Lately, work has been good. Not necessarily the day job, it’s still the same as it has been for 13 years. The ups and downs, the constant piling of more work and no more pay. Writing has been great. More assignments mean more income as well as a sense of well-being, fulfillment, purpose, and reward. Lately I have been so busy with the assignments that I haven’t had a chance to write here much.
When I am not busy with work, I fit moments with my son into the equation. We go and do things, or we spend the day in, playing old video games we got used for a steal. We talk trash, we blast aliens, we slay and we are content. I am happy in many other ways too. Ways that I will have to guard more in the upcoming months. Because you also have to protect the ones you love.
There are storms on the horizon.
The other day, I was served with papers. My ex-wife is bringing me back to court. She wants full custody/decision making for my two older kids, who she has alienated from me for years. The courts reward this behavior with more child support. Forget about the fact that “absentee” fathers are considered to be a culprit in incarceration, mental illness, and so many other problems our country faces. Some fathers who aren’t in the picture tried their hardest to be there and their kids had to choose. Money, power, hurting someone and continuing to abuse them over daring to cut toxic people out of their lives…I have not been congratulated by the system for leaving an abusive marriage. I have been penalized. I have been told by the court that I serve one purpose, and that is piggy bank. It is frustrating.
Every time I have to go back to court, it brings it all back. And unfortunately, I never seem to win. It’s like the bones of my former self, a man who did everything he could just to survive, is at the bottom of the sea, locked in a chest wrapped in chains. And every time I get summoned to go back to court, I can feel him beating on the inside of that mouldering chest. Like a heartbeat.
My life is better since I have been on my own. I often view it in terms of BD and AD. Before Divorce and After Divorce. Until I was married, I was a young man who made mistakes, but generally had an optimistic view on life. I lost 15 years of my life when I was married. Like being in prison, the world passed me by. My decisions were not my own. I lived in a constant state of fear. When I got out, it was like feeling the sun on my face for the first time in years. The majority of my lifetime. Nearly all of my adulthood has been spent dealing with this at some level.
There is a but…I learned how to breathe again. How to have hope. How to laugh. How to love. Myself and others.
And unfortunately in the war of attrition which followed, I got to learn how to lose my children, one by one. They aren’t dead, but they have cut me out of their lives completely. They don’t even use my name. Anytime I have contact with them, they are hateful. I have my youngest, and with him, I have hope. I have lost my children, yet I still see two kids around town once in a while who look like them, but they see right through me if they ever look in my direction. This is what it feels to be haunted.
But my money still spends just great.
Whenever I get dragged back to court, I see what is written about me in black and white. This is the idiosyncratic view of dads. Even though my children have been peeled away from me, the court document accuses me of abandonment. Even though I have loved unconditionally, I am treated as negligent, abusive, and so many other things. This is how courts view you. This is how society views you. In the anger and shame that follow, this is how you begin to see yourself.
In one fell swoop, I felt the clouds roll in. My attention on the second job I have to work to make ends meet and to pay for someone who won’t even work a full-time job is swallowed up. Why work more when they will just take more? I can’t get ahead. I am a prisoner once again. My relationships suffer as well. The man who loves and gives and enjoys life is crushed under the weight of a war he never enlisted to fight. Those old bones rattle in that locker. Just keep treading that water and resist the call to sink back down to the depths. Keep a smile on your face and pretend it doesn’t affect you when your brain only thinks of how it can answer to these accusations. You have lost your children. And the courts pat themselves on the back for justice being served.
I haven’t felt this low since the last time I went through this process. A lawyer who promised me everything and delivered nothing. A man who walked around with his hand in my pocket, giving me hope, and then doing nothing. The worst part is knowing that you can survive it. You can survive anything. But you are alone in this fight. This is your reputation. Your good name as a good parent. A good man. You offer your pain up to God and wonder why you have to keep bearing so much of it.
Ask yourself how the world views you.
Are you the person that a piece of paper submitted to a court from someone who hates you enough to wreck your own children portrays you to be? Are you that person who jumps at loud sounds and can’t sleep sometimes because some memories just keep bubbling up? Or has recurring nightmares that he is still living in that hellhole and just always on the verge of escape, but never seems to be able to get out? Are you the one who is always. Constantly. Defending. who they are when they just want to be left alone. To live in peace? Then why do you feel like any of this is important?
The problem I have is that my mind locks on to things. In my brain I am building a case, looking at all the details. All the bullshit. And it is filling all the nooks and crannies I should be using to move ahead in my life, instead of defending myself against a past I want so desperately to escape. Dragged back down by someone who never wants to move on.
I wish I could just shrug it off. I wish I could hire a lawyer to fix it, but I can’t afford one. And what good is that when your ex just loves going to court? It would be like throwing them a birthday party. Besides, the last lawyer I hired did absolutely nothing, and I paid him $5,000 for that. But unfortunately my hyper-vigilance that I learned from half a lifetime of this bullshit keeps it fresh in my mind. I tend to fixate. It is the same thing people learn from holing up in trenches under intense shelling. The same thing that people who have fallen into the water and nearly drown experience. It is always in the back of your mind.
I have my mid-50s to look forward to when my youngest is off child support and I can truly, honestly say I never have to deal with their mother’s shenanigans ever again. My mid-50s. This is like a life sentence. My life will be approaching its twilight just when it is about to begin.
But it will begin.
You aren’t what your worst enemy writes about you. You aren’t what your demons tell you to believe. You can choose to be the best part of your experiences. You can choose to carry the happiness and love you find in the world in your heart, like a warm ember. You can open your eyes to the loving people who come into your life. Those that try to drag you down to their level have sad little lives and will never know love, happiness, or contentment. They will fade from this world without anyone remembering anything nice about them. Only the relief that they are no longer around to torment everyone else. Those of us who find joy get to live forever, because they have infected others with our joy and generosity.
There comes a time when you open your eyes to the world and realize it is all a matter of perspective as you look at those prison bars. You are the one on the outside, looking in.