The Eighties ~ Part I
When we weary travelers pulled into our latest destination, we headed over to the hospital to pick up the key to what would be our temporary housing for the next week or so until the closing on our new home. The vacant house was fully carpeted though unfurnished, and had a nice fenced-in back yard where Luke, our beagle puppy, could romp and play. We set up sleeping bags in the bedrooms and unpacked the various supplies we’d need for our stay there.
Don was scheduled to start work the very next day so the nice shower and comfortable surroundings meant a lot. The boys and I kept busy with exploring the new area. We were close enough to be able to walk over to the neighborhood we would be living in and eagerly anticipated the day of the closing and our official move in.
I remember on one particular day that had been very stressful and overwhelming with my being confined all day in the house with four teenagers, a three year old and a puppy. I lost my cool and angrily told Don that I was fed up with all the moving around and upheaval in our lives. That was one time where I allowed my frustration and anger to surface and attempted to confront the situation. It didn’t have any impact on Don other than his withdrawing and sulking, and leaving me feeling confused and guilty. I was attempting to rationalize everything we were going through and respond as if all this was normal. So I hunkered down, determined to do what I had to do to get us through to a better place.
When the day finally came for us to take occupancy of our home on Second Avenue, we were greeted by our new next-door neighbors who had two little boys. One was G’s age and the other was about a year old. It was very refreshing and a relief to begin settling in with hopes of a new beginning for each of us.
Piecing together the next year is a challenge for me. I have difficulty sorting through the sequence of events. The best I can do is to write about what I did and how I proceeded to get established in the new community while creating a home and routine for Don and the boys. I was there to meet them when they left for the day and I was there for them when they returned at day’s end. After we were settled into the new community, I picked up a part-time job at Sears in the appliance repair department, working at the counter. There was a woman down the street from us who provided daycare for a small group of children around G’s age. On the days I worked, I would drop G off to play there. While he was there, he broke his arm while playing and slipped on a throw rug on the second floor, This added to my stress and feelings of guilt, along with feeling paralyzed in deciding how to balance what was best for all of us.
Later that year I changed over to another part-time job where I was a clerk in an optometrists office. I found this job to be very interesting. The position allowed me to give eye exams to the patients (field vision test) along with the basic clerical duties of setting up appointments and record keeping. Don’s physician’s assistant position had a starting salary of $18,000 per year, so I felt I was moving towards being able to contribute by adding my part-time pay towards extra expenses. I was disappointed when Don put my efforts down by laughing and saying my earnings weren’t making a difference and might be putting us in a higher income tax bracket. There was something within me that felt it was still worthwhile for me to start back into the workforce now that my sons were getting older. I was ready to begin that process in my life.
The tensions in the home seemed to increase with the onset of the boys’ teenage years. I decided they were old enough to do their own laundry and gave them each their own duffel bag to simplify sorting. It would be a real relief to not have to figure out whose socks and underwear belonged to which son. I color coded their socks; one got white socks with a yellow stripe, one with a blue stripe, one with a green stripe and one with a red stripe. They were given responsibility of keeping their own rooms clean which made it necessary for me to turn a blind eye when I walked past their rooms. As they reached middle and high school age, each one of my sons was able to pick up after-school part-time jobs to give them extra spending money.
I even signed up for my first art class at the local school. Time and responsibilities never permitted me to have many hobbies, except for crocheting and reading. I was pretty excited about purchasing my first easel and paints. I found it to be very relaxing and meditative, and the time would fly by so quickly. I learned how to make my own frames from wood slats. I felt excited about finally getting going on something I’d always wanted to try.
This was also when I learned that I was in the middle of perimenopause. Only a small percentage of women begin as early as their thirties and here I was, with all the symptoms to go with it. The tests at the gynecologist showed a big increase in FSH, a sure sign of menopause, and a big decrease in estrogen levels.
It was around this time also that Don was hospitalized overnight for a kidney stone. He had awakened in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and a lot of pain. I took him over to the hospital and then returned to be with the children when they woke up in the morning. I can’t remember all of the detail about this but I do remember him telling me that they discovered a kidney stone and that once it had passed he was discharged and I brought him home.
