Saturday, March 29, 2008
Some thoughts on the college years...
"There is a sense of the grotesque about a person who has spent his or her life in a kind of cotton batting. There is something monstrous about never having been hurt, never having been made to bleed, never having lost anything, never having gained anything because life is beautiful, and in order to keep it beautiful, you're just going to stay the way you are and you're not going to test your theory against all the possibilities outside."

- James Baldwin "The Uses of the Blues"

Looking back on my college years has been an interesting trip for me. I feel like it was a worthy endeavor because it's always been bits and pieces in my mind. It was good to set it down in narrative form.

I did it for myself and I did it for Emma. Long before I had a child I always hoped that one day my experience could be of use to me in raising my own child. I hoped that she could learn from my mistakes. Now, I will pray that my daughter has her first boyfriend in high school. That way marriage will be pretty much out of the question. She can learn about the ups and downs of "love" and hopefully her heart will be broken. That way she'll learn how to pick herself up and move on without it being a life-altering situation. I will do everything I can to help build her feelings of self-worth and I'll make sure her father does the same. I don't want her to be susceptible to any lothario with a good line.

If Emma is like me, it will be difficult. You can't tell a nineteen year-old anything. Their heads are so full of book-learning and they think they're so smart. Just because they can kick your ass at Trivial Pursuit doesn't mean they know jack-shit about life. Of course, they can't see that. Experience counts for a lot and they just don't have it. That was me. The other thing about nineteen year-olds is that they have a lot to prove. By that age they're starting out on their own, either in college or in the real world. They're notoriously selfish and self-absorbed, but they need to be, to a degree. They need to put all of their energy on becoming an adult and making their way in the cold cruel world. I don't fault young adults too much when they think they have all the answers, it's that idealism that propels them. It takes age and experience to realize how much you really don't know.

You may wonder, after my series, how I could have put up with Don's antics for so long. What did I ever see in him? Well, he loved me, or he said he did. From him I got hugs, kisses and attention that were voluntary, not obligatory because he was family. He was with me of his own free will. I mentioned the physical chemistry. He knew how to tell me what I needed to hear. One thing about sociopaths, they can be very charming when they want to be. They have a good sense of how to manipulate people. I was ripe for manipulation. I always felt profoundly unlovable and still struggle with it to this day. You know what Groucho Marx said, "I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member." That was me then, and it sometimes plagues me still.

The quote at the beginning of this post is from a reading assignment in one of my college English classes. Out of the whole essay, those lines spoke to me. I've always remembered them. Now that I've told my tale I think that you will agree that I've earned my right to sing the blues.

Thank you to those of you who have stuck with me in the retelling. Since the "series" was more of a brain dump I probably left some loose ends. If you have any questions I'll be glad to answer them in another post. Just post your questions in the comments.


Emma's report from Noni's - Friday night
Hi Mommy and Daddy,

It's been another busy day of play at Noni and Popi's. We got up about 8 this morning and have played, played, played all day. We spent some time this morning playing with the neighbors' on their swing set, then we watched a couple of shows.

At lunchtime we went to Popi's office to visit him for a few minutes and then went out to lunch. After lunch we went to the Kids' Kastle and had a blast running up and down the stairs and across the bouncy bridge and hanging on the bars and swinging in the swings. It was lots of fun.

C, M and J wanted to see the farm where Popi grew up, so when we left the Kids' Kastle and Noni drove to the farm. It was a humongous farm with lots and lots of land. She said they use to have a dairy farm. When my great-grandfather was ready to give up farming, they sold the herd and moved into town. It was pretty country all around the farm.

We played outside some more when we got home. It was such a pretty, warm day and I have been on the swings A LOT!!!!

After supper and baths, Popi finally came home from work and we had a big time going all the way to the end of the hall and running as fast and we could and jumping into Popi's lap. We had so much fun running and screaming and jumping. Noni has sent some pictures of our play. There are two pictures of me sitting on C's head. He's so funny. He loves for us to crawl all over him. And in the picture of all of us in Popi's lap, C is somewhere down under all that too! He's crazy funny!!

For just a few minutes Noni showed us videos of ourselves on her computer. We laughed and had a great time looking at ourselves over the last couple of years. I couldn't believe how small I was when I was jumping the pool. I was a brave little girl.

It's almost 10 o'clock and Noni says "enough is enough", it's time to go to bed. I'm tired, but a good tired. I've had a good day.

Goodnight, Mommy and Daddy.

I love you a bushel and a peck, a hug around the neck, a barrel and heap, talking in my sleep about YOU!!!!!!!


Friday, March 28, 2008
The divorce and beyond...
When college ended Popi asked me to come work for the family business. It wasn't my first choice, but I hadn’t lined up anything else and was facing another summer in Williamsburg alone. I decided to go home to my family. I rented a one-bedroom apartment in town and started working.

By then Don had disappeared. When he left Williamsburg in March of 1990 he went home to live with his family again and work. I’m not entirely sure how long he stayed around, but a year later he was gone and nobody knew where he was.

By the time I moved home Don and I had achieved our official one year separation so I could have proceeded with the divorce. However, when your spouse can’t be served with divorce papers, you have to publish in the newspaper. I couldn’t afford to do that. Since I had no life it was easy to let it sit on the back burner for two more years.

After a year in my apartment my financial situation became untenable and I moved back home to save up. I was working on the road in a different part of the region every day. That’s where I met M. He was one of my customers.

In the spring of 1993 I received a letter in the mail from Don. He wanted me to know he was back at his parent’s again and he wanted to talk to me. He offered reconciliation. When I got that letter I immediately hopped in my car and drove over to his parent's house. I wanted to see him to see if it was true. I also wanted to make sure he was going to be around a while. He said he was. He also told me the cops had brought him back. His parents had bailed him out of jail and he was awaiting trial for breaking and entering and stealing guns. It was all a lot for me to take in. The good news is that I was in a good place spiritually and I took the opportunity to forgive him, if only for my own mental wellbeing.

