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Shouts consume my ears; a door slam; a lone tear falls; I crumble. Paralyzed, huddled together in a closet, my older brother and I sit. Voyeurs who never wanted to observe; we stare at one another now, uneasy.
To witness the end of my parents’ marriage, even at the tender age of five, changed me. Today the scene still stings; embedded within my heart – raw and biting.
Why do children of divorce have to have “those” memories? Why in the 21st century has no one invented a device to deprogram us? Why to this day must the pain of my dad’s departure still jar me, despite my being okay with the fact that the joy of resolution remains non-existent? It’s an oxymoron, to say the least.
I remember feeling like a wild animal caught in a trap in the immediate days after the “final straw” moment in the bedroom. As the neighbors rallied around my mom and gave her permission to do what she’d long wished to – walk away – I sat immobilized. Stuck in a place where I didn’t want to be, I felt lost; bewildered. Where would I go? What would I do? Who would I become? Would I have to leave this new place we’d called home? Other questions ran through my mind, but I never voiced them. Instead, they ruminated inside of me. Desperate to feel whole again; I struggled since I couldn’t find that place where my mom and dad didn’t live separate lives and where we were all “TV land” happy.
Later when the moments of my dad’s departure tumbled into weeks and then months, my twin and my 6th birthday party arrived. I recall how we’d waited for him, the smell of cake mixed with the innocent hope for presents. Inside my head, I wanted to know the truth as to where my dad had been during his absence, but I knew that I would never ask him. It was easier to pretend that he was out slaying dragons, rescuing a princess from a wicked step-queen, climbing up a giant’s beanstalk or trying to see where Puff the Magic Dragon lived than suffer the truth of what instinctively I already knew. Standing at the door tirelessly, I dreamt of his pending arrival. The reverie of how it would feel for him to hug and kiss me hello. To feel his touch I’d been desperately missing. Too soon though, the anticipation faded as the realization that no matter how hard I wished, even if I gave up all of my presents and pieces of cake sank in – he wasn’t coming. The sound of the clock ticking and tocking still echoes through my mind, and the memory of the shadow of gloom and seclusion that moved across my heart and cemented itself to me on that day still lingers. Filled with the knowledge that I was not good enough to be my dad’s daughter tore my five-year-old heart apart. This truth haunts me every once in a while, the five-year-old girl’s sorrow who lives inside of me impales the spirit of the adult I have become.
As the divorce became final and the months passed into a few years, my parents engrossed themselves in new marriages. With celebrations of births of a new daughter each, I became their “lost daughter” – a title I bestowed upon myself. I became the defiant one, the black sheep of the family, as my brothers clung to one another, united by gender. I learned then how to master the craft of how to run away from my emotions. Some days, I acted like the victim of a natural disaster, and prayed for help, despite the governmental bodies of my life – my parents – not even being aware of this. With their individual wounds now scabbed over, I felt a mere inconvenient memory. It was hard for me to understand how my brothers, their biological children too, could not feel as I did. The “elephant” in my family, I made the word “remember” synonymous with my name. Perhaps to pay homage to these emotions that I felt that no one else claimed to understand.
As years went by, scars of divorce made silent tracks across my heart and through my life. As these tracks ground deep, it was in these formative years that I learned how third information damages. I wish someone would have listened to me, not just intent to grasp a piece of family gossip to spread onward.
Today, as I write this, I can’t help being reminded of the t-shirt I wore as a child – “Daddy’s Little Tax Exemption”. I was proud of it then, but as an adult, I’m embarrassed at the misrepresentation. A product of divorce, I was indeed my biological dad’s tax exemption, yet as an adult, I ask why? After all, he never did anything for me. In all the forty-two years since he left me, he never once sent me a birthday or Christmas card or present, he wasn’t at my graduation, he didn’t walk me down the aisle at my wedding, wasn’t at the birth of my son and even when I almost died twice after I suffered a stroke and two serious brain surgeries, he was nowhere to be found. Am I bitter no, but I do admit that I’m disappointed and do feel used. I’m confused with the fact that he got to “use” me to get money every year until I was 18 when he never even bothered to find out who I was as his daughter. It’s hard to comprehend why my “step-dad” didn’t get to claim me instead (note he’s titled step-dad in this article for your clarity sake, he was known to us as “our dad”). After all, it was he who bought me Christmas and birthday cards and presents, showed up at my graduation, my wedding, was around me when I had my stroke, my brain surgeries and when my son was born.
