Running into (and away from) your ex

I got divorced in January of 2010, walked out of the courtroom, hugged my ex husband one last time, got in my car and drove away and never saw him again. Welll, that’s not 100% true, because there was one time about seven years ago that I saw him in the food store and hid in the bread aisle until I could run out, but that had more to do with the fact that I looked like a slob and was in my pajamas, rather than not wanting to see him because by that point I could have cared less.

When M. and I broke up, I was still very emotionally invested in his health and his life, but I knew any interactions with him encouraged him and that was not fair to either of us. I did not want to give him false hope that we would get back together. Neighbors would tell me they saw his truck on our street by my house, so I knew he was around, but it seemed harmless. Strangely enough, we didn’t run into each other anywhere, even though we lived only a couple miles apart. However, I was very aware of my surroundings, sort of knowing that us running into each other was inevitable and mostly dreading it.

It finally did happen last December. I was coming out of the gym and he was going in. As with most things, it was not as bad as I thought. We chatted for a little bit. In retrospect, I am grateful for this happening because he died less than two months later. It was the last time I ever saw him.

My gym was closed for a long time because of covid, and then because of flooding from a terrible storm. It just recently reopened and I finally started going back. It was weird because I felt like I kept looking at the door, thinking he was going to walk in. I feel like that happens a lot. I see someone who looks like him from behind walking or I see the same color truck as his and I have to remind myself that he is gone. I will never have to think about running into him again. How strange life is…one of the things I used to worry about is now something I wish could happen.

My boyfriend (also an M. name so I need to find an abbreviation for him….maybe Dr?) has an ex wife with whom he coparents, so she is very involved in his life. Luckily, she and I get along well, minimal problems and she is accepting of my relationship with the kids. But it is weird to me to be with someone who has baggage who is still present. Like they text about the kids and see each other multiple times a week. I can’t imagine what that is like because I have literally ZERO interaction with an ex at all.

It is like you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I never wanted to run into M. until he passed away and now I wish I could run into him, to see him one more time. As far as my ex husband, I hope he found a new food store really far away…preferably another state! 😉

Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful 😉

“I’m proud of you.”

My boyfriend and I were watching TV today when his thirteen year old son texted him warning him that his twelve year old brother was upset. My boyfriend called his younger son to see what was wrong. At first his son seemed upset and angry, but after talking to his dad for a few minutes, he seemed to calm down. I guess he has a tendency to have emotional reactions and outbursts.

As they were hanging up, my boyfriend said, “I’m glad we talked about it and that you feel better. I’m proud of you.” I had to hide my tears when he hung up and looked at me.

One thing about my boyfriend that I never expected to feel is admiration for his parenting style. To be honest, I really was against dating someone with children. I do not have my own and that kind of “baggage” seemed daunting to me. I love hearing him on the phone with his sons- he is so sweet and caring.

My tears, though, were not from the surge in my heart I felt for him in that moment (although I did), but rather from those four simple words that he so casually said to his child: I’m proud of you.

Do nothing taker.

Liar, cheater, stealer.

Scumbag daughter.

You’re a LOSER.

I’m so disappointed. Again.

Selfish. You don’t care about anyone but yourself.

You’re a joke.

Why do I waste my time with you?

Those are just a few of the many, many insults and negative things my father has said to my face or on the phone or via email over the years. Although there were incidents of physical abusive, he was always SO verbally abusive.

I was (and still am) a good daughter. I am a public school educator. I own my own house and car and am financially independent. I have a Master’s Degree. I have found the strength to leave two very bad relationships and completely start over. I help my sister. I spoil my niece. I have won several teaching awards throughout my career. I have never done drugs or excessively drank. I was not (or only a little lol) promiscuous. I have taught as an adjunct professor at two universities. I’m not writing all this to brag, but rather that I have had some worthwhile and important accomplishments in my life. I am a good person, a good friend, a respectable member of society. Yet, I can’t remember a single time my father has said to me “I’m proud of you.”

I have said this before and I genuinely mean it: I know my father loves me. He tells me this every time we get off the phone or say goodbye in person. He actually writes it at the bottom of every email, even the ones belittling me. I guess that might be part of the reason I have such a convoluted concept if what love really means.