Toward the end of the year, I got an invitation in the mail to attend my very first (and only) high school reunion. It was 20 years since I graduated from high school and hadn’t seen most of my classmates since then. I got in touch with my classmate, J, who still lived in my hometown and we made plans to drive to the reunion together. I planned to stay at my parent’s home for the weekend. It was the first time that I would be leaving my boys with their dad and taking a break away. I went shopping for some new clothes and looked forward to the event.
It was shortly after I returned home that Don told me he was leaving us. He told me he would be leaving at the end of the summer when he had everything in place with his new job in Florida ~ a job back in the insurance field ~ he was leaving the physician’s assistant field. He didn’t indicate that he was involved with anyone else at the time.. He had been saying that “Life’s a bitch” for a long time and was always adding that “Life’s a beach” …… and that’s what he was going to do.
A few days after that, he told our sons to come into the living room because he had something he had to tell them. I sat off to the side of the room, in an altered state of disbelief and shock, and quietly watched him tell our sons that “Your mother and I have decided it’s best if we don’t live together anymore.” The rage that I was beginning to feel welling up in me prompted me to not say a word for fear of setting off an ugly scene in front of my sons. This was not my decision! My heart was breaking as I saw it registering with each one of them. It was totally surreal. He had a scary affect that seemed totally calm and serene. It was like he was suddenly at peace and detached from us, and didn’t have any emotion or feelings. We were being discarded.
The next three months with him in the house were confusing and frightening. He had periods where he would go into a depression and bring a six pack of beer home with him and sit in the dining room in the dark ….. Just drinking the beer and rocking in the rocking chair. Then he would plan a family outing where we would all pile into the car and go to the Adirondack State Park and act like we were back to normal again. I have a picture of me sitting on a rock alongside the rapids with my son, G, sitting on another rock in the distance. I’m not sure who took that picture and wondered if it could have been him. The boys and I went on with our routines probably in denial that this was really happening and sensing that it was a very unstable situation.
During this time the tension and distress within the house could be cut with a knife. There was so much lying just beneath the surface that created an air of intimidation and fear of what could happen unexpectedly. Everything was unpredictable! On the surface, we each went about our normal routines in the home and community.
One weekend, when I just needed to get away from it all, I told Don that I needed a break away before he left and that I would be gone overnight. I went to a nearby city and rented a hotel room. Then I treated myself to a nice dinner. It was very strange going on my own. Afterwards I went to see the movie, The Blue Lagoon. It was a nice escape! Upon my returning home the next day, Don was waiting on the porch, looking agitated, and said if I did that again he would report me to the police for deserting the family. I was flabbergasted at how insane that was (and kept quiet, never wondering if I could do the same to him being he really was deserting US.). He was setting the wheels in motion to actually leave the family and was obviously unnerved by the thought that I might disrupt his plans to do that before he could leave, even though I had explained my reason for getting away. I was totally unsophisticated about the law and never considered that I could charge him with desertion.
During those very trying days, he would go out to the garage at night and chop wood with the axe, and at those times I felt uneasy and frightened. We still slept in the same bed together and had sex. As the day approached that he was actually going to leave the home and head off to Florida, the tension between us intensified and it became clear that we needed to get away from each other. I emotionally protested after we had sex and tried to slap him in the face. He had a mocking, arrogant look on his face and slapped me instead. The confusion, denial and shock, along with the fear and intimidation of what might happen if I tried to kick him out of my bed and out of the house, left me once again feeling paralyzed and defeated. I now understand this to be a common loss of self-worth and confidence that’s seen in many in abusive relationships. This was a man I was married to for 20 years, the father of my children who I shared my life with in all intimate ways. A part of me thought he might change his mind and a part of me wanted him out of my life forever.
I developed anxiety symptoms during those three months and was concerned because my heart was racing at an abnormal pace. I’ll never forget how bizarre it was when Don took me over to his office where he performed a cardiac test on me. I remember thinking how odd it was that he was able to function in this way, treating me in such a detached way, while he was determined to leave us. It was a strange situation where I knew I couldn’t reason with him……. That somehow it didn’t matter what I felt or said. We didn’t matter! It was a disconcerting feeling to realize I didn’t know this man and what he was capable of.
