Broken Pieces Rise

As I walked up three flights of stairs, grocery bags in hand, I was berating myself for having bought a condo on the top floor. But it was mine, and I was thankful. Well, technically, it was my father’s condo. He had purchased it for the girls and me, but we kept the condo in my father’s name because I was still in the middle of a contentious divorce. As I rounded the corner that hot August day, I saw a red notice nailed to my front door. As I got closer, my heart quickened just as my breath completely stopped. A 30-day eviction notice hung there, taunting me. Tears came in hot as I slowly realized my father, who hadn’t answered my texts or calls in six months, was evicting us. I tore the notice off the door and entered my home, which was hard enough to do these days. 

Had it not been for the groceries that needed refrigeration, my typical modus operandi would have been to pull into the garage and sit in my car for another hour or two, check Facebook or Instagram, listen to music, or call a friend. Any distraction I could think of before gaining the courage to walk the dreaded pathway upstairs to my new life. A life I didn’t ask for and a life I didn’t want. I had never felt such anxiety as I did every time I opened that damn front door and walked into the dark void that was now my home. No sports came from the TV that my husband would watch from the comfort of his side of the couch. No laughter came from the two little girls that gave me the title of mommy. After 18 years of having someone by my side day and night, and after the last ten of those years filled with the beautiful and not so beautiful tasks of motherhood, I did not know how to be alone. Being alone made it hard to breathe. I would often unlock the front door, enter, and barely get the door shut and locked behind me before making a beeline for the bedroom. I would squeeze my eyes closed, trying to stave off hyperventilation, strip off the days’ mess, crawl into bed, and beg for sleep to come. The following day I would get up and out of the house as quickly as possible and do it all again, counting down the days and hours before my babies were back with me. It had been 2-1/2 years, and being a part-time parent had still not settled well into my bones. My friends said I should enjoy the time to myself. My married friends with children said they would give anything to have every other weekend to themselves, but they obviously didn’t think that statement all the way through. Sure, it would be great to have every other weekend to yourself when you could come back to the exact life you had when you left. And even though they may not have realized it, it had been that scenario in the back of their minds that allowed them to be so careless with their words. But having my kind of “every other weekend to yourself” meant the complete upheaval of an entire life that you thought you would always have.

It meant having your husband come to your door with another woman’s arms wrapped tightly around his waist, and the only reason they are there is to take your children away. It meant having your littlest one cling to you while crying, not understanding why she had to leave you, only to cling to the other woman in the same manner when you picked her back up. It meant your oldest giving you a no thanks! when you offer to take her clothes shopping because she now prefers the fashion sense of the other woman. It meant sitting in church on one side of the aisle, while your family sits on the other side with a new woman inserted in your place. Your daughters are on her lap, needing her permission before they could come and hug you. It meant the man who promised to love you all the days of his life now referring to your replacement as “mommy” and not giving a damn how devastating that is for you. It meant countless other stories that break your heart into a thousand pieces, while the bond you share with your daughters is slowly being wedged apart with a hot searing knife by someone you once loved. 

To be fair, I realize not everyone experiences divorce in this manner. Many couples can strip away their feelings for one another and simultaneously advocate for a loving, healthy relationship between their children and the other parent. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with such circumstances. 

Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, my husband chose to justify his part in destroying our family unit by arguing that I was not worthy of love, nor was I worthy of being a mother.  

The emotional scars from the past two years run deep and have a long way to go in their healing process. As I put away the few groceries my EBT card would allow, I thought of that glaring red notice I had just ripped from the door. A fresh batch of tears threatened to take me down, but honestly, I didn’t have time for this. Car keys in hand, I headed back out to pick up the two little girls that made my heart whole. On the drive over, I sent up a prayer and then prepared myself for the familiar battle that would take place. The scene would be firmly set with my ex on one side of our oldest daughter and his girlfriend on the other. Their arms would be crossed, and they would stare me down as though I were no more than an irritating piece of gum stuck to the bottom of their shoe while said daughter yelled on cue, “No! I’m not going with you!” I would pick up my sword, and she would pick up hers. We would thrust our weapons forward, trying to win points until exhaustion set in. Finally, she would yield and huff her way into the backseat of the car. Only tonight, on this hot summer’s eve, that is not what happened. My prayers had been answered. She left her sword on the ground and got into the car without saying a word. Oh sweet Jesus, how I needed this reprieve today, thank you! I turned around to put my youngest in the car, and there it was, that all too familiar scene. They wielded her a tiny little sword, and there she stood at the ready. I did my best not to show the slump in my posture for having my butt handed to me yet again, and after some time, I finally got her into the car and started driving toward home. I sat in the front seat, tears silently falling while listening to my oldest try to soothe the cries of her little sister, “It’s okay, we’ll be back with mommy and daddy soon. Today we have to go home with, well, we have to go home with this mommy, but this weekend we’ll be back with mommy and daddy, I promise.”  

From the beginning of this complete train wreck of a divorce, I tried giving my girls the best parts of me. Unfortunately, my best had very little to offer in this darkest of seasons, as I barely held on to life itself. I was being hit and knocked down from every side, and there wasn’t much left to give at the end of the day. I was so focused on my pain and struggles that I often overlooked theirs.  