Here is a clipping from a local newspaper on April 20, 1993:

Then on April 27, 1993:

That means that Don committed his first crimes one month after we split. It didn’t take him long at all to fall in with the wrong crowd. He partnered up with someone from work for his little crime spree. Looking back I realized that he had tried to tell me something about all that in those phone calls after he left. At that point I didn’t want to hear it and wouldn’t have believed anything out of his mouth anyway.

I ran into him once that summer. Noni and I went to see “Sleepless in Seattle.” We weren’t completely happy with our seats so we got up and moved. A few minutes after we sat down Noni whispered to me…”Alex, Don is sitting behind us.” Ack! Sure enough, Don, his sister, and his mom and dad were sitting behind us. I turned around and said “Hi” to his parents and asked how they were doing. To Don I just said “Hello.” That was the most miserable-assed movie I’ve ever sat through. Can you imagine? Knowing that he was right behind me? Ugh.

Soon after I saw Don I went to work on getting my divorce. Since I could now have him served I was able to do a no-contest divorce quickly. I think the whole thing cost me $60. Don didn’t show up to the hearing and I didn’t want him to. As of July 22, 1993 I was a free woman. M and I started dating on September 1, 1993.

Sometime along the way I received a phone call from the VA Department of Taxation. They were questioning the taxes I filed in 1991 or 1992. I wasn’t the only person who had listed Don as a spouse on their state taxes that year. I don’t even know what that was all about. I told them I had the divorce papers to prove we were still married then and the person on the phone chose not to pursue it.

In June of 1994 I got married to M. I went on with my life, having chosen a worthy partner this time. The only thing that ever bugged me was that when I was in town to see Noni and Popi I’d worry that I might bump into Don. I had no idea what he was up to. For years I dealt with this low-key dread.

In August of 2001 I received a phone call at work. It was Noni. She wasn’t sure how to break it to me because she wasn’t sure how I’d react, but Don was dead. What? Then she told me the details. You can read them here:

She also told me that she had some inside knowledge from the jail. He was brought in on charges of receiving stolen property. The arresting officer mentioned that his arrest would probably lead to another three breaking and entering charges. They thought what the arresting officer said might have triggered his suicide.

From that article I gathered that at some point he had taken off to Texas and was wanted for crimes there. Leaving the state of Virginia probably violated his probation from the 1990 charges. Why he came home again I will never understand. He was actually living with his parents and working a job in town when they arrested him.

That was that. His death liberated me and saddened me at the same time. What a waste.

Back when we split I told people that I figured that Don would end up in jail or dead before long. I just didn’t imagine it would be both. It seemed he went through his life never being forced to face the consequences of his actions. He’d create this swath of destruction and then move on and leave others to pick up the pieces. When he was arrested in 2001 I think it all caught up with him. He knew he was going to do hard time and he couldn’t face it.

Tomorrow I’ll share a few additional thought on the whole episode…


Thursday, March 27, 2008
Emma's report from Noni's
(Emma's cousins are staying with Noni over spring break while their mom is in school and their dad is overseas. Emma is visiting Wed. - Sat.)

Hi Again Mommy and Daddy,

I'm having so much fun with my cousins again. Thank you for letting me come to Noni and Popi's again.

Noni is sending a picture from last night of M, J and I after we had our baths and were playing with M's new Barbie with dogs set. It was fun and we got along really well. After that Popi, M, and I played Dora Memory Game. I won!!!!!

Today when we got up Noni said it was going to be a pajama morning. We could watch some shows and play and didn't have to get dressed until it was time to go to town. YEA!!!! I like pajama days. We watched a few shows and then we played some more. After lunch Noni ran a couple of errands and then we went to the Children's Museum. You know, Mommy and Daddy, each time I go I like it more and more. I was very busy running around buying my groceries and putting them in my house. Then C and I played in the barn and M, J and I put on costumes and played on the stage. We did a quick show before we had to leave. Noni said we were there for two and a half HOURS. Man, that was really fun.

On the way home Noni treated us all to Slurpees. I liked it. It tasted good, but I couldn't finish the whole thing. Noni said that was OK.

We came home and played some more. I put together a new puzzle Noni had bought.

We waited on the deck for Popi to come home while Noni was grilling steaks. Yum, yum, you know how much I like steaks. We girls called Popi on his phone and hollered at him to "hurry home!!!". We did it really, really loud. We were all there to greet him when he pulled in the driveway. That's really special for him because I don't think Noni does that for him every day.

Supper was scrumptious and I ate a very good supper. In fact, Mommy and Daddy, Noni told Popi at supper that we couldn't believe how well we all ate today. We had a very good breakfast and ate it all, then a very good lunch and ate it all and then a very good supper of steak, baked potatoes and green beans and ate almost all of it. It was a lot!

After supper we went over the neighbor's swing and played until it got dark and Noni said we had to come in.

Mommy and Daddy, you would be so proud of me for today. I ate very good at each meal, I played really, really nice with J, M and C and I used my big girl voice almost all day. I think I slipped once or twice, but Noni reminded me that that wasn't the way big girls are supposed to talk. I tried really hard not to whine and I did pretty good.

It's time for bed! I love you and miss you, but I'm having a really fun, fun time with my cousins.

Nighty night.

I love you a bushel and a peck, a hug around the neck, a barrel and a heap, talking in my sleep about YOU!!!!!!!


Puppet pals
To kill time before the Easter egg hunt on Saturday we stopped by a farmer's market. In the toy store Aunt K found some puppets to entertain Emma. Emma was completely charmed. It was so cute to watch her interact with the puppets.

