Story Time

I had an interesting conversation with my younger son the other day. He said he knew all about why I left his father. So I was curious as to what his thoughts were. In a way, it saddened me to hear him speak a bit negatively about his father. I really tried hard, while the boys were still young, to censor what came out of my mouth with regards to their dad, but, as they got older, I must have started talking a bit more freely. I know they both still love their dad, so at least I can say that I didn’t mess up their relationship with him by being one of those bitchy ex-wives who try to poison their children’s mind against their other parent.

So, Sean tells me that he related my leaving to me working all the time while his dad sat on the couch all day watching TV (okay, so Sean used a few more colorful terms than that, but we don’t have to repeat it here!). He knew that I spent my time off work holed up in the den messing around on the computer. He may have thought that it was, in part, work-related, which I told him it wasn’t. He just knew I wasn’t spending my free time out in the family room with them watching TV anymore.

He was partly right. But, of course, since I don’t think either his father nor I ever told the full tale, he wouldn’t really be completely right.

Now, other parents, whether happily married or divorced (or in any combination of statuses), they know that there are things you don’t divulge completely to your children. Certain aspects of running a household, or being in an adult relationship do not require transparency with our kids. We hide all sorts of facts from them all the time, usually because we know they are not of an age, developmentally, to understand what is going on. We temper everything we tell our kids based on their age and maturity level. We put off telling them about Santa and sex until we know they can understand the details and not be traumatized by too much information too soon in life.

But, my children are now legally adults, and I did mention a couple of Stories ago that I would likely tell them more about that time of our lives than they may have understood before now.

Oh, where to begin?

Again, we adults all know that relationships are very complex machines requiring lots of work and maintenance to keep them functioning smoothly. Not all people are equipped with the proper knowledge, maturity, or even common sense to be successful at relationships, just as not everyone can be a doctor or a rocket scientist. And, lots of us come with baggage that we don’t really know how to fit into new relationships without dragging it down.

So, for my part in the failure of my marriage, I have to admit that I had some faults that were part of my “programming.” I was always the type of person who was wired to please others. I hated having anyone mad at me. I never wanted to seem like an imposition on anyone for anything. I hated conflict. I also had some fairly low self-esteem, not really believing that I was pretty enough, smart enough, GOOD enough for a lot of the things I wanted when I was younger. I had this strange compulsion to fulfill what was expected of me, whether it was truly my parents, or just society, or maybe some warped little part of my brain that held these expectations so strongly in my mind.

I thought that, once I finished college and got a job, I was supposed to get married and start a family. Not sure who started that train of thought in my head, but for better or worse, it was there. I won’t go into the tale of my career choice here, as that’s another Story all in itself, and it was while I was in college that I met my first husband, though it was a couple years or so before we ever started dating.

I joined the Air Force Reserves right out of high school in 1983; my initial training kept me from actually working with my assigned unit until April of 1984. Larry was one of my instructors when I was learning how to be an Aeromedical Technician. He was 14 and 1/2 years older than me, but didn’t really look it. I did have a fleeting thought about what it would be like to go out with him, but he was in a relationship with someone else, and “positive male attention” was something new to me and I was still exploring that part of my young life. When he was no longer dating, he started to ask me out. At the time, I was seeing someone else, which he knew about, so I put him off. About six months later, I knew the relationship I was in was not going to pan out, so I finally accepted a date with him. He was quite the gentleman, we found we enjoyed a lot of the same music and movies, and we had a good time together. In only 2 months or so, he asked me to marry him.

Now, this is where my “issues” came in. At that time, it was still too early for me to really know if I was in love with him or not, but my “programming” insisted that I had to answer him right away, and that I had to say “yes” because I couldn’t disappoint him. I tend to wonder sometimes if, had I at least waited to give an answer, might I have loved him in the right way instead of sort of “pushing” myself to love him.

