The ultimatum, part 6

Honestly, I think he just wanted to fit in. He wanted to belong somewhere.

Sometimes he said he wished he would’ve been adopted. Maybe he would’ve reached his full potential for growth in an environment that promoted learning. Me, I’m just glad he wasn’t aborted.

His mother Martha dropped out of high school before she got pregnant with him as a teenager. Intellectually she was slow. She tried as an adult to get her GED but she couldn’t pass the test even with the help of tutors.

By some freak of nature, Paul is one of the smartest people I know. He has a brilliant gifted mind. I would guess his IQ was almost twice as high as his mother’s which caused a lot of frustration on the part of both parent and child.

One of the smartest things Martha did however was pack up her car and leave behind the inner city of Chicago with her mother and 9 year old Paul in tow. I know the story would’ve turned out differently if he would’ve stayed.

The family moved to northern small town Wisconsin. It was quite the culture shock. Imagine moving from one of the largest cities in America to a small town of residents whose families lived there for many generations and probably founded the town. Jobs were scarce and the town didn’t attract a lot of outsiders.

Paul struggled to fit in especially in that time period without having a father. One of his teachers made an example of him by spanking him in front of the class telling him he needed a good spanking because he didn’t have a father.

On parent day, Paul stood alone. He didn’t fit in with the smiling children of two parent families. He wore ill fitting clothing because they struggled financially. Martha worked long hours in a factory just to afford their modest home. She couldn’t afford to take off of work for every school event and his grandmother didn’t drive.

Paul struggled in school. He didn’t have a parent that could help him with his homework. His mom didn’t pressure him to study or do his homework anyway. He was never disciplined. Everyone knew his mother was slow and assumed he was too. The kids laughed at him and called him names. No one really even cared if he graduated.

He made it into college anyway. He created a new life for himself. He joined a fraternity and finally found a place he belonged. All he had to do to fit in was drink. A lot. Those were the years of hazing and dangerous drinking. It was nothing to wake up the next morning out on the lawn.

He got so involved with partying that he flunked out of college for a semester. He returned home and worked alongside his mother in the factory. After that experience, he decided to apply himself. He discovered he had a thirst for learning and figured out he wasn’t the idiot everyone defined him as. He was told he was stupid so much he thought he was.

I met Paul after he earned his Bachelor’s degree. By the time I met him, he was working on his Master’s degree. He fully accepted the fact that he is an intellectual. He tested me when we first met to see if I was smart too. I am an intellectual myself but nowhere as smart as he is. Sometimes I found this intimidating. But it was more threatening to Paul. It separated him from others.

He didn’t fit in with his family either. No matter what he did, he couldn’t bring them up to his level. But he could bring himself down. He found he could fit in when he was drinking. He could be social and fun. It helped him find the place where he could be like everyone else. It was a place he belonged.

The ultimatum, part 4

A business acquaintance once said that he didn’t know any business owners who weren’t alcoholics or divorced.

My husband is a visionary. But he is more than that. He is a doer. He has the ability to take his dreams and put them into action. He sees the potential in the future. I can’t see tomorrow from yesterday. I look at the past for answers, he looks at the future…what is possible.

He had this vision for a start up company. No one else in the area had this business idea, it was a new niche. Running a business is more than just doing what you are good at. It includes many moving parts; finance, sales, marketing, HR, customer service, collections just to name a few. The pressure is immense when your name is on the door and you are the only one providing a source of income for the family.

Paul worked hard even when it took years to see any fruit from his labor. He worked when he was sick. I even dragged him to the office the day after he came home from the hospital from having major surgery. Many nights he came home from work just to work some more after supper. That wasn’t even enough. He wanted to learn everything he could about business. He worked on his MBA while running a business. Most mornings he would go into the office at 5 AM so he could get a few hours of studying in before the phone started ringing.

After ten years, I joined Paul running the business for another ten years. Looking back those were some of the best years of my life. We worked well together. Running a business was rewarding but very stressful. I wanted to be in control but I didn’t want to be in charge like Paul was.

