It started simply enough: a call from a CoDA friend.
I had contacted her earlier in the day asking for advice. As I stared at my-less than-cooperative coif in the morning mirror, I remembered she was a hairstylist. Perhaps she had advice on how to tame my locks.
When we connected several hours later, the exchange of small talk turned quickly personal.
She was a long-distance mom, who had given up custody of her kids as I had. But after over a year away, she left her and her husband’s home out West to return here, to them.
Her day had been great. For the first time in years, she picked up her girls from school. As she recounted her six-year old’s retelling of a praise she’d received from her teacher, I couldn’t help but picture my six-year old’s face.
Tears stung my eyes.
And then my friend turned the conversation toward me: how are you handling being so far from your kids?
Meanwhile, on my end of the phone, a quiet, peaceful evening had been upended.
When I felt myself triggered during an earlier conversation at the kitchen table, I politely excused myself to read in the bedroom. While sprawled across the bed, immersed in the final pages of my book, he came to join me.
He silently laid his legs across mine and tried to read himself, but quickly dozed off.
As I read, I heard our house guest’s phone ringing, unattended. I heard another shuffle through the kitchen. I thought she was leaving this morning. I heard the neighbors screaming at each other in the yard.
Then my friend called. And as soon as our conversation started, his daughter appeared at our bedroom door followed by one of the neighbor girls. We were not expecting a visit. And these two girls never hang out together alone. It was an odd pairing. It was even more odd that while I had the phone to my ear, they came into our bedroom animatedly talking to him, who had woken.
I continued my phone conversation and brushed past the girls. My house guest was already into his nightly FaceTime call with his wife in the open office at the middle of the house. They were just as animated as the girls.
I found some quiet in the darkened living room nearby, at the end of the couch.
And just as quickly as my friend asked the question that made my eyes burn with emotion, he and the girls came walking through the room on their way to the kitchen.
I wanted privacy. As I moved toward the front door, I peaked my head in the kitchen. He was getting down puzzles from atop our china cabinet. Do you mind if the girls start one of these, he asked.
I said sure and moved outside.
But the porch would not be a refuge either–a guest had her windows open just feet away, so I paced the sidewalk in front of our home.
I miss them so much, I told my friend.
After some time, I moved inside. Again, I peaked my head in the kitchen. I was hungry and while there had been talk earlier of cooking dinner together, neither of us had made a move toward it. Are we going to eat tonight, I asked him. He asked the girls if they were hungry. They said no. He asked if I was going to cook the chicken. I shook my head no, the phone still on my ear. He said he was good then. No dinner. Again.
I walked upstairs and sat in a rocking chair.
With little pause, my friend is telling me her story of giving up custody of her kids and the intense “mommy guilt” that led her back to their side. Then she turns to me again with an emotional voice: I know the pain I felt and I see you without your kids and I want to tell you, no, no, no, no! No! No! No! No! Go get your kids!
Then she apologizes for her words. Then she speaks of her faith and implores me to seek favor from God, to have His will revealed to me. She apologizes again for the highly charged words.
At some point, she asks the name of my boyfriend. When I tell her, she asks, Is that the douchebag? I’ve never called him this but she’s remembering my very emotional share two weeks ago at a meeting when I talked about how small his words sometimes made me feel.
Before I can answer, she apologizes again.
I wanted to escape the conversation. It was too emotional, to raw, hitting too many nerves. But the noise from downstairs filters upward. My stomach gnaws with hunger.
It’s all too much.
I frantically look for my car keys while I’m on the phone still.
I walk into the kitchen, toward the back door, and see him and the girls now playing card games. For some reason, I’m offended.
He saw me with my purse on one arm, the phone still pressed to my ear, and my keys in hand. Are you going out?
He smiles supportively and nods.
I drive. I’m upset at this point, teary. I’m hungry, too. My friend and I talk about meeting. By the time I reach the interstate, I pull over. I’m tired. I’m starving.
He texts me: Do you want me to cook the chicken?
Yes, please. Or pick up a pizza.
Then: Can [his daughter] make the cookies?
The cookies are a specialty mix I brought back from our recent trip. I am a little disgruntled, but let it go.
Eventually, I end the phone call. I’m too tired. I’m not in the right headspace.
I drive home. The kitchen smells like burnt cookies. There is no chicken yet. I want to scream, to crawl up a wall. The neighbor girl is feeling ignored by me, which is fair–I do not like her. She insists on getting some attention. I engage in a terse back and forth as I quickly pass through the kitchen. They invite me to play a board game. No, thank you. I draw a bath.
I hate being here.
I text my friend as much.
That’s because it’s not your home, she responds.
I want to crawl out of my skin. I want to go unconscious.
Toward the end of my bath and nearly bedtime, he brings in food for me. He sets it outside the bathroom and leaves to continue entertaining the girls.
I resent him for it.
The meal is very small. He’s doled a meal for two among four–the girls who were not hungry and made cookies apparently got hungry again. I’m still hungry and walk to the kitchen to ask if there’s any more. There’s not. Soon, he’s walking into the bedroom asking about chocolate. He wants to give the girls something else to eat.
My boss’s girlfriend calls. She needs to vent. I calmly tell her she can only control herself. Do what you need to do for the next 45 minutes and then take some time for you.
He comes to bed late and gets on FB. He shares things with me that he finds funny. I go to sleep. It’s late, I’m upset.
I dreamt all last night of my family and the kids. Of frantically holding on to a baby while precariously sliding down a metal staircase, twisted and broken. Of missing trains. Of losing the baby and finding it taking refuge under a bush.
I’m still upset when I wake.
Nevertheless, this is my shit to own and process. We have a decent conversation over coffee and then he kisses me before leaving.
I feel like I’m going crazy.
I feel like I recognized triggers early into my evening and did the right thing, but was confronted–battered–by more. I felt I couldn’t escape, and became silently frantic.
I thought briefly about quitting my recovery journey. Of blocking everyone in my phone list from CoDA. Of going silent.
Of going something.
I need my sponsor.