Tuesday, October 23, 2012

COM Ch 11: It Is What It Is!

Chapter 11:   It Is What It Is!

            The closest thing I ever had to a “daddy” was my step-dad #2, Bob.  My biological father, Bill, was a good man, but he had his own life and his other kids.  And I wasn’t a part of that life.  I rarely heard from him or saw him, though it was enjoyable whenever I did.  Step-dad #1, Tom, was my step-dad for a couple years.  He, too, was a good man.  But I stopped going to his house after I was thirteen years old, and we lost contact when I was in my late twenties.  But Bob had been my dad for most of my life.   

            We were kind of like buddies.  We could laugh together and joke around.  And he did his best to take care of me like a father should.  (I’m sure, though, that it was a little uncomfortable for him, since I was already eight when they married.)  He would drive me to school in the morning when I was in high school.  I worked in his office when I was in college.  He taught me how to drive, and he helped me with the maintenance of my cars.  He even helped me overcome my phobia of calling businesses on the phone by forcing me to order my own pizza.  (I can order pizza with the best of them to this day!)  He did his best to be an all-around dad.  And never once did he or his family ever make me feel like I wasn’t truly part of their family. 
            He was even really forgiving with my two car mishaps.  One night while he was teaching me to drive, he told me to pull the Suburban into the garage.  Okay, now!  I told him not to make me pull the massive Suburban into the garage.  I pleaded with him, “Don’t make me do it.  I can’t.  I’ll hit the garage.”  But he told me that it was part of learning to drive.  And he went in the house and left me outside in that giant vehicle. 
            I think I spent twenty minutes pulling it forward three inches, checking the mirrors on each side, pulling it backward a foot, and turning the wheel ever so slightly.  Then pulling it forward again three inches, opening the door to check my spacing, and then backing up again.  Back and forth, back and forth.
            Finally, I decided to go for it . . . gently.  But when I hit the gas, I heard this awful, scratching collision of metal and wood.  I did it . . . I actually hit the garage!  I was too close on the passenger side, and I had wedged the vehicle up against the side of the garage, cracking the wood and scratching the vehicle.  I couldn’t move forward or backward.  As I looked in horror, the backdoor flew open and there was Bob’s stunned face.  I warned him!  I really did!  I cried and ran in the house.  But he fixed the problem and never mentioned it again.   
            Nor did he say much when I came home from the store with a gallon of milk and a little “dent” in the trunk of my new (used) car.  I didn’t check behind me very well, and I backed up into a parked car.  (It was not supposed to be parked where it was.  But thank God that it wasn’t a person!)  This dent was about the size of a watermelon, and it took getting a new trunk door to fix it.  He helped fix it, and he never gave me too much grief about that, either.  Although, he did give me the nickname “Crash.”
            Bob was also the one to give me away at my wedding.  And he is, actually, the reason that I didn’t call off my wedding in the first place.  Because of the grief I was getting from the two unsupportive people, I became really confused and unsure before the wedding.  At one point, I was an emotional mess and I wasn’t sure if the marriage was what I wanted anymore.  I didn’t know what I wanted anymore! 
            While working in his office one day, we got talking about it.  I lamented my concerns to him, saying that maybe I should call it off or push it back.  I didn’t know!  I couldn’t tell anymore.  I was just so confused. 
            He didn’t say much, but the one thing that he did say was as if God put the words in his mouth.  He said, “Before so-and-so started to mess with your head, did you have any doubts about marrying Jason?” 
            It was like a ray of light shot through the darkness.  And for the first time in months, I felt my body and my mind relax.  “No!  I didn’t!”  I had no doubts about marrying him.  All the confusion that I was feeling wasn’t coming from me, after all.  He said what I really needed to hear, and it gave me the clarity and the strength to go through with it.  I could move forward with the wedding, confident that I was doing the right thing for me, no matter what anyone else said.  I will always be thankful for that!
            While he may not have been my biological father, I could call him “Dad” without reserve.  (Not Daddy, but Dad.  I couldn’t imagine calling anyone Daddy.)  So I would have to say that one of the greatest stressors, Big Stressor #1 (just before the tooth decay), was the breakup of my mom and Bob’s marriage. 
            They had been married for twenty-plus years and had four sons together.  And things were generally fine in the early years and they felt as “normal” as could be expected.  But there had always been times of conflict and stress throughout their marriage.  And it had recently begun to get worse.  The fights were more frequent and much more severe. 
