I watch my mom’s face become taught with grief. The lines around her mouth tremble, and I’m afraid she’s going to cry. There’s a glistening to her eyes – not tears, but sadness. I watch her shoulders slumping, her regrets breaking through her thin façade of contentment, her hands caving in on themselves as if they’re too frail to hold the court papers. Her tears will flow later, after she’s through waxing poetic about romance and her lack thereof. This happens every time my dad gets a letter from his family lawyer.
My dad’s ex-mistress is taking him to court – again. She’s trying to squeeze from him as much money as possible. And even though I know that once upon a time, my dad promised this woman the moon; even though I know that during their affair, two children were born; even though I truly wish my half brothers the best lives possible, the truth is, if I had the chance, I’d shoot their whore of a mom in the face and piss on her grave.
Spare me your platitudes about compassion, sisterhood, the complexities of love and marriage, etc. I know all about them. I’ve gone to therapy to help me resolve a lot of these issues. I’ve sought the advice of spiritual mentors. I’ve even participated in ceremonies where I burned things in effigy and recited long letters to all the involved parties. None of it worked. There’s still a fire burning deep within me that reminds me how unfair all of this is. Out of two peoples’ selfishness, several lives were damaged. Not ruined, no. I wouldn’t give my father or that whore that kind of credit.
Looking at my mom as her face reddens and her tears make the familiar journey down the sides of her face, I tense as the embers of my passionate rebuke are engulfed in flames. My brother has never seen a healthy couple. I have commitment issues. My half-brothers likely have their own abandonment and neglect issues. My father is wracked with guilt. And these are only some of the players. I shudder to think what this all means, what kind of repercussions these facts have caused, what changes would have been possible if it had not been for the deep emotional scars perpetrated by carnal instinct.
The whore claims that she can’t work because of a spinal injury. She says in the official court papers that she needs more money to take care of her kids. And even though I’m politically liberal; even though I honestly love all children; even though I’ve never met this woman in person, I want to scream in her face. Listen, bitch. You knew my father was married and had kids. I don’t give a fuck what kind of love thing you think you had. You were obviously wrong, and you should’ve considered that before you got yourself knocked up, you dumb whore. You should’ve foreseen the possibility that my father wouldn’t want anything to do with you, and you should’ve either prepared to be a single-income household, or had a fucking abortion.
It’s been almost 20 years since their divorce, and Rob’s parents are still suing each other. His mom was an abusive drunk and his dad abandoned them. Rob was nine when the divorce was official. His mom had plunged into a bout of depression and was unable to care for Rob. Rob was shipped off to Florida, to be brought up as a member of his uncle’s family.
Lots of things happened to Rob during this time. He lost any ability to fully comprehend the idea of “family.” He was abused. He learned to adjust well in situations, and also to shrug off responsibility. People coddled him, told him it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know how to communicate clearly, or voice his feelings, or even have any ambition. He learned that it’s okay to let things happen to you, as opposed to make investments in life.
Now he’s 27 years old and on the brink of fatherhood. I see him struggle with his uncertainty: What kind of a father can he possibly be, he who never had a father, or a mother for that matter? What does he know about anything, let alone raising a child?
I want to assure him that he’ll do fine, that we’ll work through everything together, and that no one instinctively knows what to do when they become a parent. But the words escape my lips. Instead, I smile and say words that are close to what they should be, but that fail to hold the immensity of my meaning.
The truth is, I’ve run out of patience with Rob.
My mom and I are sitting at the kitchen table when I tell her about my relationship fears. I’m in love with Rob and that I think he’s in love with me, but I don’t know if that’s enough. I don’t want Rob and me to end up like my mom and dad: I don’t want to realize one day that we’re simply not compatible enough to be happy with each other for the long haul. And before I know for sure either way, it’s hard for me to sit still or to stop doubting our future. Neither of us have a healthy and happy couple to emulate. Neither of us have any idea what it takes to make a relationship work. We just know that we want to make it work with each other. But is that enough?
My cheeks become wet with tears as I launch my verbal assault of the heart. I blame my mom for sticking with my dad, despite the fact that he’d shown his cheating ways early on in their relationship. I blame her for not being strong enough to walk away, for being chained by tradition, for not giving me a strong womanly role model, for not believing in herself, for doubting her self-worth and self-esteem. Ultimately, I blame her for being the kind of person I couldn’t look up to when I was growing up. During my formative years, I’d wanted a strong, capable, wise, resourceful, book-smart mentor as my mother, and more often than not, what I got was a workaholic, depressed, put-down, seemingly unintelligent friend. It had been easy to put my father on a pedestal; he was the only one willing to step up.
But I blame him, too. For his incorrigible desires, for his inability to teach my brother or me about fidelity and integrity, for making me doubt romance and love. I hate my father for making my mom doubt her self-worth, and for wreaking havoc on the self-esteem of myself and my brother. It’s not just their partner that feels rejected when someone cheats: I know. I felt it. Hard. I still do.
This past Monday, I ended things with Rob. I’m scared of committing those words on paper because I don’t know exactly what they mean; Rob and I have a way of reconciling just as I tell the world that I’m newly single again. But that’s what I did: I told Rob that I’d reached my breaking point, that I finally learned my lesson, that neither he nor I would ever change the things about ourselves that make our relationship so difficult. Then I asked him not to live with me anymore.
I keep thinking of that Regina Spektor song that goes, “This is how it works/ You’re young until you’re not/ You love until you don’t/ You try until you can’t…” And every time I think of that song, I think of the old Don Henley/Patti Smyth song, “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough.”
It’s true that Rob and I have been the best versions of ourselves ever since we decided to become parents. It’s true that we love each other. It’s true. It’s all true. But somehow, I feel in my bones that – for now, at least – it’s not enough. For now, I feel like we have to conserve this love we have for each other, like I want to make sure we have enough of it to teach our son, like one day soon, if we stay together, we’ll realize it’s all for the wrong reasons. And that’s something I just couldn’t live with. Sure, our family might be called “broken”, but this is all we can do to preserve our wholeness, to make sure that none of us feel deprived of something that we deserve.