holding my hands on my head, I let a few tears escape.

Back at the booth, I tell the crew I have to cut my night short. It’s the last thing I want and I absolutely wouldn’t return if my children weren’t there, but this is life and I have to live with my choices. Kulia sees my face. She doesn’t let me chip in, gets the bill paid, and never once makes me feel bad. I ask her to drive me to a pharmacy first, so I can get Tylenol for AB. She waits as I go in, and then begins the somber ride back to my place. I say goodbye as I go to get out and she tells me to call her if I need anything. I’m shaky and if she sees it, she doesn’t mention it. Just squeezes my hand and lets me know I have her.

There are fourteen concrete stairs to the apartment that I have to climb. I take them slowly just to buy myself four seconds of piece. I reach the top, turn left and take however many steps it takes to get to the front door; it’s about twenty feet long. I see him inside and know he is angry just by his stance. He’s been waiting.

I walk in to a full blown argument that he probably began with himself the moment I closed the front door behind me two and a half hours ago. To be honest, I don’t hear most of it. I’m doing my best to prepare the dose of fever reducer for Abraham, picking up things around the living room. Anything to placate him. Its like the pressure release valve on the instantpot. I will let him release his steam and then hopefully he’ll go to bed. Except, this is different. This time, the steam keeps going.

Before I can react, he has grabbed my forearm forcefully. Are you even listening to me?

Yes, I’m listening to you.

The argument goes on and on. He wants reactions. He wants me to say something to tip him over the precarious edge he’s riding so he can blow up and hit me and feel justified in doing so. I know this so I’m mostly silent because I’ve learned my lesson years ago.

He throws me against the wall. I feel a sting and try not to react but it’s hard because these walls are made of cinder blocks. He’s now three inches from my face, saying one mean thing after another. I hear a door creek and turn to see Abraham, in his fever induced delirium creep out of his room. Mama? I move to comfort him but he slams me back against the wall. His forearm is against my throat and I’m doing my best to take short, calm breaths. He has never been physical with his boys in the room. AB is trying to hug my leg and get my attention but I can’t look down with the forearm holding me back. Since my left forearm is still being death-gripped, I use my right arm to pull him closer. He is really warm still and it’s worrying me. He can see it in my face.

Oh, you’re worried now? Your mom didn’t care you were sick when she was out with her friends so don’t expect her to care now, mijo, he hisses at Abraham. I want to tell AB to go to bed but I can’t talk. I can hardly breathe. Finally, I feel him let up. He grabs Abraham and takes him back to his room, tells him to lay down and go to sleep. While he’s in the other room, I grab my purse and put it close, put my cell phone in my pocket. He sees me moving and is pissed again.

You know what, I’m fucking over this, he tells me. He grabs my arm and begins to pull me towards the door. Get the fuck out, he says, as he’s dragging me. Stop, I plead. Don’t do this. Except, he doesn’t stop. He is using all his weight, all his force, all his anger to push me out of this house. I’m grabbing everything I can to stop him. I can’t be without my babies. I want to be rid of him, but safe in a house with them. He’s so much stronger than me that no matter my efforts, I’m almost out the door. As he gives one last shove to push me out of the door frame, I turn to him without fighting. Okay, I think, I’ll surrender. I put my hands up as if to do so but before I see it coming, he pushes me with all his strength, down the long walkway. I flew over half of it, land flat on my back, and feel my head bounce on the concrete. The wind is knocked out of me and for a second I think I’m dead. This is it, I hear my inside voice say. He killed me. 

I feel my lungs trying to grab air and as I struggle to fill them, I open my eyes to him leering over my face. He’s crouched down with a wild look in his eyes that terrifies me. I hate you. You’re the biggest mistake of my life. You’re the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever met and I hate the day you were born. I hate you. I hate you. You’re a piece of shit.

I hear him but I’m somewhere else. My head is throbbing and I can’t focus. He tries to push me up a few times, kicks me and then gives up. He storms back inside the house and I just lay there on the concrete floor watching stars dance around my eyes. I’m exhausted, both mentally and physically and I don’t know what to do. My fingers feel my front pocket. Okay, my phone is still safe in there. That’s the one good thing I can think of right now.

I don’t know how much time goes by but eventually he comes back out. I see the movement from my peripheral vision and I think now, get up. Don’t stay here. So I stand and turn. I head to the stairs. Oh no you don’t, I hear behind me, dangerously close.

