I was talking to a friend the other day and she was telling me about her boyfriend’s family. They had gone through particularly nasty divorces so they’re both very careful about taking things slowly. They met at a networking event and hit it off as friends. As neither of them was looking for a relationship, they were safe to be friends and share their lives in a non-threatening way. They talked for hours during the weeks as they had time between children and work. They opened up to each other because it felt safe for both of them to do so as they were only friends. He let her into his life and the inner workings of his brain like he’s never let anyone in before.
They were friends for many months before either of them figured out they were falling in love. When they introduced each other to their respective families, things got a bit hairy on his family’s part. The family thought they were going too fast and that she could never know him as well as they knew him! After all, they’d only known each other for about eight months at that point and they’d known him all their lives. Boy, did that sound familiar! My friend explained to me that he was a very private person and only ever let a small, select few people in. She was among them, his family wasn’t.
And that resonated with me. My family also said that they knew me all my life so my friends, who only knew me for two or three years couldn’t possibly know me as well. The thing is, that isn’t how this works. That isn’t how “knowing” someone works. It doesn’t come down to how long one has been acquainted but how much one lets another into their being.
I held myself apart from my family while the true inner workings of my thoughts and feelings were shared with my closest friends. I did share many things with my family, especially my sister, but I held so much about my marriage and what I thought about Bubba back from them.
I can see now that I’m not the only one who does this. When a marriage is abusive, it is common to hide what is happening behind closed doors. And when you don’t see your family every day, it is very easy to filter what information you pass along. When you are seeing your friends a few times each week, it is harder to hide. This is why abusers tend to isolate their victims from family and friends. It is easier to control the narrative if the flow of information is blocked. Bubba kept me away from my family but he could never stop me from making friends. I tended to make friends with the parents of my kids’ friends. The kids wanted to get together often, so we did. And in the last years when Bubba was working (and playing on the side) so very much, I got together with my friends.
I let my friends in. I told them what was going on, even when I was hiding things from my family. At the point when my marriage broke down, my friends knew me so much better than my family ever did. I chose that. I kept it that way. It was solely my decision.
My family accused my friends of brainwashing me, of controlling me, of forcing me into going through the divorce. What my family couldn’t understand is that my friends were keeping me safe. They were helping me make hard decision by trying to see what the possible decisions and consequences of those decisions were. When I would falter and express my longing for it all to go away, they told me if I wanted to reconcile with Bubba, they would support me. They called me on my bullshit and faulty thinking.
Now I have a dear friend who is going through a rough divorce. She is also going through some unrelated family drama. After three decades of taking her family’s abuse and a decade of taking her husband’s abuse, she is developing a backbone and standing up for herself and her child. Her mother is not taking it well. They spoke on the phone recently and her mother actually said her friends are a bad influence! She’s now being told that her friends are coming between her and her family. I’m absolutely incredulous how this happens. Families who are co-dependent and keep an adult child from becoming independent and getting out of the unhealthy dynamic will attack that adult child’s relationships outside of the family dynamic.
They see their adult child’s friends as controlling because they themselves are controlling. They don’t want to lose the control of their adult child so they demonize the friends who are pointing out the dysfunction. My friend knows she needs to set some boundaries with her parents because she needs to protect herself and her son from their dysfunction. But she is scared because she knows my story. I’m just hoping what happened to me can be a sort of map for her as she navigates this situation.
Parents do not know their children well simply because they are their children. Parents do not know their children more than the friends with whom their children share their lives. Each and every person out there chooses who to let in.
Each and every person out there chooses who truly knows them.
We got home and I read through the papers. It seems that Liam changed his mind and decided to stay with Bubba. He’d signed a paper stating his preference. He was old enough to do this and he’d done it.
I felt sick. I’d told Liam that I’d take care of it and fix it so that he could live with his dad. I knew it would be a fight but it wouldn’t have been this level of fight. Bubba was fighting for custody of both boys and the charges he brought against me were unbelievable. He claimed that I didn’t provide adequate supervision for the kids, that I never had food in my house, and that I don’t allow my kids to have a relationship with my side of the family.
I was dumbfounded. What the hell?
First, Serenity is an adult and Liam is well past the age to be a legal babysitter in my state. It makes no sense to say I don’t provide adequate supervision. It’s just something to try and make me look bad.