With him being much older than me, it was his biological clock that was ticking, so we only waited a year before getting pregnant the first time. Not knowing until much later, it seems that I suffered from some post-partum depression after Scott was born and it took me about 6 months to snap out if it. I had let my low self-esteem get the better of me for a while and wondered about the choices I’d made. But as the depression waned, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and told myself to “get over it” and start being the wife and mother I was supposed to be. We had to make some adjustments in our schedules during that time, however. I worked night shift and Larry worked days. Scott didn’t sleep much during the day-time and I was becoming overly exhausted coming home from work and having to stay up with the baby. Larry eventually made arrangements with his boss to work from home at a part-time salary. There were other entrepreneurial “adventures” going on, too, that caused some problems, but at least I was getting to sleep better for the most part.

Soon enough it was time to think about growing the family by one more. I knew how important it was for Larry to have another son, and I wanted a second shot at being a better mom. Scott had just turned 2 when Sean was born. I believe I DID do better, because, while I was home from work still after delivery, I got up with Sean at night more than I ever did with Scott. I tried very hard to make our bond as strong as the one Scott had with his daddy. Things seemed to be going along well for a while.

I’d been living in Reynoldsburg almost 5 years when my parents were deciding to move out of the house I grew up in. They didn’t want to sell it until Mom’s 55th birthday (tax benefits…the story isn’t relevant here), and my brother was supposedly going to buy the house from them when the time came. In the mean time, Dad wanted us to move into the old house, rent-free, paying the property tax and utilities, of course. We thought we’d save some money doing this, and I thought I was likely to have more friends if I could re-connect with my college and high-school friends. I thought I’d be happier back home. Larry would have to find a new job, but we’d have my mom close by to baby-sit, so we thought it would all work out.

Well, we didn’t really look at all the details of what the move would do to our finances and, once we left, it was too late to turn back. I feel like that one act – moving to Cincinnati – was the beginning of the end of our marriage. Of course, here is where we get into “my side of the Story.” I’m not sure what Larry’s side would be, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be completely the same.

One of the first problems we faced was that, after we’d only been there about 5 months, my brother announced that he would not be buying the house at all. We still expected to have another 7 months before my folks would want to sell, but within 1 month, my dad looked at me and asked “So, when are you moving?” Well, this was a shock, and a kick in the teeth as we hadn’t saved a dime over what we had before we moved. The loss of Larry’s income, and the cut in pay I had to take left us barely even despite not having our previous home mortgage. Larry wasn’t looking hard for work, though I wasn’t completely sure why at the time. Mom seemed to grumble quite a bit whenever she had to baby-sit on our Reserve weekends, so I didn’t push him to find a job, because I was tired of listening to her complain and judge. We started looking for a house right away and found the one we wanted in Fairfield. The problem was not having 20% to put down. I had to ask my Dad for some help. That wasn’t a pleasant conversation with him, but he eventually gave us the money and we moved as soon as we could.

So, now we’re a little farther away from my parent’s current house, so getting Mom to baby-sit was still a chore, and so I still didn’t push Larry about finding a job. He kept looking into various entrepreneurial ventures, and we sunk a LOT of money into things that never panned out for him. Once the kids were both in school full-time, I started pushing him to find something part-time, if only to help out with the bills and maybe let us take the kids on vacation now and then. When we first moved, I had dreamed of a day when we could buy a small farm so I could have a couple horses. Larry misinterpreted this to mean that I wanted him to work full-time while I quit work to “play” on the farm. I never once said that I would quit working, so I’m not sure where he got that from. I went so far as to try and ask him if my dream of a farm was something we could never achieve. I told him that, as long as we had a plan for our future, I could live with what we had, but I wanted to have the money available to fix up that house in Fairfield to be everything we could possibly want of it. I was willing to give up my farm if he just told me I couldn’t have it. But, for whatever reason, he wouldn’t say the words, kept letting me think that the farm was within reach, some day.