Senior year
When school resumed I chose a schedule that would put my classes first thing in the morning. I never had classes any later than noon. By senior year I had only one class left to take in my major so I was pretty well set. I never chose a minor because I really was interested in the idea of a liberal arts degree. I took a lot of different things: psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, finance, geology, religion, accounting and then I took about four classes each in art and English. Most of my senior year was electives. That gave me a lot of leeway in scheduling.

My routine was to wake up at 10:00 p.m. and go to work. By the fall I had the audit nailed so it didn't take me too long to knock it out. Depending on how full we were it might take an hour and a half to three hours at the beginning of the shift, and then another hour to hour and a half at the end of the shift. That left a lot of time in the middle to study, write papers, or watch TV. During those hours I was basically babysitting the motel in the middle of the night so I had to occupy my time one way or another. It was the perfect job for a student.

Sometimes I'd have visitors into the wee hours. And by visitors I mean motel guests who would come in after my shift started and sit down in the lobby, which was right by the counter where I worked. They'd start with idle chatting and soon we'd be engrossed in conversation. At least a dozen times I had people who stayed until the wee hours of the morning, 3:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. just chatting.

My friends often took advantage of the fact that they had a night owl available. They didn't come see me but they'd call me. Usually I got the calls after they'd spent an evening out partying or having a good time. I'd get the postmortem on their activities. That gave me the opportunity to live vicariously through them. I was the Dear Abby of the night shift. Or they'd call me when they couldn't sleep for whatever reason. It was a way of keeping in touch. Mike was the one who called me most often, followed by a high school friend in my home town.

After work I'd go home, or if I had an 8:00 a.m. class I'd hop on the bike and head onto campus. I usually parked my bike at the student center closest to where I arrived and walked the rest of the morning. When classes were over I rode home and went to bed. Rinse, repeat.

I was usually given Mondays and Tuesdays off. For the most part I tried to maintain the same sleeping schedule so that my body wouldn't go completely out of whack. The whole time I worked as a night auditor I longed for the day I'd have a normal schedule like everyone else. But working nights has it's advantages. Like going to the grocery store at 7:15 a.m. You can't beat that. Or hopping on my bike during the summer and taking off for a ride before the rush hour traffic started to take over the roads. It wasn't all bad. However, sometimes it was a serious challenge. Like when I had to pull those 28-33 hour days to see visitors. Or when a seminar or study group was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. (2:00 a.m. to me). It was also hell on me when we got daytime phone calls. B was pretty respectful of my schedule, thank goodness.

When fall and cooler weather arrived my grandparents took pity on me and loaned me their little red pickup truck. I loved driving that truck. It was a light truck so it didn't do any good for snow or bad road conditions, but I loved sitting up in that cab and being the chick in the truck. Having the truck made my life so much easier.

1990 brought my worst birthday ever. I turned 21 alone. Completely alone. My birthday often fell during fall break and such was the case that year. All my friends had gone home. My roommate went to see her boyfriend. Mom and Dad sent me flowers. I took a picture of them and kept it. I can't remember if I worked that night or not, but it was no fun at all. A couple of weeks later I was able to get a weekend off and went home and had a birthday celebration there.

Christmas greatly improved over the previous year. My family broke with the tradition of Christmases past and drove down to be with me Christmas Eve because I had to work. Still, I remember that Christmas fondly, partly because it was something different. We walked down DOG street and took in all the colonial decorations on the houses. There were lantern tours going on and perhaps some caroling. Then my Dad took us out to eat at Captain George's Seafood Buffet and blew his Christmas bonus on us. We all ate until we were stuffed like ticks ready to pop. Then we came home and they went to bed and I went to work. The next morning when I got home we all piled in the car and they took me home for Christmas celebrations and their house, and with the rest of the family. I would have had two days off for it all.

In January I bought my first car, using my student loan money for living expenses. It was an old Ford Thunderbird, and had been very well kept. It was a fine car for my circumstances and it served me well for a couple of years. Within the first two weeks of getting it I got my first speeding ticket. Idiot. On the drive home from picking it up I was pretty sure I was getting a wobble at 65 mph. A couple of weeks later I was testing that on the open road, thinking I was in a 55 mph zone. It was a 45 mph zone. Oops. Thankfully he wrote me up for speeding instead of wreckless driving. Lesson learned.

Spring semester my life didn't change much. I was working, studying, going to classes, and sleeping. I was occasionally able to fit in a fun activity, but I usually had to sacrifice sleep for it. Mike and I did lunch on a fairly regular basis. He made such an effort to keep in touch with me and try to keep me in the loop. I was still in Circle K and was able to make some of their meetings. I even went to the convention that year.

The overwhelming emotion of my senior was loneliness. I was so alone. I look back at the few journal entries I wrote that year and the major themes were loneliness and "I need to lose weight" (always!) My life was out of sync with everyone else's and I felt cut off from them. I had no real confidant, other than Mike. As far as dating, or anything of that kind, I was screwed. I was still married. Once there was a cute guy from one of my government classes who asked me to study with him. I got dressed really nicely and did my hair and everything. However, I kind of killed the evening when I mentioned the part about still being married. Go figure.

By working I was not only supporting myself, I was paying down my credit card debt that Don had created. By the time I graduated I had paid off all $800 on my credit cards.

I recently looked at my picture in the yearbook my senior year. It was the only year I went to have my picture taken and I didn't take it very seriously. I looked like hell. My hair looked like shit, I was pale and my smile was barely there. I really didn't make much effort so it's no surprise I looked bad. But it kind of breaks my heart when I compare it to the other seniors who looked so polished and happy. You can almost see the anticipation and hunger for life radiating out of their faces. I look

By the time graduation rolled around I had been at the motel for over a year so I had earned some vacation. I went to the beach with Mike and some of the Circle K gang (5 of us). We crammed ourselves in one room. We had a really nice time. Unfortunately because of the boy/girl ratio I had to sleep on the floor. It was really unfortunate because I just can't do it. I never could sleep. I remember one morning at 5:00 a.m. giving up the struggle. I got in my car (I had driven everyone down) and drove out to Jockey's Ridge, which is an area of giant sand dunes on the island chain. I walked up the highest dune and sat and watched the sunrise, alone as always. It was a beautiful moment etched in my mind forever. I could see the whole island from up there. It was...absolutely beautiful.

