stepping into ~ and out of ~ a child’s life

February 19, 2011 at 1:25 pm 4 comments

about a month ago i learned that my ex stepmother passed away this past november. i haven’t really shared it with many mostly because i’ve had a very hard time processing the scars it reopened. the story isn’t a simple one to tell. my own parent’s divorce is a childhood memory far repressed. through most of it i was too young to understand the anger and manipulation that abounded. but now, looking back, i truly believe that my father only fought to keep his children around out of egotism and the need to win.

i was 10 when he introduced her to us ~ me and my brothers. it meant nothing. she would come. she would go. like all the others before. but much to our surprise, days later came the announcement of their upcoming blessed nuptials. i didn’t know it then but soon came to understand what made her different than others. she was from a very prominent family in our city. easily worth $100 million or more. but born legally deaf she was the ugly duckling they kept shut behind debutant doors that apparently also hid the emotional and physical abuse she suffered for years. a doctor of psychology, she came to my father for help. but what she found was a man who wanted nothing more than to prey upon her vulnerability and weakness.

before their marriage, we had been ok. middle class. comfortable. and she had been un-ostentatious with her wealth. a teacher. modest. but my father felt he was far more deserving. he was once described as having come into the world with the desire to drive a jaguar and the brains to have someone else pick up the tab. and nothing could have been closer to the truth.

i hated her at first. resented all she stood for and all that she changed. i hated my pretty new clothes and the private school education. the extravagance. i wanted my tom boy back. scraped knees and dirty fingernails. but daddy wanted the picture perfect princess and there was nothing more that i wanted than to be daddy’s little girl so i tried to play the role.

in time she chipped away the ice i wore for teenage armor. she filled the void of my father’s absence. she became the other parent. he was never there. she tried to encourage his connection to us. made excuses for his absence and failure. but i always knew the card was signed by her and the flowers smelled of her perfume. i came to realize that it wasn’t her world i was being forced into. it was his and he was doing it to her too. we found a silent understanding in one another. both of us desperate for the love of a man who was completely incapable of loving anyone other than himself.

i was 16 when she finally found the strength to leave him. for that i never blamed her. i prayed she got out in time. saved what little of herself she’d managed to hang onto. but what i couldn’t understand is why to leave him, she had to leave me? letters went unanswered. visits left me standing in a doorway, turned away by whichever one of the staff she would send to shut the door again and again and again.

soon after, the divorce started. a drawn out courtroom battle that i tried so hard to not let consume me. in some ways i’d always tried to deny the kind of man my father was. but how do you deny what’s splashed across the front page post. extra extra. read all about the manipulative, promiscuous, fortune hunting monster your father is. the stories i read destroyed me. broke my heart. but not just for me. for her. it didn’t matter that she won. every penny. every house. malpractice millions that stripped him of the doctor title he wore with pretentious pride. she didn’t care about any of it. what she lost was priceless.

it was years later that i bumped into her in a department store. a mere attempt at a polite “hello. how are you.” i wanted to say more. wanted to ask why. but felt foolish letting anyone see behind the wall i had built up around my soul. i walked away as fast as i could until i was safe from view and collapsed into uncontrollable tears. i had no idea that would be the last time i would ever see her.

i heard stories through the years. she changed her name ~ first, middle and last. her crazy curly dark hair became sleek bleached blond tresses. power suits replaced the bohemian hippie flare. and heavy makeup masked the empitness. it was as though she had created an entirely new persona. almost as though she needed to allow herself to die in order to live again. i yearned to reach out. to try again and make her understand how much i had truly loved her. needed her. but truth is, the woman i had known, was already dead.

when the text came from a family friend, i could only stare at the phone in disbelief. leukemia. an apparent long battle. i searched the wide webbed world and found the words. the last story. and as the tears fell silently, i realized that after 22 years i still hadn’t made peace with the ghosts. and now i’m not sure i ever will.

in 1998 i became a stepmother to an eight year old boy. maybe that scenario was a far cry from my not so snow white fairy tale. he lived a happy, secure life with his mom and step dad in another state. his father ~ my now ex husband ~ had been gone most of his life. a sacrifice of college and youthful experience to enlist and support that wonderful little mistake which was his. we saw him when we could. visits there. summers here. but i never had the time to find much of a step-maternal bond. but with the death of my own, i’ve come to wonder what he feels of me. does he resent or miss me in anyway? do i owe him more than i’ve given? and leaps and bounds ahead, i wonder who ~ if anyone ~ will someday step into my daughter’s life. through me or her father. one or both of us to one day likely give her the classic all-american dysfunctional family.

the role of a step-parent is hard enough to define. but what of an ex step-parent? can we really walk into, then out of, a child’s life and not leave a scar? the day after i learned of my step-mother’s death, i reached out to my step-son with a simple facebook friend request. a few days later he accepted. as this point we’ve said nothing more. he’s a 20-year-old man so maybe there really is nothing to be said. but i hope that maybe in some small way i opened the door i never really realized i had shut.

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Entry filed under: divorce and co-parenting, family, fear, life, parenting, relationships. Tags: , , , , , , , .

lost week my head is stuck in the clouds

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kalli  |  February 19, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Wow what a post girl. Thank you for sharing so much with us. It amazes me how much we put behind us so we can move forward .

    Reply
  • 2. Ex Step father  |  February 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    EX Step parents are the ones who leave. I divorced my wife but since that was not the fault of my step daughter I don’t see why she should expect less of me. I hope I can be and do what a father should.

    Reply
  • 3. Barista  |  February 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    This is a great post and exactly why I read blogs – to gain an (often slight) understanding of someone else’s reality through his/her words. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  • 4. kitkat1126  |  February 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

    It’s crazy how complicated it all becomes with parents, step-parents, ex-parents, etc. I think it’s great of you to re-open that door. It seems like each person is different though when it comes to this. While my older sister is so angry still about my parent’s divorce and has no desire to talk with significant others or exes of my parents, I have formed relationships with them and it’d be like losing another parent to shut them out of my life. I think your solution is the best, open the door that way they can decide.

    Clearly a more personal post, thank you for sharing it. Definitely gives a little more insight into you.

    Reply

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