Yet he still wouldn’t look for work. I became increasingly disgruntled by this and by what I perceived was his lack of doing much of anything that a stay-at-home mom would be expected to do. Oh, he did laundry, mowed the yard, took out the trash, and ran the dishwasher. But he refused to do the grocery shopping or cooking. He claimed that, since he took care of the kids’ breakfast (cereal – cold in summer, hot in winter) and lunch (mostly just making sure their meal cards were paid up for the school’s lunches), that I should make dinner. There was a time when I was working a Monday-through-Friday day job and, after working all day, I’d have to come home and cook, too. He wouldn’t even make the effort of having anything prepared so I could just get in on the stove/in the oven.

I was in denial for a long time about my marriage failing, and kept telling myself, “if I had the right job, I’d be happy.” Eventually, I wanted to go back to school. Oddly, I learned about a broadcasting school and I wanted to be a disc jockey. When I presented the tuition information to Larry, and talked to him about the class, he seemed to agree that I could do this, until I had to ask him what to put the first tuition payment on, the credit card or write a check? He blew up at me, claiming I “deceived” him about the fact that I’d have to pay 1/3 of the tuition out of pocket (got student loans for the rest). When I showed him the same forms I had shown him previously, he backed down, realizing he just hadn’t looked at them properly. This school course was going to be 10 months long, and, if I found a job in broadcasting, I knew I would be lucky to make half of the salary I was getting as a nurse. I told Larry he HAD to have a job by the time I graduated, one with a steady income AND benefits. For the first several months, he did nothing. One day, he asked me, if he got the money on his own, could he invest in his friend’s bowling pro shop. I remember telling him that, as long as he still got a paying job with benefits before I graduated, I didn’t care what he did. Well, it seemed to me that he only heard “I don’t care”. He borrowed money from his mother and started working at the shop. He seemed to spend all day while the kids were at school, and evening and weekends when his mom could watch the kids. In his mind, he had a job, nevermind that there was no income (all money earned at the shop went back into the shop; there were no benefits either).

For 10 months I worked 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. I drove an hour across town to be at class from 6 pm to 10 pm on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. On Wednesday evenings, from about 6 to 10, I had my first internship (unpaid). On Saturday afternoons from 1 pm to 5 pm, I had my second internship. Friday evenings were spent at my friend’s farm feeding her horses (my one an only thing that I could do for myself). Saturday mornings were usually reserved for watching Scott’s bowling team play. That left Sunday as the only day where I could do anything else. I didn’t want to spend my one day of the week doing chores like grocery shopping, which Larry still would not do (unless it was just to pick up a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread). So, I explained to Scott that I would no longer go to every league day, just tournaments. Larry had to start cooking dinner for the kids now.

Finally I graduated and interviewed for a disc jockey job over in Wilmington. I would actually be a production manager and earn a whopping $12/hr. I had already tried discussing with Larry the things we could do to make it work – move closer to Wilmington, get a smaller house…him get a paying job. When I came home from the interview and told him that I’d been offered the job and accepted it, he told me “we’ll be bankrupt in 2 months if you do this.” I got no support from my folks either, and after a night of crying myself to sleep and wondering how everything went so wrong, I had to face the fact that I’d have to call the radio station in the morning and back out of the job because the welfare of my family would continue to fall squarely on MY shoulders, with no help from my husband. (On a happy note, an hour after declining the full-time job, the station manager called me back and offered me a 3-hour slot on Sunday evenings at $7/hr; I took it!).

That all took place in December of 2002. In January of 2003, on our Reserve weekend, I signed in, then went straight over to the personnel office and had them inactivate me. I did not discuss with Larry that I was getting out of the Reserves. He was already slated to retire that March. Soon we’d be without both our Reserve incomes. He was not happy. But it changed nothing in his opinion that he had a job and would not be seeking any other. By March, I couldn’t take the mental stress anymore and told him I wanted a divorce. It was a painful, tearful talk, but, he pretty much knew that there was no changing my mind. He wanted me to give him 6 months to find a job and figure out what to do about where he and the boys would live. As for the decision that he would have primary custody, well, he begged me not to take them away from him. He ended up choosing to move in with his mother, so he’d have a built-in baby-sitter, a luxury I wouldn’t have, and, with my work hours (I’d returned to hospital nursing, 12-hr night shifts), I knew I couldn’t have them full-time.

