Our 10 year old wonder child, Malia is nerdy to the core. She sees weekends as opportunities to stay up late reading or to do some reading. With her, Tammy and I find ourselves saying things parents don’t say to their children every day.
“Malia, will you please put that book down?”
“But dad, I’m only at 1,675% of my AR (Accelerated Reader) reading goal.”
“hmmm...when you’re in the White House, I want to sleep in the Roosevelt Room. Can you arrange that please?”
“The Roosevelt Room is where meetings take place, but if you want to sleep on the meeting table I’ll see what I can do.”
“oh...uh...umm...yeah, you can Go to bed now.”
Our movie, “We’re the Millers,” was over ninety minutes long, so yeah, aside from giddy, we were also borderline delirious by the time it was over.
My wife Tammy and I were on our bed next to each other. We had been talking about trivial stuff and re-playing parts of the movie over and over; giggling on cue at the punch lines. Like I said giddy. Delirious.
After our laughter had settled down, we continued to lay side by side, quietly smiling at each other.
“This parental alienation thing is some crazy shit huh...” I said.
We both started giggling and then straight out laughing. It was a much needed laugh and for a moment you would think that, like in the movies, it would turn into sobs as we realize the reality that it was happening in our lives at this moment would hit us full force.
But it didn’t.
We laughed into our pillows a little longer looking at each other and shaking our heads before breaking our into another bout of laughter. Both of us realizing how, “some crazy shit” is an understatement.
Delirious.For those of you who don't know, our family has lost our 15 year old daughter (sister, best friend) to a relentless campaign of severe alienation spearheaded by my ex-wife. She has been programmed to hate me and my wife and wants nothing to do with her sisters. Its surreal to even write that.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh,” Tammy says, yet plops her face onto her pillow to muffle her laughter.
“I can tell,” I manage to get out between spasm of laughter.
We are no longer trying to contain our laughter.
After a while Tammy uses her fore-finger to carefully wipe the tears from the corners of her eyes as if being careful to not remove any makeup which she never wears. I dab my eyes dry with my pillow case. Deep in our own evaluation of our mutual experience we both shake our heads.
It’s crazy. It’s that simple. You can’t reason this out. You will make yourself crazy. So we do this, we laugh; something which seems to come naturally to our family.
It was as if there is something humorous about the challenge that we find ourselves living through. Most of our friends and family have no idea how sinister and disturbing this experience is and, perhaps due to our deliriousness, we found this dreadfully funny at this time.
“Sorry honey,” Tammy repeated, but she need not be.
It helps me to laugh and laughing together -living together- is what constantly helps me.
Tammy put the perspective of the craziness that we are experiencing better than I could ever have.
“It’s like if you take all the rationalization, all common sense, and everything that we have ever been taught about what’s right and wrong...and how things should be and throw it out the fucking window...”
My wife cussed and I lost it.
I laughed even harder this time...all this craziness and add to that my wife cussing? This was too good. Too fucking good.
She was so right on and she wasn’t done.
“It’s the most bizarre thing.” She added, “Honey, I never had to deal with anything this crazy in all of my life...”
I laughed but not as hard this time.
It dawned on me that what she just said was true. It was a little too much truth.
What had I done? I asked myself, not for the first time.
So many times I had thought about how I brought all this shit into her world; into my lovely wife’s world.
I had exposed her stable world which was previously filled with normal, healthy people with this senseless dysfunction.
To those of you asking what’s normal? Who am I to define normal?
Normal is healthy and responsible behavior. Normal is being self-aware and keeping your issues in check. Normal is a sense of decorum in dealings with other, appropriateness of conduct, and socially correct behavior. Normal is doing unto others behind closed doors what you would do in public. Normal is simply not hurting people. Normal equals healthy equals doing whatever you can do to not hurt children.
But, I believe you know exactly what I am talking about so I am not playing this game right now.
Tammy’s world is where people are kind, compassionate, and just plain decent to each other, otherwise, they simply were not allowed to be part of her life. Period.
And they weren’t. I admire that about her.
If Tammy was a meme, it would read, “Normal people only, unstable need not apply.”
Perhaps that is one of the reasons I was attracted to her was her stableness. Stable is underrated.
God knows stableness is underrated.
Tammy has surrounded herself with the type of friends that are more like a healthy family. They are genuine people seemingly without issues and always there for her, for us, at the drop of the proverbial dime. Good people whom we don’t find or make enough time to spend time with. I Know. When we do get together we don’t want to leave them. There are good, unpretentious people in Tammy’s life. People who don’t introduce themselves by what they do for a living even though they have noteworthy positions or careers. People who know life is busy and don’t take it personal when we don’t call or visit. Tammy’s friends are what I consider normal, stable people.
So what do I do? How do I repay her for bringing this into my life?
So, Tammy meet Christy.
Hi, I’m a nurse, Christy introduces herself, oblivious to the fact that completing a 2 year nursing program doesn’t elevate you to the level of veneration. Nor does it relief that chronic feeling of emptiness or that imagined fear of abandonment. All the degrees or labels in the world will not fill that abysmal void. But she doesn’t know that. She is currently working on a doctorate.