Part Two

You should be crying, I tell myself internally. It’s really weird that you aren’t a mess right now. I’m standing in my small living room, where the total of five adults could barely stand shoulder to shoulder and not feel crowded, thinking about the oddness of my lack of emotion right now. I can hear my breathing in my ears and my heart in my throat. Hmm, that should be faster. Is it weird my heart isn’t racing right now? I’m trying to quiet my mind because I cannot quiet his anger.

I walked home from work today. That was my punishment for not answering his texts fast enough. Or well enough. Or loving enough? I cannot figure him out anymore. Or maybe I don’t want to. I can feel my life-force surrendering internally, more and more as the days get worse. Things will fall apart before you can rebuild them. I read that on Pinterest the other day. Has to be right, I think to myself. This is me falling apart. In front of my children and the man who has broken me. It was always bound to happen. Never even mind that our ten-year anniversary just passed, where he forced me to go out with him and pretend we were okay. He had pulled the stool out next to the one he was going to sit in and I thought, I’m onstage and this is a performance and one day I will get an Oscar from like, God or someone. There has to be someone watching this because it’s my greatest act and it is perpetual. I wake up and I’m on; I lay in bed and I’m on. I cannot stop pretending this is what life is because he will lose it and kill me, probably. Throughout the whole evening I kept thinking how it never should have come to this. Once, we were driving to visit my parents. He was holding my hand and asked me if I could go back, would I still marry him? My traitorous mouth beat my mind to the punch and told him no before I could stop it. Girl, aren’t you scared? I asked my mouth. You can’t be honest and not have it end in an almost broken nose. I remember that drive, too. Cars are dangerous.

I come back to the living room like a transition on a movie. Cut scene from the little bar with the anniversary dinner or maybe either of those car rides and pan back to hell. My little boys are in the tiny bedroom the three of them are forced to share and my oldest is standing next to his father, confused and wide-eyed. My poor baby. He doesn’t understand what is happening. See, that is why I shouldn’t have acted. I wasn’t saving them from this, I was only prolonging the inevitable. Focus!

It’s okay, I say out loud. Your dad is angry. Sometimes when we are angry, we say things that are confusing. You don’t have to make this decision, I calmly tell him.

Yes, you do, he yells back. Choose right now! Your mom says she wants to leave me so tell me RIGHT NOW who you want to live with? Tell me right now! PICK!

My son is shaking, he is so scared right now. I don’t know what to say, he squeaks out. I move to give him a safe embrace, but think twice. I saw the flash of insanity in his eyes right now when he guessed my intention. I can almost see the wheels of crazy cranking in his mind, trying to find the precise words to cut me in front of our child, except he isn’t thinking about the trauma this will cause him. His only desire right now is to make me understand what my words for the past few weeks will bring. What my declaration from this afternoon will bring. He wants me to know he won’t go without destroying me in any way he can.

Your mom is doing this to you, Sam, he hisses. This is her fault. She is the reason your life will never be the same. She is breaking this family apart and you deserve better.

I love you, I murmur to my son. I love you so much. Whatever is going on with your dad and I is between us and I’m sorry you are being forced to stand in the middle of it right now but I love you.

I know that will escalate things but I can’t stop myself from saying it either way. Somehow, after I mutter that proclamation, I feel a renewed energy in me. I stand up straighter and look him in the eyes. I hold my gaze as I tell Sam he can go to his room and play with his brothers. I’m almost daring my ex-husband to contradict me as I release my oldest from this untenable situation. I feel a fireball in my stomach, growing with each heartbeat, bigger and hotter. It rises to my mouth and I hear myself tell him that he needs to get it together, stop playing our children against me.

You love your mother, I spit at him. Why would you try to turn your children against theirs? What kind of MONSTER are you? I don’t know where this gumption is coming from but I ride the wave as I discover my strength. I have so much more to say but I leave it at that, before I become him too easily. If you think for one fucking second that THIS is going to manipulate or convince me to stay with you, think again, I assure him.

And I mean it.

