Ok, so here’s the story.
For…what…two months now I’ve been quietly stressing about this meeting with my ex. It was supposed to be in March, then moved to April. And I kept preparing myself for whatever might happen. Lots of calming breaths in…cleansing breaths out. I thought I was pretty sure to go look him in the eye and sort through the details of child support with the district attorney.
Tuesday, the night before the meeting was scheduled, my former sister in law called. When I realized it was her, my heart stopped. She’s very kind to me, an ally of sorts within the family, but there is nothing she likes more than sharing drama. I appreciate the information, but when she calls I know it’s because she’s enjoying the delicious thrill of spreading bad news.
Sure enough, after a few pleasantries, she asked me to hang on for just a second. I could hear her turn to her husband and ask in a whisper if she could tell me. The answer must have been yes, because she came back to the phone and said casually, “So, you must be relieved that you won’t be running into him any more.”
“You don’t know?”
He’s in jail. That was my first thought. He’s in jail.
“No. What is it?”
“He…where?” I choked. She was loving this.
“California. Somewhere near San Francisco.”
It seems his girlfriend has gotten a job there, and they left last week.
My reactions were shock…closely followed by rage.
So now I get to tell his sons he’s moved? How exactly should I do that? “Hey guys, remember your dad? Well, pretend you do. He lives in California now.”
Or how about the educational approach, “Do you know what’s in California? Let’s see, Disney Land…lots of smog…and your bastard of a father.”
No, probably not the best approach either.
If I don’t know what to do, I try not to do anything, so I just carried that fact around with me for a couple of days. The next day was Wednesday, when the meeting was supposed to be. I went, wondering if he’d arranged to call rather than appear in person, or if he’d hired a lawyer to represent him, or if he’d just blow the whole thing off.
I kept musing about how shocked I am when he does something like this move. I’m not a stupid person, so it seems by now I’d have figured out that this is who he is. May 4 will be the two year anniversary of his last visit with his children. Two years. This is not someone who’s Christmas wish list includes an “I am my kid’s dad” t-shirt. This is not someone with the capability of appreciating the gift his children are.
So why do I continue to be shocked?
As I drove I remembered a scene from when Tre was a baby. He woke up on day 10 of his new babyhood with weepy, gunky eyes. I didn’t know what was wrong with him, but I was pretty sure it was cancer caused by inept mothering. I took him to the doctor, and presented him to her with trembling hands. She barely glanced at him and diagnosed blocked tear ducts. “Keep ‘em clean. If they’re still like that at a year, we’ll open them up manually.”
Oh. Ok then.
I took Tre home and sat down on the couch to gaze into his goopy eyes. His dad was hovering over us, and I told him to go get me a clean washcloth. He nodded and disappeared. After what seemed like a long time he returned with one. “Here,” he said, “it’s a good, soft one.”
Later, as I was walking through the hall, I passed the linen closet. It seemed to have exploded. Towels were flung all around the hall and on the floor in front of the closet was every washcloth we owned. He’d unfolded and felt them all, searching for just the right one. I looked at the disarray and had to laugh. It was like the force of Dad had blown through there, leaving no cloth unturned in his hunt for just the right washcloth.
It’s him I miss. The man I knew, the man I loved. He was a good dad, with the sincere intent to give his sons the best.
The person he is now, this guy who hasn’t seen his kids in years – literally years – can damn well move to California.
When stuff like this happens it still takes my breath away. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that tiny glimmer of hope that he’ll get his act together. I want to be safe from the man he is, but part of me keeps looking for the man he was.
He hadn’t made arrangements for the meeting, so it was cancelled once it was clear he wasn’t coming. This was not a great shock to the good people down at the Child Support Enforcement Division of the district attorney’s office.
On my way out to my car I passed a little blue Honda. His girlfriend drives a little blue Honda, and without thinking I stopped and looked around for them. Then it hit me: I don’t have to do that any more. They’re gone.
I got in and started my car and on the radio some overwrought woman was singing, “How do I live without you? I want to know. How do I breathe without you?”
I smiled. Like this, I thought.
And I went home.