3 AM, I can’t sleep. Walking the empty halls of my home I would expect to hear the quiet sounds of my little babies sleeping. My dog, String (Shoe-String) should be up going from room to room. His silver & black schnauzer body with a red bandanna, a phantom leaping from bed to bed, sniffs their faces in devotional concern. Not tonight, not anymore. In a dogs’ life, it will be years before he sees them again. For me, it will be months.
Might as well be an eternity.
I was divorced in 2003. My divorce took two years to complete. I tried to make it an easy transition. I simply wanted joint custody. In the state I lived in, we were granted a true fifty/fifty split. The children were to spend half the week with their mother and half the week with me. Every other week the other parent was given the extra day. Every other year, the other parent got the extra day.
I had fought hard to make sure I would not be pushed out. My own childhood nightmares were the very fiber of my desire to be the best parent I could. I sought out counseling and parenting classes. I purchased every book I could find on the subject. I had been told more than once by my ex wife, “The relationship you and your daughter have, I envy, and I resent”. I was a member of my daughter’s school P.T.O. (Parent Teacher Organization).
I was the coach of her T-Ball team. They were named the Raptors. A name given by the team sponsor, me. I am a partial amputee of the right hand. Given a “Ray Amputation”, I was left with the middle fifth of my hand removed. The left-over ligaments, nerves and tendons used to make the other fingers’ work. My index finger when closed appeared to be the claw of a Raptor.
During the divorce proceedings we were ordered to undergo mediation. In the end we agreed. Like many caring parents we agreed to set aside our differences and focus on what was best for our children. An agreement was made. The agreement mentioned earlier. I was happy. My children were happy. I soon found out my ex was not.
I had purchased all new bedroom furniture for my children. I bought a mixture of furniture for my home. My children would have the best of both worlds. I would try my best to give them some sense of normalcy. With all we had endured through our divorce, my children, their mother, me, and it would all be fine now.
I had many reasons to be angry with their mother. I met someone while I was going through the process. It did not seem to be a gig deal their mother was dating too. The difference, I was happy, she was not. I ended up in the hospital overnight. My girlfriend called their mother to tell her that I was there. It was innocent. She wanted my children to know I was there. Instead it provided a door for their mother to pounce. She ripped any trust I had with the woman. She poured out lies as if it was rain in drought stricken land. By the next morning I was single. Yet that is another story. I let it all go for my children. We would find peace now.
Within twenty days of my divorce being finalized my ex had broken the order and moved to Texas. She moved with the help of her family and the help of my Father, a convicted Felon for Child Stealing. He found her a house three doors down and behind the ally. My children, my life were now eleven hours away.
Soon I moved in with some friends. I found the bottle. I found the nightlife. The month they left I drank over 2,000.00 dollars in party down my throat, passing straight through my soul on the way to the liver. Devastation could not fill the word needed to describe my heart and soul.
My children cried on the phone, begging me to come see them. I had a job, a career. The coffin was being nailed shut. Passing by my daughter’s school my heart would sink each day. I remembered the days I would go meet her there and share lunch with her kindergarten class. Passing by our favorite spot to take them fly fishing was as though carrying my cross. I woke only to live for the night. My mistress of the heart, she would meet me in the form of a bottle or shot glass each night. The pain would go away for a little.
This pattern lasted for three months. Finally I pulled my boots back and as they say, Cowboy’d Up. In time I moved to Texas. I worked through a strenuous relationship with my Father so I might see my children. His wife, a mere two years older than me, and friends with my ex did her best to keep me in the dark. His wife and I had never gotten along. She embodied all the negative things a small southern town could muster to a west coast boys mind.
I managed to see my children on every other weekend. The horrible gap from having been part of their everyday life, now a desolate Father-parent in the Texas system of unjust laws ate at our relationship; but this was the way she wanted it, me on the hurting end of parenting. Forgetting there were children, young minds and hearts in the crossfire. When my young children were with me I swallowed my pride. They needed to here that one parent would not bash the other, instead talking good of the other and making them pray for them when they tucked in for nights’ slumber. Life lessons of respect and manners could not be undercut for indifferences.
Later I married, moved to Dallas. Their mother married and moved to another state. I went to court, was given more time with my children, yet less than what I had originally. Every holiday, spring break and summer, the same ritual, they came and we adjusted to one another ALL OVER AGAIN.
Slowly, my wife and I start to work on “improvements”, wetting the bed, cleaning their rooms or other moral building skills. Time slips into the normal life. Bike rides, bar-b-queuing. Having them play with friends not seen in months. Smiles are made, tears of childhood experiences learned. As soon as it is started it is ended.
We make our way back to the middle point. The meeting spot between two worlds, a symbol for the entire story unfolding at present a small community airport where my children leave one reality and enter another. They grip onto me harder. “Please don’t make us go back”, I try and comfort them. The y must know that both parents deserve to see them. I tell them it is important that they have contact with both parents. Inside knowing, one day they will have the chance to decide freely, without bias influence. Until then I will teach them respect and care for all involved. Kindness and respect will win out. That is what we are told, right?
Dropping them off at this little place of temporary transition, I try not to have them see my emotions I’m holding in. Giving them one last bit of reassurance, I kiss them both and watch my babies head off to another world. Not one for smoking, a habit I struggled with from the age of thirteen till thirty two, I light up one more time to the fast fading mini van carrying them out of my life.
My heart aches; my soul is devoured once again, but like a good human carrying the “Y” chromosome I hold it all in. Daddy, Husband, Brother, Writer, and Ken is FINE. The clouds darken to the sound of one more private plane rushing from the earth. A lonely cigarette falls to the ground, bouncing once and rolling into an earthen gutter. Before the cherry is extinguished, the owner, in what is a small metallic convertible heads home alone.