My boyfriend and I were having a conversation last night about the idea of love and our previous relationships. I have told him much about my failed marriage and how my ex husband treated me. I said, “getting divorced was so difficult because I still did love him.” And my boyfriend responded with, “after how he treated you and the things he did…why? Why did you still love him?”

The question hung in the air for a few minutes while I thought about it- to be fair, that is something I have always just said, but never thought deeply about. “I don’t know why. I guess because he was my husband?” I realize how ridiculous that sounds now. Having a “title” or a certain role in someone’s life doesn’t mean anything. At the time, I felt as if I owed him love because I was his wife and he was my husband. And I feel the same way about my dad…I love him because he is my father (it kind of makes more sense to say I love him in spite of him being my father).

Hearing my boyfriend so effortlessly say those magic words to his son, with no agenda and with sincerity, was bittersweet. I love that he is the kind of man who talks to his children and helps them see value in themselves. I saw a quote recently: “when you criticize your child, you don’t make them hate you, you make them hate themselves.” I’m over 40 years old now. It took time (and therapy!), but I know my worth and am pleased with my accomplishments. I no longer need my father’s approval. But I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t freaking love to just once hear him say, “I’m proud of you.”

Nice.

As an English teacher, I often stress to my students the importance of using creative words. Instead of the word “bad”, use “terrible”. Instead of the word “pretty”, use “gorgeous”. One of the biggest offenders when it comes to nondescript words is “nice”. The dictionary defines it as fine and satisfactory…not exactly the most flattering or sophisticated adjective.

I remember when I was in my 20s, I met a guy through a mutual friend. Afterwards, she asked him what he thought of me and his response was that he thought I was “nice”. I remember being offended by this and over analyzing it- “What does that MEAN…nice?!??” I thought it indicated that he wasn’t really interested in me. It felt like an insult.

I didn’t realize the significance of this simplistic, four letter word until I was 30. To put it bluntly, my ex husband was mean. After getting divorced, I remember saying to my sister that all I cared about when it came to meeting someone new was that they were nice. After experiencing my dad not being nice and my husband not being nice, that word took on a new, deeper meaning. I am very happy to say that my new boyfriend is truly nice. It took being with some unkind men for me to appreciate someone who is genuinely a good, kindhearted person.

I can honestly say that I am a nice person. I strive to be. I try to do things to make other people happy. I am thoughtful. It is kind of weird to write this because I feel like I am bragging (and trust me that I have many flaws). During the time my coworkers were teaching from home during quarantine, I mailed out 70 cards, just to say hi and keep in touch. I also sent congratulatory letters to the 120 graduating seniors who were my students from last year. This is one of the ways I know how to show love and appreciation.

Today, I gave my mailman a card and a $10 Dunkin Donuts gift card because tomorrow is National Postal Workers Day and clearly I love mail (who knew?!?!) My boyfriend was saw me do this and said, “you are SO nice. You’re the nicest person I have ever known.” I just smiled and accepted it for the lovely compliment it was. There are far more creative and glamorous synonyms that can be used, but I now understand the simple beauty of being nice.

20 Questions

1. Do you have any regrets?

Not seeing each of my grandparents one more time before they each passed away. My travel anxiety held me back from visit them and I will always wish I had one final chance to see them.

2. How would you like to be remembered?

As being kind, thoughtful, caring and funny. A good sister, daughter, aunt and friend. An inspiring teacher.

3. Have you ever broken a promise to someone?

Yes, myself. I swore to myself that I would never date or marry an alcoholic because of my father. I feel like a cliche that I did, but I am also relieved that I broke the cycle.

4. Was there one event that changed your life and the way you think?

When I was in elementary school, I saw a documentary on children in third world countries, specifically Ethiopia. I had never seen images like that before and I remember being shocked that there were kids starving in the world. It taught me to appreciate the life I had and I have thought of it often.

5. Would you sacrifice everything for love?

No. I have learned the hard way (twice) that love is not enough.

6. Are you afraid of dying?

I rarely think about dying myself; rather I fear losing someone that I love. Now that my parents are older, I am afraid of my mother dying more than anything.