Before the End

The lunchroom of the bank I’m working at is small and cold. It feels clinical but smells like a dirty sponge. You know that smell. It’s fetid and rank. My cup-o-noodles is sitting in front of me growing cold but I hardly notice. I’m in full-on triage mode, as I call it, frantically texting whatever I can think of to keep him from entering rage mode. Except, he is already in rage mode. Lately, it is his only mode.

Things have been more volatile lately. We have only been in Hawaii for three months and it has been a constant struggle. I work out of necessity even though my take-home is only $200 after I pay daycare. It seems ridiculous but we need every single one of those dollars to almost make ends meet. As I send another scared response, a colleague walks in to the lunchroom with a meal from some restaurant nearby and a Starbucks in hand. It looks so lucrative in her hands and I’m full of jealousy but not food. My stomach grumbles, reminding me to finish my noodles. I smile at her and make small talk, all while thinking about this stupid fight we are having, where I’ve once again messed up. It’s like I’m Matilda and Danny DeVito is yelling at me how he’s big and I’m small, he’s smart and I’m dumb, he’s right and I’m wrong. That’s what he means. He’s everything and I’m nothing. I’ve always been nothing.

I don’t remember the rest of the workday. It’s the same as every other day there, I’m sure. What I do recall is seeing a text as I packed up my stuff to head home. “I picked up the boys.” It is odd to me. They are always at the sitter’s house, which is really close to the branch I’m a teller at. I usually walk to get them and ride the bus home. This is out of the ordinary. Anything out of the ordinary in regards to him is worrisome, so naturally, now I’m worried. I reply back that I’m on my way home and head out the door, fingers crossed I’m not walking in to a warzone in front of my babies again.

I miss the bus by four minutes. Two hundred and forty lousy seconds that now equate to waiting twenty for the next one. Great. I can feel my anxiety growing, making my legs and my heart tremble. Something in my gut just doesn’t feel right. I feel my cellphone vibrate in my pocket. It is a photo of the boys in the car. Are you home? I ask him.

The phone rings and I jump because I’m fully on-edge now. I shake my head to get some of the jitters out and answer cheerily, just trying so hard to not show how scared I am.

Tell your Mom goodbye, boys! His voice is eerie because he matched my fake cheer.

Bye, Mom! They all shout at me in unison. I’m so confused. Why are they telling me goodbye? I say something like that, barely get it out, actually. I don’t know what is going on but it’s unsettling and now I’m really scared. He is unstable. But how unstable, really?

I can tell he takes me off speaker phone and I hear the nervousness in my voice as I ask him what is going on. I just bought the three of us plane tickets and we are headed to the airport. You are never going to see us again. Just remember you did this to yourself. Good luck in your life. He says all of this with a calm, terrifying tone and then hangs up. I am staring at my phone, trying so hard to process. I try calling back three times but they just go straight to voicemail. I’m pretty sure he shut his phone off. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I have no idea what is happening. All I can do is start running home. I’m about a mile and a half away, which feels like five because I’m not a runner. I don’t workout. I have no endurance or stamina, so I run with adrenaline and fear, straight to the apartment we live in. It takes me a long thirty minutes because I keep stopping to catch my breath and dial his number again. None of the calls go through. I’ve never hated my body so much as I do in this moment. I just want to be there to stop whatever he is doing.

When I arrive at the apartment I see that sure as shit the car we share is missing. I shakily climb the fourteen stairs. They take all the rest of my energy and the last bit of hope I had. If he isn’t here, neither are they. Whatever is happening right now is a new level of terror and I cannot fathom what triggered it. Yes, I made him angry but this is out of the norm. I don’t have a key to the apartment so I lean up against the door, my forehead pressed against it, and emotionally breakdown. I have no one to call, no one to turn to so I just sob. I have been trying so hard to think Hawaii was a fresh new start but every day it is feeling more and more like I’m in solitary confinement. I keep trying his phone. My call continues to go straight to voicemail. I am utterly defeated.

An eternity goes by and then I hear it. The familiar rattle of the engine of our car and I wearily look over the balcony. There they are. The four of them getting out of the vehicle and my two oldest are so excited, holding ice cream cones in their hands. Dad took us for a treat! they yell up the stairs. They are smiling and unaware of anything going on between us. I am speechless. I watch them walk up the stairs and I cannot think of one damn thing to say.

And that was the beginning of the end.