            In the earlier years, some of their fights were actually quite humorous, ones we laughed over.  My mom once made a nice dinner, but Bob was out mowing the lawn on the riding mower.  She called and called to him to come to dinner, but he wouldn’t come.  And so she, always with a flair for the dramatic, launched his plate of dinner high into the air, hitting him in the back with meat, potatoes, and gravy.  In retaliation, he took the plate upstairs to her closet and smeared it all over her clothes. 
            And then there was the time that she didn’t want him to leave the house because they weren’t done fighting.  But he began driving off in his Suburban.  So she jumped onto the back of it, stood on the tiny ledge of the bumper, and held on for a short ride.  (I wish I was there to see that one.)
            But lately, it had gotten to the point where the police were involved (I even had to make a call once), bruises were being given (intentionally or not), my brothers were getting really scared, I found a “Why I am leaving the family” letter posted on the door, and suicide or homicide seemed like a remote (and not-so-remote) possibility.     
            In fact, one night one of my brothers called me because he was worried.  My parents had a big fight and he was afraid one of them might do something to themselves.  So I went over to check on things and see if they were okay.  From the sound of it, I truly expected to see one of them hanging from the rafters by a rope or drugged to death on pills. 
            When I got to the house, things seemed quite, eerily quiet.  No one was around.  I didn’t see any dangling bodies in the living room, so I went to the bedroom.  I stood outside their bedroom door and peeked in, and I saw one of them lying in bed, very still.  Were they breathing?  Were they dead?  (I know it’s improper grammar to say “they” about a single person, but for sake of their privacy, I don’t want to say he or she.)  From where I stood, I searched the nightstand for empty pill bottles and the body for signs of life.  I really thought this could be the end.  But, finally, their chest moved.  They were breathing.  It was just a nap. 
            For a year or so, I had been waiting for the phone call to say one of them had died or killed the other.  Things were getting that rough.  During one very difficult stretch of time, I was getting phone calls all throughout the day from one of them to hear the newest updates about their conflicts.  There was fighting and there were bruises all over, one used a stun gun on the other, the police were called, and one of them was kicked out of the house. 
            Then they (he or she, of course) lost their wallet, so they had no money to get something to eat, they had no ID to check into a hotel, and they really needed to take a shower because they were in the same clothes for three days.  But they had nowhere to go. 
            And they were suicidal.  They called me, crying hysterically, “I was crying and driving fast, and I really didn’t see this old lady pull out in front of me.  It’s a miracle that I didn’t hit her.  But if I had seen her, I would have plowed my car right into hers.  I wanted to!  I wanted to crash into her hard and end it all.  So it’s a good thing that I didn’t see her before it was too late.” 
            I was heartbroken, but I was helpless to do a thing.  And what’s more, I distinctly felt like God was telling me that this was what the person needed to go through, and I shouldn’t intervene.  So I said nothing.  It seemed harsh and unloving, I know, to not offer to let them stay with me (although we really had very little room in that tiny, tiny rental).  But I needed to pull back.  (And honestly, I wanted to pull back.)  It was hard, though, especially when they accused me of being a terrible daughter because they “would have offered any kind of help they could if they saw their parent in this condition.” 
            But I couldn’t say, “Well, God told me not to because He wants to get your attention.”   So I said nothing, and I looked like a terrible person for it.
            And then, three o’clock in the morning, the phone rang.  My eyes flew open and my first thought was, This is it!  They died in a car wreck or killed themself.  I answered the phone, prepared for the worst.  But, no, there was no suicide or death.  Instead, there was a spiritual “awakening.”  Here was my parent, who had been so distraught and out-of-sorts a few hours ago, telling me how God gave them insights to help them understand and cope with the situation.  And they felt better.  I felt better, too. 
            “You are making more sense now than at any other time.  I’m so glad to hear the things that you are saying,” I said.  God had gotten through.  I felt it was okay now, so I offered our place to stay and to shower.  But they turned it down. 
            “I think I just need to be alone for a little while and think about some things.”  Breakthrough!  Thank you, God!
            That was a good moment, but things would continue to be rough and to get rougher.  And all of this was going on while I was trying to raise two very young children of my own.  While I tried to be as balanced as I could be, it was beginning to have an effect on me and my family.  And one weekend, I wound up closer to a nervous breakdown than I had ever been. 