He started having a few drinks after work to take the edge off. It was his reward for a hard days work. It’s an incredible amount of stress making high level decisions that effect the lives of other people. If an employee made a mistake, it was his problem. Every month Paul had a long list of collection calls. It made me sick to hear him have to make those calls. He had to calm down angry customers when they had technology issues that he barely understood himself. He had to make sales calls where he got the door slammed in his face. His phone was always on. We could never get away from it.

Like most things in life, we rarely heard from customers when they were satisfied. They usually called when there were issues and problems.

Getting together with business acquaintances usually involved drinking. Sometimes it meant trying to keep up with the heaviest drinker. Paul would usually say he drank as much as everyone else did. I really didn’t think much about it. Then one night he called me when he was out of town and we had a 20 minute conversation. The next morning he called apologizing profusely for not calling me the evening before. I thought he was joking at first. He didn’t remember calling and having a long conversation with me the night before.

I was starting to notice a new pattern. Paul wasn’t remembering our conversations. Sometimes he would accuse me of not telling him things that I clearly remembered telling him. Sometimes he would say things that upset me and had no recollection the following morning. Talking to him was like talking to myself. Sometimes I would just walk away. Why bother? He wouldn’t remember the conversation.

I didn’t know what to do. Running a business was his life, but the stress of the constant pressure was killing him too. Nothing I could say or do could change it. Then we sold the business. Eventually the high pressure and busyness gave way to a lack of purpose and boredom which wasn’t much better…until he was back in the game with a new business.

 

The ultimatum, part 3

The morning of our 22nd anniversary was perfect. The weather was wonderful and promised a beautiful day. We left the marina in our sailboat and headed to a nearby town for lunch at an Irish pub. On the way back to the boat we stopped at a consignment store along the way. We didn’t find any bargains, just junk.

Then we headed back to the place we started. Paul introduced us to the boaters nearby who invited us onboard for an anniversary drink. By suppertime Paul seemed upset for no apparent reason other than he had too much to drink. It was a special occasion and we were on vacation which meant he drank more than usual. By the time the day was done he had 15 drinks.

After supper, the fight began. He started yelling loudly and told me to leave. When I didn’t, he threatened to leave starting the motor on the boat. I told him to leave the boat at the dock because I was leaving. I left so quickly that I didn’t take anything with me.

I wandered around the marina and to the park nearby. It was a dark night and I tried to hide myself in the darkness. I hoped Paul was worriedly searching for me but I didn’t want to be found. I was embarrassed to be seen wandering around by myself in the night.

I heard people laughing and partying nearby. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t feel confident in my safety from people or wild animals without my phone. I could literally just disappear. A part of me wanted to just keep walking and leave everything behind. But I didn’t have any money, my phone, or even a jacket so I probably wouldn’t get too far. Besides I didn’t even know where I was.

I stayed at the park a long time until the grass I was sitting on grew damp and the bugs started biting. But I wasn’t ready to go back to the boat.

I got cold outside and sat for awhile inside to think in the boater’s lounge. It was awkward. I was sitting by myself looking sad on my anniversary when people wandered through. Maybe they knew? Maybe they heard the fight? I couldn’t stay there all night. Was I going to sleep in my clothes on the couch?

Maybe I could get my phone and call someone for a ride home. But it was late and we didn’t live close. Was Paul still upset? What was I going to do that night? What was I going to do going forward? Will our marriage end on the day it all began?

Eventually I made my way back to the boat.

The ultimatum, part 2

I think things got worse after his mother died from cancer.

Or maybe that’s when I noticed it more.

He was a happy drunk before. Or should I say it enhanced his good moods and his bad. It’s hard to be upset with someone who is spilling forth good things about you. You are so wonderful. You are so beautiful. I’m so happy I married you. Yeah, tell me that when you are sober I’d laugh.

After his mom died it wasn’t fun anymore.

He didn’t have any family left. That’s a hard pill to swallow. No one. He never had a dad or siblings. His step-dad Darryl started dating online a month after his mother died. Paul felt like he helped Darryl out more than Darryl helped him through the grieving process. The rest of the extended family were the wedding funeral types. Our teenage kids met most of them the first time at their grandma’s funeral.

He started drinking more than his usual routine. A typical summer Tuesday he went out with friends and had maybe half a dozen drinks. Wednesday and Thursday a bottle of wine. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday he drank two bottles of wine. Monday he took the night off to prove he didn’t need to drink every night.