7. Have you ever been abused?

Yes. My father was/is physically, emotionally, verbally and psychologically abusive. He is still very verbally abusive, but I think the psychological abuse affected me the most, even more so than anything physical.

8. Have you ever been in love?

Yes, I would say three times. In college, I had my “first love”- where you love so naively and hopelessly. I loved my ex husband and I love (present tense) my ex boyfriend. With both my husband and boyfriend, it wasn’t because of not loving them that the relationships ended, hence my answer to #5. I think the true love of my life/soul mate is my ex boyfriend, but there are very logical reasons we are not together.

9. Are you happy with who you are?

Yes. I definitely have my flaws, but I think I am a good person. I care about other people and always try to do what I think is right.

10. Would you ever give up your life to save someone else’s?

Yes, definitely my sister or my niece…without even a second thought.

11. Have you changed at all in the last year?

This last year has been life changing. I experienced my boyfriend being in a coma…I don’t think I will ever be the same. He was so close to death. I am so, so grateful he survived, but I lost him anyway.

12. What is something most people don’t know about you?

That I suffer from agoraphobia and at one point years ago it was so bad that I didn’t even want to leave the house to check the mail or go to the grocery store. I just recently told someone about this and they didn’t believe me. I guess that’s a weird compliment in a way.

13. Do you like being alone?

I really do. I need time to decompress and just think. Sometimes I just lay on the couch without turning on the tv, just to be in silence.

14. Is there something you would never do?

Get married again. I felt very trapped. I definitely did not grow up with a good role model of what marriage should be and I stayed with my ex husband far longer than I should have simply because I felt like I had to try everything to make it work because we were married. I want to be with someone by complete choice and I want the ability to walk away if it isn’t the right relationship for me or if the person changes.

15. What makes you uncomfortable?

Confrontation. Although I have gotten much better at standing up for myself lately. I felt like I had to be an advocate for both myself and my ex boyfriend through his illness and it severed the relationship I had with his friends and family.

16. What is the meanest thing anyone has ever said to you?

My dad says so many mean things pretty much daily, but excluding him, after I got divorced, my ex husband wrote me an email saying he was sorry he couldn’t “fix me”.

17. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?

I can’t pick just one thing because any time I get a compliment from a student or they tell me I inspired them in some way, it is the best feeling. Recently, a student wrote me a letter saying that through my actions, I taught her how to be a stronger person and that meant a lot to me.

18. What is your prized possession?

A green diamond ring from my maternal grandmother. My sister and I used to try on all of my mama’s jewelry and we each had a favorite ring of hers. It was a joke in our family that she would leave them to us in her will. During one visit, my sister and I were parading around with our rings on and when we went to give them back to her, she handed us the empty boxes and said she wanted us to keep the rings so we would have the memory of her giving them to us, rather than it being a sad time when we inherited them. That is also one of my favorite memories.

19. What is something weird or unusual that you do?

Every year when I decorate my Christmas tree, I watch the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street”. I have no idea why there is a connection, but it has become a weird tradition. I love that movie 🤷🏼‍♀️

20. What is your favorite quote?

“Education is not preparation for life; Education is life itself.” -John Dewey

Should she stay or should she go…

stay_or_go_sign

One of the most difficult questions that I have been asked in my life is “why does your mom stay with your father?”.  I wish I knew (and I wish I had $1 for every time someone has asked me!)  I will never minimize how hard it is to leave a marriage…I am divorced myself and it was the most difficult experience I have ever had to go through.  I also did not have children, which can theoretically be a reason why someone might stay or leave a marriage. I have never believed a couple should stay married “for the kids” because I know my sister and I would have been much better off if my mother had left and we had not been exposed to the terrible things my father did.

