Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

I’ve been here before. You’ve been here before. It’s a whisper as I storm up the stairs, trying to appear calm as if the world has not turned around. When I got to the top, my daughter was waiting. “Dad packed some things this morning,” says the nine-year-old. By the time I was her age, my dad had left twice, and my mom was dead. I was well acquainted with abandonment and loss.

“A few things packed?” I ask. His gym bag is gone, the one we took on annual commemorative getaways or outings to visit my family. Most of them are dead now. Maybe he packed a change of clothes for work, I convince myself so I can convince them. It is good. We are doing well. He would never leave. I know that. A 20-year partnership, even a broken one, is not one you leave on a Thursday night without a reservation.

I pull open the laundry door in the bathroom just off our bedroom, the one that belongs to both of us but to which we refer as his. Even the kids call it “Dad’s bathroom.” His shaving bag is missing.

My husband, my children’s father, left the bathroom. Abandoned it with his toothbrush, comb and the other essential items he needed every morning to get ready. His routine was precise and step-by-step, and he never deviated from it.

My routine requires two brushes, one for my head and one for my teeth, and a five-minute makeup session that is broken up by stoplights on the way to work. I do not pimp in the bathroom. Makeup is barely rubbed in. Clothes are clean at best. I’m a mess. Maybe that’s why he’s gone.

The abandoned always blame themselves.

Just that morning, he texted me saying he had paid the car bill. I asked. He confirmed. We communicated. Couples who communicate do not.

I SMS. This is unfair. How can he do this to the children?

He texted – finally. He can not stand the fighting.

Two weeks before, he had bought me kitchen appliances. Stainless steel. They shine mockingly from the kitchen. The fridge has an ice maker, a luxury I dreamed of as a child. Only the rich had ice makers and kitchen islands. I have both now.

People who buy devices do not go away. They have friends left over for dinner and drinks with perfect diced, or crushed, ice cream.

And I do not remember the fighting, at least not lately. Maybe I was too busy, an occupational hazard of working motherhood, I suppose. What I do remember is making a vision board and carrying it with dreams for the new year – 2021. It would be our year. We needed a year. He left seven days after the start and two days after our oldest son’s birthday. I can not look at the vision board that sits just above the old wooden desk where I write.

*****

There are four trauma reactions – I have read in numerous articles about them since my husband left – fighting, fleeing, freezing, and one I have just discovered, fawn. Fawn is the act of pleasing people. I fade.

The four Fs of trauma. I wonder what my kids’ reaction will be if I avoid the mouse, stomach up, down by my basement stairs. Every fall before the harsh winter arrives, the mice scurry inside our house and settle in the attic, the garage and the basement. They come from the forest, looking for shelter.

[Jawahir Al Naimi/Al Jazeera]

I’m angry at the dead mouse that died and left me with another responsibility, one that used to belong to my husband. I will leave the mouse there until he is nothing more than bone. That would be my husband’s punishment.

Fawning is a trauma response that involves pleasing people so that people do not leave you or stop loving you. People, like me, walk on carefully constructed glass facades in the hope that nothing will crack or slip.

Trauma is a word of six letters.

*****

In the coming weeks, as my husband comes to life without us, I will try to navigate my children’s lives. He left me, I will tell them so that the loss and abandonment belong to me, only me. I will not share it. It’s a feeling I’m used to. My father is gone. My mother is gone. My husband left – me, not my children. But the loss is shared. I can not claim it for my own, even if mother instinct requires it.

*****

Trauma can reappear, especially trauma that has never been addressed.

*****
My dad’s mom left him when he was young. I always assumed that’s why he left me and my brother. He did to his children what was done to him. I could never leave.

I will never leave. I’m not my father. I’m not my mother. I’m not my husband.

*****

My mom left with her boyfriend and went to California because of her drug habit. Can be. I can never be sure. She went. She’s dead. I do not remember the sound of her voice, but I saw her once in a video she made when my cousin went to California to visit. My mother stared at the camera as a plane crashed, and she struggled to get out in an emergency landing. Maybe they made it to one of the studios. My cousin is dead so I can not ask her. I do have photos, and some sneakers without tones that my mom sent for my birthday or Christmas. It’s hard to remember details. My memories are letters in a box collecting dust in the basement.

