Hindsight is 20/20
I know it has been a while since I last posted. I’m sorry, but I’ve had so much going on and I selfishly chose sleep over writing. Also, I’ve been struggling to come up with something of substance to write about. I needed a muse. Or a sign. Or an epiphany.
I guess you can say I got all three
Back when I was pregnant with child #1 (I don’t want to use his full name, so he will be referred to as A), I was living in Seattle with no family within 1,000 miles. You can imagine how scary that was being 20 with a baby and very little “baby-caring-for experience”. My parents couldn’t be there, but they sent me a handycam to record his birth and other various milestones. No, we do not have footage of me angrily squeezing a baby from my hoo-ha. I refused to allow that to happen, and opted for post-delivery footage.
Some back story is needed before I go on. My son is not my ex husband’s child. That may be a revelation to some of you, as I have never mentioned it before. No, he is not biologically related to A, but for all intents and purposes, he is his dad. My son calls him dad, they do father-son activities, they are best buds. My ex husband has raised A with me since he was 18 months old.
To make an insanely long story short
I had a really bad week in January of 2004 and decided to start over somewhere completely new. I chose Seattle. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have a job there. I didn’t have a place to live there. And I didn’t have any family there. Sound scary? Yeah, it was fucking terrifying and probably really stupid, but I was 18 and clearly thought I knew everything. Nevertheless, here I am, alive to tell my stories. I won’t go through the entire timeline of how I managed to get things in order, so I’ll skip ahead.
I had been dating my A’s father for about 8 months when I discovered I was pregnant. I was working in retail at the time and the hours were long and grueling. I guess time slipped as The Steve Miller Band would say, and it hadn’t occurred to me that it had been a minute since I surfed the crimson wave
(A crimson wave is slang for period for all you kids who have never seen Clueless)
One day, I noticed my breasts hurting. Like, mega hurting. I had never experienced this, so of course my first thought was “CANCER”. I brilliantly decided to Google this like any good doctor would advice a 19 year old to do, and cancer was not the answer I received. I remember staring at the word on the screen for what seemed like an eternity: Pregnant. “There’s no way, I can’t possibly be pregnant. I’m on the pill. I feel fine otherwise. Wait…..when was my last period. *counts the days* Ah fuck.” I made the long walk down the family planning aisle of a nearby Walgreen’s and shamefully grabbed the most affordable, but reliable test I could find.
I sat in the restroom with my head in my hands asking myself over and over “how they hell could you let this happen?” When I finally worked up the courage to tell my boyfriend (baby daddy, keep up) he suggested getting a test done at a planned parenthood, just to be 100% sure. I made the appointment, went down to the clinic, and sat on an exam table as a middle aged nurse handed me pamphlets on my options. I think she was friendly, telling me there’s no shame in whatever decision I make, yadda yadda. I’m not really sure, because all I was thinking about was “wtf wtf wtf wtf” through what sounded like a vacuum of fear engulfing my brain.
I don’t remember leaving, the drive home, or how I even got there. I just remember sitting across from my then-boyfriend and telling him I was for sure knocked up. He looked at me and calmly said, “we can do this, we should do this”. I was kind of surprised, to be honest. What 20 year old dude who has only been with a girl for 8 months is totally chill about starting a family with her? He was, and that seemed sweet. At the time. But hindsight can be a real bitch.
Fast forward 9 months
It’s August and I am the size of a blue whale and dying from the heat. I was a week overdue when my water finally broke. I had been so looking forward to meeting our baby. I needed some joy in my life, because the last 9 months had been awful. It takes more than 8 months to truly know someone, and my ex boyfriend’s true colors began to emerge during my pregnancy. It was kind of horrific. So I was of course over joyed at the arrival of our son. I thought certainly this tiny little human we made would be just the thing he needed to stop being a fucking dick to the mother of his child. I was an idiot. Things got exponentially worse.
I would need another dozen posts to go through everything I dealt with in the following year, so I’ll just give the highlights. He demanded I go back to work immediately after having our son, so I was working a late shift at a call center just 3 weeks postpartum. I remember the HR lady giving me this look of horror which faded into pity when I asked her where I could pump my breastmilk for my newborn baby.
I also did the baths, changed the diapers, got up in the middle of the night for feedings or when he was sick, took him to doctor appointments, the whole kit and caboodle of parenthood rested solely on my very tired shoulders. There wasn’t much help, if any, from my A’s father. Actually, even so much as a hint of wanting help would set him off. He walked out the door on 3 different occasions, leaving us to wonder if he would ever come back.
It was a tactic
Manipulation is a hell of a thing, people. Others can see it happening in perfect clarity, but you are blinded by hope and fear. This went on for A’s first year of life before I bravely called it quits. He didn’t take it well as you might imagine. The whole reason he suggested we have this child in the first place was to keep me there, with him. I was stupid to think it’s because he actually wanted to have a child together. Again, hindsight. I did eventually end up leaving the state with A without much of a fight from him in regards to our son. He was only angry that I was leaving him, not that I was taking our son with me. Another thing I didn’t see at the time. Fucking hindsight.
