When the phone rang and I saw the familiar picture identifying the caller, I could almost hear Rod Sterling’s voice.
That show gave me nightmares as a child. The eerie music and the announcer’s voice during the introduction were enough to send chills down my spine. I was having a similar reaction to the name on my Caller ID.
And yet, I took the call.
No, no, it wasn’t the announcer from the 1950s sitcom calling. It was my ex-husband.
He said that he had just driven by my house and saw that I was leaving to take
my our son to school. He asked if he could swing back by the house to talk. “It’s not what you think it is, but I really need to talk to you.” There were a couple of things that I thought it was, so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to eliminate one or both of them.
I really should have told him that I was late for a meeting, but I didn’t think that fast on my feet. It was early. I hadn’t taken a sip of my Starbuck’s Frappuccino. I was confused. I was curious. I agreed to meet with him, even though I lectured myself the entire way home about what a very bad idea that was.
When I turned the corner onto my street, there was his truck outside my house. As I approached the house (slowly), I reflected on the way I used to feel when I turned that corner and saw my driveway. Five years, possibly even just four or three years ago, I looked for that truck every time I made that turn. I longed to see it to be parked in the driveway like it was for so many years. I would hold my breath as I turned the corner, only to be disappointed.
Now when I turn the corner and catch sight of the truck parked outside of my house, I catch my breath, but not in a good way. More like when a someone is trapped in an alley, destined to be attacked, and frantically searches for an escape route sort of way. I wonder if he will notice my car if I just drive past my own house? Right past his truck?
He followed me into the house and said, “I see the temperature still hasn’t changed in this place. You could hang meat in this place.” Well, a chill certainly just ran up my spine, but would you like to test that hanging meat theory?
That comment pretty much set the tone for our discussion. While he sat on the opposite couch, making small talk, I
casually frantically scanned the room in search of other things that he might find to criticize. I was on edge. Which critique, I wondered, would be the one that caused me to inflict bodily harm? Should I make a dash to the medicine cabinet for that old bottle of Xanax to offset the potential threat of me going postal?
He rambled on for a bit before dropping the hammer, I mean, making his point. He told me that he had interviewed for a job late last week. He described the job and his hopeful rate of pay. Before I knew it, he was in tears. He explained that his phone service and been cut off and he had no idea if they had tried to contact him about the job. He went on to tell me what a mess he was in and how I wouldn’t believe how bad his financial situation was. Oh, I have a pretty good idea. We were married for 13 years, remember?
He complained about how hard his life is. He’s always having to think about money. He never leaves his house. He never does anything fun. He no longer hunts and fishes and plays golf, and he hates that he can’t do those things with his boys. He’s just the empty shell of a man and if it weren’t for the boys, he might kill himself.
I became angry. I started yelling. Can you possibly think that this life I’m living is easy? I’m constantly thinking about money, too. Can I afford to fix the car? Can I afford to fix the dryer? Can I afford to pay for gas and insurance for a soon-to-be 16-year-old? Am I going to have to sell my body for cash to pay for TWO college educations? Sure, your financial situation might be worse, but that’s because of decisions that YOU made.
Do you really think this is how I thought our lives would end up? We had dreams and plans and they did not include me mowing lawns and pinching pennies and raising boys all by myself. They certainly didn’t include you making all of these stupid, stupid decisions and living the messed-up life that you are living. You were supposed to be more. WE were supposed to be more. And I am angry. Angry that I am living this hard life and you are living that hard life and we failed at fulfilling our dreams.
Sadly, when I get that angry, there are tears. I can’t help it. Call me a girl. Unfortunately, I think he mistook those tears for sympathy, or regret, or hope, or some other emotion that would work to his advantage. He started telling me that he knew that no one would ever stand behind him the way that I had. No one would ever believe in him the way that I did. It would never be the same. He wondered why we were still living this way. Why didn’t we go ahead and just put things back together?
WHAT????? YOU DID THIS! YOU CHOSE THIS! I begged you to choose me, but you thought that there were greener pastures. You thought that you could do so much better without me. AND THEN, even after things weren’t better and your financial situation started decline, you opted to live in squalor rather than live with me. I wasn’t good enough for you to love.
Okay sure, it might have felt good to hear him admit that he would never find what we had, but let’s really dissect what he was saying to me.
He was NOT saying that he loved me more than anything and realized that he couldn’t possibly love anyone as much as he loved me. Nope. He was actually saying that no one would ever love HIM as much as I loved him. No one would ever treat HIM the way that I treated him. And can I point out that he told me all of these things WHILE HE IS LIVING AS A FAMILY WITH SOMEONE ELSE? (Apparently, he left the townhouse (rent payments questionable) almost immediately after he was served papers that I was reducing visitation.)
Yeah, I pointed it out to him, too. He responded that they were merely “going through the motions.” Excuse me, by WHAT THE HECK????? I’m pretty sure that’s how you described OUR marriage toward the end. But I wasn’t just going through the motions. I was begging and pleading and crying.
He told me more about his financial situation. The bank is threatening to repossess his truck. The IRS is threatening to garnish his wages. He owes so many people and he’s starting to lose friendships over it. My head was spinning and I knew that he was asking for money. And I knew that he asking to come home because he is probably close to being evicted from his girlfriend’s house. He is close to a bottom and I am his safety net.
That’s when it hit me. This nightmare is never going to end.
It takes everything that I have to say no to this man. Even when I’m able to stick to my guns, I am tortured by it. And it seems like such a big deal when I’m able to say no, but it really doesn’t change anything. No matter how many times I say no, eventually, he will try again. He doesn’t see the boundary that I set and respect it.
I mean, right now, we don’t even SPEAK, and he felt it was okay to unload all of this on me.
And believe me, I felt the burden of the load. I spent the next few days worrying about it. Thinking about his financial position.
That’s who I am. I’m the girl who pays $15 for a 4″ wooden cross in the parking lot of Taco Bell from a man who doesn’t speak English, but dressed in a blazer to sell his wares. I’m the girl who pays $7 for a box of only 6 turtle candies because a kid is collecting money for inner-city kids. I’m the girl who pays $45 for a bottle of cleanser spelled with a “K” from a toothless gentlemen that anxiously wanting to show me how it works on anything and everything. I buy girl scout cookies and boy scout popcorn. I put money in the fireman’s boot at the intersection. I buy Christmas gifts for senior citizens that put wishes on the Christmas Tree at Walgreens, and I go broke putting money in the red bucket when I exit the store and hear the familiar Salvation Army bell.
If I have a dollar to give, and you need it, well, I feel obligated to give it. Even if it’s my last dollar. It’s WHO I AM.
And for the rest of my life, I am going to have to betray my very own nature. I’m going to have to force myself to say no over and over again.
I’m forever going to be stuck in this freaky episode of The Twilight Zone.