I have a terrible memory. I don't know if it comes as a part of my aging process, me blocking the past out as part of the abuse I suffered at the hands of my own father as a child, the abuse at the hands of my husband years later or if it is simply just something everyone goes through. I do not recall any father's days with my own father. He was an alcoholic who breezed in and out of my life when the mood struck. I never ever once saw him sober. In my entire life. He missed at least one birthday of mine due to being arrested. When he WAS available for visits they consisted of abuse of many kinds. He enjoyed scaring his kids. I recall being locked in closets many times. He chased us around the house wearing what at the time, was the most terrifying Halloween mask I'd ever seen. The other things he subjected me to are not things I care to discuss, and frankly I have difficult time remembering. I aslo don't recall any of the father's days celebrated with my ex-husband. So, I am going to instead recount my first "parenting" memory with my ex-husband. I do not recall much of this incident ( like how it came about, or what happened after), but what I DO recall will be enough for you to understand the type of memories that dominate my mind when thinking of my only previous co-parenting experience.
When I had Brittany I was 3 weeks away from turning 18, and lived with my mother in a two bedroom apartment in South Berwick, Maine. I left school about a year previously, so I didn't drop out because of having a baby. I actually left school - and I don't believe I've ever SAID this to anyone before - because I has having a hard time functioning after exposing my father for abusing me. I was in counseling and I was marginally involved with the prosecution of my father for his crimes. High School, and the social drama that was a major component in it, were things that were beyond my coping mechanisms.I already had too much on my plate. I didn't deal well. This is most likely something you wont be able to REALLY understand unless you have experienced any sort of childhood abuse ( in my opinion ). I don't believe I was very well liked by my peers. I had two best friends named Kris and Katherine, that I spent all of my time with. At some point prior to freshman year, they simply stopped being my friends. I probably shouldn't blame them because I wasn't behaving very well at the time. Abused kids act out. I lied a lot because I felt I wasn't "enough" the way I was- I engaged in risky behavior and I sought the only attention from boys I felt I could get. Girls didn't like me. Big problems, no friends, depression. So, I left school behind. I showed up at the adult ed office when I turned 18 and took some pretests for my GED. Based upon the scores of the pretests, I didn't "need" the classes offered, so simply took the tests and got the equivalency degree. Since you can most likely do the figuring - this means I have an eighth grade education. I tell you all of this because then you may have some inkling on one of many reasons I put up with everything that I did.
I didn't feel I deserved any better.
Back to my first parenting memory. Mark, my ex-husband and I were in my mother's livingroom. My mother was at work at the Police Department. I was on the floor, Mark was straddled over my waist, hands around my throat, and for some reason his ski jacket was bunched up between our bodies, sort of under my chin. He was squeezing my throat, and I was struggling to breathe while trying to push his hands off my throat and attempting to wriggle out from underneath him. There comes a time when you are in a situation like this that it goes from a scary, dangerous situation where you are struggling with hope of getting free - to the moment where you can't draw in anymore air and the hope is drained from the situation. That moment came for me that day when I arched my back and tried one last time to throw him off of me. I wasn't successful, and when I arched my back to get some leverage, I also sort of rolled my head back, so that I was looking upside down, behind me. What I saw over my head stopped my every movement. My eyes had locked onto my three month old daughter sitting quietly in her wind up baby swing smiling, and watching us. She was sort of listed over to one side and wearing a Christmas sweatshirt.Chubby cheeks and mouth engage in a silly baby grin. One of her first. I was still looking into her eyes a milisecond later when he let go of my throat and pushed the ski jacket between us up over my face and held it there. To this day, thinking about that moment still raises in me the panic I felt thinking about leaving my kid motherless. Ski jacket filled my nostrils and mouth when I sucked in the last air I could, and that was it.
Like every other time in the 15 years after that day that this type of thing happened, I have no idea why he just finally let go. Looking back, I think maybe I was just lucky because he had, for some reason, started THINKING again. Like mid-choke he became rational once again and - well- it was just my lucky fucking day. I do know that I eventually went limp and stopped fighting. I thought about that fact while he choked me again 15 years later for the last time on April 11, 2004 - Easter morning. At the last moment I went limp in an attempt to make him realize he'd maybe gone too far. And he let go. That time he did nearly go too far- after I made the decision to go limp, I momentarily blacked out and lost control of my bladder. The next time I opened my eyes he was away from me, offering me a drink of water. The neighbor had heard me screaming and called the police - he was arrested minutes later, and my life was forever changed. I have absolute faith that had he not been finally been arrested, initiating the stronger version of Me coming forward, I would be dead today, and maybe so would my kids. Something happened that day - something was different. We had been separated for maybe six weeks at that point, and I had finally had enough. I was not relenting. I was not letting him talk me into coming back. This day, that fact had finally sunk in - and his fight to keep us had turned into wanting to destroy. I have felt for 7 years that I have to PROVE that to people we know. Why? I don't know. It has bothered me that he was able to convince people of a number of lies about me, about us and about that day. I no longer feel as weighed down by the need to clear my name in regards to what people have heard and believed from a crazy man. I know what happened. I saw the painful realization that there was no more "us", in his eyes while he was choking me- followed by an absolute burning hatred and need to destroy. I have never felt that the moment I was going to die was at hand before that moment - and I hope to never feel it again. I've stated repeatedly since that happened that I knew he would be the way I was going to die eventually. I don't feel that so much anymore. Chalk it up to distance and knowing how to protect myself better now, if you like. I chalk it up to something - someone else.