He was drinking somewhere around 40 drinks a week. Special occasions, hanging out with friends, or really bad days warranted a couple more drinks. So he had anywhere between 30 to 50+ drinks a week.

The year his mother died was a really rough year. I don’t think he cared anymore. His only parent was gone. He slowly watched her die. He coped with the loss by drinking more.

He said he wasn’t going to stop drinking until the doctor told him to. That year his liver numbers were a little high. It was just a fluke thing he said because he was out drinking with his friends the night before.

He wasn’t worried but I was.

The ultimatum, part 1

I am finally ready to tell the story of what happened last summer. It’s taken me almost a year to share this post originally written in August of 2019 because it has been tremendously difficult to talk about.

It’s over. At least that is what I thought as we were sailing on the way home from our anniversary trip. I wanted to take my wedding ring off and throw it into the drink. After all, he was throwing away our marriage for the drink.

Just the night before, our wedding anniversary was ruined. He stood at the dock screaming obscenities for everyone to hear. He told me to leave. I quietly walked away. I knew it didn’t pay to fight. He was wasted.

I felt so embarrassed the next morning. I knew that people were near and overheard the anniversary domestic dispute. I pretended that everything was alright. We had a very happy anniversary I said, probably our last I thought.

It would’ve been easier to get drunk that night. If I drink, it is easier to forget that he is drinking. That is the trap I see. Couples that both drown in the drink can’t pull each other out before they sink.

I told him if he doesn’t stop drinking, I would leave him. I meant it too.

It wasn’t always like this. It started out slowly, just a couple drinks a night to take the edge off. But gradually over time, it grew steadily worse. He was a happy drunk. Paul was always the life of the party. He loved everybody and said many kind words, until he wasn’t that way anymore. For awhile he was in control, but then it took control of him.

Paul said he would try to stop drinking, he loves me more. For how long I want him to stop, I am unsure. Tonight will be the test. It’s the night he goes out with his buddies once a week. They might try to pressure him to drink. He will tell them that he screwed up and if he drinks his wife will leave. Paul is afraid of losing his friends and not being fun anymore. But I said if they are truly friends, they will care about you whether or not you drink.

He thanked me for pulling him out when I saw him go under. But I’m not sure he is out of the water yet. I’m happy he is willing to try. I’m glad he ruined our anniversary because that was the catalyst for change.

Good Girl, the fixer

It didn’t start well and probably won’t end well either.

They got married almost 50 years ago on a cold February day in front of the justice of peace. That evening the bride cooked supper for her new groom and sponsors. Then her husband walked out the door for his 3rd shift job as the freezing rain started to fall from the heavens. The bride spent her wedding night alone.

He wasn’t the same after the war years before. She wasn’t the same either after watching her mother die while he was away. The husband spent many long hours staring off into space holding a gun. Many a times he wanted to pull the trigger. He flew into awful rages that one time left his bride with bruised ribs. She wanted to leave, but he said he would change so she never did.

Soon after they had several kids. First came the Good Girl followed by the Wild Child, then invisible, and ended less than 5 years from the first with Baby Boy.

The husband didn’t really change all that much. He still was depressed and flew into rages. Good Girl wished her dad loved her. She wished she was as beautiful as the girls in the magazines her dad loved. When she was very little she stared at the glossy photos of the girls on the center page. She showed the pictures to others little girls who told their parents which got Good Girl into trouble.

The wife never told the husband she would not tolerate her children seeing the magazines he left laying around the house. She buried her head in the sand. She was always working. After the wedding night, the husband didn’t want to work that much. Plus Wild Child was always taking up her time. Wild Child physically attacked all of his siblings. He hurt them then they were sent away to mend their own wounds because they were normal.

The mom screamed and confronted anyone that posed a threat to Wild Child. Even if he was hurting someone, the mom yelled not to hurt Wild Child as he was pulled off of them. The mom yelled if Wild Child was not treated like royalty. He was sacred and meant to be worshiped. Everyone should know that their world revolves around him. There was a list of rules to be followed in the sacrifice to him of their childhood.

