Saturday, March 3, 2012


I met my boyfriend just a few months ago, we attached very quickly. We had a few things in common; motorcycles, music, cooking, over-eating, and a desire to be loved by someone who loved us back. I had a failed relationship behind me, he had split up from his wife who he met back when they were just in high-school. They had been happy, raised three children together, had a close knit family, he thought it would be forever. But towards the end he sensed that she had a secret, she had always handled the finances until one day she finally revealed that she had leveraged their house against her secret off-the-rails spending. Since then she had chased lower interest rates, opening multiple credit cards until it snowballed out of control. My boyfriend Jeff was set to pay off the house and retire in a year; his faith in his marriage and plans for retirement were destroyed in what seemed to be overnight.

While Jeff went on high-alert damage control over the family finances, his wife started spending all afternoon on the treadmill in their carpeted basement, or hunting down spray tan at the BOGOs at the local CVS. She had maxed out a credit card buying tank tops in neon colors at nearby Mandee shops- she had lost 50 pounds and started coming home at odd hours; his Straight Edge Christian wife now smelled of cigarettes and tequila. They always spent the 4th of July down by the lake, Jeff took the kids down to the water to watch the fireworks but when he turned around his wife wasn’t there. After the show was done, he and the kids ate hot dogs and hamburgers without her until she showed up two hours later - riding in on the back of the bike behind an Eastern European bottle-blond - dismounting her new friend’s ride in her short shorts, wife beater, in all her spray-tanned glory. It was then that Jeff knew that his family and their life as they knew it had come a sad, slow halt.

She announced that she was leaving soon after, “taking a break” to move in with mutual friends of theirs. Jeff heard from their friends days later that she had never shown up on their end - the guestroom bed was untouched, her car had never been seen in the driveway. She left no forwarding address, she’d never said a word to the kids. Before she left Jeff had asked her if there was someone else. She threw him a sly grin, his oldest daughter chased her out of the house and into the driveway screaming, “wipe that fucking smirk of your face.” striking her in her face with a chunk of ice she had pulled from the front steps of the house. Jeff’s wife sped away from the house leaving Jeff, and his three kids in her wake. They didn’t hear from her for weeks, she never divulged where she was staying - all they had left of her was a kitchen table piled with bills and a half-used bottle of store brand spray tan.

Jeff and I met a few months later, we fell fast and hard. He was strong, masculine, with an open, romantic heart. He had married his childhood sweetheart, had been saving up for a house in the country since he was 9 years old. He had grown up in the toughest area of Brooklyn, had dodged many bullets literally and figuratively before he took his new wife to a beautiful town in Upstate New York where he bought her a house on two acres of land. He had three great kids in good public schools, and now he had me. But the wounds from his ex-wife were deep. I knew that it was best not to date a man who had recently been burned, but it was too late, against my better judgement I had fallen in love.

Jeff would take me for long drives to the country, opening the car door for me, holding my hand as we rolled through the back roads, kissing me softly before we would get out of the car to have lunch at a quaint country inn. He was the sweetest man I had ever met - until the ghost of his ex would take control of our afternoon. Jeff revealed his painful story slowly at first, I would get tidbits here and there, his face tightening, his mouth forming a grimace as the words spewed from his lips. It was hard to listen to and painful to watch; the emotion taking over his body as he pretended to enjoy the Hudson River views. The man was barely managing - he had to work nights, then go home and clean the entire house, do the food shopping, the laundry, make a square meal every night, look after their three kids, catching 20 minutes of sleep here and there wherever he could. The ex was long gone – she had only contacted him once, the morning of what would have been their wedding anniversary, texting him first thing that morning from some stranger’s bed, “no matter what happened, this will always be a very special day to me.” Still, I played devil’s advocate.

“Jeff,” I tried to cut through his vitriol, “you two met so young, she’s just now living out her teenage fantasies .” I hoped that this would somehow help him put a better spin on things, take the edge off his hate - I’d since met his kids, their grades were slipping, they were sad and disoriented, I wanted them to have some sort of relationship with their mom. Jeff would cook up a storm; we would all sit around the table eating and laughing, but after dinner a silence would come over the house - the ghost of their missing mother was lurking about in the buzz of the overhead lighting. How could they live with suddenly losing their mother? I discouraged Jeff from making so much as a sour expression in front of the kids when her name came up. The ex had recenlty started texting them, asking to see them, but they’d all refused. They had removed all signs of her around the house, just the bottle of spray tan remained - collecting dust in the corner of the kitchen, a shrine to the mother that had betrayed them all. Still, I held out hope, Jeff had noticed on his medical insurance that his wife had seen a therapist once or twice. Was this a sign that she was working on her issues for herself and the children? The kids needed their mom, particularly the youngest one. She had opened up to me, we had taken to having heart-to-hearts, I cut her hair one Saturday afternoon, she smiled and said, “um, I think we’re bonding.”

In spite of the kid's resistance to see her, the ex would pipe up now and then, she texted the kids around Christmas saying she had money for them from their Grandparents so they could buy themselves something nice at the mall. They all met up for breakfast, the three kids returning home from the diner an hour or so later, sullen and quiet. Their mother had given them two unwrapped gifts – a waffle iron, and a margarita maker set, seemingly re-gifted from a housewarming party from her new mystery address. She had passed along the grandparent’s money, the kids left the envelopes on the coffee table next to the misappropriate presents. Still, it was a start, I thought, still clinging to the hope that these kids could reclaim their mother. I continued to remind Jeff not to disparage her in front of them, and maybe even offer up the idea that they could forge a relationship with her over time. But it never came to pass. Their mom took to sending repeated rapid-fire “I LOVE YOU!!” text messages from her mystery location, imploring them for support, texting, “I NEED YOU TO COMFORT ME!!” The eldest girl, the one who chased her mother with the block-of-ice-weapon, set her straight immediately, “you’re the fucking mother, we’re the kids. Get it straight who comforts who!!” The writing was on the wall after that, but their mother kept on coming, each attempt more strange than the last. She pleaded with their son to meet her out one night, she devised a plan to get a beater car from her parents in Florida, she asked that he and his sister buy one way tickets to Florida and spend their Spring break driving it back by themselves. The following week she showed up at the youngest one’s school unannounced, ambushing her at her school play rehearsal - forcing the 13 year old to snap photos of the two of them on her phone that she would later post to her Facebook page where she was posing as Mother of the Year. It was long past due that I give up any hope of the kids ever having any semblance of a normal relationship with their mom at this point. I knew that over time Jeff’s anger would subside, now I would support him in whatever he was feeling and listen and nod. With the kids off at school in the afternoon we would lie in his bed talking about the summer that we would soon share, surely it would be a better Fourth of July for the kids - he would pull me towards him in the peaceful drawn shade darkness of the bedroom, until the shrill ring of the intermittent creditor’s calls would slice our cocoon; their repeated attempts to address the multiple defaults of Jeff’s ex-wife.