I’d never planned on being a divorced person, much less living again with my parents. But here I was.
I lay in my bed in my old room, my son’s steady breath audible from his crib. A faint glow illuminated the back of his head. He was safe and secure. And for the first time in a long time, I felt like the ground had stopped shifting under my feet.
It seemed I’d made a five-year round trip excursion through marriage hell and returned with a little something extra.
His name is Kyle, and by the time he was 18-months old, his father and I no longer lived together. I’d struggled to hold onto something that was no longer there. “Had it ever been?” I wondered. Or had my love for Brian been not only blind but deaf, dumb, and stupid?
I hated him. I could kill him. All I wanted was to feel nothing for him and move on with my life. My family rescued me when I gave up the fight. And my parents hypothetically tucked one of their little girls back into her bed again after many years.
Although I was not a child, I was their child, and this was their home. It was a harsh reality and would be a longstanding balancing act.
In the Beginning
In the beginning, it was a relief to be in a place that felt like home. To be in the company of people who liked me, to have conversations that didn’t consist of lies, eat meals with another human being. My ex left very early and was never home for dinner.
I was grateful I’d escaped the prison where I waited for the next disaster to knock at my door or call me on the phone. A long-overdue bill, overdrawn account. None of the news was good.
My mother helped me with Kyle. She loved walking him in his stroller, holding him on her lap, and admired his cute little boy clothes. It was all the usual stuff that nanas like to do.
My father, Donald, became ‘My Donald,’ and he put Kyle on a leash of sorts to keep him safe as they explored my old stomping grounds together. It was just a simple jump rope. Kyle would take off, and my father would suddenly have to sprint to keep up.
Their daily excursion took on a certain rhythm, and it was amusing to watch my father jogging along after the tow-headed munchkin.
I slowly lost my boney figure and gained weight. The circles under my eyes disappeared. I felt halfway human again. I knew I needed to recover before presenting myself to prospective employers.
In a matter of two months, I was looking for a job, a daycare, and shopping for a new wardrobe. Life was taking shape, and I needed to step back into the mainstream and continue where I’d left off.
It happened quickly. I found a job was laid off and found another where I stayed for ten years. I was back in the healthcare field, where I am until this day.
Now that I was back to working outside the home again, the weekend feeling was over.
Five days a week, I left a child at daycare who stood at the window and screamed as I drove away. My mother wasn’t up to babysitting five full days a week, nor did I expect her to. I knew he’d adjust, but no mother likes to leave a crying child. However, after a month, he looked forward to seeing his friends.
I was back, more stable, but still stressed as I went from newly-divorced to single status. There were visitation and child support and my ex’s face at the front door.
Weekends were tough for my son, and finding someone for a play date was next to impossible in a neighborhood with no kids his age. On occasion, I went out on Saturday nights, or we have a movie night in. All four of us. And at night, I still slept on my side of the empty bed.
On Sunday, it was church, in my case mass, for everyone. No questions asked. Monday morning was another week, and it started all over.
My job was in a nutrition research facility for human subjects, and my unit was an all-woman staff. I swear our cycles synched, and we all went pre-menstrual and psycho at the same time. We’d end up wearing the same color clothes and buying similar food for lunch.
The personalities and age differences made for some interesting catfights, sneering and growling without actually attacking. Someone I became friendly with told me I was the topic of several conversations.
“Oh look, another new outfit. Isn’t she wonderful.”
I hardly interacted with the people making these comments. And if they’d been observant, they’d have notified that I was good at mixing and matching, not everything was “new.”
Then there were the personalities at home. I shouldn’t have been surprised that nothing had changed.
Mom had always spent a lot of time in bed, but now that there was no one to take care of, it wasn’t as big a deal. Dad took a nap as well, only a much shorter one than mom. She continued to be the lousy cook who hated cooking dinner more than anything.
This begged the question, was she going to have to suffer through cooking dinner for my son and me? I told her no. But even though I told her no, she still felt responsible.
She cooked and we didn’t come home and disharmony ensued.