Meanwhile, invisible was invisible. Baby Boy acted like Wild Child so he could get attention. Dad was fond of harshly disciplining him. He called Baby Boy lazy and stupid. Dad liked to scare Baby Boy so he could laugh at him. invisible laughed along with dad and dad protected him. Good Girl acted like she didn’t care to stay under the radar. Dad neither hugged nor hit her. He just said mean words. She felt bad for Baby Boy, but instead of protecting him she hid so she wouldn’t get hurt.

Mom complained, but didn’t do anything. She wasn’t cruel herself, but didn’t protect the children from Wild Child or dad. She cried louder than the children so they would take care of her. The mom was a martyr and Good Girl became the fixer.

One day everything changed. The children grew up. Good Girl stayed close to home to help fix. Wild Child became Mild Child. But still the mom raged. They didn’t brush Mild Child’s teeth good enough. They don’t exercise him. They don’t make him the right foods.

invisible moved far away in the middle of nowhere. Baby Boy left too. He told his parents how much they hurt him. Then he left home, got married, and joined a healthy family so he didn’t have to come back to his broken one.

The mom and dad grew old. Still the mom did nothing, unless she had to yell at someone about Mild Child.

Then one day the mom decided she wanted to confront the dad about all of the bad things he has ever done. She asked the Good Girl to come with her. This made the Good Girl feel upset and stressed out. She asked the mom why she wanted to confront now and not 25 years ago. The mom said she couldn’t then because invisible would disappear forever if she did.

Good Girl did not want to be put in the middle of the mom and the dad as missiles were being fired. She wanted to be the Bad Girl and say ‘no’. The mom’s family was calling up Good Girl to be the fixer. They tried to make her feel like a bad daughter for not helping the martyr so they did not feel guilty living their perfect lives.

Good Girl is very strong because she built a fortress around herself, but she is crying to be let out. No one sees that.

Good Girl no longer wants to be a fixer and will not go. Good Girl never wants to see her dad again unless he is calling with an apology. Good Girl is done and just wants to live her own life. She thinks her parents should be helping her, not the other way around. This makes her sad. It is hard for her to move on because it never seems to end.

 

Before the storm

My whole life just fell apart, again.

I guess I will start the Tuesday of Thanksgiving. Paul came home from several days of deer hunting empty handed. A storm was rolling in on Wednesday. I told Paul that Angel was coming home from college right before our Thanksgiving meal on Thursday due to the weather. Boy was he surprised when she came waltzing through the door on Tuesday night. Who doesn’t love a good surprise?

Wednesday went by in a blur. Thanksgiving morning most of the household woke up early to participate in a race. I ran 5 miles as fast as I could muster and was happy with my time. It was a cold day, but not too bad for the end of November in Wisconsin.

After the race, Paul and I ran into an old friend of ours. She was still drunk from the night before. Her eyes were bloodshot and she reeked of alcohol. But she ran the race. She told us how a mutual friend’s teenage niece just died in an alcohol related accident. We promised to get together sometime but probably never will because we chose different forks in the path.

Then we went home and started getting ready for the 20 plus people we were having over that afternoon for the holiday. Just a quick word of advice if you are thinking of running in a race and then throwing a holiday party the same day. DON’T! I was so dead tired even though all of the guests brought a dish to pass.

Paul’s step-dad Darryl brought over his new girlfriend. She was wonderfully nice and I’m not sure how he is planning on keeping her. I introduced her to my best friend Cindy and my mom piped in that she thought she was my best friend instead of Cindy. No, mom, no.

Plus there was the special diet. My autistic brother Matt has tons of food allergies. My youngest daughter Arabella wants to go into culinary arts and wanted to make a lot of the food for the celebration. How could I say no to that? One of the dishes that Arabella made was cheesy potatoes. My mom got upset with her for not setting aside some of the food for Matt before she added milk to the recipe. Don’t you love your uncle Matt, Arabella? Matt, Arabella doesn’t care about you.

I never asked Arabella to set aside some potatoes. I was going to make sweet potatoes, but as I was preheating the oven I was told that we needed the oven for the turkeys. I wish my mom would’ve just said good job to Arabella for cooking. If you don’t like how I do things at my house, why don’t you do it then??

