Two weeks ago I got an email from my children’s father. I’ve asked for periodic emails to help keep me up to date on their activities; the children and I talk on the phone frequently but often they forget to mention things like doctor appointments or school awards or the time Eric fell and cut his lip. Kids are kids and they talk about the things that are important to them: the updated list of Serena’s playground friends or Nathaniel’s track team travails or just about anything on Eric’s mind. I appreciate the bi-weekly brief updates.
This conversation was different. My relationship with my children’s father has been in constant flux since we separated almost four years ago. I have worked hard since then to remove the air of contentiousness that once pervaded our every interaction; in some of our meetings he was almost jocular while in others he was bellicose and almost hostile. This email was not just hostile: it reeked of attack. He was threatening additional court action that would substantially reduce my already-meager financial resources. I already pay child support but his new demands could result in my bankruptcy.
I shut my laptop and went and lay down in a fetal position, stunned. The blue witch! I hadn’t felt her in awhile. What could I do to avoid this court action, to feel safe? I pictured putting my things in storage and buying a plane ticket — to where? — and just . . . disappearing. But then it hit me. There was nowhere safe from him. We are tied to one another through our children. There was nowhere to hide.
This feeling was familiar. I felt it in 2005 when, at his suggestion, we separated and I took the kids to Colorado. There was huge freedom there but the glorious clear blue sky always had a shadow over it. I was 2000 miles away from my attacker but it wasn’t far enough to feel safe.
Nearly two years ago, then, I began to think of a way out, a way to safety. It had been almost two years of upheaval. Two years of protracted court battles. Two years of adjusting to joint custody. Two years of seeing what the constant conflict and the back and forth between households was doing to the children. I found myself lying to them, painting their father as the good guy so they wouldn’t feel so conflicted. After all, his animosity was against me, not them. I hated thinking they felt torn apart and torn between parents, so I put myself away and tried to heal their pain.
It wasn’t enough. Daily I was assaulted by little things: phone calls, emails, all with an air of implied threat. He moved in across the street from me. While this was convenient for the children, I felt watched. I wanted to move on and get on with my life, but every time I pulled out of my driveway my car was in plain view from his living room window, his bedroom. The blue witch seemed everywhere.
I needed to relieve the conflict once and for all — to take myself off the playing field. There was no way I could win this battle, not against someone who had vowed to “do what it takes to seek justice” against me in the courtroom.
I had to give something up. Something really big. Something that would relieve the awful pressure, not only for myself (would I bend? would I break?) but especially for my children. Something for all of us, then. I had to give up my kids. I had to give up a part of myself.
All parents have to let go of their children one day. Distance has accelerated that process and brought it closer to me. Day by day I’m doing better with the letting go part; then some small image will flash before me, and everything about them comes flooding into my being: a facial expression, the things they like most, the way they smell still damp from the bath. Walking through Target I avert my eyes when passing the toys but by the girls’ clothes I see a top that is Serena’s style. At the used bookstore I hurry past the children’s section because I have glimpsed a copy of Inkheart, a book I gave Nathaniel a couple of years ago. And every child in a sling reminds me of the three precious years I carried Eric everywhere, before he walked, next to my heart. I can’t escape who I am.
Without blue witch reminders I forget just how pervasive the feeling of being unsafe was for me. I forget, now, how the constant feeling of conflict was woven into the fabric of our lives together. But I can feel the relief when I talk to my children. They miss me and perhaps I’m no longer quite real to them, but they have a life that’s stable. They’re no longer going from one house to another every few days. There are people who love them. They have friends and they’re doing well in school. They have a good life, not a perfect one, but good.
And the blue witch? She’s still out there, somewhere. But now I know she won’t find my kids. They, at least, are safe.