On the phone with my mother last week, she was particularly upset with my father.  She was venting to me, which she rarely does, and said something along the lines of “I should have left him years ago.  I have had every reason in the book to leave him!”  I let her vent, but also reminded her that she actually had a reason to leave him even BEFORE he started drinking and being abusive, which is that he had an affair when they were first married.  She then confessed to me that my father had three affairs over the course of their marriage and that one of them was with a “mutual friend” of theirs.  I was floored!  I was not surprised when my mother confided in me a couple of years ago about my father’s initial affair.  By the time I found out it was almost 30 years after the fact and my dad had committed much more egregious acts against my mother than sleeping with a babysitter.  When I found out that he committed adultery several times, it brought me back to that age-old question of why she never left him.  I know that she cannot even answer that question with a satisfying response, but it does make me feel both sad for her, disgusted by her choices and a little impressed with her.  Sad because I always believed the breakdown of my parents’ marriage happened because of my dad’s alcoholism, when clearly there were major problems before that.  I always thought we had a “perfect family” when I was little and that it only changed when he started drinking.  I am sad for my mother that she has suffered so long because of my father.  I feel disgusted by her choice to stay with him because I know she deserves better than how she has been treated and that she allowed him to treat my sister and me the way he did.  However, there is a part of me that is impressed with my mother and her stoicism.  I know that sounds contradictory and it is- in some respects I feel like my mother is SO weak and in other regards she is SO strong.  She has a superhumanly high pain tolerance (which I did not inherit!).  She is almost 70 years old and still mows over an acre of lawn because it is “fun”.  She has rescued more stray and injured animals than anyone else I know…from birds to cats to turtles.  She lost both her parents within a one month period and at the same time still supported me through my divorce.

I can go on and on about all the wonderful traits about my mother, as well as some of her flaws, but if you gave me the rest of my life to do it in, I would still never be able to explain why she has never left my father.

Comfortably Numb

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I was showing my 11th grade students samples of a project in class today.  One of the samples was one that I made years ago, which included photographs of my ex-husband.  I have not assigned this project in years and I had forgotten that the sample included pictures from my “former life”.  My one female student, who is lovely and very inquisitive, asked me innocently if seeing the photo from my wedding “bothered me”.  I always try to be appropriately honest with my teenage students, so I answered her truthfully that seeing the photo did not really affect me anymore…that at one time it would have made me sad, but now that years have passed since my divorce, it feels like a lifetime ago.

It made me realize how far I have come since that time.  I got divorced in 2010 and during the process I was a complete mess.  That is no exaggeration.  I cried every single day…for like a year.  It did not help that I also lost both of my grandparents, my two favorite people, at the same time.  I thought I hid it reasonably well at school during that time, but when I run into students I had that year, they always tell me how worried they were about me (I remember getting quite a few really thoughtful cards that year from kids).  I remember people telling me then that I would get through it and that someday I wouldn’t care anymore or even get upset.  I thought that was literally impossible.  I really felt like I would NEVER get over my divorce.  But those people were right and now it is such an afterthought in my life.  I never think about it- or my ex-husband- at all, unless it is in a very specific context.  It is funny how your life can be SO affected by something or someone and then one day you realize that it has been hours…days…weeks…months since you cried or even thought about it or them.

I kind of feel the same way about my father.  He is still a big part of my life and he had such a negative impact on my childhood and teenage years, yet I really try not to think about the things that happened that much or what is going on now.  I think over the years, I found a way to compartmentalize everything that happened with my family.  I mean, at some point, I just had to find a way to not obsess about it or it would have literally drove me crazy.  I haven’t seen my father since Christmas- for over six months.  Part of me finds that really weird and part of me doesn’t care.  I am so disappointed in him for starting to drink again that I had to find a way to separate myself from him.  Whenever I start to think about it, I try to just *snapping my fingers* STOP.  I do go to therapy, so it is not like I am naively ignoring my problems; I just simply know that I cannot let it affect my everyday life, which is often easier said than done.  I know in AA, one of the mantras is to “let go and let God”.  I am not religious, but I think that is sort of my mentality when it comes to my dad right now.  I tried for so long to control him, my family, my life, everything…and ironically, the more I tried to control, the more out of control I felt. There’s just no point in worrying about things I cannot do anything about.  If worrying and caring and crying could have saved my marriage, I wouldn’t be divorced.  If worrying and caring and crying could make my dad stop drinking, he would be sober.  I have wasted a lot of tears on people who didn’t deserve them.