What I wish I could say

Not too long ago I was perusing social media, reading everyone’s different posts quickly. One stuck out to me, where an acquaintance of mine had shared a photo of them with their ex. The caption said something about parents needing to be mature and put their differences aside for the good of the children. I could feel myself react, not because I felt it was directed at me but in a sense, the shoe sure as hell fits.

A few days later I see an article pop up on my feed on scarymommy.com. It was an almost love-letter penned by a mom to a step-mom thanking her for being her ally and maybe even her best friend. I’m going to be honest here, as I usually am. I skimmed it loosely. Not because the author’s words had no meaning to me, but because the letter didn’t apply to me. Yes, there are Bruce Willis’ and Demi Moore’s out there who can remain friends and co-parent successfully. They can do blended family dinners and respectfully shuttle the involved children back and forth like angels. I think that is beautiful and un-normal and amazing. For them.

That doesn’t work for me.

I refuse to allow people to make me feel bad for not harboring feelings of goodwill and grace for my ex-husband. Whether they do or say something that alludes to this in one way, shape, or form, I defend myself. Perhaps aggressively, perhaps coyly, but undoubtedly. In the past seven years since I left that abusive marriage, I have learned how important it is to set boundaries, remain steadfast in what I know is best for me and then best for the children (because I have to put my own oxygen mask on before I help them, just like those sweet flight attendants remind us every time we fly), and to disregard anyone’s idea of how I should behave if I know it isn’t healthy for my well-being. <–that’s my nice way of saying, Thank u, next, just like Ariana. That is okay.

I can be mature and not nice at the same time.

Lately I’ve done some leadership development at work with different groups of management and one thing I always stress is that we can say anything to our colleagues that we want, as long as we say it respectfully and with tact. I use this same advice in how I communicate with the boys’ father. I will use tact. I will be respectful. But I do not have to be nice. And if setting boundaries is a new concept to you, sometimes it can feel like you’re being mean. I don’t think so. I think it feels like you’re being clear and as my soon-to-be-bestie, Brene Brown likes to point out, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Boom. If that goddess believes it, then this goddess believes it. We are a society very used to sugarcoating words then calling people names if they say something straightforward and to-the-point to us. Say it anyway, if it needs to be. That is okay.

I get to decide who I trust.

Kulia often calls me a Mama Bear. I do my best to make INCREDULOUS face when she says it but she’s pretty accurate in calling me that. For a whole lot of reasons, I have  majority custody of my children. I think back to the letter from the mom to step-mom and how she says she trusts her wholeheartedly. That’s fantastic for them but unrealistic for so many of us. I cannot trust my counterparts and since I cannot trust them, every time we communicate or interact together, it is forced, strained, and awkward. That is okay.

Oil and water.

I spent the majority of my decade-long marriage hating the company (I don’t mean job-wise) I was with. His parents didn’t mesh with mine, his siblings didn’t jive with me, we didn’t share friendships. Every.single.aspect. of who we were together didn’t mix. It should be no surprise that apart we continue to be the same. Once Abraham asked if for his birthday he could have a dinner where we all joined together and without hesitation I let him know I couldn’t do that because I wouldn’t feel safe. When we share things with the boys, perhaps not with as many words or deep detail, I continue to tell them that I have to keep my safety at the forefront of anything I agree to. For a long time that meant I couldn’t be a part of pick-up and drop-off or even the communication to make that happen.  I have to say no sometimes but I am always honest. That is okay.

Parallel Parenting is not for the weak of heart.

Washington state (and I’m sure many others) have this bananas rule that when you file for divorce, if children are involved, both parents must attend a parenting class before the custody plan will be approved. I remember walking in to it thinking there wasn’t anything they would teach me in that class that I didn’t already know. I was pleasantly surprised. In that class I learned about co-parenting and parallel parenting, what ex-couples fight the most about, and the most important things your child(ren) need to hear right now. Co-parenting means parenting together, as implied in the name. Parallel parenting means each parent decides and does what they think is best while they have the child(ren). There isn’t any collaboration. To each his own. And the minute I heard it, I wrote it down and knew that is what I would be doing from here until eternity. That is okay.

**Side note, most parents fight over clothes. And children need to hear you give them verbal permission to love the other parent.**

I suppose that mother wrote that letter because ugly breakups are expected but not the only option. Just remember, if you find yourself reading something that gets you fired up, that it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person because you can’t emulate that same feeling or behavior. It isn’t apples to apples, no matter what some people would have you believe. Set your boundaries, live your life, and be safe, always, friends. That is okay.