She had actually showed up at the gymnastics meet, over-dressed, to meet --no, to impress-- Tammy. That’s how little Christy knows about stable people; they don’t judge you on how you dress or what you do for a living.
My --then fiancé-- Tammy looks at me not surprised that I was able to predict how the introduction would go. She doesn’t say a word. She doesn’t have to, but I know what she memes.
It would be downhill from there and eventually Tammy, out of a genuine self-respect, would refuse to step inside Christy’s home—but that’s a whole other bizarre story.
Normal people only.
Right about now and quite often I have this thought: What the fuck did I do? It is usually followed by this question: How on Earth do I fix this? I introduced this to my lovely wife and feel a certain amount of guilt for sure. She didn’t sign up for this when she married me. She didn’t sign up for this when she opened her world up to me and my daughter--her bonus daughter-- whom she loved as if she was her own. She has lost a great deal as well. I feel guilty because I want to be there for her as much as she is for me.
The realization hits me that I don’t ever fix this because I can’t.
During my graduate work on Marriage and Family Therapy our instructors, most of whom held private practices, would often share their experiences in the field with their students. One thing that always deflated my hopes of a cordial relationship with my ex-wife was when our group of future therapists were told by our professors that there was no way to help someone with a borderline personality disorder. Two of the more highly regarded professors had a more optimistic outlook, saying that there is some hope but the disturbed client has to realize they have a disorder and want to change. Problem is, there isn’t an overabundance of self-awareness among borderlines.
Since Tammy was a child all she ever wanted to do was to become a teacher. Then she discovered motherhood. These two things were so natural to her, she is so incredibly loving and nurturing, that no one could argue that she was meant for both. A normal, healthy, stable adult helping to bring up incredible, well-rounded, stable children. Perfect.
I am lucky to have her by my side.
We had stopped laughing and I watched my wife as she shook her head in amazement, yet still with that indelible, genuine smile on her face. I felt again that I owed her an apology and opened my mouth to deliver that.
But Tammy went on, “And then you add Christy into all of this...and all her craziness...I have never met anyone like that in my life! Honey, normal people don’t do that!”
Yeah, just so you know I was about to apologize for that before you...never mind.
“I know.” Was this the best I could come up with.
And then I repeated, “I know.”
I felt horrible again. Talk about rubbing salt in the proverbial open wound.
By-the-way, if there is any salt left over when you are done grinding it into my gaping wound, just peel my eyelids back and pour it into my eyes, then close my eyelids back up and rub the clumps of saltgrains into my cornea using your thumbs.
It’s okay, I deserve it.
No, now don’t do that. Don’t feel sorry for me or for our situation. First of all there is only one victim. Secondly, the truth is the truth. I did bring this into her life. Sometimes when she seems in deep thought I wonder if she ever considers that. That question comes to mind but if you know Tammy, you know that she doesn’t.
Still, I contrive idealistic and implausible scenarios where I could have prevented all this; the exposure to her and our girls at home. Our girls at home. I can’t even go there right now. That story will have to wait.
Tammy simultaneously interrupts my daydream and reminds me why I married her.
“Hey, like you always say, everything happens for a reason,” she says.
I want her to know that she is one of the reasons that I believe that and say it as often as I do. Everything happens for a reason.
She happened to me for a reason.
Look at where we are now; where I am now.
I have a beautiful wife, who is an incredible mother to our girls.
I have a wonderful life, albeit it is not without its challenges.
But isn’t that what makes it, like my sister Jackie would say, wonder-full?
This is a wonderful challenge I can embrace.
There’s a line in Sons of Anarchy, “There you go, finding a hidden advantage in an unfortunate circumstance; using pain to take you to the next level.” There is great potential here to take some evil and make some good out of it.
Now this doesn’t make it less daunting or tragic and I will be the first to admit that I could not do this alone.
I could NOT do this alone.
I miss my daughter so much.
It’s easy to say I would never take the course of the father, Derek Walker, from Durham who took his life, when I have a wonderful wife and 3 beautiful daughters by my side and I have attained an ability to re-frame things into a more positive light.
This helps as well; On occasion I will get an email, a comment, or a post about how my website and my talking about this has inspired them, propelled them into action, or gave them a much needed lift to keep on going. I am grateful for that.
That and an amazing wife by my side are some of the reasons it is easier for me to say that this is all part of a bigger picture, that there is a greater good that will come from all of this. Sometimes I see it clearly, other times not so much.
Sometimes when I am emotionally drained and physically exhausted from having to deal with a dysfunctional court system and a disturbed ex-wife, I have doubts. I wonder and I consider giving up at times.
But by my side is a companion who can step out of this atrocity, for a moment, and laugh alongside me at times when it is needed the most. To step outside of this craziness that is not only allowed but perpetuated by our family court system. To step outside and acknowledge that yes, it is tragic but we will be okay if we continue to laugh.
Merging the old maxims that if we don’t laugh we cry and that laughter is, at times, the best medicine.
So yes honey, things happen for a reason.
And yes honey, I am sorry for the introduction.
And yes, honey, you laughing by my side, helps me.