Second, according to my children, I never have food in the house only because their definition of food consists of junk food and soda, which I buy very little of. Not only do I not have the budget to afford such items (thanks to Bubba being thousands behind on child support), but I also strive to have my family eat healthily. I’ve had to let the ideal of not using convenience foods go because of my work schedule, but my fridge, freezer, and pantry are always full of food. The simple fact is that the older two kids don’t want to have to pull something out of the fridge and cook themselves something to eat. They want to binge on potato chips and soda and candy.
Third, I do not choose to have a relationship with my family. Not once have I ever told my kids that they weren’t allowed to have a relationship with my family. Both of the older two have their own cell phones and can initiate contact with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins as they see fit. They’ve also been instructed over and over to let Shane use their phones for such contacts if he wants. I reminded them of family members’ birthdays for the first two years after I left Bubba. None of the children ever wanted to call so I stopped reminding them. I also figured that it was no longer my place since my family had embraced Bubba. It was his responsibility to maintain contact between the kids and the people who chose him. They were his family now and his responsibility.
Treun immediately called the lawyer he’d used for his divorce. He said she was a shark and a shark is exactly what we needed. We set up an appointment and went to talk to her. I printed off some of the emails that Bubba had sent me over the years that showed exactly how verbally abusive he continued to be toward me. I printed off my accounting sheet of child support arrears, detailing what was due, what was paid, and what was owed. I got my original court documents together. And I got the retainer together. Thankfully, I’d gotten a good tax return just a few months before this and I’d saved it. I knew that with the two year mark having passed that Bubba would be taking me back to court as soon as he could find a reason to and I was right. My nest egg would be utterly depleted but the fact that I had it was a miracle to me.
Treun assured me that this time would be different. This time I had a shark lawyer and the support of a loving husband. I was no longer that traumatized woman just trying to escape with her kids. I was in a strong position this time and Bubba was in for a fight.
All those assurances did nothing to stop the PTSD from roaring back to the forefront. The panic attacks started viciously and intensely.
It was time to find a new counselor.
Serenity called me in near panic. She’d been sleeping and heard someone banging on the front door. Since she was home alone, she looked out the window upstairs to see if she could see who was at the door. To her surprise she saw a couple of cop cars in front of our house. She went to answer the door and a man asked for me. She told him I wasn’t home and he gave her his business card and told her to tell me to call him as he had papers for me.
Serenity gave me his contact information so I called him. He told me that he was trying to serve me with court papers that pertained to custody of my minor children. The old terror came flooding back. Bubba was trying to take my kids from me again. It’d had been over two years of not dealing with the courts and I wasn’t eager to go back there. Family court had been a terrible experience for me and my children and we were once again being thrust back into it. I asked the man if he could put the papers in my mailbox as we were going to cut our vacation short and come home late Friday and I didn’t want to wait all weekend to get the papers. He agreed.
Treun and I cut three days off our vacation and headed home. Bubba had timed his attack perfectly. Even though I hate to think it, I really believe that Liam told him that I’d be gone. And I believe that Bubba timed the papers to be served like they were. If it is one thing I know about Bubba, he is still intent on hurting me any way he can.
Even with the stress of knowing those papers and a court fight was waiting for us when we returned, Treun and I still managed to enjoy our time together. I got him lost once because I wasn’t paying attention when I was supposed to be navigating and missed a turn. He didn’t get upset with me at all. We just adjusted our course and kept going. He assured me that it was fine and really no big deal. It really was a good vacation and it showed me that Treun is really fun to travel with. We had a great time just being together, stopping to see whatever sights struck our fancy.
It was like no vacation that I’d ever taken before and I’m glad we had that time together.
Treun decided to take me to what used to be my hometown for our honeymoon. He knew I wanted to go see my grandmother and an elderly cousin so he thought this would be a perfect time to go. We could also drive just a bit further and see Endellion! It would be the perfect honeymoon for me. Tons of hours in the car with just Treun and me talking.