Despite my taking Accounting 101 my final semester, I did graduate. Somehow I missed the part about that being a weeder class. I was so scared I'd fail that class. I remember going to my professor right before final exams and having a heart to heart with her. I told her that if she would just let me pass so I could graduate I would never, ever, ever tell anyone that I had taken her accounting class. She tried to reassure me and expressed faith that I could pass the final. Two days before the final, after banging my head against the wall all semester, I had an epiphany and that accounting crap finally made some sense. I did pass my final, after all.

I made the honor society in my major, but missed the induction ceremony and dinner. I didn't miss it because of work, but because the invitation missed me. I found out about it after the fact. I was inducted in absentia. Pffffft.

I graduated on time, with all my friends, against awesome odds. My family came down and supported me en masse. It was a victorious day for all of us. It's just too bad that the damned graduation ceremony was four hours long and only a few of them had the stamina for it. When I went to the satellite ceremony for my major Noni and Popi were there to see me get my diploma. Everyone else had gone back to my apartment to wait for the party. It was done.

Sadly, my married name is on my diploma. I tried to have that changed but they wouldn't do it without a divorce and legal name change. It doesn't really matter all that much because my whole diploma is in latin and I can't read it anyway. But in that small way I was robbed of the full glory for having finished strong.

And as for a'll have to check out the next installment to find out about my divorce, and what became of Don.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Summer of '90
Before Don and I split I had already been talking about taking on another job. I’d applied for a job at a motel located between my apartment and school. I interviewed for a night auditor’s position but didn’t get the job. Right after I moved back in to my apartment I got a call that they were interested in me for a front desk clerk’s position. I took the job. It coordinated with my class schedule to work evenings and then I’d work day shifts on weekends. At that point I was going to school full time, working full time and still working the library job part time.

One of my biggest regrets about the whole junior year debacle is how my work degenerated in the technology department in the library. I sometimes spent most of my shift on the phone with home. My bosses were very lenient with me because they knew what was happening to me, but nonetheless, I became a liability. I missed at least one scheduled film showing I was supposed to do. I really was a mess during the split. Both bosses had counseled me and helped me throughout the whole marriage and split. My boss’s boss, Myron, saved my ass in my sociology class. Don had thrown away my textbook for that class. I was able to borrow a copy of the textbook from my professor and Myron let me into the copy room downstairs in the library and told me to photocopy as much of the book as I needed to and she would take care of it. I found other ways to cover the materials I had lost in other classes. I’ll just always regret that I went from model employee to someone they had to ease out gracefully in the end. I was never fired. When I went back to see if I could work again senior year they had set shifts in such a way that I couldn’t fit their shifts in my schedule. That was that.

Shortly after Don and I split I had two papers due. One was a 15 page paper in government, my major, and the other was a 3-4 page paper in philosophy. I put all of my energy into the paper in my major. Since I had such a full work and class schedule it was hard to find time to get to the computer lab. I was working there on a Sunday evening. I had to finish, save and print my government paper and then I’d use the rest of the night to write my philosophy paper. Back then we used the old 5” floppy disks and the computers were little more than word processors. I was all finished and went to save my 15 page paper to disc. I put the disc in the slot and nothing happened. I tried again, nothing. I pulled the disc out and took a hard look at it. I was holding nothing but the sleeve. Don had carefully removed the magnetic disc from the sleeve and had replaced it in my disc case. I had to beg the computer lab monitor to save my space on the computer while I ran to the bookstore to buy another disc. That ate up some of the time I needed to write my philosophy paper.

I bullshitted my way through the philosophy paper and was able to turn both papers in on time on Monday. I’m pleased to say that the 15 page Government paper earned an A. The philosophy paper, however, earned a C. I wasn’t used to getting C’s and I was sort of bummed. I knew I deserved it because I’d given that paper short shrift. However, I remember to this day what the Philosophy professor wrote under the C. “I know you’re capable of so much better.” Honestly, just his recognition of that fact made the paper feel like an A to me. I was capable of better; I just hadn’t had the time.

In April my Discover bill revealed that my card hadn’t been as secure as I’d thought. Don had made nearly $800 dollars in charges on it. There was no way I was ever going to get that money out of him. It was just another kick in the stomach. Now I had more debt than ever to repay.

I was walking two miles to school every day, each way. That was the only transportation I had available to me. It wasn’t all bad; my walk took me straight through Duke of Gloucester street in Colonial Williamsburg. I used to amuse myself thinking about all of the people who were inadvertently taking my picture while they were doing the tourist thing. I’d think about how when I became a covert assassin for the CIA I’d have to hunt all those people down and kill them to protect my identity. Eventually Dad sold me his bicycle and I was able to use that to get around. But I don’t think I got that until the summer. Think of all the lives he saved.

Around the time school ended the motel fired the night auditor they’d hired instead of me. By then I’d been working for them long enough that they thought I was a good candidate to work the night audit. I took over the job that May and for the next year I was a nocturnal creature. I worked 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. five nights a week. The blessing about being the night auditor is that they usually schedule you five days in a row instead of breaking up the week. Because you’re on such an odd schedule, if they don’t give you two consecutive days off you’re actually stepping foot in the building seven days a week. The other cool thing was that the night auditor didn’t have to wear the uniform of navy skirt and white shirt. I could wear whatever I wanted.