I'm not denying that in between those two times- the choking incidents I mentioned- that there were "good" times. Anything involving my children was a good time - and he wasn't ALWAYS violent. When other people were around, for example, he was nice, calm and "fun" to be around. We did get along when "things" weren't happening. I encouraged him to have his family and friends around us as often as possible to ensure his good mood. His family and friends because he had all but run MINE out of my life. It was literally regarded as an occasion when I got to interact with MY family and friends.
Domestic violence is a cycle. There is a build up period, where you KNOW something is coming. This period can last a LONG time. Eventually there IS violence, and then there is what is called "The Honeymoon Period". That period is when the abuser is apologetic and remorseful and basically does everything in his or her power to keep you on the hook. Then it starts all over again. Sadly, I ( I cannot speak for anyone BUT me ) got hooked on the honeymoon period. It was the only time I was shown how much I was "loved". I received gifts, promises, apologies and things were SAFE. Mark was my first relationship, and I guess , as stupid as this sounds - I thought this was the way relationships go. To be honest, once the cycle ( that you don't even realize exists while in it) is in "build up" mode, and you are literally constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. After a long time period, it's almost a relief when it finally does drop. Whatever he put you through you must have deserved, or why would he have done it? Once it's over ( and it's always going to be "ok", because he'd never REALLY hurt you- or kill you, right? ), you know that things will be good again for a few weeks. The worse he happened to have take it out on you, the better he'd treat you after. I lived for those times. I eventually started to expect, subconsciously, that to be treated well, get a gift, or have Peace, I would need to go through my punishment in order to deserve it. Yes, people REALLY end up thinking that way. If you have ANY one in your life that is a domestic violence survivor, please do them the kindness of never letting the phrase " But why did you stay?" pass your lips. It is nearly impossible to satisfactorily explain that you, at that time, didn't know that you really didn't deserve it. There are still times and instances I can justify why he did this or that. While I KNOW I didn't deserve what I got, I knew how to behave to avoid getting it. Therefore it's sort of my fault anyway, isn't it?
You don't want to know how much absolute SHIT and how many destroyed relationships you go through, figuring out who you are after this type of life. Learning how to be in a normal, stable, LOVING relationship where you don't have to earn being treated well, or wait for a shoe to drop - is harder than it sounds. It's a process that my first instinct is to say "I'd never want to go through again", but my second instinct says "Don't get ahead of yourself, lady!" because in all honesty, I am still trying to get through the process.
I babbled on about all of this for two reasons. The first is I am trying to work through some things in my own head. Like domestic violence's cycles - surviving appears to also have cycles. I am "fine" for a long time - and then, mostly without warning, some PTSD symptoms start showing up. Nightmares, flashbacks, regressing back to feeling, and acting like a victim. Like when I am afraid Zac is upset with me in any way. He is rarely angry with me - or at least he makes an effort to not show it if he is, but I am just so used to "being upset with" meaning something bigger and darker, and my response is to shut down. In general, the things that help get through these regressive times are basically just letting myself work through some of the feelings - and a lot of time that means digging up and discussing "stuff". I don't "discuss" well. Articulating any of this is VERY difficult for me. Writing it and being able to re-read it allows me to "file" it away, back in the dark spots in my mind. I can then, at least for awhile, walk away and move on. What appears to have brought this all about this time is the simple fact that I intended to "go after" my ex for child support on the six kids he hasn't bothered supporting for seven years. The fact is, I'm too afraid to attract his attention by taking him to court. This in turn, has brought up a lot of "stuff" for me to deal with.
The SECOND reason I've blathered on, is to give you some idea of what Zac has to deal with. Do you know what the ONLY gripe he has ever expressed to me about my occasional poor or irrational behavior? He is upset ( rightfully so) that I am more comfortable writing about my feelings than discussing them with him face to face. This man who would literally do anything for me, has one request from me- to simply be able to TALK to him about my feelings- and I can't accommodate him thanks to being ridiculed for nearly a decade for HAVING feelings. On the rare occasion that I DID let the ex in on my feelings it was stored in his manipulative, hateful mind to be brought up later and used against me. Every single thing about my past abuse and relationship with my father was even brought up in court during the ex's felony trial and our divorce to explain that while yes, he did in fact act in an abusive way - it was MY fault he did so because my father was an alcoholic child abuser, so I was somehow asking for it. He used my past and feelings as a way to try and explain away HIS behavior and inability to control his anger issues. I suspect he also tried to use it as a way to make me feel small. That is, after all, the only way he could feel bigger than me. I also hid things away from my ex-husband simply because if there was something I had that had value to me, it became a target. I made him angry once, and the video camera he had given me to record my children was picked up and smashed on the counter top. I made him angry another day and he took my dog to the next town over and left him on a back road. I made him angry another time and he took Jacob away from me. Jake was maybe 2 months old at the time and breastfed. He kept him away from me all day and told me I'd get him back when I worked hard enough for long enough in our home office. When I got the phone, because I wanted help, he came back into the room with the baby. He was holding him by the head in one hand sort of like a basketball. He waked over to me, took the phone and held the baby in front of me for a moment. Point made, he turned and walked back out of the room with the baby. I made him angry the day after I turned 30 by getting into a car accident and ruining our new Suburban. So he refused to replace it for a few months because "I needed to be taught a lesson".
