“You want me to stay for dinner? I’ll make my mac n’ cheese for you. You’d love that. Only Daddy can make the best mac n’ cheese.” A three year old boy is nodding vigorously, bouncing up and down with a grin on his face. Anything for his favorite food.
Over the child’s head his parents’ eyes meet. Blue eyes twinkle victoriously. He won. In contrast, brown eyes dart away in unease. Stuck with no other option than to suck it up and stay vigilant and watchful.
She asked him to tell her when he’d stop by. She asked him to spend one-on-one time with their son, outside of her home. She asked him to respect her boundaries. They were separated. He didn’t live in this house anymore.
But, of course, he didn’t listen. He never did.
Her son was too young and innocent to see the impact it had on her. She made sure of that. While her little boy played on the floor across the room, he said, “why are you so tense? Do you need a drink? You need to relax.” She ignored him. The other part of her was on edge, wary, and uncertain what he had planned. She didn’t trust him. Those feelings contrasted heavily with guilt and shame for assuming the worst.
Dinner was as uneventful as possible. Only a few jabs of, “Mommy isn’t fun. Daddy is fun” or “don’t you wish I was here all the time. You tell Mommy you miss me.” Her little angel parrots back exactly what he is told, with a happy smile and innocent eyes.
Of course it hurt.
Stuck in the hard place of saying something to stop this kind of conversation, only to be told she is hysterical, or grin and bear through it as if unnoticed (all for her happy little boy). Was it worth her pride and comfort?
“It’s bedtime,” was ignored when he responded with, “Little Man can stay up a little later. He hardly gets to see me.” The unspoken thought that crosses her mind but not her lips is, “who’s fault is that.” But suddenly a cranky toddler is lashing out and her focus and awareness fully shifts to her little boy needing to be soothed and put to bed. Eventually, he is fast asleep and dreaming.
Suddenly realizing he is still in her home. Arm draped over the couch he reminds her that he paid for, feet on the coffee table he reminds her she received as charity.
“Why do you always have to ruin a perfectly good night. He didn’t have to go to bed now. Can’t you see he misses me. Little Man will learn to hate you when he realizes you kept his father away from him. I’m surprise he doesn’t hate you already, with you working all the time now and hardly being home.You’re the one who ruined our family.” All said with a lazy loop-sided grin, unmoved from the dominant spot on the sofa.
She said nothing. She had no voice in her own home.
When he stood up and approached her, hand – harmlessly – resting on her shoulder, she tried to stay strong. “Please leave. He is sleeping now. You can go home. And call next time.” Trying to shrug off his hand and walk away; his hand once harmless, became more firm.
“Why are you always running away?” “Why can’t we just talk.” Suddenly, all he cares about is him and her and their relationship, keeping her in place. He wasn’t threatening. He wasn’t violent. But she felt trapped and captured. She didn’t feel safe.
He kept talking at her, touching her. She’d say, “please leave” and he’d chuckle playfully, then respond, “make me.” “What are you going to do? Call the police? Tell them we are just having a chat. Don’t be hysterical.”
She had no voice. She was unheard.
It took hours before he eventually left for that new home he purchased six months ago, leaving her and their son alone.
They were still married. He had threatened to divorce her hundred of times, and she welcomed it. Yet she’d not seen a shred of paper reflecting his claims. It was finally time. She didn’t need to wait for him. This limbo of a relationship wasn’t working.
Her home wasn’t hers because he felt he could walk right in. And she let him. Her time wasn’t hers because he felt he could show up. And she let him. Her voice wasn’t hers because he felt he could talk over her. And she let him.
No longer. They needed rules. He needed rules. That very night, minutes after her front door closed and her husband left again, she scoured for resources. She needed an attorney. She was tired of waiting for him; she was tired of playing by his rules.
It took a few days for her to consult with a several attorneys. It took a week for her to budget and retain. Another week to approve the initial filings for divorce. With the help of her attorney, she found her voice. They agreed to temporary visitation with Little Man, and her attorney made sure to draft it up. He no longer appeared on her doorstep to talk. He stopped inviting himself to dinner. He stopped making snide remarks. He stopped texting demands. Conversations about Little Man were relegated to a parenting app; everything else was handled through their attorneys.
She had her voice. She had her divorce. She had her freedom.
The anxiety and wariness sitting in her chest was gone.
Now soothing a fussy toddler had her full attention.