He told me he would send the mortgage payment every month but I was on my own for everything else. He took me out to the back yard and showed me how to change a tire on the car which he was leaving behind for us. There was a candidate for county DA, who was walking through neighborhoods shaking hands with people and asking for their vote. She was the second female county district attorney in New York State history in 1979 so I had read about this election in our local news. I remember me walking over to shake her hand and wish her luck, and Don came up behind me and said something like “Here, take care of her.” I have no idea why he did that, but sensed hostility.
It was before he actually left for Florida, and was still in the house, when I finally was able to call my family and let them know what was happening. My mother told me that she and my father would come up once he was actually out of the house. It was reassuring to know others knew. I also reached out to the pastor at the church we attended to let him know what was happening. I even called the diocese and asked if there was a counselor who Don and I could talk to. I was told that a nun who was a counselor could meet with us for counseling at a nearby parish in the next town over. Don and I both went to a meeting with her. It was not a very open communication between the three of us. Just enough to give a picture of what was happening and for her to ask him if there were other alternatives he’d be willing to do instead of totally leaving the family. She asked if he would consider going away for awhile for a separation. He very coldly and calmly told her “No”. I remember her telling me that I had tried to “fix” things and would have been better to have become a physician’s assistant myself. I remember I was feeling very frustrated with the way it went, feeling that the seriousness of what was happening to me and my sons was not registering with her, and I got up and walked out …… slamming the door behind me. When Don came out to the car, he said she asked him how my doing that made him feel. He said he felt nothing and laughed. I never heard from or contacted the Sister again.
My thoughts turned to what I could do to protect myself and my sons from what was about to happen and what I was going to do to begin taking on things on my own. It felt like it was an open pit I was falling into. I had been a stay-at-home mother while my husband was the breadwinner. I had no marketable skills for the workforce for about twenty years. I had five dependent children and only a verbal statement that a mortgage payment would be sent every month. We had a joint checking account and a joint credit card, and I hadn’t had the responsibility of managing either one of them. And I couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer to counsel me.
The day before he left he came home at lunch time in a panic because the husband of the women he was involved with wanted to meet with him at the office. It was the first time I realized there was another woman. When he came back after their meeting, I was vacuuming the rug in the living room (anything to stay sane!) and he came over to me and said he was relieved because the husband told him that if his wife was going to have an affair with someone he was glad it was a physician’s assistant. (She was a patient there.) The craziness and insanity of the whole thing finally got to me and I chased him out of the house trying to hit him with the vacuum cleaner handle. I’m not even sure if I got him but there was a dent in the handle.
Don didn’t’ come home that night and the next day he arrived with a u-haul to get ready for his trip to Florida. When he was finished he went to each one of our boys and hugged and kissed them goodbye. One scene which I will never forget is when I looked in the dining room and saw my oldest son had collapsed crying in his father’s arms. My heart was breaking and I wasn’t able to do anything about it. Oddly, when he went to the door to leave, I walked him to the door to say goodbye, like I always did when he left the house. He turned to me and said, “You’ll be married in no time.” ~ to which I just stared back at him. Then bizarrely he said ~ “You’ll take me back” and smiled. I looked at him and calmly said “Don’t count on it…………….”
I would later learn, when he eventually called on the phone and I heard children shouting in the background, that the woman and her two small children were with him in Florida. One of my sons told me that he overheard their father talking with her on the phone over the weekend that I had been away for my high school reunion. Once their father was really gone, we each began reaching out to each other for reassurance and began to talk to each other about how we were experiencing this bizarre time in our lives. I told my sons that we were going to make it through this, though I was terrified inside. I knew they needed me to be strong.
The first thought I had was to begin looking into ways that I could legally protect myself. I had no money available and wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to afford legal counsel. I didn’t know anyone in the area, only having been there for about a year. I then thought of the lawyer who was running for county district attorney who came through our neighborhood during the campaign. I phoned to see if she would be able to help me. We set up an appointment and began the process of drawing up a legal separation which would, protect me and my sons from any future debt Don might incur since he was moving out of state. The actual separation agreement wasn’t in place until the following May 1981 (nine months after he left New York State) when it was formally signed and notarized. The attorney provided the service to me pro-bono so she let me know it wasn’t on the front burner of her priorities. It began to sink in, as I reached out to others for support that what I regarded as an emergency and tragedy for me and my family wasn’t being fully recognized as such by those to whom I was turning.
