8. Our New Life

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the mysterious, untouchable, the whisper in the dark, I-know-something-and-feel-it-but-can’t-touch-it side of life. Perhaps this was born from the loss of my mother. I remembered the outline of her, like a shadowy figure, unreachable but etched in my memory. She had colors, red hair, white skin, but after a while, no face. I couldn’t name her. What would I call her? My mother? My imagination?

Today my connection to the divine is something so consistent, I can tune in to it to guide me in so many areas if my life, including writing this memoir. The better I take care of myself, the clearer the guidance. I wish I’d known all my life of this power that resides within me. To be connected to it, and to take action from this place, is such a gift.

***

  While still newly married, my father resumes his busy schedule. Having finished up his college degree, he is working two jobs. He teaches high school in the day and tends bar at night. Kate has taken her place as his wife, eager to help him erase any thoughts that another wife ever existed.

My father and Kate’s families are supportive of the new arrangement, as are neighbors and friends. Amy’s teacher is invited to our home for dinner and seems approving. In everyone else’s eyes, my father is a hero, keeping custody of his young daughters after his wife abandoned him.  We had a new mother willing to take on such a huge commitment, to raise us like her own.   No need to pity us now; our father had put life back together, and so quickly too.  We had a clean slate, and could move on as if divorce had never touched us.

   

I am wearing my yellow Polly Flinders dress on the first day of Kindergarten. Kate says goodbye at the door like the other mothers. There is one mom though, that is not leaving yet. Her little girl is clinging to her and crying, screaming really, at the top of her lungs. She won’t let go of her mother and the teacher comes over and has to pry her away. This touches something in me, like a memory, but it is something out of reach. It is like a flash, or a spark, and it is gone in an instant.

The room looks huge and bright and I feel foggy, like I’m dreaming. I play with some blocks and then clay and later we line up for restrooms. Two girls from an older class come in to help walk us to the bathroom, and one of them takes my hand. When we come back we learn the pledge of allegiance. The teacher is old and nice.

When I get home I eat chicken noodle soup and watch Sesame Street, then Mr. Rogers. This becomes my routine most days after school.  Afterwards, I play outside in the sandbox, or ride my bike in the driveway. Sometimes I play with my doll, putting her down for a nap in my bed, then picking her up to feed her with the pink plastic bottle, changing her, then bringing her to the living room and pretending it is Spags, the busy store we sometimes go to on Saturday.

 

Before supper one night, my father is holding a letter in his hands and pacing in the kitchen. He looks up from the letter and tells Amy and me that Grandpa Coburn has died.  I am surprised to hear him say that. I don’t feel anything around the news of my grandfather’s death because I am mesmerized, fearful really, that my father has mentioned the past. There has been no talk at all about our mother or her parents since we last saw them, about a year ago. Was it a year? I didn’t know, really, It was another life, our old life, one I had shut off in my mind. To hear my father mention our grandfather now felt scary, like a dream; sort of like Kindergarten but without the good things in it or the nice people.

Amy and I don’t say anything. Kate keeps busy at the stove. Our father still has his  teaching clothes on.  It looks like he is still working, holding a school paper. He just read an answer. Grandpa Coburn has died. Now it is time for supper.

I lay still in bed that night. There is always this time between when Amy and I go to bed and before Kate and our father go to their room.  I listen for their voices downstairs, to be sure they aren’t arguing. I know their arguments can turn into big fights and I’m scared of those. So I listen, and sometimes the voices get louder and I hold my breath but then they are quiet again. When that happens, they are probably just talking to each other from separate rooms, so they have to get a little bit loud.

But tonight I hear the voices getting louder and I can tell they are near each other. It is an angry-loud -voice night. I make my breath shallow, trying to turn down their voices that way. I am frozen but I force myself to pretend I can turn their volume down with my breath.  Amy and I don’t talk, but we are listening. We both know the other is awake.

“Goddamn you!” Kate says loudly.  Then I hear some noise, like somebody is bumping a wall or something. My hands are tingling but I don’t move them. My heart, pounding.

They are in the living room, at the bottom of the stairs. Our door is open a bit because Amy wants it that way at night.

Please stop, please stop, please stop. I chant this to myself over and over. I breath in once after the third stop. I breath out only after chanting this three more times.

It reminds me of the game that Amy and I used to play in bed. We sang “The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see”. We had to sing that as many times as we could without taking a breath.