If I was late or the dinner I didn’t expect got cold, she was mad. “Why didn’t I tell her we’d be late?”
This annoyed me, and that annoyed my father. I sucked it up the first couple of times, but when I repeated what I said half a dozen times, he didn’t like my tone and let me know it in his angry, booming voice.
Then they wanted to pick my son up from daycare. Kyle would be home a couple of hours earlier after a long day, so it was great. Except for when they decided not to pick him up, went away and didn’t tell me. I would be late, after 6:00, and that meant extra money and a kid who wondered why he was the last one there.
Communication was not a strong point.
Evenings we’d watch television and dad would start flipping around the channels. We kept missing parts of the program, and after a while, I decided to go to my room and watch. Yelling ensued. My father yelled up the stairs that I was an “impatient bitch.”
He apologized, but situations like this repeated.
My father was generous to a fault, but his temperament was volatile and unstable at times. He and my son adored one another, though Kyle was frightened by the outbursts directed at me. During his younger years, he was my protector so I could do no wrong even when I did. He would look at me wide-eyed when this happened.
And I’d be speechless.
It was time to leave. I looked for apartments and told my folks about my plans. They were hurt and told me it wasn’t a good idea. I thought they’d be relieved to have their home and routine back. And we’d only be living a few minutes away.
To Stay or Leave
Following this and several other outbursts, life would settle again. By now, the occasional disharmony was a theme. I wanted to leave, but my mother always went on about how much better it would be if my son were in a lovely house and home with more people.
Moving out came up, and was squashed, a couple of more times. My mother would persistently argue, then include my father, call my sister, and it was one like a big one-act play that always ended the same.
She was right; it was a beautiful house, better than what I could afford. It was more manageable, and I didn’t trust that I could do it on my own. I believed I couldn’t swing it financially, and I wouldn’t be able to provide my son with as good as life if we didn’t stay put.
They’d remind me that I’d be “alone.” And that scared the shit out of me. I knew it wasn’t ideal, but I would have had more control and known what to expect.
I went nowhere.
My mother died when my son was 12, and he moved to New York state to live with his father. I was free to go, but to have left my father alone after 52 years of marriage was unthinkable.
I stayed. We co-existed peacefully, and we fought. My father became old and demented, and the entire family took shifts caring for him.
He died ten years after my mother. The house was up for grabs, but after 60-years of detained repairs, it wasn’t in my budget. Nor did I need 2200 square feet for myself and two cats. My sister moved in with her husband and three daughters. It was more fitting, and she demoed and made it a beauty.
Different, but stunning.
Where does this leave me
The next phase leads to where I am now. In a condo. Dad left us money that I used for a significant down payment. It’s the first place that has been truly mine, and after ten years, it’s safe to say I can support myself.
True, I no longer have a young child.
I often ask myself, would daycare, and my son’s activities have put me over the edge? I’m not sure. But I think I would have found a way to make it work. I should’ve crunched the numbers and estimated my monthly expenses.
And put faith in the numbers as opposed to my fears.
I know I’d be better off now and a lot closer to retirement.
But I’ve got the mortgage, and my 401 (k) is taking a COVID hit, so I’ve got to ride it out. I live near the ocean and have views from the front and back, so though my place needs work, it’s not a horrible situation by any means.
I just wish I could enjoy my leisure time in it more. But in those earlier years, I didn’t buy a place of my own. I traded freedom for security and bought into a lot of fear.
I feel like if I’d struggled, I would have found more of myself sooner, more of what I was capable of doing. And maybe someone to do it with.
I believe it’s the same for everyone. We’re all afraid, afraid of stuff that most often doesn’t happen. It’s okay. It keeps us on our toes, and when you’re on your toes, you can sprint faster.
If you’re not afraid, there’s something wrong with you. A little fearfulness shows you’ve weighed the pros and cons and you have a good sense of discernment.
It means you’re more capable than you realize.
It means you need to have faith in yourself and go for it.
What are you waiting for?
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