To tell the truth, there was a small part of me that was apprehensive about the trip. Vacations with Bubba had always been very stressful for me. I did all the planning, packing, and work for the trip while Bubba just went and enjoyed himself. During the vacation, he would treat me horribly and get mad at me when things didn’t go right. Even when things beyond anyone’s control happened, it was somehow my fault. I learned not to fight him about it and just accepted responsibility, apologized, and tried to fix it. Only there was never any fix. When we got home, I’d be exhausted and spent but I’d have to do all the laundry and unpacking. I was able to avoid any kind of vacation with Bubba for the last few years of our marriage for the most part. I’d rather accept the fight about not going anywhere to the sheer exhaustion that came with an actual vacation.
Now here I was planning to go on my first vacation with Treun. What was it going to be like? It started out good. We planned together and packed together. I think I kept looking at him liked he’d grown a second head because I couldn’t make sense out of him helping me. It was strange. Then we left and started the long drive.
Oh. My. Goodness!
We had so much fun! I took my knitting along and we talked and talked. I’d knit and he’d point out interesting sights as he drove. He discovered that I liked to take pictures of each state’s welcome signs as we crossed borders so he made sure to let me know when we were getting close to borders. The drive up was so relaxing. I had just never experienced something so fun before.
We stayed with an old high school friend of mine and her family while we were in my old hometown. I gave Treun a tour of my old stomping grounds. I showed him where I grew up. I took him to meet my grandmother and cousin. As they are both very elderly and not doing well, I figured this was my time to say good-bye.
Before the divorce, each summer I’d take the kids home and each summer, I’d say good-bye to them as if it was my last time. With their failing health and the rift between me and my family, I really did think this was the last chance I had. After our visit, I sat in the parking lot of the nursing home and sobbed while Treun held me. My once vibrant cousin, a woman who helped raise me, was a shell of her former self. She could only mumble but she smiled and knew who I was. She made her pleasure at my presence known. Saying good-bye to her was so hard to do.
We had an enjoyable visit with my old friend and ended up staying for two nights. I got to see another friend who went to college with me while I was there. I love that I still have a connection to my past. I still have friends I grew up with who I see every once in awhile. I value those old friendships. They stuck with me through the divorce. They believed me. They were appalled at the actions of my family. They are safe for me and they are worth their weight in gold.
We said good-bye and headed out to see Endellion for a few days. I was beyond excited and the trip consisted of me bouncing around in the car like a kid at Christmas. After three years of calling Endellion my best friend, I was finally going to meet her in person. I wish I could put words to the excitement that I felt but there are no words adequate enough to convey that.
Endellion had beaten us to where we were meeting (it was easier to find than her house). As soon as I got out of the car, she came running over, picked me up, and spun me around. Endellion is statuesque and she looks like an Amazonian goddess. She is even more beautiful in person than she was on Skype. After a few pictures to mark the occasion, we piled back into our cars and headed to her house.
We spent a few days hanging out with Endellion and her boys. We did some fun touristy things and we went swimming at the hotel where Treun and I were staying. We just spent those few days basking in each other’s presence. I think Treun enjoyed seeing me so happy. I think Endellion enjoyed seeing me being treated so well. I just enjoyed being with two of my favorite people in the whole world.
And then it happened. I got a call from Serenity.
Bubba had planned his attack well and timed it perfectly.
Oh. My. Goodness! How do four people accumulate so much stuff? I’ve given myself a month to get moved into our new home. I don’t think it’s going to be long enough. Seriously. Really. So much stuff.
Now that the boys are gone, I can get busy. Since I’d resigned from one job and was waiting to start the next one, I’d have two weeks to get as much done during the days as possible. Then I’d have two weeks of afternoons to work since I’d be working each morning. One little woman vs. one small house. How could this be a problem?
Excuse me while I go laugh myself silly.
When we’d moved out of the house we’d shared with Bubba, we lost half of our square footage. We’d down-sized significantly. I’d given Bubba all of his possessions but we still had had a ton of stuff that needed weeded out. I’d had yard sales. I’d donated loads of stuff. I’d gotten it to a manageable volume to fit into our new, smaller house. But during the two years we lived there, the kids and I acquired more stuff thanks to Goodwill and friends.
Once again I found myself needing to weed out what we no longer needed. And now I had the added bonus of trying to organize Treun’s house so that we didn’t have duplicates of everything taking up space. I had one month to get out of one house and blend our stuff together into another. This was complicated by the fact that when Treun went through his divorce, his ex-wife left their garage full and he just didn’t ever go into the garage. It was full of stuff that he hadn’t looked at in four years.