*****

Weeks after his unexpected departure, I agree to dine with my husband. He lives in a hotel, a long stay just down the road from our house. It costs money we do not have. I stay home every night to look after our children and navigate the life we ​​have made together. I am here.

At dinner, he constantly mentions how things were years ago before life became difficult.

“It was always difficult,” I say, sure he had forgotten. He pays for dinner at the Italian restaurant which is half empty. The dim lighting is for lovers. The children are at home with his sister. He wants to come home, flush back to 2008. We can not. Time travel, I tell him, is impossible.

Less than a week later, he is home. I miss the time he was gone. He still gambles and drinks and stays out at night. Yes, these things have happened. I remind myself by writing them down in the notes section of my phone just in case we get divorced.

Our reconciliation is ultimately short-lived. This time we fight, often and in front of our children. I hope I will become indifferent and learn to care less. I never did that with my parents. I still care.

*****
Addiction. It lies dormant until you can no longer recognize it for what it is. My husband likes to drink.

He sits on the screened porch and separates himself from us while drinking a beer and listening to a game on the radio, hockey, football, it does not matter. We have been living like this for a long time. My husband left us long before he physically walked out the door, with shaving bag on tow. And he’s gone because of addiction, just like my parents. This makes it easier to accept. Of course, I will not know it for months, even if I suspect it like my grandmother did with my grandfather. Maybe we do not want to know.

I remember telling my grandmother, the one who raised me in my parent’s absence, that I wanted to go to Ala-non so I could connect with people like me. I wanted to address my grandfather’s addiction and, by extension, the addiction that killed my mother and stole my father. Gram thought it was a foolish idea. Why would I go? I was not the one with the problem. I was not an addict. What can I possibly talk about?

I wish I was gone. Maybe that would have changed things.

*****
The second time my husband leaves, I sit in the living room and do not realize he hugged our youngest children after packing some things and sneaking out one of the two front doors. It’s May 1, 2021. I text him again, even though I do not remember the words I use. This time I was not shocked. And still I hope for reconciliation while crying in our closet a week or two later, looking at a scrapbook I made for him for his 30th birthday just before our oldest was born.

A few weeks later, our daughter is admitted to the hospital. I call him to let him know I need him to come home. The police and ambulance sirens light up our neighborhood as if it is Christmas, but it is May, not December.

My friend and neighbor texted, “Something’s going on nearby.”

I let her know this is our house, but we’re okay. I might be lying.

My daughter and my husband embrace before we leave in the ambulance. My daughter will stay overnight to be monitored, and then she will go to a hospital where I will talk to her once a day. When she gets home, we will lock our knives and medication for her safety. I navigate most of the process alone.

*****

We decide to sell the house. This is my dream home. The one I never had when I was growing up with my grandparents. They lived on the second floor of a two-family home in the city. One I did not have with my foster mother. The one who lived in subsidized, affordable housing. My home, our home, is a single-family home in a tree-lined street overlooking forests my children explore in a bucolic suburb of our safe town. Every time I walk through the door, I cry. Sometimes my kids see, and I assure them it will be okay. We’ll be okay. I might be lying. I’m not sure about any of these things.

My husband and I come to this decision as we take our first step into the neighborhood in which we have been living for eight years. “We must sell the house if there is no chance for reconciliation,” he says.

There is no chance. Not after everything we went through.

*****

There is a reconciliation. My husband is coming home. I do not know how to abandon someone – not even the people who let me down. I forgive my husband after he told me he would never drink a drink again. After he told me drinking, his life, our lives, was ruined. After doing what no other person who has left me does, he promises to become sober. He admits he has a problem. He promises to come home and stay. My grandfather died as an alcoholic. My dad left me three different times, once after he got sober. My mother died just before she had to go to rehab. I can save him.

The abandoned always want to save, please, even at their own expense. We fix, we fawn, we stay.

*****
Maybe it was not one moment but rather a series of moments that changed the trajectory of the year, of our lives. We try to fix things together. My husband is sober. My kids have their dad. I hope this is enough to soften the trauma. I hope he stays for all of us. I try to stop satisfying everyone. The habit is hard to let go of. It is almost as deep rooted in me as my eye color and the dimple in my chin that I inherited from my mother. It’s a trauma response, one I hope my children will never need.

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