As I grew up and out of a daddy’s tax exemption status and on my own, I watched as just about every relationship I entered into, at some, point failed. A family counselor, years ago, taught me to love myself, but I began to ask myself at what sacrifice. I watched as the more I tried to love myself, the more relationships disintegrated and people walked away. Again, I ask myself, “Why? Am I a victim?” Yes, but I’ll also acknowledge that I’m the perpetrator as well. Scared to love, I strikeout. Scared to care, I crawl deeper into myself. Scared to be the first, I fall back so I can remain unscathed. I know that I am not who I represent to the world. I know that I am misunderstood and can’t help but wonder what would happen if I revealed the philosophical and sensitive person that deep inside I am? I do let it out sometimes, but I catch people off guard so I get “bitchy” so that they get even more confused about who I am. It’s a pattern, but it’s familiar and home for my emotions. At 47, it’s my “thing” I work on; I accept that we all have demons that we wish to destroy. Deep down I know I am always that person who once cares always cares, no matter what – one of my best childhood friends is still out there and I miss her – L.Y.L.A.S. always, no matter. Some days it’s just harder to let that side of me out in a vulnerable state. Perhaps this is why I barricade. I am aware that I am resistant, but can you blame me. After all, the one man who was supposed to love me as his daughter – unconditionally – whose arms were supposed to be there for me to fall into – anytime I stumbled through life – my dad, just lets me fall to the ground. Sure he had another daughter to catch, but does he not have two hands? Still to this day, just like the song, his cut remains my deepest. The pain of his exit is attached to my insides like a pit bull’s jaw, and its teeth sink deeper into my flesh with each year that passes. I’m uncertain if he ever thinks of me or what his extended family thinks of what has transpired – I wonder if they are convinced that they would never have acted the way the players in my life had – although they ran away with him, didn’t they. Judgment comes easily to those, not in the midst of any particular chaotic storm. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that unless you’ve walked the path, then it’s unrealistic to think you know what the feet felt like to walk that journey. This is why I can’t, and won’t, judge my biological dad for his existential position, nor anyone else’s for that matter – above all my mom who was only doing what she could do at the time. How could I, I’ve never walked in either of their shoes.
I’m married now with a little boy of my own, so I know I look at my situation with a bit more perspective. I try hard to surge through the daily dramas of a life devoid of any misgivings. I try with all my might to be there for my husband and son, wholly. Sometimes, I find it hard though with my husband. My little boy, he’s easy. Given the choice to walk away from him or die, I choose death – without hesitation. He grew in my stomach; I built and fed every cell and infused life into him, but more so he infused life into me. He embraced me and I just know, without doubt, I will never let go. So, even though some family and friends have chosen to remain absent, not in the flesh – separate, I remain hopeful. I have survived this, my son is proof. On grey fall days like today, I do rejoice. I’m confident that inevitably after fall and winter, comes spring. That someone will return to me. Someone always does. So today, I plant my seeds. I know a few of those special birds will fly home. Ever optimistic I am reassured with the knowledge that hope is eternal, its flame lit to guide. Today, I have decided I will leave the porch light on for them – just in case.
Kim Friesen ©
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If you enjoyed this article, please check out my eBook, Little Willow, a story of a little girl, Amy, whose parents fight a lot and her chance meeting with a tiny grey cat named Little Willow. Little Willow helps Amy understand her emotions and feelings in a positive and constructive way.
A book on divorce that is available on Amazon that I feel is worth checking out is: