Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Crimes to the Third Degree.

I heard someone say that forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past. I’m not sure if what I’m feeling tonight is forgiveness. It feels more like…understanding.

Flying By Night novel

So here I sit in the wee hours of the morning, bawling my eyes out at the computer because after almost 25 years since I first met my ex, I finally, finally, finally understand him.

Some things, some abuses, can never be apologized away, and I’m not saying I still love him (I can’t summon any) or that I want him back (not ever again) or that I want to be his buddy (no) or that I even want to see him walking down a street in the other direction. Just that…I…understand. At…last.

So I’m in a really odd place at this moment that I don’t quite know how to define. This is new territory.

For so many years, I flung myself wide open and said here’s who I am and can you please accept me while my ex pulled in tightly and never showed his tender underbelly (figuratively speaking). He couldn’t show his true self for fear that any vulnerability might be used against him. He damned himself in a self-imposed isolation, never sharing himself with someone who desperately wanted to share. He had walls around him that nothing mortal could penetrate, and I never understood why. Being my parents’ child, I thought it had to be me and I spent our whole married life and even before trying to earn his love instead of just being loved for who I was.

I spent all those years trying to look at the big picture and see what was really there but some of the pieces of the puzzle were missing. It’s not that I didn’t look for them. I remember times of begging to talk about his dreams and getting a blank stare. As I faced my own demons of codependency, I tried to probe into things from his childhood that might have contributed to his emotional unavailability and our lack of connection. I never got very far, and whatever was there, he didn’t want to examine and certainly didn’t want me to look at.

But in the past few weeks, those puzzle pieces have been falling together, and it makes sense now. And the person who held those puzzle pieces wasn’t him.

It’s the basics of all human dynamics. I’ve been there with my own issues and my own parents, and damn, but I hate Freud and I hate to admit he was right about anything.

The final puzzle piece this week was pointed out by a complete stranger. I’d heard what she had to say before, from friends and family members as well as acquaintances who thought I should “know,” but coming from a stranger, this latest depiction of me as the devil really disturbed me.

When my ex and I split up, we agreed that we would not allow our parents to interrogate the girls about what had happened between us. I’d seen my dad to this with my nephew after my brother’s divorce, and I didn’t want my kids to go through it and, frankly, it was none of their business. I explained things to my parents and thought it was his place to explain to his—whatever he wanted them to know. Neither of us wanted the girls to be put on the spot, and I thought that was a credit to both of us as parents.

That lasted until about a week after the divorce was final, and then his mom—whom I had loved very much—started playing “20 Questions” with the girls and made them extremely uncomfortable. The last straw was her comment to the girls that she could replace me as their mother. I asked my ex to put a stop to it, and it did cease. No more questions.

Of course, then there were the upsetting phone calls to my mom, the last one being in the fall, unless there’s been another that my mom hasn’t told me about for fear of upsetting me needlessly, which would be just like her to do.

My parents are in poor health, enough so that a phone call in the night about either of them would not be a surprise and I live with that constant slight prickling at my brow that time is ticking by and they are still here but won’t always be and there is nothing I can do but let time march on and hope that tonight isn’t the night I get that call.

Which is all the more reason I’m pissed when my mother tells me about a phone call from my ex-mom-in-law, alleging that I’m a terrible mother and hinting at all kinds of terrible things she’s witnessed me doing without me knowing she’s watching. There were hints that I’ve been whoring around (pretty funny, considering I haven’t let a man touch me in 2 years), that I’m unstable, that I’m a bad influence on my children, that I’m a devil-worshipper, that—crime of all crimes—I’ve corrupted my teenager because Shannon’s dyed her hair black (she left a temp dye on too long and it turned out as brown as mine, big whoop, and suddenly she looked like me as a teen).

She also did something that most people of my religion find utterly contemptuous and unforgivable: she outed me to my mom. Or she thought she did. My mom knows I’m Wiccan and has for years, but my ex-mom-in-law didn’t know that. She tried to come between my mom and me, and badmouthed one of my daughters to her other grandmother—and that daughter knows it, too. I never kept it from her. Why would I?

In the 6 months or so since then, my kids are always hearing this new version of me. She couldn’t understand why any woman would leave her son, so she’s developed this beastly version of me…which she apparently has no problem describing to whatever neighbor, friend, or random person on the street who cares to stand still long enough to hear it, some of whom she doesn’t know are friends of mine and some of whom just simply think I should know what’s being said about me.

Thus far, my parents have surprised me by respecting my wishes and not badmouthing the girls’ dad to them or asking nosy questions. I mean, really….my parents have kept their mouths shut on the issue. I’m in shock over that.

But it’s been watching my ex-mom-in-law’s behavior toward my kids and toward me that has been the last puzzle piece (the behavior behind my back, not the oh-I’m-polite-and-your-friend-and–you-can-tell-me-any-time to my face crap she puts out that sets off all my hypocrisy hot buttons).

I now understand the emotional isolation; the self-preservation of never-let-them-see-how-you-really-feel because if you let that smile droop or admit your true feelings then you’re gonna get intimidated, manipulated, abused, pushed, and prodded; the verbal abuse; the negativity; the desperate need to control himself and those closest; the gut-level need to be right at the expense of everyone and everything else. I understand now because I never saw how it started or what drove it until I saw her commit the same offenses with his daughters, and all I could think of was what it must have been like for him as a kid and as a teenager constantly in that atmosphere.

So here I am on a Saturday night at 3:00 in the morning, and coming to terms with what I’ve just realized. And so disappointed in how very long, how very many years, it’s taken—the last 2 of them outside our marriage—to come to a place where I finally have the rest of the story and I finally, finally, finally understand him.

I think we’re all screwed up by our parents to some degree but as adults, we have a chance to look at the damage and make a conscious choice to repair it or heal it. I don’t know if he’ll ever break through his isolation, but tonight, there’s just the slightest twinge in me that hopes that he can.


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