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I couldn’t stop gushing over how handsome Sam was for Prom

 

Jackets and Ten Steps

beginningsThe other day (I really mean it this time, because more often than not it could mean two days ago or twenty years ago, and that is just how I roll) I was hanging up some laundry and my eyes lingered on our coats/jackets/hoodies section. I mean, everyone has one of these in their closet, right? Outerwear to the outer-max, just busting at the seams. And that is what my heart was doing. It was muffin-topping out of my chest, as silly as that seems.

Six years ago, when I moved back to the mainland without my main squeeze (that would be Ku, don’t get confused there) I was in an in-between phase. No job to dive into, no money, and only two-thirds of my children. <– Yeah, you read that right. I was about to begin the divorce process and my couldn’t-be-ex-soon-enough had flown back with my baby-Moose three weeks before me. He was convinced I would get off the plane and into his grasp again, promising not to use my little as leverage, except I wasn’t born yesterday and I am not naïve.

Leaving Ku behind, as I boarded a plane with my two oldest, two suitcases and a carry-on heavy with anxiety, was hard. Not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but definitely top ten. After almost two years on Oahu, we were coming back with less than what got us there. That’s practically zilch, friends. We went straight to my parents house and I tried to navigate how to file for divorce, how to draft a parenting plan, how to feel safe again, and how to keep the law on my side. I’m lucky in that I was Aria throughout so much of my decade-long marriage, going to sleep each night throughout those 3,650-ish days reciting the times he had hit me, remembering practically verbatim the times he made threats against my person, screenshotting as many texts as I could, especially in those last months. Not that I had to try hard because none of that is easy to forget. What I’m saying is I had no troubles establishing a case.

As I searched for a home for the five of us, this duplex in Lynden presented itself. I called and made an appointment to see it, being lucky in that the landlord had barely posted it on Craigslist five minutes before. I drove straight there with a gas tank full of hope. I told him the truth about starting over and not having much, that my deposit would come courtesy of my Mom, who also was the reason why Moose was back in my arms. I even pleaded with him. Said please over and over. I don’t know what made him say yes but all I know is Mercury was most definitely not in retrograde, all the planets were aligned and two plus two equaled four.

We got the place.

We moved in so fast, and I’m not trying to be funny here. I mean, how long does it take to pack up two suitcases and drive over to your new spot and then unload two suitcases? But it was ours and I was sitting there trying not to cry in front of my mini-men, because now I had a place I would never worry about moving out of again, unless I wanted to. I remember sitting on the floor that first day and just looking around. And then I recall the doorbell ringing and it was a furniture company with a surprise delivery of a set of bunk beds with mattresses and two couches, because my Mom is an angel and didn’t want us to sleep on the floor. I took the boys to Safeway and we got groceries for the new place, courtesy of food stamps (I’m never going to be ashamed of that, mmkay?) and I almost cried when Sam asked if we had enough to get cereal. I don’t care what anyone says, but when you talk about money for two months straight, it ends up giving your kids anxiety about food and that’s a sad place to be in, but we were and we worked through it. I’m 99% certain Sam doesn’t remember that moment like I do.

We loved in that home for almost three years. <–See, that is a feel good sentence, but it’s incomplete. We called that spot the “Ten Step” because it was T-I-N-Y. Anywhere you were in the house you could get anywhere else within ten steps. It was probably 700 square feet, which is INSANELY small for five bodies, three of which hadn’t figured out how to aim properly into the toilet. The one toilet. ONE.

Shortly after Ku moved in with us, and as we began rebuilding, together, she turned to me and said, “We need coats.” The closet in the living room, meant just for that, was so empty. We laughed about it and then promptly got to it, filling that closet to overflowing, and filling our home in general, but more importantly, filling our hearts. We stayed longer than we should have, mostly because it was never the right size for us, but also because we had plans and we aren’t above sacrificing. Now we have an abundance of jackets.