When school ended I got a roommate. I knew I needed to do it, even though I really didn’t want to. There was just no way I could support that apartment by myself under the circumstances. My best friend from high school moved in. The same one I’d had a roller coaster relationship with throughout college. We had highs and we had low lows. The funny thing was, even when we were extra tight in high school, we always knew we couldn’t live together for very long. As a matter of necessity, we tried. She was also supporting herself so she could go to summer school. Her boyfriend lived an hour away and by staying in Williamsburg she could be closer to him all summer. It broke my heart to have someone moving into “my place,” but I knew it was for the best. I tried to make her feel welcome. The fact that she had a car was a great help. I finally had a semi-reliable way to get to the grocery store.

When my grades came I had posted my best semester yet. Isn’t that sick? I spent the summer working all night, doing my thing during the morning hours and hitting the sack by one. I had to get up at 10:00 p.m. to go to work. I remember going to 10:00 a.m. bargain movies with B (high school best friend). I had occasional visits from Noni and Popi. While I loved, loved, loved seeing them it was always hard for me. I usually had to stay up “late” to be with them. I’d often pull days of 28-33 waking hours so I could be with visitors. I’d be with them all day and then go to work when they went to bed. My brother came down and spent a week with me. It was awesome hanging out with him that week because he was so much more grown up and we began dealing with each other on more adult terms. Plus, he brought a vehicle with him.

Don called me several times that spring and early summer. He always managed to piss me off because he’d call in the afternoon, which was the equivalent of me calling you at 2:00 a.m. I can’t remember much that we talked about. I’m sure I was cool if not downright hostile. He did allude to some possibly shady stuff with a new friend, but he always lied so I figured he was saying it for attention. Eventually he stopped calling.

Next…senior year.


Noni Responds
(Noni's response taken from the comments of the last college years post, moved here and deleted there)

No parent ever wants their child to go through pain and heartache. It was one of the most frustrating and heart wrenching experiences of our lives. We had to watch Alex suffer the pain, the difficult decisions, the questioning of herself and the attack on her self confidence and self esteem. We tried to be there for her through all of this. It still doesn't make it easy and it still wasn't enough to stop her suffering. Popi said it was one of the most painful things he had experience seeing Alex go through all of this. As a parent, you wish you were the one experiencing the suffering, not your child.

To see what was coming and know that she was determined to give it everything she had was hard.

We are so proud of her for so many reasons. She stayed in the fight to the bitter end. Then she picked herself up and finished college. I don't know where she found the strength and energy to do it, but she did. She is a strong woman. She is a better person as a result of what she experienced in so many ways.

Hopefully her experience will enable her to prevent Emma from suffering such pain. However, when your adult child is determined to follow a course you see as potentially disasterous, there is a fine line where parental involvement is concerned which can push your child further toward the disaster rather than away from it. The one certain positive thing you can do is be there for them no matter the outcome and love them unconditionally. Alex will always have that guarantee from us.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Waiting for Grandma
Emma was waiting for Grandma and Uncle K. to arrive for Easter dinner.

Beware the Ides of March...
Don was being summoned to juvenile and domestic relations court for failing to pay child support. Of course he wasn’t paying it, he was hardly paying for his own support. Jail was a real possibility. The whole situation sucked so badly. Thankfully his parents offered to pay for a lawyer for him. I remember before we went to court we had to write down our monthly budget so the judge could determine Don’s ability to pay. It was a joke. We weren’t making enough a month to pay all our bills, much less send someone else money. Nevertheless it was all a very serious matter. When Don went before the judge I was at his side. The judge chastised him mightily and the opposing attorney made a strong case against Don. The judge asked me about being a student at W&M. I told him it was true. I could clearly see the thought bubble above his head, “What the hell is she doing with this joker?” In the end Don was ordered to pay $70 a week toward child support. He even got a payment booklet. But he didn’t get jail. All my fearful fantasies about being a jail house bride were placed aside gratefully.

Sometime in February Don announced that he was quitting the auto dealership and going to work for the father of one of his co-workers doing landscaping. He would be making more money and be able to get overtime. He also wanted to buy a car from the same co-worker for $300. We were to do it in installments of $100. Don was working so I didn’t object. We picked up the car and Don started his new job.

By then I was seriously regretting ever having moved back in. The one thing that had always been good between us, the sex, was no longer good. I think my body was trying to get my heart and brain to wake the hell up pay attention to what was going on around me. I was falling out of love with Don, finally, and I was starting to resent him.

I can remember the pivotal day clearly. Meredith was supposed to come over and help with the scrapbook for our year in Circle K. We were getting it ready for the spring convention. I had been expecting her to call and confirm the time and she never did. Don was at work and I’d been home all day and was waiting for her call. Meredith showed up at the time we had planned earlier and we got to work. She said she’d been calling all day and no one answered. I picked up the phone and checked; no dial tone. I picked the phone up from the wall. It had been disconnected at the wall. I plugged it back in. A little while later there was a knock at the door. It was the co-worker who Don was supposed to be landscaping with. He had come to take back his car. Don had never given him the payments I had given Don. I gave the man his keys, no question. I knew he was telling me the truth. He also told me that Don quit with his dad after only a couple days. This again.

Don had some bullshit excuse about how he was doing all the grunt work while someone else stood around and bitched at him. Whatever. I was done. The love was gone. No mourning this time.

For the first time in my college career I went to psyche services on campus. I sat down for my appointment and poured it all out. The counselor listened. Finally he said, “I have never ever told anyone to leave a relationship, but I am telling you now, if you don’t get out he will continue to use you and he may harm you physically.” He went on to tell me that I was describing a sociopath and that there was nothing I could do to help him. As long as I was around he would use me. He would use anyone who would let him.