Hell has been breaking loose nearly every year for the 12 years that followed. But I won’t go there. What’s important here is duly mentioned hindsight and how I found it. The handycam my parents sent us was used, and I have three tapes from said camera. I lost the charger a while ago, and I haven’t watched those videos for about 9 or 10 years. I was cleaning out some drawers in my office last week and found the camera and the tapes. The battery was dead (obvs) so I ordered a charger and new batteries from Amazon. They arrived yesterday and I wasted no time juicing that puppy up.
What I saw was sobering
It felt like I was in a dream, only to suddenly realize it wasn’t a dream at all and I’ve been awake this whole time. There have to be about a dozen or so videos of A between the day of his birth and his 3rd birthday. And that timeline tells one hell of a story, and confirms that my decision to leave was the right one. In nearly every video, his dad is aggressive, rude, sarcastic, demeaning, and insulting. All of which is almost entirely directed to me.
The video of our son taking his first steps is tainted with the sound of him scolding me for not doing something right to the point where he demands that I film so he can show me how it’s done. He then proceeds to man-handle our baby, practically forcing him to walk when he clearly doesn’t want to. It’s heartbreaking, and I hate that in order to show my son this video some day, I will need to do some serious editing, including dubbing over the sound. I don’t want him to hear how his dad spoke to me. When the time is right, he will figure these things out on his own. For now, I won’t bring any negativity into his life and certainly won’t put him in the middle of the battle I am perpetually fighting in with his father.
I sat on my office floor going through hours of footage. My leg went numb at some point from not moving for so long. I couldn’t believe what I was putting up with. Why did I hate myself so much back that I would allow someone to treat me in such a shit-tastic way? All of a sudden, every moment I had ignored came rushing back and this feeling of enlightenment came over me.
OF COURSE! My friends had always said he was an asshole to me. I shrugged it off. They would ask me why I was with him. I didn’t answer. They would even confront him about his behavior, he would snap back. Even when my mother came up to visit me during one episode of his erratic behavior, she asked him “why don’t you respect my daughter?” And he threw the remote control across the room at the wall and walked out.
How the hell did I not see this at the time?
I suppose some part of me did, since I left and never came back. But there was always this tiny voice in my head saying, “did you overreact?”, “did you make a mistake?”, “are you ruining your child’s life?”. That tiny voice was actually him, the whole time. Every time we spoke these were the words I would hear. On my first Mother’s Day away from him, he berated me for an hour on the phone while I sobbed, telling me that our son was going to grow up and hate me. That I was going to burn in hell. That I was a terrible, no good mother. I eventually hung up on him, and minutes later I received a dozen pages of texts telling me how sorry he was. That he didn’t mean anything he said. It was only because he missed me so much.
This is how manipulative, controlling, and jealous people work. They tear you apart, then put you back together, giving you the idea that they are your “hero” and they are “protecting you”. When what they are really doing is slowly chipping away at you, in hopes that you will cave and come back to them. It’s easier to control someone when they are under your thumb, after all. Men do it. Women do it. This type of personality has no gender, race, or religion.
For 10 years
I have been carrying this shame around on my shoulders, and yesterday it vanished. This was literally a moment where I was watching myself from the outside, through the eyes of the friends and my mother who kept warning me. I finally saw what they saw, and now it all makes sense. I made the right choice, no matter what anyone else says. In one of the later videos, after I was married, you can hear my ex husband talking to my son. He interacts with him, laughs with him, plays with him. The difference between the 2 is astounding. So no, my ex husband is not his biological father, but that’s not what makes a dad a dad.
There has been this cloud of shame that has followed me around since my son and I drove out of Washington. The cloud grew bigger when I got married and had another child. I kept wondering, “what are people going to think of me? I have 2 children, with 2 different men, and people love to rush to judgement”. As far as I know only one person has done so, but not for any valid reason. It was just a weak attempt to make me look and feel bad because they were projecting their own insecurities. I guess it worked for a while, as I have been insecure about this for years.
After gaining some hindsight? Nah. Judge to your heart’s content. I could have had an abortion, and I didn’t. I could have stayed with a man who had no problems treating his partner and his child like garbage, and I didn’t. I could have never allowed any other man in our son’s life, turning him into a Norman Bates 2.0, and I didn’t. Instead, I owned up to my decisions, I had my child, I gave him (and continue to give him) everything I possibly could, I removed him from what was a dangerous situation (despite how crazy terrifying that was to do), and I gave him a true dad who has loved him unconditionally from day 1.
So if that makes me a bad mom, that’s okay. Keep telling yourself that. Me? I’m gonna look at the facts and relish in my new 20/20 vision of the past.