KNOWING that Zachary would rather cut off his own arm than hurt my feelings, much less physically hurt me doesn't make opening up any easier, I'm afraid. WANTING to be able to talk about everything that bothers me, and being able to make it happen are two entirely different things.
I wish there was a way to be able to convey to Zac the following things - and the weight that these facts actually carry in my mind and heart.
Zac is literally the kindest, strongest, most fiercely protective person I know. His heart is true, it is dedicated and there is nothing in the world I can imagine him doing to hurt me.
Zac's sense of family and priorities are the most loving, loyal and level headed I've seen. Ever. His desire to share his family - who are amazing, wonderful people - with me brings me to tears. His family's acceptance of all of us as their own makes me feel loved in a way I had always been missing.
There is one place in the entire world I feel safe. With Zac. It's an amazing feeling knowing that someone you love isn't capable of WANTING to hurt you. No matter what horrible thing happens, everything is manageable, together. I am part of a team. I am half of the whole.
Zac is the most amazing Daddy our kids - any and all under our roof - could ask for. Knowing my children are safe physically and emotionally in his care is amazing. KNOWING he wouldn't hurt my babies in order to hurt ME is something I have no words for.
The simple fact that Zac would rather get two jobs and work himself into the ground than encourage me to take the ex to court for child support - not because he is afraid, but because the kids and I are- makes me that more dedicated to WANT to be able to face the ex and demand he financially step up. His sacrifice fills me with strength.I wish it erased the fear, but I don't think anything can do that.
Zac leaves no question that the grass is NOT greener on the other side of the fence. There is NOTHING I lack or need to seek elsewhere.
Zac's patience dealing with the wreckage of distrust, fear and vulnerability that another more careless, hateful man left behind in an entire family makes him a million times more of a man that M.L. could ever hope to be.
Zachary, you give me so much every single day that I can neither express enough thanks and appreciation for, or ever hope to give enough back to you in return. My Father's Day gift to you this year is to give you the one thing you want more than anything. I am going to find a way to get over my issues preventing me being able to TALK to you about the things that hurt me and are that are important to me without shutting down. Letting my insecurity and fears come between us in ANY way is merely letting a small, hateful, unworthy man continue to win in his battle to hurt someone that doesn't deserve it so he can feel big.I am already afraid, at the concept of letting my guard down more than it is usually - but you deserve more than I have been giving. You deserve the effort involved with backing up these words of appreciation with action. I don't know how to do it, but you are worth it. We are so worth it.
I don't know what sort of "Faith" I have, but I AM a firm believer that every bad thing that happens to us is a lesson. Something can be learned from every situation - and sometimes the harder and more painful the situation, the more important the lesson or opportunity. I choose to believe in this case that if I hadn't experienced 17 years of absolute Hell, I would never have been able to appreciate the man I was to eventually spend the rest of my life with. I would have not known how important what I have now is. I would never have known exactly what I had in Zac, nor would I have been as appreciative of his dedication and have been willing to fight and sacrifice for his love - and our life together. I was given the gift of knowing exactly how amazing a Daddy and partner he is, because I know how bad the alternative is. I learned how much my family deserves and exactly what I am NOT willing to settle for.
Thank you Zac, for showing us how much someone can care. Thank you for encouraging me to fight fairly - and showing me that when we DO disagree, it is just that. A disagreement, nothing more, nothing less. Not having a shared opinion now and then doesn't mean you don't love me. It doesn't mean you are going to make me feel little or punish me for it. That took a long tome to "get". Thank you for not ridiculing me for having ideas and interests and caring about others. Thank you for never making me feel like I had to do something to deserve your attention. Thank you for giving your love and attention so freely that I never have to question if it exists. Thank you for never making me feel small. It makes you that much of a bigger man to not need to do that to make yourself to look better. Thank you for treating my children- our children - like they are important. The cards and words they gave you today were not MY doing. They expressed what YOU have given them and thanked you for it. You have no idea what a gift you've given us all by treating us with respect and just simply caring and loving us. I look forward to being able to recall so many more Father's Days with memories of love and appreciation. I hope we are always as worthy of you as you make us feel.