We also had our new pastor over with his family. They didn’t have anywhere to go. I asked them to bring desserts and none of those were dairy free either. That is the thing about being dairy free, I don’t want to ask people to make things to cater to me. My mom told the pastor’s wife that I was dairy free and she felt bad all evening. But other than a few hiccups, things went fairly good.

The next day we went out with a million other people trying to find that perfect tree. We finally found it after trudging another 5 miles through the mud! The girls spent the rest of the afternoon decorating the house.

We heard a huge snowstorm was blowing in for the weekend. Angel was thinking of making the 4 hour trek back home Friday night, a day early, but she lost her glasses. The following morning, the snow started to fall earlier than we thought. Angel found her glasses, but we weren’t sure if she was going to be able to make it back home safely.

She decided to stay. We were so excited for a snow day. We could watch movies and play games. But there was a break in the storm and she decided to leave while she could. She was scheduled to work all day Sunday and didn’t want to miss work or class on Monday if she stayed. The rest of the day was a real downer. It was the first time she was home since school started again and we hated having her leave after we thought she was staying.

Sunday morning the storm raged. We awoke to no power. The power was off and on all day. That was the night the real storm came in and changed my life. I don’t think things will ever be the same. It almost seems like time didn’t exist before it happened. The things I thought were big all just drifted away until there wasn’t anything left but the weight of the heavy snow.

My pretty mask

I panic as I sit here waiting. I know I have catastrophic anxiety, but in all of my worry I never imagined this.

Waiting is terribly hard when you know something bad is going to happen. This time it really is. I hear the time bomb ticking its countdown in my chest. I want to stop it but I can’t. I just have to brace for the explosion and pick up the pieces when it is done.

The panic sets in. Maybe somehow this is my fault. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I could’ve stopped it. Will I get in trouble? This paranoia is making me crazy.

I feel angry. I am broken already. PLEASE STOP MESSING UP MY LIFE! Will it never end? Sometimes I secretly wish you were dead. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I am supposed to protect you, yet you never kept me safe.

I am so sad for what I didn’t have. Everywhere I go it is rubbed into my face. Maybe my life would be better if I wasn’t in it. I can’t stand feeling this way anymore. I’m drowning, alone. I reach for your hand, but no one is there. I grab at whatever comfort I can find as I go under.

My therapist says I need to break this conditioning. But maybe somehow it is my fault. Maybe somehow I can fix things. I don’t know what to do. But I know what you will do. You will ask me to be a doctor when I’m not even a nurse. Did you forget that I am hurt too? How did I get chosen to be the bellhop for your baggage? Will you never stop ruining my life?

I want to feel joy. I long for peace. But you never set me free. I am foolish enough to think I am getting away when I stick my arm outside of my cage. I fear I will always be trapped here. How can I get out of this? Every time I think I’m out, I’m still locked inside.

The numbness is wearing off too soon, the pain isn’t gone yet. HELP ME! I want to hide in the dark empty void of my mind. But you said it is not safe in there anymore. The demons live there that ravish my soul. But can’t you see I am already in hell? I’ve gotten used to the warmth of its raging fire. Now I’m so cold.

You can’t let them win. Feel joy in your times of sorrow. I wish I could. I feel like I am going to throw up.

Is my life some sort of cosmic joke? Funny, but I’m not laughing. God, what is the purpose?

You mar me with your filth until I can’t even see the goodness in me anymore. I could wash my hands of it a million times and still see the dirt you left behind. I want nothing to do with it.

I want to be on a warm beach somewhere serene. But even there I will find no solace, no escape. Everywhere I go, you come with me.

I see your reflection every time I look at myself in the mirror. My beauty mocks the ugliness inside. It oozes out of me. I wish I was ugly on the outside so no one would notice me.

I put on a smile and say everything is fine. I wear my pretty mask with all the glitter and glitz. I’m okay. I’m good. How about you?

Why am I not happy all of the time? I seem to have it all.

It’s amazing how easily people believe the lies they want to hear.

I’m glad you like my pretty mask. But I have to ask. When will the show end? I’m getting tired of acting normal.

The boy with the face tattoo

The last several weeks have been very unsettling for Paul and I. We reached a fork in the road and we don’t know what way to turn.