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Ten year old Sam, in the Ten Step kitchen

It is not lost upon me that Ten Steps sounds like a rehab program, but in a way, that little home was. For me, at least. I had to learn how to stop attending every argument my ex tried to invite me to, and how to stop self-sabotaging my love with Kulia. That’s all just honest truth. Sometimes it was too good for me and she saw right through (and still does) all the fights I tried to start with her for no reason. I had to learn to not expect certain things when we argued and that I could lean on her to support me in all things my life. It was the first time I had to handle the boys being away and me being at home without them. The ten step helped my heart grow back it’s feeling every day we were there.

Sometimes, when people talk about their circumstances, they look at my chapter 10 and compare it to their chapter three. “You have so much going for you, you wouldn’t understand.” Or, “Look at all you have! I need to get there before I can (insert whatever it is they are holding back from).” The thing is, I freaking get it. So hard. Change is hard and rewriting your shitty first draft is hard, but the thing is, you can’t change what you won’t change. And you most certainly can’t change anyone else. I can’t tell you how many times I held back from leaving him. I gave myself all the excuses, so don’t think there is judgement here from me. There most definitely is not one drop coming from me. I took a long time to get the courage up to leave and he said a lot of lies to me that I started to believe over time, but let me tell you this, and listen closely:

As long as there is air in your lungs and your heart pumps blood, you can do it. You can start over and have nothing but the clothes on your back and you can make it. Everything can be replaced. Everything, except for the air in your lungs and the blood pumping through your arteries.

I promise.

So if you are sitting there, single-momming it, wondering how you’ll all eat and not still feel hungry but also keep the lights on, or if you hate your job and don’t know how you’ll handle being back in school while working full-time, or if you are living in a hell-hole and have zero dollars to your name, LIFT YOUR CHIN UP. You can abhor your circumstances but you can also turn them around.

Mmmmkmay?

 

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Abraham, Sam and Moose reppin Hawaii in the Ten Step

Meandering with Meanagers

I have gotten better at sharing my herstory of domestic violence but it wasn’t until recently that I really started to think about what it means to my boys. While it was never physical in front of them, they definitely witnessed verbal and emotional. The meanager and I had a deep discussion about it recently and with his permission, I’m sharing Sam’s perspective on domestic violence (these are his words, undoctored):

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Sometimes my Dad loses his temper. If you make him mad, he’ll probably spank you or tell you to stop talking to him or he’ll say hurtful things. It’s not always bad, though. The thing is, some kids might really disrespect his parents and someone seeing it might say things like, “That kid really needs a beating/spanking, etc” but I don’t think hitting is the answer because that kid will grow up thinking violence is okay and then probably hit his kids and the cycle keeps on going.

If he would have hit you in front of us when we were growing up, I think we would have grown up thinking hitting women is okay. About two months ago I talked privately with my Dad and asked him to not yell or say hurtful things to my stepmom. I asked him to try harder to not be so angry or disrespectful towards her. I think he’s working on it, not perfectly, but trying, I would say.

I’ve never physically hit anyone in my life. Well, except for my brothers. We do wrestle sometimes and it gets out of hand but at the end of the day, I would never want to punch someone or hurt someone. When I get mad I want to smash something or punch a punching bag or break something. I’ve been trying not to play certain games on Xbox because they make me the most frustrated but when I do get to that level of mad, listening to music helps me or watching dumb things on YouTube.

When it all came down to my Dad leaving Hawaii with Moose, I didn’t know what was happening. I thought we were moving back to continue living as a family. When you shared some stuff that had happened the night you left, I felt betrayed by him. When you marry someone, you promise to always have a good time, to not hurt each other in a physical way, and I felt like he broke that promise. The first year you guys were separated, I didn’t understand everything because it wasn’t until about two years ago that you shared A LOT MORE of the story. It was hard because I couldn’t see him as much. Because I didn’t know what had happened, I didn’t know if I should be upset with him or with you so I just felt neutral. I’m not upset with either one of you now, because that is the past, and I know that you won’t ever forget that whole thing, but even thinking about it makes me frustrated.

My Dad knows it’s not right to hit someone, especially a woman, and I don’t know where he learned that because one day my Grandma told me my Grandpa had never laid a finger on her, so it’s not like he saw that growing up. They [his dad and stepmom] were arguing one day and that’s when my Grandma said that. Sometimes I worry about [my stepmom]. I hope she doesn’t get put in a situation where she worries about her life, like you did.