I walked out of that office and found a phone. I called Mom and asked her to please come pick me up. I told her what the counselor had said and swore I was truly done. Then I went and sat on a park bench and cried. It was March 15, the Ides of March. It was also Noni and Popi’s anniversary. Noni called Popi and Popi dropped his work and came to get me. I went back to the apartment and Don was there. I packed my stuff and told him I was leaving. He tried to talk me into staying, but I was resolute. He told me that he pitied me because I was so cold. I was only cold to him. There was no way I was going to let him get to me. He panicked. He lashed out at me. He got physical. He didn’t really hurt me, but it was a glimpse of what I was glad to be leaving. As determined as I was to be out of there, I was still tenderhearted enough to give him some money so he wouldn’t be completely broke. When Popi arrived I walked out the door.

I went home and tried to figure out how I was going to proceed. I needed another job, a real job. I needed a place to stay. In the short term I was going to bunk in with my high school friend (B.) out at Dillard. She had her own room and allowed me to stay with her temporarily. I was only with her a few days. Don decided that he was going to go home to his parents. I could have the apartment back, but I’d have to support it all by myself. I was overwhelmed but it was one of those moments in life where you do what you have to do.

I moved back into my apartment. Since Don had had the full weekend there by himself he had cleaned out everything he wanted. He took anything that he had ever given me, anything that he knew was meaningful for me, and he screwed me over in many subtle ways that would reveal themselves over time. First, my winter coat was gone. My boots were gone, and my gloves. All the college textbooks that were in the house, gone. It was only mid-semester. I had no car. He took the television, which was his to begin with, but it further cut me off from the world. Days later an overwhelming ammonia smell in my kitchen belied the fact that he had poisoned my plant. I lost jewelry and cassettes. My stereo was still there, but it didn’t work right anymore.

An aside: After I married M I still had that same stereo, even though I wasn’t using it. I think I’d kept it because the radio still worked. I was going to throw it away but M wanted to open it up and see if he could fix it. He popped it open and said, “Here’s your problem right here.” Inside the stereo the wires had been carefully snipped. Don had snipped the wires and then put the stereo back together.

Next up, picking up the pieces.


Monday, March 24, 2008
"The Easter Bunny hid our eggs!"
Since it was in the 20's when we woke up we decided not to hide the eggs right away. We thought we could bring it up later in the day when it was above freezing. After M had a chance to hide the eggs I went to the refrigerator. I pretended that all our eggs were gone. Then we told Emma the Easter Bunny must have hidden them. Emma's reaction "That wasn't very nice." She even waggled her finger. Well, yeah, but that's not the point! We all went outside and Emma found all twenty-nine eggs.

For a three year-old you pretty much have to hide them in plain sight.

Some were easier to find than others.

Of course, easy was no guarantee...

The last one!

The hardest winter
I moved in with Kristie again. It was quite a place to find myself in after all I’d been through the past couple of months. Kristie was glad to have me and very accommodating to my fragile state. I tried to resume a somewhat normal college life, even though I had many loose ends to deal with.

A couple of days after I moved into the dorm Don showed up at the door. I really can’t remember how he found me. Maybe I told him where I was staying. Anyway, he was huffing and puffing because he had run the two miles from the apartment to the dorm. He wanted to tell me he had a job. He was going to be detailing cars for an auto dealership in town. He was serious about it and he was going to win me back. I told him I couldn’t trust him anymore and it would take a lot to win me over.

He continued pursuing me. I went on several “dates” with him over a period of weeks. It turned out he was actually employed. He brought me his first paycheck and told me to do whatever I needed to with it. He said he’d hand all his paychecks over to me. I used it to pay the bills on the apartment. My name was still on the lease, after all.

I was weak. I still had feelings for Don and weeks later I ended up moving back into my apartment. I may have been with Kristie for three weeks to a month. I’m sure everybody I knew was sad and disappointed to see me go back.

I was looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving and Don had agreed to let me use the car. I was figuring on going home alone. I didn’t really want him to come. I figured it would be very uncomfortable after all that had just happened. When school break came and I was ready to go he told me he wanted to come too. Argh! So it was indeed an uncomfortable Thanksgiving. My family is very forgiving, but believe me, both of my parents took the opportunity to have a talk with Don.

Don continued to work and I finished up the first semester at school. We struggled financially. All of the shenanigans on his part had put us behind on our bills. While I was staying in the dorm we’d had an eviction notice posted on the door. We were overdue on everything and my small income couldn’t cover it. His income was so new (and small) that we’d never catch up. Noni and Popi loaned us $750 that time, but made it clear that there would be no more bailouts.

That year I endured my worst Christmas ever. Bea Bea had a heart attack and was hospitalized for Christmas. Don and I spent Christmas Eve at Don’s parents’ new house. While they had awesome accommodations, it was a sparse Christmas and lacking spirit, compared to what I was used to. They’d drawn names and I received one (count ‘em one) present. Don’s sister gave me a pair of slippers designed to look like sneakers. They were two sizes too small. No one had even asked my shoe size. Late Don’s mom gave me a ceramic Christmas tree. Since we had no money I’d cross-stitched most of the presents we gave that year. When it came time for us to head to my parent’s to celebrate, Don’s family was just sitting down to their Christmas meal. Of course I was late to see my family and their patience was stretched pretty thin. Basically, the whole thing sucked.

On a side note, by then I had learned that Don had been stealing from his parents when he was living with them, prior to our wedding. His parents had spent their summer doing home improvements and preparing their house for sale. They had already found a new home and were ready to close on it. Their check at closing bounced. Don had stolen at least $1500 from them. His theft nearly cost them the new house they wanted. They found out about the bounced check the day of the wedding. They never mentioned it to anyone until much later.