            The details may be blurred a bit now because I can’t really keep them all straight.  But I believe this weekend consisted of one parent getting a restraining order against the other, a parent’s extreme fear of a terrorist attack, a car accident, and desperate phone calls to me every five minutes.  I wanted desperately to help, but there was nothing I could do but listen and pray.  And the phone calls kept coming, with more desperate pleas and more bad news.  And I couldn’t stop crying. 
            Have you ever prayed for a parent’s death?  I did.  I had gotten to the point where I was praying that it would all just end and they could finally rest.  It’s like watching someone die slowly of a terrible disease, and all you want is to see it all be over so they could finally be at peace. 
            “Lord, in Your mercy, let them finally end it all like they have been threatening, or let them have the heart attack that they have been fearing.  Please, just let it be over so they finally rest in You.”  (I know it’s wrong to pray that way, and I don’t want to get into the theological arguments about suicide and the security of salvation.  But I’m trying to be honest here so that you can get a sense of just how desperate the situation had gotten.  So, please, forgive me.)
            Between the steady stream of phone calls this day, I physically couldn’t stop myself from crying.  I would hang up the phone, and I would cry and cry.  Sobbing fits would convulse my whole body.   Then I would just sit there and wait for the next call to come, while my kids cared for themselves in the other room.  It never occurred to me to stop taking the phone calls.  I couldn’t do that.  I felt like that was all I could offer - a shoulder to cry on.  How could I abandon them in this time of need?  I couldn’t sit there and hear the phone ring and deliberately ignore them.  So I had to answer the phone again!       
            I wasn’t even that much help on the phone, though.  I couldn’t say or do anything to help.  So I just sat there and I said nothing.  I wanted to rescue them from themselves, but I couldn’t.  So I wasn’t a very warm, comforting shoulder to cry on, anyway. 
            I was even told by them, “How can you be so stoic while I am going through this?  If it was my parent going through this, I’d be right there to help in any way I could!”  They didn’t realize that I was sobbing and shaking even as they spoke.  I just held it really well.  (Like I said . . . Miss Stoic!  Anger, fear, sadness, joy, and excitement all pretty much look the same on me!)  
            It was incapacitating to me, and I couldn’t function well enough to deal with my kids that day.  I couldn’t do anything but cry and sit there and wait for the phone to ring again and then cry some more.  When I couldn’t handle it any longer, I called my husband at work.  In between sobs, I told him about the incessant, heart-rending phone calls.  And he said the simplest, smartest thing, “Then get out of the house!”
            It was like finally finding a path out of the fire.  It had never occurred to me to leave the house.  As fast as I could (before another call could come in), I grabbed the children, jumped in the car, and drove to his work.  I think that may have been the first time I truly breathed that day.  And I stopped crying for the first time in hours! 
            But I couldn’t face going back home yet.  I couldn’t face another phone call, and I couldn’t handle hearing any messages on the answering machine, either.  I didn’t even want to see the machine blinking with unheard messages.  I wanted to just shut my eyes to all of it and pretend it wasn’t happening, at least for a little while.  So I begged my husband, “Let’s go to my grandmother’s house in Iowa.  Right now, please.  Right now!  I can’t go home.” 
            “Can’t we just get a hotel room out here and stay out of the house for a few days?” he asked.  Tears were welling up and I couldn’t talk.  All I could do was shake my head and fight to maintain my composure. 
            My wonderful husband, although he should have been at work, took a good look at me and the mess that I was, and said, “Alright, let’s go.” 
            I immediately called Grandma to ask if we could come visit.  And with no questions asked, she said okay.  I was almost free!  Jason left work early, and we all got in the car to go home and pack.  But the closer we got to home, the more panicked I felt.  Before I could enter the house, I asked Jason to go in and unplug the phone and the answering machine.  I couldn’t bear knowing that calls were coming in.  If I heard the phone ring or saw a message on the machine, I knew that I would freak out.  I would know that I was “needed,” and I would have to answer the phone out of my sense of duty.  I would have felt terrible just ignoring it.  So I made myself unreachable. 
            He went in first to unplug everything.  And then, as quickly as possible, I ran inside and threw together whatever clothes I could get my hands on and our toothbrushes.  And we got in the car and drove for six hours.  I can’t tell you how refreshing that drive was!  Just driving and breathing the country air.  And my dear Grandma never asked any questions.  She just did what grandmas do best.  She opened wide her arms and her home.  (Have I told you how I have the best Grandma!) 
            And I was at peace for a couple of days.  (Well, except for the first night.  After we got there I found out that one parent violated the restraining order and had to spend the night in jail.  That brought me to tears the first night.  But I put it out of my mind as much as I could, and the rest of the weekend was peaceful.)  
