Thirty Years Later

1984 –  I’m 31; she’s 8…

I’m demanding over and over, “Who is she?”

He says nothing.  Expressionless; no emotion detected.  Blank.

I’m thinking of my sister, my friends, my anger.  He’s not having an affair.  I’m tired of defending him.  He would never have an affair.  He’s working hard; providing for his family.  His job is different.  The men network late at night in the bars.  It’s how you move up in the mechanical engineering business.  Other husbands have 9-5 jobs.  What makes me angry is he’s so careless.  He doesn’t bother to tell me he’s working late.  We delay dinner.  The girls get hungry; the food gets cold.  It used to be one night a week; maybe two.  Lately it’s been three nights a week.  Tonight I’m angry.  I don’t even know whether to be suspicious.  I can’t imagine he’d do that… he’s a decent man.

“You don’t know her,” he says.

Surely, I didn’t hear that right, “What?  Does that mean you’re having an affair?”

“Yeah, I guess,” he answers.

I can’t remember the rest of the conversation.  I was emotionally hysterical, angry, scared, sad, and hurt.  I know I was screaming, but what I can’t remember.  How could this be?  We had a good life and two beautiful little girls.  What the hell was he thinking?  I wanted to beat the shit out of him, but felt like I might pass out.  I was in shock.

The phone rang.  It was my pastor, Fr. Munshower.  (Fr. did not call often and to this day, I’m not sure why he called that night.)

As soon as he identified himself, I said, “Frank just told me he’s having an affair.”

I stayed on the phone with Fr. M for quite a while.  He calmed me down and said he’d see me the next day.  I saw our little girl standing in the doorway.  How long had she been there?  She had on her red checkered nightgown and was holding her blanket.  There were tears in her eyes.  I’m sure she didn’t understand, but she knew something was very wrong.  I never asked her how she felt or what she thought.

“Jill, everything’s fine.  Go back to bed.  Go on, honey.  It’s okay.”

She walked away and I never saw her again until morning.

Our life changed that day.  I thought we were good parents.  I thought Frank and I had the same goals.  I wondered if something was wrong with me.  How could he do this to me?  The girls?

Frank moved in with a guy from work.  The first week or so I remember going to bed with a bottle of wine.  I drank and I cried.  I prayed, too.  Mostly I cried.  I thought about divorce and step-parents and bills and how to survive.  I tried to make things appear normal for the girls.  Jill was 8; Jan was 5 or 6.

Frank got the girls on Sundays because I told him to get them.  He was oblivious to what this was doing to them.  Did he think it was no big deal that Daddy left?   I was going to get a divorce.  He didn’t want one.  Could I wait?  He was so confused.  I think he believed this was most difficult for him.  Poor man was so torn.

He even confided, “Deb, you’d like her.  She’s a lot like you only thinner.”

God he was an idiot.  I remember screaming, “She’s not like me.  I don’t sleep with married men.”

Frank and I went to counseling.  He loved me.  He was sorry.  He would never do it again.  He said the right things, but I didn’t feel it.  The girls didn’t ask questions.  I acted as if Daddy being gone was okay.  I felt sick most of the time.  I did not see the fear in Jill’s heart.

Frank and I reconciled after 2 separations that lasted over a year off and on.  During this time, he moved out, back in then out again and back in.  We also moved to a different home.  My sick parents moved in and then out.  I worked and then didn’t work and then worked.  My life felt like it was a train wreck, but still I never talked to the girls.  I kept my head above water and then finalized the deal.  We were staying married.  I was told to forgive and never mention it again.  That was how our marriage would heal.  Today, I know that’s bullshit.  No one healed.

Frank may have been faithful for a while.  He was a perfect liar for the next 20 years.  Eventually, I fully trusted him again.  Jill never trusted him.  He left for good 10 years ago.

I don’t know what happened to Jill.  I know she was the best student, best athlete, best daughter, and best granddaughter.  She worked at being the best.  At times, her determination and stress would unnerve me.  Being the best is not easy.

Jill continued trying through high school and college to be the best.  She expected others to be good also.  She had little tolerance for those who messed up.  She never drank or smoked or did drugs.  She was going to be the best forever and doing bad things would jeopardize being the best.

Today, Jill is falling apart so she can be put back together in a good way.  Being the best almost killed her.  She has PTSD from living with an abusive husband for 10 years, she has OCD and a host of other problems from living with fear her Daddy would leave, and her Mommy would always be mad.  She’s had multiple surgeries and medical complications.  She now has conversion disorder and her body doesn’t work.  All she wanted was to grow up and have a family and a good marriage.  She didn’t know how.

Failure is not failure unless we repeat it over and over.  Being the best made Jill believe she could make something out of nothing.  Being the best caused her to believe the impossible.  Being the best lowered her self-esteem, and intensified anger, fear, and pain.  She pushed away people who loved her, and hung on to one who abused her.  She told herself everything would be alright, but it kept becoming more wrong.  She ignored “danger ahead.”  She ignored red flags that completely swallowed her. She convinced herself it would get better.  She failed to see her daughter; the same as I failed to see her when she was a little girl.

“It’s okay.  Go back to bed.”

Children are not resilient.  I will never be able to undo what happened to Jill.  But, finally, 30 years later, I can say I’m sorry because finally, I see it.

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