I ended up taking car load after car load of household goods to the domestic violence agency that had helped me so much when I left Bubba. We took down two crock pots (because for some reason, Treun had two), two sets of Corelle dinner ware (because I hate Corelle and he had beautiful Polish pottery stored in his garage from when he and his ex-wife had tried a trial separation), tons of linens, toys, clothes, and many other items. When I realized that I had furniture that I needed to give away, I asked the director if there was a woman who was starting out on her own who could use it. She got me in touch with a woman who took all of the furniture we had because she left with nothing but her and her child. I also gave her many of the small kitchen items we had duplicated.
Cleaning out my bedroom was tough for me. It was the first place I’d had that was truly mine. I’d painted it the way I wanted, decorated the way I wanted, and used it the way I wanted. I’d found so much healing in that space that it was hard to say good-bye to it. Treun and I bought a new bed. His queen wasn’t big enough and my king had too many bad memories in it. A friend of Treun’s was looking for a bed for his guest bedroom so he took my bed. It felt good to say good-bye to that. There were days that I’d work in my bedroom and sit in there and sob because of the reminders of the past. I found a card from Celia and cried for an hour. It was emotionally exhausting to clean out the past.
The kitchen was the easiest room to clean. I can be very practical when I want to be. I kept what items I used and got rid of things that I hadn’t touched since I moved in. As my kitchen was small, it went pretty quickly. I’d turned one corner of the kitchen into the donation area. It worked really well. When it got too crowded, I’d load it in the car and take it to the donation center.
I was finally able to get into the boys room and clean that. I gave myself a couple of days to do that and it ended up taking the majority of a week to get their room done. Since Shane wasn’t there to complain about every broken toy being thrown away I was free to dispose of anything that wasn’t whole and complete. Shane just had so many toys and books that it took more time that I thought. I had to go through all of the boys clothes and decide what of Liam’s could be handed down to Shane, what Shane had outgrown that I could pass along to a friend’s son, what Shane didn’t wear because it felt weird, and what things I needed to keep.
After an entire month I was finally done moving and cleaning the old house. The last thing I had to do was find someone to give my washing machine. I advertised the washer online and a young couple with a baby responded to the add. We met them at my house later that day. When they showed up, Treun helped the man get the washer into his truck. As they were talking they mentioned that they needed a dryer too. I’d given my dryer to Arcadia since mine was newer than hers. Treun had a brand new dryer at his house that he’d bought for Noble but we couldn’t get it in the door of Noble’s apartment. Since Treun’s dryer is only two years old, we’d just had the new one sitting in the garage. Treun told him that we had an extra dryer and he was welcome to it. We gave him the address and he said he’d be over as soon as he took the washer home (his truck was only large enough to move one at a time). Treun and I went over to his house and switched the dryers out and gave this young couple the two year old dryer. It was just another reminder that I’d married a good man. We hadn’t planned to get rid of the dryer because if Noble moved, he’d be able to use the dryer in a different house. But Treun saw a need and filled it for this young couple who was just starting out.
I turned in my keys to the landlord and drove away from that house and that life. I was no longer a struggling single mom. It was time to go on my honeymoon and start enjoying my life with a wonderful man.
It’s too bad our peace didn’t last very long.
It’s that time of year again.
It is time to take the boys to Bubba for his summer parenting time. It is time for me to have some time off. It is especially exciting because this year I get to move in with my new husband. Since we’d gotten married before school let out, we’d decided that the kids and I would continue to stay at our house until school let out then we’d spend the last days they were with me at Treun’s house. I’d do the heavy work of actually moving us after they left for the summer
Since the cat was out of the bag about Treun, he finally was able to go with me to a visitation exchange. Usually, he’d go along and I’d drop him off an exit before where Bubba and I met then pick him back up after the exchange. Serenity had ridden with us a couple of months before and I’d asked if we could just get it over with and take Treun with us and she had a panic attack in the car. She knew Bubba would not take it well, so we avoided it as long as we could.