Meanwhile, on the political front in the larger world, the Reagan Campaign for President was reaching high pitch. “Reagan called for a drastic cut in ‘big government’ and pledged to deliver a balanced budget for the first time since 1969. In the primaries, George H. W. Bush famously called Reagan’s economic policy “voodoo economics” because it promised to lower taxes and increase revenues at the same time.” Wikipedia
I can honestly say that what was going on in the political world at that time was not registering with me. Nor did I perceive how it would impact me on a personal level as the realities of my situation went head on into the climate of cutting big government. I had no idea that my birth family was as political as they were and that was probably a good thing because I believed they supported my efforts when I turned to government assistance when I had no income coming in. When I did reach out for support and understanding, it felt to me that my gaining the courage to say what I was experiencing fell into a silent void. I was interpreting this void as being due to the distance between all of us and I believed that they were with me in spirit and in outrage. I didn’t waste my time dwelling on the need I was feeling for immediate intervention and support from others because I was trying to balance out the chaos unfolding in my life with steps close to home …… baby steps. I left any expectations I might have had for what others might do to help us become reality only if and when those others chose to help us. When they did it became a blessing in my life.
My mother and father came to stay with us for a couple of days and it was comforting to have them with us. They were there for G’s first day of kindergarten which was tough on both him and me. My father’s health wasn’t good and I felt stressed over adding this to his life. After their visit he sent me a nice supportive note that I’ve kept to this day:
“I have been thinking about the excellent job you have been doing. Your five fine boys, I know, are working with you to the best of their abilities, and you will succeed. Each day provides new opportunities to concentrate on for the general good of all. God will help all of you to accomplish the immediate needs and the long-range goals. I am thinking of you, Dear, all the time and pray to God that you will be provided with his graces and blessings each day. With all my love to you and the boys, Your Dad”
My brother, J, also sent me a beautiful supportive letter. He had been through a traumatic divorce a few years before and was reaching out to me as someone who could relate to some of what I was going through. This gave me comfort and I’ve kept his letter of January 1981 also:
“Dear Mary Lou ~The truth of the matter is that those of us who have survived this thing must pull our lives together again alone, by ourselves. In a sense, Don and I are two men, of the same age, who have two very different views of self. I have always been laid back, easy-going, and generally an under achiever when it comes to being able to hustle one’s talents and worth. Don seems to be, from what I’ve recently been told, the opposite; one who feels himself to be very much superior to others, and is unable to rest until he proves that fact. He appears to have done pretty well in that area, but it is not enough and he will continue chasing the will-of-the-wisp of success in that area until he either reorders a few priorities or jumps off a bridge somewhere.” “It seems to me that you have been more than fair in your dealings with him in this crisis …… you cannot do any more than you already have to accommodate and placate him – it’s time to just get down to living and ‘starting over’. Get out and meet others. I went out with women after my divorce and found it a good way of re-establishing ties with good human relationship with another. Don’t rush into anything, but don’t write the opposite sex off either, even though it’s natural to do that at this point. I admit that it’s still easier for a man to go out and find female companionship than it is for a woman to do the opposite, but if you maintain an open mind toward the social life, you’ll be amazed what opportunities for a good-looking woman like yourself that will come your way; nothing heavy, if you don’t want it, just people to get to know. All of these thoughts, you must realize, come from one who’s ‘been the route’, so to speak.” “Listen, little sister, call or write me if you get hung up on anything, hear? Nobody ever said it was easy going through this, and sometimes we need someone to talk to. Love, J”
All the Small Deaths
Some seldom business
I talk to the man who used to be
my husband ……….
The distance stretches longer
than wires ……….
He has all but disappeared
Except for the remaining X
(in front of husband)
Crossing out years of intimacy
He might well be my late husband
Speaking to me in seance.
His dead voice droning
From another lifetime.
Moments of silence on the line
speak of time and change.
Yet through the children
We are still connected
For in them live all the small deaths
~ Holly Hirsch ~
I got up the courage to go to the bank and set up an individual checking account in my name only. I’d read that women were at a disadvantage in situations such as mine if they didn’t have a credit card in their name. I set up the credit card and also a checking account in my name for the very first time. I felt shame and humiliation for being in this situation while not fully understanding how I arrived at this point.
The need to find out what resources were out there for me and my family led me to consider applying for food stamps. I remember sitting in the waiting room along with others who were applying for social services. It was a small narrow dreary room and all of us waiting seemed to have the same forlorn look. The stressed-out administrator that took my information told me how much a family of six with my assets would qualify for. The fact that I owned a home limited me in what benefits were available, even though I had no savings and/or living wage yet to pay for the mortgage. The food stamps were a real relief from the stress and anxiety of deciding how to use funds I had available for food or gas or electricity. I can remember having just enough for either bread or milk or putting gas in the car, and being stressed on which one to choose. I learned a lot by reading how to shop, cook and eat on a small income. Even with the help of food stamps, I continued to stock up on Ramen Noodles (luckily my kids loved those), lots of cheese for cheese macaroni casseroles, cheese sandwiches, cheese omelets, etc. The County Social Services had a monthly distribution of free blocks of cheese where you had to go to the drop-off center and wait in line. I used a lot of instant dry milk even though we never could get used to the taste.
The part-time job with the optometrist wasn’t enough to give me a living wage unless I also went on welfare. Somehow I felt that a move onto welfare would suck me in and suck me down. I already had a feeling of hopelessness that I was trying to overcome and rise above. So I chose to look into what other positions were out there that might keep me moving upward and out of this situation. I took a typing test with the local unemployment office and that led me to my first job change which was with a rehabilitation and training center for mentally and physically disabled. When I went for the interview I asked if there were any benefits with the clerk typist position even though it was a 20 hour a week position. I told the supervisor that my family and I had no health insurance coverage and I couldn’t afford to buy it on my own. Surprisingly, he said he could give me that coverage even though the position was part-time. This was the beginning of rebuilding my confidence and belief that we could indeed make it. I was striving to balance my concern for what was going on during my absence at home when my son’s weren’t in school with the reality that I needed to increase my low income. The small improvement of being able to work hours that allowed me to be home when they left for school and when they returned at the end of the day, along with the knowledge that I had health insurance for my family, meant a lot to me.
Fr. N told me about a Divorced and Separated Support Network that he was setting up in the parish, so I decided this would be a good thing ….. and it was. A small group of us shared some of our stories with each other and it did feel like I wasn’t alone….. and others understood the pain. We began to set up covered dish suppers at one of our homes and it gave us a sense of community. A group of us travelled to Amsterdam, NY to go to a separated and divorced social meetup, and I found it opened up a new sense of myself in that I was still attractive and not too old to get out there and have some fun.
The holidays were the worst time for facing the reality of abandonment because they are so focused on the love and support of family. I pulled together every bit of strength I could muster to open my heart to the love and joy of that first Christmas after Don left. Even if it felt like I was just going through the motions, it was leading to the true meaning of Christmas with its message of peace and joy and love. We set up the tree and I searched for a small gift for each of my boys to put under the tree. A package arrived from my brother, S, with t-shirts for each of the boys. It gave me a feeling of connection with my birth family and a sense of dignity in the midst of the current chaos. I took this picture so my sons would have a memory of this sense of family and love that was there for them during this time.
It was during that first Christmas holiday after he left that Don returned to the area for some reason and asked if he could stop by and visit the boys. He stayed for a short while and things between he and I were strained as I cooperated with the fact that he was their father and had a right to access for visits with them. I don’t remember any attempt on his part to communicate with me any desire to return to the family or to work on things with me for getting back together.
He still had an air of arrogance about him and seemed full of himself. I still didn’t have an address for where he was living in Florida. He had called once after leaving our home for Florida and spoke with the boys, while the two children of the other woman were making noise in the background on his end. Other than that, I had no idea where he was or what was going to happen next. It was a very disturbing time for us in trying to deal with all this chaos.
During that time my son, JP, received a folder in the mail of a red sports car ad that his father was planning to buy along with a note telling JP that he hoped to bring him there to live with him eventually. It didn’t sound to me like he was having second thoughts and wanting to reconcile.
Meanwhile, I weighed carefully where I wanted to put my energies in working my way through all of this. I had the part-time job with benefits while the children were in school and at those times G was secure and safe with the neighbor down the street. The decision to continue moving forward with my continuing education at the local community college gave me a sense of a goal to look forward to. I decided to begin setting the wheels in motion to enter the adult learner program there and found that I could get financial aid if I took at least six credits per semester. This positive step, as well as the beginnings of forming a network of friends and support in dealing with the uncertainties, really gave me hope that there were better things ahead for me.
And then a phone call from Florida that changed the direction of everything I assumed was falling in place for us. The woman who left with Don to go live in Florida was on the other end of the line and was telling me news that was hard to comprehend. Don was in the hospital with a major complication to his heart. It was a surreal moment where we chatted a bit about him and the situation we were all in, and I found myself unable to react other than the way I’d been reacting since this whole saga began. Setting myself in defense mode and getting ready to do whatever was necessary to avoid the most damage that this new development would create for us. This time period is hard to piece together. I had back and forth impulses and thoughts about whether I should rush to his side or let this play out on its own while I stayed put and kept things calm for me and my sons.
The divorced and separated support group at my church became a real source of consolation and encouragement. Hearing the other men and women sharing their stories and offering practical and emotional thoughts and ideas helped me not to feel so alone. We started forming our own social get-togethers, sometimes at one of the homes for covered-dish suppers and sometimes meeting at the local bars for dancing and music. It was my first opportunity to begin thinking about getting to know other men. I realize that my choices were somewhat shaky due to my low self-esteem and feeling of wanting to be rescued or wanting to escape from the realities of my situation. I remember the support group gang getting together for my birthday at a country-western bar and them all singing happy birthday to me. In some ways it felt surreal. The man, Jim G, who was interested in me at the time came over to ask me to dance and the song was Willie Nelson’s ~ Always on My Mind ~ which only added to the atmosphere of the lonely gathering of the walking wounded.
I turned, once again, to Fr. N at church and he gave me different books to read to help me through this new set-back. I felt a lot of confusion over what my role was relating to Don during this time. My emotions swung from wanting to run and be by his side and ‘fix’ everything, and also to being grounded in my reality of holding together the instability of my family’s dire needs. It was good to have Fr. N’s friendship and support during that time. He took my sons to the movies and came over for dinner a few times. (Looking back from this point in time, with all the revelations of sex abuse by priests, I haven’t been able to recall any incident concerning him that would alert me to that possibility. I can attest, however, to the vulnerability of both a single mother and her children being victims of this kind of behavior which I would consider an absolute betrayal of trust by someone who represents God during a time of trauma.)
During one really rough time, Fr. N called me late at night to see if I was ok. He was going away to a retreat at Notre Dame University in Indiana and said he’d like to stay in touch while he was away so we corresponded during that period of time. It was healing for me to write my thoughts to him on the events as they unfolded, and once again I felt like someone cared and was able to reach out to me in the best way they knew how. He gave me a book called, “Urgent Longings” and the thought crossed my mind that we could be more if we allowed it, but I would not have been comfortable with that at all. I felt that he was a good man and a good priest trying to be a decent human being. I kept his letter of March, 1981 that he sent from Notre Dame and –reading it now, looking back — I see how sound his advice and guidance was:
Hi Mary Lou ~
Thanks for your letter ~ a word from you is always welcome (and thanks for the complementary ones!) I am really sorry about Don, and all of you have my prayers. I hear your guilt, however, and your wanting to be for Don a special person who is able to bring him, in some way, what is missing. Why is it so important to be that for him? I don’t think anyone can give us ‘hope ~ peace’. That is something we have to do for ourselves by our opening ourselves up to its Source (the one we call the Bread of Life, appropriately). What is going on in Don’s life is Don’s responsibility and between Don and God, I think. Hard to let go of our need to be so important to other people, isn’t it. For me it is. Shaping your life by his light is hard enough work but a full-time endeavor. The shape of our living ~ it is that which effects/affects others. I know that my experience with my heart and my catheterization helped me in important ways. I wish the same for Don. I do feel for you, the boys and Don, and I want you to know that, and I hope you’ll let me know how things progress. Say ‘hello’ to the boys for me. I suspect recent developments have affected plans to move. How’s Jimmy doing in school? I’ll be anxious as to your reaction to Ordinary People.
Notre Dame is a special place. Geographically, physically, culturally, academically and spiritually it is alive and beautiful. What a great place these kids have to grow in ~ mature in! Something going on all the time. Liturgy this morning and Vespers tonight were especially moving. I’m sure God lead me here for whatever the reason. I’d better stop taking so much in and reflect a little more on what it all means. The Institute classes so far have been interesting, more important, stimulating. So are other priests in the Institute. At first I was disappointed because they all are (but 3) much older than me. But they have turned out (as it all unfolds) to be wise to experience to which I am listening. Hope I’m learning. Thank you for your wish. I suspect the ‘heart of God’ is to be found here and I will keep on looking. To A, J, D, JP, G ~ “Hello”!
Peace, Fr. N
The next contact from Florida came from Don himself. I learned that he had cardiomyopathy and was no longer able to work. He had only been at the insurance company position for about three months and therefore had no healthcare coverage. There would be no more check coming to me to cover the mortgage payment on the house.
It was a decent conversation between the two of us, partially out of recognition of the gravity of the situation and also because it revived in me my natural inclination to fill a need and be there for this man who was my husband for so many years. I remember giving an opening for him to come home and be with us. I’m not sure how I worded it but I do remember that he said he couldn’t and that he still loved her. My feelings were hard to define during these moments because I was stuffing down so much intensity in order to be present to the emergency needs that this was putting on me and my sons.
A short while later, I received a letter from Don which indicated he had returned home to live with his mother and father. Evidently, the woman he was with decided to return home with her children and to her husband. In the envelope along with the letter was a report from the cardiologist who examined him recently. “The patient is a case of Organic Heart Disease, Etiology: congestive Cardiomyopathy with left ventricular hypertrophy, left ventricular enlargement, left bundle branch block and possible right ventricular enlargement. I consider this patient disabled.” Don wanted me to have the report for any purpose of support ~ of which there would be none coming..
The following month of May, I received a copy of the letter this same cardiologist sent to the Division of Disability Determinations in New Jersey. It stated the same diagnosis and prognosis, along with the statement “The patient has been very symptomatic in the last several months. The chest x-ray shows significant cardiomegaly and I feel that this patient is disabled and unable to perform any type of gaining activities.”
My mortgage payment was due and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. While on the phone with my mother, I told her about the recent medical crisis and how I was no longer receiving anything from Don. She suggested I call the bank to see if I could have some kind of a break which I did. I was told that there was nothing they could do. I was told by Social Services that the one thing that was preventing me from getting more assistance was the fact that I owned a home (even if I couldn’t afford to pay for it). So I began to think the right decision was to put the house on the market and look for a house to rent. I may have acted too swiftly on this. I’m not sure as any disability payments that came were short lived and weren’t consistent. Just as any support from Don was inconsistent. I was able to sell the house but without a profit being we were only there for a little over a year.
The car that Don left me with broke down and I didn’t have any transportation to get back and forth to work. I phoned and asked my mother if I could borrow $500 to buy a used car that I’d seen. Again, the shame and embarrassment I felt in being in this situation and having to ask my parents for money was overwhelming.
I put an ad in the paper for a four-bedroom house to rent. Amazingly, I got a response fairly quickly. It was a three-bedroom house with a sliding door dining room downstairs that could be used for my bedroom. The rent was in the range that I could afford. To this day I cannot recall how we moved everything from one house to the other. All I know is that we did it within two months before the closing on the home on Second Avenue.
Just before the move in June, we all drove three hours down to Grandpa’s 75th Birthday Party in Barryville, N.Y. I felt it would be good for my sons to be there amongst family and be able to get our minds off of the chaos at home. It was odd because no one at the party mentioned the fact that we were in a crisis and that I was losing our home. No one brought up our abandonment at all and I didn’t feel I could begin the conversation of something so heavy at our family celebration. I remember that I almost passed out during the party. Not sure if it was from the heat or from the extreme stress.
by Mary Lou
It was during a time of great crisis —–
When I had been left with the responsibility
of my family’s emotional and economic survival,
and was feeling overwhelmed with the bleak
reality of it all. I worried about earning
an income to make ends meet; about whether
I would be able to keep the house; about the
well-being of my five sons while I was at work.
Each day was filled with anxiety and anger
at being in this situation, and fear
that I would never get out of it.
One night I had a dream that remains vivid
in my memory to this day.
I was riding in a bus which was hurtling down the
highway at a reckless speed. I was gripping the seat
in front of me and trying to understand
what was happening and where I was going.
Suddenly, the bus began to stop and the ride
took on a slow-motion transition up a hill
on a winding road toward a large old house.
There was a misty, grayish-blue caste over the
As the bus moved closer to the house,
I saw a lone figure sitting in a chair on
the front lawn. It was an old woman with
soft, white hair and a soft, gentle face.
When she raised her eyes to meet mine, I
could see there was immense peace and love
in them. It was then that I realized that
this old woman looking up at me was me in
my old age and I was filled with peace.
I knew from that moment on that I was going
to get through ….. that I was going to be OK.
The divorced and separated support group continued to grow as word spread around about the activities we were putting together. One night, while sitting in a circle and sharing, I noticed a very kind looking guy sitting across from me. He looked like a laid-back, casual type and had on a shirt, vest, jeans and hiking boots. He started to join our social gatherings and after a while things began to click between us. Bob S was a local worker in the leather factory . He was easy to know and kind hearted. Soon we were in a nice relationship and enjoyed each other’s company. We went to the bars with the group and danced up a storm. We also did a lot of hiking and canoeing in the Adirondacks.
His family lived across the street from him and when I was over at his house we’d go over and the whole family took me under their wing. When my car broke down he gave me his car after he bought a truck. He was a comforting, caring man ~ a real teddy bear ~ and wasn’t able to understand my goal of taking courses at the community college in order to better my chances of increasing my income. He was looking for marriage and I was nowhere near the point of being ready for considering that. We were in a relationship for most of 1982, during the period of time that I was living in the four-bedroom house I found to rent. It was then that I decided to pursue a nursing degree (BSN), thinking that I’d always wanted to be a nurse and that would give me a steady source of employment with security. I was still able to work the part-time job and take the required 2 courses per Trimester. I did really well when it came to grades and academics. Thinking back now, I have no idea how I did it, but I did. I juggled everything! Being busy kept me from falling into a depression or concentrating too much on my reality. I was able to get HEAP (Heating and Energy Assistance Program) to help me out with some of the bills.
It was at that time that Don phoned me from his mother’s house asking if we could get back together. We both started crying on the phone and I asked him to show me how we were going to do this. He was waiting for disability and I had just moved to a rented house that had no room for another person. He didn’t come up with an answer and just cried on the other end of the phone. He told me he wouldn’t be able to deal with the stress of raising our five sons because of his heart condition. I felt very frustrated and helpless, and knew my responsibility was with my five sons and keeping things stable for them, so we ended the call with no answers for he and I moving forward.
The thing that became too much for me to handle was the clinical side of the nursing program. The responsibilities at home and work, along with being on the floor at the hospital and at nursing homes became way too much for me to handle. It was the closest I came to breaking down when I realized I couldn’t go on. Little things began to bother me and I was steadily losing my confidence. I felt like a failure when I drafted a letter to the head nursing instructor telling her of my decision to stop for now. I asked to have the door left open to return if things lightened up for me. She reassured me that the door was always open for me to continue with my goal.
I continued to take courses toward a degree in humanities and social sciences. I continued to work at the rehabilitation center and to enjoy my friendships with Bob and the group of friends I’d made.
Then one day a large package arrived at my doorstep. I dragged it into the living room and recognized the handwriting on the box immediately — It was Don’s. The mixture of thoughts and feelings that went through my mind at that time were all over the place. I opened the box enough to get an idea of what was in it. On the top was a Cosmopolitan magazine that opened up to a page that was bookmarked with a letter from the woman he had left with. It appeared to be a seduction letter she had sent to him before he abandoned us. I didn’t continue to read it and put it back in with what appeared to be some of his other possessions. What was this all about?!? And why was he sending this to me!?! Was he suicidal?! Was he moving back in with me?!?
The next cryptic occurrence was when I came out of my workplace to go home, I found a note placed under the windshield wiper of my car. Just a short note in his handwriting that said ~ “Hello”.