After the news comes up over lunch with his kids, Paul Schneider finds himself digesting the news uneasily.
It started as an innocuous Sunday afternoon lunch with my daughters.
It ended with my insides churning and turning, twisting and spinning.
And it had nothing to do with the food.
I’m not sure how it was broached, but the subject came up, was addressed and, instead of just exiting as quickly as it appeared, it hung there in the air above our booth, like a cloud of heavy grey smoke that clouded my vision. For a moment, I couldn’t see my kids.
My ex-wife’s boyfriend (man friend? gentleman caller? sugar daddy?) was moving in. Come springtime, he’d be a full-time resident, sharing the same space under the roof as my children.
Verrrrry difficult to write those words.
I spent the next several awkward moments of silence torpedoing into shame, beating myself up about not working hard enough to make the marriage work, abandoning my kids, instilling the same kinds of feelings on them that my dad did on me when he died, etc.
The angel on my right shoulder brought me back to reality, reminding me that: 1) I worked damn hard to make that marriage work; 2) I’m not abandoning my kids, they were sitting right there across from me; and 3) there’s no correlation between my dad dropping dead when I was nine and me being divorced now.
I started to see my girls more clearly again and we carried on with the rest of the afternoon, me trying to act as “normally” as possible. But the notion still gnawed at me, somewhere very deep within. The next day, I still had that quivering feeling in my gut.
Finally it hit me: my childhood was rearing its ugly head again (does a day go by that it doesn’t?). After my dad died, and after my mother stopped using her 10-year-old son as a sounding board to dump all her sorrows and miseries upon (at times literally crying on my shoulder), life tried to get back to normal.
But it never really did. I went to school every day knowing that all my friends went home to two parents, while I came home to, well, none, because my mom worked and came home after me.
I made the best of it, of course. My friends didn’t seem to care. They didn’t see me as any different as them. And then, thankfully, my mom started dating again. But then came the first time I woke up on a Sunday morning and heard someone in the bathroom whose voice I couldn’t place. It was a male voice, hacking and coughing. My dad used to do that, but this wasn’t my dad.
What the hell?!? No one told me about this! My mom never asked me if it was OK if this man stay over! No one consulted me! I was furious, but had no way of expressing my anger. I suppressed it, along with much of my anger around my childhood, for much of my life. It’s only been in the last two years that I’ve been able to begin to heal some of these cavernous wounds.
So there it was. There was the connection, the source of the gymnastics meet going on in my gut. I was projecting all of that old stuff from my childhood onto my kids. I needed to make sure that they didn’t fall into the same kind of emotional chasm that I did. No surprises.
The next day I revealed to my ex that all this old stuff was coming up and I had to know: did she at least tell our kids that her new beau was moving in? She had, and told me that the kids really had no reaction, that they just sort of listened.
Oddly, I felt a sort of dichotomy of emotion; at once, a wave of relief came over me when she said she told them. At the same time, that uneasy feeling in my gut may have subsided just a bit, but it was absolutely there. I thought to myself, at least I was free from having to project my childhood filth onto them any longer.
I still have much work to do around this, of course. But for now, knowing that layer is peeled back, I can head full-steam into whatever lies ahead.
Image credit: dbking/Flickr