He was slow about getting a “real” job, in my opinion. He kept putting things off because he wanted to see if he’d ever get called for a job with Butler County Sheriff’s Department. I was pushing hard for him to apply and get some other job while he waited on news from that one. He finally got a job in June, I think, of 2003, working at the Cincinnati Convention Center as a security guard. We had waited till the boys were done with school that year to tell them we were divorcing. Then there was the house to prepare to sell. Larry kept trying to drag out my actual departure as long as he could. By September I simply moved. He got a bit fussy about the house payments (of which we only needed to make one more, since the house sold quickly), and about child support, as we hadn’t actually filed formal divorce papers yet. I agreed to his request, though I felt it was more than he really needed, and diligently paid him every month until the county took it over. He continued to delay filing for divorce, too, though I’m not sure why. When we finally turned the paperwork in, we had a court date within 30 days, and it was officially over June 30, 2004.

So, where, exactly did it all go wrong? Was it doomed from the start? Could either of us had done something different so that we’d still be together today?

I guess we’ll never know about “what if’s”, but I do know that I was slowly heading for a depression that likely wouldn’t resolve itself like my post-partum depression did. I had to do something if I wanted to be happy again, and I knew that I had to finally look out for myself first for once. I hated what it did to my boys, and I hated that it put them in a situation where they were under so much more stress, too. But I really felt like I could start being a better mom if I could finally be in a happier place myself.

Was I a better mom? Nominally, I think. I know the kids had some better days, some fun adventures, but I can’t take credit for all of that. I was very lucky to have met a new man in September of 2004. Within weeks I knew he was a keeper and let my boys meet him. Between Lyle and his family, my boys finally had a nice, functional family to look up to and be a part of. I hope that they feel blessed for having a third set of grandparents, another aunt and uncle, as well as a step-father who cares about them. The Bakers took me and my boys in like we were a natural fit, and I couldn’t be more amazed and pleased to call them family, too.

So what does this mean for my boys? Well, Sean had his time where he wished me and his dad would get back together, which is normal for most kids (he was only 11 when we split up). He seemed for a while to NEED relationships, to feel loved by someone other than family because, perhaps, we didn’t show it enough in the years it would mean the most for his development. I worry more, actually, about Scott, as I think he became so disillusioned with relationships that, if he ever decides to get into a serious one, it won’t be till he is much older. Not only did he lose his mother, but he had to accept that the grandmother he’d been so close to, so fond of, was not as loving once they all lived under the same roof. I think she may have spoken out of turn against me to him, as well, when I first left. She is not the type of person who would mind her own business, and, as her son was perfect – if only in her mind – then I must have been the “bad” one to have left him.

Whatever.

So, that’s pretty much the Story of my first marriage, for good or ill. When the boys read this some day, I hope they don’t find anything to be much of a surprise. And, I want them to know that, their dad really isn’t a bad person. He had some good qualities, or I wouldn’t have continued to date him, let alone marry him (I wasn’t THAT bad with my self-esteem that I’d knowingly stay in a bad relationship). One thing we’ve all learned is that we all, each and every one of us, are a selfish lot. I include myself in that, but I believe that I did the best I could to keep my marriage together while Larry could have done a lot more. He seemed to get comfortable living his life the way he had it. He even told me once that he got “stuck in a rut and couldn’t get out.” I didn’t think he would stay stuck there with my size 8 boot in his ass all the time, unless he wanted to stay there. But I don’t know how he perceived things, don’t know how his version of this Story would go. I would like to believe that he’s good enough not to lie, at least not willfully and maliciously. He certainly could have a different perspective of the truth that would paint a darker picture of me, or he might actually admit to his share of contributing to the demise of our marriage. I’m certain I won’t be hearing it any time soon.

Scott, Sean, please know that I’ve never stopped loving you guys and that I wish I could have spared you from any hurt that this caused you. Sean’s told me he forgives me for my failures as a mom, and that he loves me still. I know Scott loves me, too. I hope they both are happy always, in a relationship or not.

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