In January school started again. Shortly afterward Don and I did that thing that many couples whose marriage is on the rocks do. No, we didn’t have a kid. We did the next best thing. We got a dog. That turned out to be an epic disaster. We got some kind of terrier from the SPCA. It was a mature machine of destruction. It barked during the day, disturbing our neighbor, who was a sheriff’s deputy. It could get out of any kind of secure area we made for it. It could jump over obstacles five feet high. It was incorrigible. We ended up having to take it back to the SPCA when the destruction got out of control. Shortly after that we bought a border collie puppy.

As the winter wore on the weight of all our baggage was building up on me. Don seemed to lie about almost everything. He was a pathological liar. He had an uncanny ability to believe his own bullshit. When I lie my conscience works me over and I’m sure I give myself away with “tells.” That was never a problem for Don, his conscience never interfered. So much of what I knew about him turned out to be untrue that I didn’t really know who he was. I couldn’t rely on him to set the record straight. I became so oppressed by the lies that I began to fear for my own sanity. It came to a point where I felt I didn’t know up from down. I was going through life very disoriented, my internal compass spinning in circles. I was so miserable that for a fleeting moment I thought about how easy it would be to end it, and do myself in. Then I was struck by a moment of clarity. “Screw that! There’s the bastard who’s making me miserable. I should kill him!”

I started missing items that belonged to me. My clarinet was gone. My camera that I’d been given for graduation was gone. Don couldn’t speculate where I’d lost those things. I knew that he had pawned them. Sometime before Christmas I discovered that every picture of him that was in our collection was gone. I also discovered an old Navy handbook that he’d been using to copy exercises from when he was faking training for his “first job.” In a bizarre twist I found a note on the floor in our storage room amongst the boxes. It was a “to do” list. Second on the list was “Bury Alex’s watch.” Serious Twilight Zone shit.

One of Don’s pastimes was to go into the woods adjoining the apartment property and explore. I had done it with him several times early on. Then it got colder and I wasn’t so interested. One Sunday Don wanted me to go into the woods with him. He had something he wanted to show me. I didn’t really want to go but I didn’t want to disappoint him either. I remember as I stepped into the woods thinking, “I wonder if he’s going to kill me up here.” I walked right on into the woods with him anyway. Now, can someone please explain that to me? I can hardly understand it now. I know it’s not unique because people come to their end that way all too often. Maybe it was some sort of crazy Stockholm syndrome. I don’t know. But at that point it was easier for me to take my chances and follow him than to resist. It turned out that he’d found the back property of a landscaping business and he wanted to show me the collection of discarded terracotta pots.

One quiet evening there was a knock on the door. A deputy, our next door neighbor, handed Don a summons…


Sunday, March 23, 2008
Easter Morning
"The Easter Bunny was here!"

"What's in the eggs? Let me see..."

"Candy! Look!"

Candy before breakfast. Soooo good!

Wedded Bliss...OR...Into the Darkness
Don had a son. Naturally his mom assumed I knew all this. It was relevant because Don was being pursued for child support. He never saw the child, not once during the time that I knew him. Kathy and their son lived in Oregon, according to Don’s mom. To tell you the truth, I cannot actually recollect what Don said when I hit him with my knowledge of that revelation. I suspect it was more “I didn’t want to lose you, I was afraid you wouldn’t want me…blah, blah, blah.” He was supposed to start voluntarily sending a weekly amount for child support. That’s all I knew.

Still, the wedding went on as planned. You’re probably asking yourself; why in the hell did she marry this man???

Sigh. I was young, naïve, headstrong, and quite anxious to get on with real life. My heart still wanted to see the best in Don. He was just sure that if he could move away from his parent’s house then his life would be so much better. I was optimistic too. I honestly hoped we could put the bad stuff behind us and start fresh. I was also trapped in a web of my own making. I had signed on to federal loans, gotten federal grants, and notified my college that I would not be taking student housing. I had a wedding only two weeks away. I’d already had a wedding shower. So many plans had been made and so much was already done. I was simply not a strong enough person to call it all to a halt. I was in it to the bitter end.

Don’s parents hosted the rehearsal dinner at the college where Don’s dad worked. Afterward we all went to my church and did a run through of the ceremony. I had four bridesmaids and he had four groomsmen. Don’s father was also an ordained pastor so he was to marry us. My mom’s friend was the wedding director. The rehearsal went smoothly. Don drove me back to my house afterward. Near my parents house there’s a long hill down the middle of a golf course. As we were driving down the hill the truck careened off the road into the golf course. We tipped over precariously in the truck but didn’t actually roll over. It scared the shit out of me. We were able to drive back onto the road and made it home. At the time I thought it was an accident. Looking back, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.

The wedding went off nicely. My dress was beautiful and my bridesmaids all looked good. My matron of honor was my best friend from high school. I had two other good high school friends and one of Don's sister as the other bridesmaids. Many of my college friends came to the wedding. Meredith had another friend getting married the same day so she couldn’t make it. Mike, Ms. India and another friend Mitch were all there. Much later Mike told me that on the drive to the wedding they discussed it and concluded that they gave the marriage a year at best. Friends from high school were there. We pretty nearly filled the church. We had a lovely reception in an adjoining area. My Aunt Patty made a beautiful wedding cake and her husband catered the reception. They did an outstanding job. I had a wonderful time at the event, smiled the whole time. Don was really into it too. He made people giggle with his big kiss at the end of the ceremony. He hugged me tight and kept me close during the reception. Noni and Popi gave us a very lovely wedding.

We went to their house afterward to open presents. We received lots of useful things which were helpful since we were setting up a new household. After we partied at the house for a while we headed off for our honeymoon. Don was in charge of the honeymoon and we went…nowhere. He hadn’t planned anything. I kept hoping that he had a surprise up his sleeve. He did, just not a good one. We headed to his parent’s house and called and booked a room in a local hotel for the weekend. Yippee. On the other hand, being honeymooners, we didn’t require a lot of entertainment anyway.