I hope my Dad has learned from his past mistakes. I’ll probably ask him questions when I’m older and have a bigger perspective of things, but I try not to say too much now because he gets mad easy. I do plan on it, though. My big worry is Moose might become like him because he hits when he’s upset and I worry about Abraham because when he gets mad he calls people names and I don’t want him to get beat up. It’s stressful and I can see those things happening.

I’m 100% happy, right along with my brothers and I know that hitting is wrong. I think my Dad and I are completely different because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings on purpose. I don’t like that. I’m not saying he tries to hurt people’s feelings on purposeI don’t like it when he says terrible things to me so I don’t want to be that way. In a way I know things happen for a reason because if you would have left him sooner, we wouldn’t have gone to Hawaii and you wouldn’t have met Ku. I just know that I still love my Dad and I think he’s happy and I KNOW you are. And I’m proud of you, Mom, for being strong enough to leave and figure out how to be happy.

**Insert crying mom face, because sometimes this young man-cub just blows me out of the water with his maturity and depth of understanding. It can’t be easy being my oldest boy, but maaaaaan, he makes us so effin proud. This reads as he speaks and while I could have changed the layout, I wanted to stay true to him and his heart.

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15 Ways I knew I was in an Abusive Relationship

15 Ways to Recognize Abuse

October is fast approaching, which just so happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness month, but in all honesty, I feel like every month is it for me. I never lose that awareness. I never lose sight of what I’ve fought so hard to survive. When I think about my previous marriage and the things I went through with my ex-husband, all the red flags stick out. I recognize them now and wish my blinders handn’t kept me from acting on them during that long ten year period, but I want to speak them now, share them, give them a voice. It’s easy to call physical altercations abuse, because it’s so obvious, but it can be more than that. It’s also harder to acknowledge…

1 – He always wanted to know where I was

While we were dating, I thought it was understandable. We weren’t together 24/7 and so he just missed me so much that he had to message me constantly and would get upset when I didn’t immediately text right back. When I was pregnant, I made excuses for it. Of course, he had to know where I was because you never know when an emergency might happen, right? It took years for me to recognize this was his way of keeping control of me.

2 – He wasn’t nice to the waiter

I see this quote making its way around the web every now and then and I can instantly think of four handfuls of occassions when I witnessed my ex being extraordinarily rude to the waiter. You can’t be nice to some people and not others. Life doesn’t work that way. This in and of itself doesn’t spell abuser, but throw it in with a few more and it’s clear why I put it in here.

3 – He constantly judged my friends

Sure, we all have a crazy friend or two that might make your significant other wonder if they’re the best person to have around. We know why they’re our friends, but it’s not always easy to explain to someone you’re trying to keep around. My ex didn’t just like one person. He disliked all of my friends and he would nitpick each of them. It didn’t take me long to figure out it was easier to stop hanging out. When I wasn’t with them I wasn’t constantly answering texts on my phone regarding where I was or what we were doing, I wasn’t leaving early because he wanted me home for one reason or another, I wasn’t defending what I was up to, or explaining who all was there. The jealousy was overwhelming.

4 – He started making me skip school/work

I was a freshman at the University of Washington when we started dating. Yeah, it was cute to be convinced to skip one or two classes here or there, but it became a constant. One time he waited outside my Socioeconomics class until it was over, to make sure I came straight home after. I called out of work a bunch because “me being gone made him sick.” It was the worst kind of manipulation and I just kept giving in because his anger scared me.

5 – His anger scared me

This is the biggest red flag. I remember sitting with a friend recently, who was adamant she wasn’t in an abusive relationship and I asked her why she was certain she couldn’t go back home. She responded that it wasn’t safe, she wouldn’t be safe because she didn’t trust his anger. It was a sort of ah-ha moment that took me right back to the first time my ex got upset with me. He yelled so terrifyingly at me that I was legitimately scared. After that incident, anytime I could see his temper rising, I went into survival mode.

6 – He put me down in front of others

Whenever I did something commendable, he found something to be negative about. Sometimes it was obvious but more often than not, he found a way to say it in a way that made it sound constructive, helpful, or even right. Not everything we do will always be amazing, but constantly criticizing your significant other in front of people is deplorable. It’s no show of love, in my opinion.