I was only working 10 hours a week making $9.00 an hour, my ex hadn’t paid his child support or spousal support in two years, and the man I had started seeing was turning out to be a gaslighting narcissist. It took all of my strength at this point to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And now I had no idea where my girls and I would lay our heads to rest in the next 30 days.

My grief and pain overwhelmed me as I listened to their back seat conversation. I pulled into the garage, turned off the engine, and sat quietly for a moment. I think the girls could sense the heaviness in the air because they sat quietly too. I turned and looked at my oldest daughter; pure innocence stared back. I asked, “do you really want to go live with your dad?” which is something she had been suggesting for months. It only took a moment before she answered yes. Just then, her sister started to cry. I asked my sweet girl what was wrong, and she told me she wanted to go live with her daddy too, but that meant she would never see me again. The heartache and anguish in my little girl’s voice penetrated my soul deeply, and I was damning myself for not doing better. I reached out for my baby girl’s hand, telling her that her thoughts were untrue. Of course she would see me again. I promised to call her daddy the very next day and work out our new schedule. This seemed to ease her anxiety. In a zombie-like state, I walked upstairs, grabbed their school backpacks, and drove them back to their dad’s.

His apartment was on the second floor, and when you parked by the curb out front, you could see the top half of his front door. Once parked, I unstrapped the girls from the backseat, and they each got out. I hugged them tightly and told them how much I loved them. I vowed everything would be okay. I held my breath as my two beautiful blue-eyed girls walked away from me and climbed the stairs. I watched the tops of their little blonde heads cross over the threshold of the opened door, and I watched the light being snuffed out as it closed behind them. I climbed back into my car, and my world came crashing down.

The drive home was a blur. Once there, I went straight for the wine and didn’t bother pouring it into a glass. I drank, cried, and screamed until my throat was raw. Hatred for my ex was palpable. I blamed him for everything. For all of my poor choices, insecurities, and weaknesses. For my jealousy and bitter behavior. From my limited perspective, all I could feel was his foot, heavy on the back of my neck, smashing my face into the ground while hoisting himself to a higher level than he deserved.  

It was close to 10 PM, and with more than half the bottle of wine gone, I finally looked at my phone. I had a voice mail and a text from my ex demanding to know what was happening. I didn’t answer at first. Screw him. His question didn’t come from a place of concern, only entitlement. I closed my eyes, and without warning, the smell of my little girls’ sweet and sticky face came rushing up through my nostrils like a tsunami. Gut-punched, I almost threw up. I couldn’t live without them. I just couldn’t. 

In my drunken state, I finally texted back and told him that he had won and to please tell the girls that I loved them. Finishing off the last drop of red wine, I closed my eyes and felt the room start to spin. I stumbled down the hallway to the master bedroom that I shared with no one, stripped off my yoga pants, and crawled under the covers. Bloodshot and tear-stained, the emptiness dug its claws in deep. In the quiet of my room, I listened to the darkness call my name in its soothing tones, which told me what my next steps must be. The following day I would drive my life of pain, heartache, suffering, tears, despair, and loneliness off the nearest cliff. “Lord, I’m coming home. I’ll see you soon. Please don’t turn me away.”

The next morning as my mind stirred into consciousness, I was too afraid to open my eyes for fear reality would sink its mangled teeth into my flesh and crush every bone underneath. Lying there, I had that thought so many of us do; how did I end up here? How did my life spiral so far down that death would be a welcomed reprieve?

One minute I had been married to the man of my dreams, and the next minute that same man was vilifying me to everyone we knew. Eyes closed and breath shallow, I searched my memories for answers. I would undoubtedly be writing an entirely different story had I paid closer attention to the red flags that brazenly whipped around us that first year of courtship. I must have been colorblind. A lame excuse, indeed, but that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

I braved the task of carefully opening one eye. I dared just a sliver and waited for the flying daggers to penetrate my heart. After a beat and all was well, I braved both eyes wide open. I held my breath, waiting to be so overwhelmed with grief that I would hurl all over my bedroom floor. Nothing happened. I waited a moment more; still nothing. I gently gave in to my lung’s need for oxygen but willed the rest of my body to remain perfectly still, only allowing my eyes to roam freely. I don’t know how long I lay there, probably no more than a minute or two, but I eventually trusted the situation enough to sit upright. The moment I did, I felt a whoosh of serenity flood my body, and I immediately recognized God’s presence. In all my years as a Christian, I had never come face-to-face with my beloved Father, but I instantly knew He was with me in that room. An indescribable peace and calmness surrounded me, and I felt Him whisper in my ear the promise I had made to my daughters the night before . . . everything is going to be okay. Tears began to flow freely, and I could feel them cleansing my soul. As cliche as that may sound, there are no other words to describe it. I had to stay; this is what God was pressing upon my heart. It would not be easy. At times it would be almost unbearable. But if I trusted Him enough to keep myself alive, He would help me climb the cold and windy mountains, swim the dark and wretched cesspools, and carry me across the vast unknown when I needed to rest my weary body. My daughters needed me. I had to stay. That was my job, and nothing else mattered.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed and gingerly touched my feet to the floor. I sat in the tranquility of my surroundings for a moment more before making my way to the living room. The sun filtered in brightly through the windows, and as I took my first deep breath in a long time, I softly spoke, “Thank you, God. Thanks an awful lot.”

Culled from by Tori Crymson

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