We got to the exchange point first and Treun got out of the car with the boys. I asked Liam to find out how close Bubba was. I wanted to get out and stretch my legs but I will not be out of my car when Bubba is there. For me, it is still a safety issue. I will never trust Bubba again.
I had enough time to get out and stretch my legs. It felt good to be out of the car and walking around because it is a long drive to drop the boys off. Finally, Treun said that he saw Bubba’s car coming down the road so I hugged and kissed the boys and got back in. I asked Treun to get in the car but he said he was going to introduce himself to Bubba. I nearly had heart failure. Really? Really?
Thankfully, the exchange went off without a hitch. Treun introduced himself to Bubba and they shook hands. It was over before it began and the boys were in Bubba’s car and Treun and I were heading back home. As soon as Treun got in the car, I told him to pull over as soon as we could so he could go wash his hands. I didn’t want him touching me until he washed Bubba off his hand. Then I asked him WTF he was thinking by introducing himself to Bubba. He simply explained that if their roles were reversed he would want to meet the man his children were living with. It was a point of integrity for Treun. He was extending a courtesy he would want himself.
As we drove home, I felt a sense of peace. Treun and I were starting our lives together by having a summer together for ourselves. Serenity was in and out of the house enough that we’d get private time and Treun planned to take me on a honeymoon in a few weeks.
I just had to get moved out of my house and into our house before we could leave.
Life with Liam has been getting progressively worse. He is becoming more angry and volatile as the days go by. He is failing two classes in school and three of his teachers have been in contact with me about his grades and attitude in class. Apparently, the meds he is taking for the depression are not helping so we have another appointment scheduled to talk to his doctor. Liam is adamant that he doesn’t want to take the meds during the summer since he won’t be in school and he attributes everything negative to school.
Liam told me the other day that he is thinking of moving in with his dad. I told him that we need to sit with his counselor and talk to her about it because he needs to fully understand his options. I want to do it with his counselor because they have a good relationship and she will help him understand the pros and cons of each option. I’m not opposed to him going to live with Bubba but I am opposed to him doing it without information.
We sat down with his counselor and together we told him what the pros and cons of living with me are. We asked if he could think of any more to add to the list. Then we did the same thing with Bubba. I told Liam not to make a decision yet as we had time for him to really think about what he wanted. I told him I would support him no matter what he choose. We scheduled another appointment with his counselor for the following week. To say it was a stressful week would be a gross understatement.
When we had the next appointment, he said that he’d decided to stay with me. I asked him why and he said because he knew that if he decided to move with his dad, we’d have to fight in the courts again and he didn’t want to put me through that. I assured him that if he truly wants to live with his dad, I would move heaven and earth to make it happen because it is what he wants. I told him not to worry about the hows of it because that was for me to do. He insisted again that he would remain with me.
Since he had decided to stay, we once again went over the expectations for him. We covered the rules of the house and that he needed to abide by them. We talked about what he needed to do to recover from having failed two classes. He said he understood and that he agreed to the rules.
I left the appointment feeling very off about the whole thing. It is so obvious to me that Liam is severely depressed but I can’t force him to take meds or participate in therapy. I have to work with him to show him a better way and to try to guide him along a path to health. I had a strange feeling that it would only be a matter of time before the police would have to get involved again because his violence was escalating and I was scared. I was very worried for my precious baby boy and how much hurt he had inside him.
Yet I felt powerless to help him.
A week after the wedding, Serenity graduated from high school. There were times that I wondered if we’d ever see this day. Serenity is a very smart girl but her anxiety is almost crippling at times. Essays were nightmares for her. Her senior research paper had me ripping my hair out. It got to the point, during the first semester of her senior year, where I told her that she had to figure it out on her own. She had to talk to her teachers and ask for help when she was struggling. I told her to talk to the guidance counselor to see if there was any tutoring available. I simply couldn’t hold her up and push her to do her work any longer.
She came through and got her research paper turned in with 5 minutes to spare. Then she shocked all of us by getting a high A on her paper. I knew she had the intelligence to do it, I just hadn’t known if she’d be able to push through the anxiety to get it done. She’d passed all of her graduation tests her junior year so she just needed to make it through her senior year coursework and she did it!
Now we just had to get through graduation.