7 – He kept trying to “teach me”

For some reason he had it in his head that I was a country bumpkin that hadn’t somehow gotten herself accepted to UW, which is not an easy task. Aside from putting me down, he would mansplain what I was doing wrong, no matter what it was. He would say things like, “I guess nobody taught you this, or nobody showed you how to be respectful.” Constant mansplaining. I am not stupid.

8 – He hit me

One day, after a major argument, his sister called as we were arriving at Target in North Seattle. He pretended as if everything was okay, as if he didn’t just yell at me until I was crying and felt two inches tall. He then had the audacity to hand his sister the phone so I could say hi and be “respectful” to her. When she asked me how everything was going, I said it could be better, if only he could be nicer to me. I said, “Tell him to be nice to me.” We never made it inside Target. We left right after the phone call, drove home in complete silence and as soon as we walked in the house, he exploded. It was the first time he actually hit me.

9 – He convinced me it was my fault

“If you hadn’t disrespected me to my sister, if you would have just done as you were told, if you hadn’t kept making me upset….” Two seconds after he struck me, I was apologizing. To him. The list of what I could do to deserve him losing his cool was neverending. NEVER.ENDING. For ten years. I could have written a 20,000 word book over all of the things that I DID to justify his rage. He always successfully made me think it was my fault. It was not my fault.

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10 – He monitored my phone

It wasn’t blatant, but rather sneaky. He was always reading through my text messages. He had the passwords to my emails. Not giving him the codes to stuff caused a fight. Made him accuse me of hiding stuff. While I almost never saw him reading my conversations, he would bring them casually up in arguments.

11- He took me away from everyone I knew

Right after we were married, he moved us to Southern California on the pretense we would be by family that wanted  us in their life. That was something he always threw in my face. My family isn’t like most. There isn’t this close Sunday-night-dinners and we-are-always-there-for-you feel like some people are so lucky to have. He did have that, to a fault if you ask me, and I could not have forgotten it if I wanted to. Eight years later he moved us to Hawaii because it was his last ditch effort to try to keep control over me. Moving away isn’t what makes it wrong, it’s making contact with those you need in your life impossible that is not okay.

12 – He corrected me in front of our children

I’m a firm believer in united fronts, as difficult as they may be with the undestanding that sometimes that won’t happen. In our case, whenever one of the boys asked me a question or if they could do something, he would override my answer or decision in front of them. It took away my credibility, which I feel like we still deal with sometimes, even now.

13 – He took away my method of communications

Things got especially heinous the year we moved to Hawaii. His answer to some mistakes on my end was to disconnect my phone, take away my car, deactivate my social media and monitor me even moreso. It was like living with the FBI. Both my Mother and my BFF at the time called the police to have them come check on me, which made matters worse.

13 – He allowed his parents to disrespect me

Whatever problems couples have in marriages, there should be some semblance of respect from either family. The thing is, even though we stayed together a whole decade, he always shared my downfalls to his mother, from the word go, so she constantly put me down. He allowed it.

14 – I always defended him

When my friends, family or anyone mentioned his behavior was questionable, I immediately defended him. I was about to type that I never understood why, but that’s not true. It’s because I took it personal, as proof that I had made the wrong decision in marrying him and desperately wanted to prove everyone wrong.

15 – He threatened me

Whether it was in regards to our children and leaving to Mexico with them, to “never be seen again,” or how if I left he would make sure everyone would know what a piece of shit I was, or that he would prove that I was an unfit mother, he would find the threat necessary to keep me from dialing 911, to keep me from seeking help, to stop me from leaving and to make me stay.

 

I haven’t even mentioned money. It’s a trigger for me. Yes, all of the above can be at any time, but finances and feeling like I have none will send me into a tail spin panic attack faster than you can say moola. Money stresses me out. Still. To this day. The thing is, domestic violence, which one in four women experience severe physical violence from their significant other, is a systematic pattern of power and control. It is not always physical. In all my reminiscing above, only one bullet point is about him putting his hands on me. The one constant component in each of my examples, is the constant effort to maintain both of those over me. Power and control.

My wish is that none of my friends have this in their relationships, but if you do, there is help. There is always help. Leaving isn’t easy. God, I know that is absolute truth. It doesn’t even end what was going on, because then, being “out of control” they become even more unpredictable, begin to harass and stalk and text ugly ish to you. Leaving is not easy, but it’s doable. And whether you’ve dealt with this for one day, month, year or decade, you can save yourself.

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.