After a couple of nights we came home. We packed the truck and got ready to move to Williamsburg. We hit one last hitch on the way out of town. When I went to withdraw all the money I’d been saving the bank wouldn’t let me have it. It had something to do with me being 19 years old. Noni and Popi had set up the account when I was small and there was some restriction on it. I was completely humiliated and angry. I was a newlywed and I’d earned all that damned money and now I had to have my mommy take it out for me. Life was full of humiliations back then.

We moved in to our apartment and set up. We opened up a joint account with my little nest egg and I set up a separate account for me with the money to pay back my promissory note. The first two weeks of our marriage were bliss. Don was completely into it. He was great husband, for two weeks. Then school started and he started to work. He used his Navy firefighting skills to get a job with an airport fire crew. It was difficult to manage because we didn’t have a phone. We couldn’t afford one. The result is that we were isolated from everyone. Mom would call me at work if she needed me. Or I’d call her from campus. Don would drop me off early on campus and then take the car to work. I’d have to hang out on campus till he got off work. I had classes and my library job to keep me busy.

Junior year began and I had a full slate of 15 hours. My friends were making their way back to town and would stop by to see us. Even though they tended to have bad timing (wink, wink) I was glad to see them, but Don gave them a cool welcome. Nice. One time, my high school friend and her boyfriend stopped by. I greeted them in the living room, chatted with them for a while, and waited for Don to come say “Hi.” After a good long while I went back to the bedroom to chastise him and tell him to come in and be decent. He wasn’t there. He had climbed out the bedroom window and disappeared. Unbelievable.

A couple of weeks after our routine was in full swing I began to worry that no paychecks were forthcoming from Don’s job. He said that he wasn’t getting paid for the training until he passed his test. Even so, it seemed like it had been long enough. One day Don was late picking me up from campus. My boss was still in the office so I used the phone to call Don at work to see if he’d been held up. “There’s no one working here by that name.” What? My boss drove me home. I found Don asleep in bed. He’d been pretending to go to work. He’d drop me off in the mornings early and pick me up late and come home in between. Or drive around, or whatever the hell. I couldn’t believe it. This was serious stuff. We needed the money. Here I was going to school, working, and studying my ass off and he was doing absolutely nothing.

He promised to get a job. A week later he found one at Ferguson, a hardware place. Then things got much worse. I found out that our joint checking account was almost completely wiped out. To this day I have no idea what he did with all that money. I went to the bank in a panic. My boss’s boss drove me. She was the one who had cautioned me not to get married while still in school, bless her heart. I wasn’t desperate yet because I knew I still had my separate account to pay the promissory note and I could use some of that money to save us. It turned out he had wiped out that account too. His name wasn’t even on that account. I can only assume he forged my signature.

I figured we weren’t going to go under yet because I had a paycheck coming and he would be getting one from his new job soon. We were able to get by, but that was when I was forced to buy groceries on $10 a week. That time I think Noni bailed us out with $250. We had hardly any money for a while.

Our home life sucked, we couldn’t afford to go anywhere. I didn’t trust him anymore. My friends weren’t coming around anymore. I was isolated and alone. He’d watch TV, wander off into the woods adjoining the apartment property, and work on scale models. His truck had been taken away by his parents. He’d stop payments on it long ago and they had co-signed for it. They kept it and gave him a beater to drive. At least we had something.

It went on like this a little while longer until I discovered that he wasn’t working at Ferguson either. He was lying about working, again. I didn’t know what to do. I had taken my vows seriously when I’d made them. But I was the only one working on the marriage. Not only was he not working on it, he was actively tearing it down. I agonized over what to do. I decided to leave. As hard as I was working to save the marriage, he was working to destroy it. It was a no win situation. I told him I was leaving. His parents came barreling down to Williamsburg to counsel us and try to get me to stay. We talked and talked. I ended up staying.

His next job was at a Pawn Shop. Except, of course, it wasn't. He actually pulled the same shit a third time. This time I didn't say a word to him. I called my parents and asked them to come get me. I was moving out. Noni and Popi planned to bring down a box truck from the company. When my grandparents, who were now living in the same town as Noni and Popi, heard what was going on, they said they were coming too. Bea Bea told Mom that she wasn't going to let her go through that alone.

I can't remember exactly how it was that Don was out of the apartment the day they came. Probably he was faking being at work and I doubled back home after he dropped me off at school. We packed up all my essential items and left. As we were pulling out of the apartment property Don was pulling in. He saw me in the front of the box truck leaving and his eyes got as wide as saucers. I burst into tears. I cried the whole weekend. I mourned. I was in literal physical agony, the torment and frustration of a year of emotions pouring out of me. Noni and Popi were able to arrange for me to get housing back on campus. A small miracle occurred. Kristie had never been assigned a replacement roommate so I was able to move in with her, in the room we had originially chosen together. Don stayed in the apartment. He said he was going to get a job and win me back.

If only I’d stayed away from him…


We're going on an egg hunt...
We traveled to a nearby town to go to an Easter egg hunt at the drive-in restaurant of one of Popi's customers. The restaurant owner puts on a really well thought out egg hunt. He separates kids by age into four different groups. Each one of the kids in our family was in a different group. He had about a thousand eggs "hidden." Most of them were just laying in the grass. There was no prize for collecting eggs so it wasn't meant to be competitive.

After the hunt was over he had treats for every child. Treats included cookies, ice cream, milk, goodie bags, coloring books and other odds and ends. It was raining off and on so the crowd was not bad at all. I think the kids had a really good time.

The Easter Bunny arrived in style...

Emma was content to wave.

Noni persuaded her to give the bunny "five" but that's as close as she wanted to get.

J had no problems getting close. What tickles me about his photo is the exactly identical faces that Noni and M are making.

M gets her turn.

Emma enjoys her hard-earned milk.

Everyone had a great time.