            And that was the closest thing to a nervous breakdown I ever had.  Or maybe it was a real one, I don’t know?  All I know is that it is over now.  And that difficult time taught me to put up some walls (for good or bad) to protect myself from getting too invested in something I couldn’t do anything about, especially when my children needed me to be a functioning parent.  I learned that I had to keep some distance between myself and other people’s problems, even if they were my parents’ problems.  And, for a time, I even had to keep some distance from my parents.  (And I did feel guilty about that, too.  Is that good or bad, or both?  I don’t know.  I had worked so hard to break down walls in my relationships, and here I was putting them back up again.  Hmm?) 
            Sad to say, though, the divorce was coming.  I do not condone divorce, but I was sure that one of them would have ended up dead had it not finally ended.  So it was a relief when it was finally over.  But as I said before, I am not very good with change.  I was very thankful that both parents lived and very thankful that things were more peaceful after years of heartache and pain.  But now life had to take on a different rhythm. 
            Bob eventually moved to Florida and seemed to simply vanish from my life.  I was used to talking to him and seeing him for holidays, birthdays, etc.  I enjoyed talking with him.  Now, I didn’t even have a phone number or address, so I couldn’t even call him on his birthday to wish him a Happy Birthday.  And it was so strange that first year to realize that I didn’t have a father to say “Happy Father’s Day” to.  Bob was the most “father” I ever had.  And now, he was gone! 
            I understand that it would probably be hard for us to talk now that the divorce was over.  For the last few years, all we seemed to talk about was what was happening with him and my mom.  The way things had been going, there wasn’t much of a connection outside of that.  And neither of us wanted to go back there.  I know I didn’t.  I just wanted to put it all behind me and move on with my life.  (Water off a duck’s back, remember?  Just stuff it and move on.)  And I’m sure he did, too.  So not talking was probably not such a bad thing.  Just different.
            Shortly after all this, my mother married another man, Ron.  Step-dad #3!  I had only met him a few times.  Although I did not know him well (since I didn’t live at home anymore), he seemed like a nice guy.  And it was nice to see my mother happy and relaxed after years of turmoil.  While this wasn’t a bad change either, it was still a change.  And while I don’t enjoy changes, I’ve gotten rather used to them and so I just try to roll with them. 
            My brothers once asked how I could have adjusted so easily to the divorce.  “Oh, that’s right,” they said.  “You’ve been through this before.”  Yes, I have.  And I decided to just focus on my family and let whatever was going to happen . . . happen.  My motto:  “It is what it is.”
            But, of course, there was a sense of loss, and the knowledge that things were never going to be the same again.  My “home” life had never really felt all that stable with the many moves and changes my family went through, but everything was very foreign now.  My mom lived in a house that I didn’t grow up in and had a husband that I barely knew.  And now, there were always people at the house that were basically strangers to me.  She boards horses, and so people are always in and out of the house.  And holidays and get-togethers are filled with new family members and friends that I don’t know.  I began to feel like a guest with my own family.  Even my brothers were growing up so fast and I saw them so seldomly that I barely knew them anymore.
            Stability and consistency have always been very important to me.  It was my dream to be able to stay in one home after I got married, to raise my kids there, to fill it with memories, and to build solid relationships with my neighbors.  (I should be in Iowa!) 
            In fact, stability is so important to me that I was actually crushed when I heard that Greg (the yellow-shirted Wiggle from The Wiggles.  Mothers with young children will know what I am talking about.) left the group.  I didn’t mean to, but I got really attached to him from watching the videos with my children.  He seemed so personable and friendly and stable, like a great father.  It nearly broke my heart when he left. 
            And I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but then I became really concerned that maybe something had happened to him.  A quick internet search told me that he was okay.  Phew, he wasn’t involved in some sort of tragic accident or anything.  I don’t know if I could handle losing him and my step-dad at the same time.  He just left the group because of concerns for his health.  (I’m glad you’re still with us, Greg.  Hope all is well with you.  Miss ya!) 
            Ryder’s tooth decay (Big Stressor #2) came shortly after my parent’s divorce (Big Stressor #1) and as I was getting adjusted to the new step-dad and the new normal.  And then after we made our diet changes and Ryder’s front teeth healed (but before we decided what to do with his molars), we found ourselves facing Big Stressor # 3 and Big Stressor #4.
           

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