We both feel that by being blessed with financial security, we have an obligation to help others living in poverty. We currently sponsor 4 children in third world countries and help supply for their most basic needs. We can send a check in the mail every month and pat ourselves on the back for the children we help but will never see. It seemed so easy until the boy with the face tattoo shattered our perception of what it means to really help others.

How can we help others far away yet turn away someone in need in our own front yard?

He ran away/got kicked out of his house mainly because of the poor decisions he was making. Do we really need another teen in the house with issues? Why do we feel like it is our responsibility to provide for his care? We discussed being foster parents to this boy, taking him in as a surrogate son. Yet, we have a problem with him being alone in our house all day while we are at work and the kids are in school.

He was living at our house off and on for a good month. He also has been staying at the houses of different friends.

Do we take him in or do we let him sink or swim?

He needs so much help, probably more than we can provide.

  1. He quit going to school and studies online. Someone needs to monitor that he is doing his work in order for him to graduate.
  2. Rehab at the very minimum counseling. I’ve seen him completely wasted several times. The last time we saw him like that, we thought that his path was going to lead him to addiciton or ODing. How can he afford drugs? Is he selling them? Do we want to invite all of that into our house? Can we demand sobriety? Is that even attainable for him without professional help?
  3. He needs to learn very basic life skills such as cooking and budgeting. He needs clothing.
  4. He needs basic doctor and dental care. What happens if he gets sick?
  5. He needs to learn how to drive in order to get a job and maintain independence once he becomes an adult.
  6. This is a big one. He needs to have his tattoo removed from his face. Tattoo removal costs a lot of money, but he will have a really hard time finding a job without it removed. Who on earth would agree to tattoo the face of a minor? It makes my blood boil to think about it.
  7. This boy tends to make bad decisions and gets into fights, although we’ve known him since he was little and he is basically a good kid. The odds are really against him for succeeding. He was raised by a single teen mom and also has a disabled sibling which really pulls at our heartstrings from our similar experiences. They have nothing which is really not much to run away from. He might rather live in our house. Do we allow that?

If we take him in are we enabling him not to work things out with his mother? Do we really want to accept that kind of responsibility? Do we have the energy to deal with this? Will he have a bad influence on our other children living in our house? Why do I feel like I need to fix him? Is that realistic or do I just want to feel like a heroine? Why do we need to take him in or cast him out? Why can’t he just stay once in awhile if he needs to?

We need to make hard decision and have firm boundaries. Sometimes we have to confront. Why is this so unsettling? Maybe it would be for anyone not used to dealing with these issues?

We don’t have a problem with him staying at our house when we are home. But the other day he was at our house without our permission. We felt angry and violated that he snuck in. What is he doing by himself in our house?? What do we do?

Do we call the police? Do we drop him off on his mother’s doorstep? He is her responsibility, not ours. I feel angry that she is shirking him off on everyone else. Is it her fault or did he run away? I can’t blame her for not wanting to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean I want to either. Could she get in trouble with the law? Will her other children be taken away? Would our son ever talk to us again if we turn him away? Could we be in trouble if he stays? Does anybody really care anyway??

At this point, there are more questions than answers. This has really pushed us over the edge. Paul set up a first meeting with a counselor to help us deal with all this crap. We also have a lot of inadequacies as parents from growing up in unhealthy and difficult homes. We are very high functioning broken people. I wish we had all of the answers, but we keep striving to grow and improve which is all I can ask for.

It has been stressful, but little did I know more difficulties were on the way…

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Lost, that is what I would call him.

Never to be found?

Wandering around.

Trouble, the kind he might never find a way out of.

Keep him in your prayers because no one else cares.

Homeless, yet at times living in my home.

It’s too cold to be sleeping on a park bench.

Sleeping on the floor in my son’s room.

Arms wrapped around the dog at night for comfort.

Keep him in your prayers because no one else cares.

Bouncing from home to home…only 17.

Skipping out of school.

No hope?

Will he even graduate?

Keep him in your prayers because no one else cares.

Numbing his mind with whatever he can find.

He could die on the streets and no one would lose sleep.

Numb, the word permanently etched on his face

under his eye with a vacant stare.

It’s been a long time since he cut his hair.

Keep him in your prayers because no one else cares.

He’s drowning and pulling others down with him.

We had to break free of his grip.

Our son, we can only help save one.

But he is not out of the water yet..

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