“Let me go. Let my get by, you son-of-a-bitch”, I hear Kate saying now. Her voice is loud enough to hear, but she isn’t shouting now. Then some more noise, like scuffling. Their voices become further away, in the kitchen I think.  Now it is getting louder and I go under my covers, blocking my ears, chanting, please stop, please stop, please stop. Breath in. Please stop, please stop, please stop.  Breath out.

A door slams. Our father has gone out. Sometimes when he gets back there is more fighting. Other times, it is quiet. Sometimes there are flowers in the morning.  I wait for my heart to stop beating so hard. I let myself breathe all way. After a while I take the covers off my head, sweating. I listen for more sounds but don’t hear any. Everything is quiet and then Amy whispers “Goodnight”.

“Goodnight”, I whisper back.

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10 thoughts on “8. Our New Life

  1. Except for the fact that this is your father and stepmother, this is how I spent many years of my life, listening to my father and mother argue, worrying how bad it might get. And, one night he was so angry he twisted her arm hard enough, it broke. Sigh……I know this feeling, fear, fright…..please make it stop.

    As for Kate, your stepmother…… “Kate has taken her place as his wife, eager to help him erase any thoughts that another wife ever existed.”

    I don’t know any stepmothers who want to erase a child’s memories of the mother, but I can see how it must have felt that way. Most stepmothers I know are just looking desperately for a place to belong, in many ways, not so different from a child whose life has been disrupted because of a divorce. Certainly, she is an alien in the picture, in a child’s eyes, not the mother. That is the biggest problem, and not one anyone can fix. She knows. She’s just trying to do her best, not knowing what to do. Or at least that’s my guess. She can’t fix it, but it takes a few years before she learns enough to know she can’t. In the meantime, she tries, especially in the beginning, and sometimes her trying looks like interfering and meddling. Another sigh…..I know that feeling too.

    Keep writing. You’re on to something in a way that I can’t do on my blog. I’ve made a promise to myself to not tell stories that are too personal. Maybe some day I will, but probably not. However, I am writing about my own family, as you are doing, that feels like something I own. Best to you!!!

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    1. Yes, in fairness to my stepmother, she was only 22 yrs old when she married my father. He dictated how things would go (that my mother was already pushed out of our lives). She simply did not question why. As for writing about other family members, I struggle with this- telling my story includes revealing a personal history that involves others. I have changed names and blog anonymously. If this memoir is published, I will have to decide how to handle that .

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      1. Yes, most important to just write your story for now. Get it all down and documented. I wonder if your stepmother ever regretted marrying your father. It’s probably not something she would admit to anyone, if she did. And I can imagine from one of your blog posts that she had plenty of questions, she might have learned fast to keep her mouth shut unless it was something she thought she could change.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. The stepmother who worked to take away my daughter, even after seeing my daughter’s joy and health when with me, even after I invited her to events and gave her my daughter’s email for camp and thanked her, even after finding out my ex’s lies, referred to the custody “win” as “sealing the deal”. Of course, I covered the health insurance and now I would be paying her husband child support. She is 17 years older than me and has a master’s degree. She knowingly lied about me in court. I thought as you did about most stepmothers, and I’d like to think it is true, but many are deliberately causing devastation with their interference or passivity in the face of Parental Alienation abuse. Maybe they are insecure, maybe they are cruel, maybe both. I don’t understand it, but I suffer because of the one in my child’s life. My daughter suffers, too, having been hospitalized for a suicide attempt within five months of going to their household. Oh, but the psychiatrist who only talked to her and not me (even though I paid the insurance) thought all that was necessary were two medications for a 14 year old.

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      1. It’s very unfortunate that there are so many ‘experts’ who are not more aware of PA. Also, it is interesting that this stepmother could have a master’s degree and yet still think it’s a smart idea to marry (and not question/doubt) a man who is on his fifth wife. (just a side thought).

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    3. Yes there are plenty of stepmothers who want to totally eradicate the mother and destroy any relationship the children have with her…don’t be naive!

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  2. My ex’s 5th wife knowingly lied about me during their quest for custody. She used the words “the deal was sealed” to describe their “win”. I know that my ex was cruel and abusive long long long before she came along. He is the father. He knew how loving I was. He is responsible, for the most part, but stepmom is to a certain extent, and so are those who had the power to help, but did not.

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    1. This infuriates me almost as much as the alienator- when there are adults who do not step in or question or take notice. Every single adult in my life failed me when my mother was cast aside. Not one stepped up and said “something is very wrong here”.

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