Bubba told her he was coming to town and would be at her graduation. Treun would be coming with me because he wanted to see Serenity graduate and he didn’t want me to be on my own. I bought Serenity and myself new outfits and ironed her graduation robe. The day was upon us and I knew we were both feeling the nerves of having Bubba in town.
The cat would be out of the bag. Even if Bubba didn’t see the ring on my finger, he would see me with Treun. He would know that there is a man in my life. We’d been very careful not to give Bubba confirmation of me having a boyfriend. Treun didn’t go to visitation exchanges with me. This would be it. No more keeping this part of my life a secret from Bubba.
We got there early in order to get parking that wasn’t a million miles away. We found good seats and just sat there enjoying the fact that my baby was graduating! Liam’s phone rang and it was Bubba telling him that he was there. Liam and his girlfriend got up to go get Bubba. I told Liam to not bring Bubba back with him. Well, that didn’t work. Bubba ended up sitting at the other end of the row we were sitting in. He was close enough to see the matching rings on our fingers if he looked our way.
Surprisingly, the whole thing went off without a hitch. Bubba didn’t approach us and we stayed far away from him. After the ceremony, we found Serenity and got some pictures together in her cap and gown. Then we said good-bye to the children because Bubba was taking them all out to dinner. They’d be home in time for me to get Shane to bed so Treun and I had a few hours to ourselves.
We went out to eat and celebrate on our own. Not only had Serenity graduated, we’d survived the afternoon sitting very near Bubba.
It was definitely worth celebrating.
The day had finally arrived. Treun and I were getting married! Our wedding day dawned warm and clear. It was sunny and beautiful and I was up at an ungodly hour because I was too excited to sleep. The plan was to arrive at Treun’s house around 9 am so that we could all get ready there and have the ceremony at 11 am, followed immediately by lunch.
Treun and I agreed that the ladies would take over the master bedroom and he’d get ready upstairs in what was going to be Serenity’s room once we moved in. Treun was given orders that he was not allowed to look over the loft into the living room unless he told his son Noble to make sure that I was in the bedroom first.
When I arrived, I had Serenity go in the house first to make sure Treun was upstairs. I wanted to take a look in the backyard to see how he had things set up. I wanted a moment to enjoy the peace and quiet of the morning in the place that I would call my own in a couple short hours. The jasmine covering the gazebo was in full bloom and smelled heavenly. There was a table set up for my computer and the chairs were arranged as we’d agreed. Everything was ready, except the bride!
Serenity and I set up shop in the bedroom. She started fixing her hair while I hung up my dress, got my shoes and bouquet out. I showed Shane how he was going to carry the rings for us. He was so excited to be a part of the wedding. He took his responsibility as ring bearer very seriously and listening intently as I instructed him how to hold the ring boxes and when he’d have to step toward the preacher to hand the rings over.
I decided that I needed to document all of this so I hollered up to Noble to tell Treun to stay off Facebook so that I could post pictures to share with my friends. Treun would have plenty of time to look at the pictures later.
I didn’t have much to do except have Arcadia help me put two small braids in my hair to hold the sides back and get dressed. I just lounged on the bed and talked to Serenity while she fixed her hair. I’d already ironed her clothes when we arrived so I just had to wait for the cake lady and the caterer. The cake lady showed up around 10 am and I was delighted with the cake. She has a little at-home shop and says that she is a baker, not a decorator. She’d used white and two different shades of my color and swirled them together. They were very simple cakes but they were beautiful in their simplicity.
The caterer showed up at 10:30 am and got everything set up for us. They were in and out in less than ten minutes so I had about twenty minutes to put my dress on and fix my hair. Oh, plenty of time. Arcadia arrived at the same time the caterer did so she changed her clothes while I directed the caterer. As soon as the caterer left, I got changed and she braided my hair.
I’d been texting with Endellion so she was ready for the Skype call. I shut down everything on my computer except Skype and had Serenity take the computer out for Treun to set up and get the Skype call started.
The ceremony went off without a hitch and lasted less than fifteen minutes. Treun and I had decided to write our vows and when it came down to it, neither of us prepared much. We spoke from the heart. The preacher didn’t sneak anything in there and it was a lovely ceremony.
It was official. I was Treun’s wife and our life together was about to start. It was an amazing, relaxing, fun day.
I wouldn’t trade it for the world.