The Summer I Went Crazy

It doesn’t take much movie magic to make it look like someone is walking on water.  They just put a clear platform a couple of inches under the surface and the actor can splash around and with the right camera angle it looks like they’re standing above untold depths.  But if you try to dive beneath the surface you’ll hurt yourself, badly.  The depth is an illusion.  Kind of like my life.

When I was 20 years old, I was Not Well.  I had few friends, no family to speak of, I was so impoverished I was unable to afford food every day, and I lived in a vermin infested one room apartment with holes in the walls and ceiling.  I was, unsurprisingly, depressed as fuck and actively suicidal.  And in this state, I met a man.

For reasons only my past trauma can understand, I was instantly infatuated with him and determined to win his affection.  He did not make it easy.

He was very upfront about the fact that he found me embarrassing.  He did not want anyone to know he was seeing me, and he avoided being seen in public with me.  He was very clear that I was not his girlfriend, we were not in a relationship, and he only came around for sex.  I knew these things.  He told me directly.  I can’t claim I was making uninformed decisions.

He had been fucking me for a year and a half when hurricane Katrina hit.  He was careful not to have any contact with me until he was safely out of the city and I could not ask him for a ride.  But he did call me, after he evacuated, to tell me I should too.  I asked him what I should do, having no car and no money and not having experienced a hurricane before.  He said I would have to figure it out myself.  I was so pathetically grateful that he cared enough to warn me—I had no television or radio in my shithole apartment and was genuinely oblivious to the danger—I never once questioned the fact that he left without me.[1]

For fifteen years, I cheerfully accepted that I am the kind of person who deserves to be left behind in the path of one of the biggest—and deadliest—hurricanes to ever hit the United States.[2]

Until May 5, 2023—the astronomical date of Beltane—when I woke up wondering why I chased after and changed for a man who once deliberately left me to die.

Not that long ago, I was Little Miss Perfect.  I went to law school on scholarship, graduated cum laude, and made a name for myself as an Assistant Federal Public Defender who was passionate about justice and mercy.  I married a man I had been with since before I was even old enough to drink, because the longer the relationship lasts the better it is, right?  I had two kids, just like you’re supposed to.  I became Martha Stewart around the holidays, making hundreds of cookies and dozens of gift baskets to hand out every Christmas.  I was a good wife, a good mother, a good citizen and a good provider.

I was absolutely miserable.

I went to law school because a man told me to.  And when I told that man that being a lawyer was literally killing me, he told me I owed it to him, the children, and his mother to continue practicing law regardless.

It’s still not clear what exactly I owe him for.  He never gave me a dime before we were married, even going so far as to demand I split checks in restaurants on the few occasions we ate together on the grounds that I was not his girlfriend and feminists pay their own way.  I was hungry and broke and desperate and the man wouldn’t even buy me a cheeseburger.

To be fair, I did promise to make enough money to support him and his mother for the rest of their lives.  I also promised to make enough money for him to pursue his dream of becoming a music producer.  Even though he is a skilled recording engineer who has worked on Grammy award winning albums, I never asked him to seek out paying work.  In his own words to the court when he filed for divorce and demanded $2,500 a month in alimony (and $1500 a month in child support, but I don’t mind paying that one when I can) he never worked because I told him I was afraid he would resent me if I asked him to contribute financially.

For years I told my husband that I was afraid he would hate me if I asked him to contribute his fair share.  And sure enough, when I told him I was struggling and I needed him to seek out paying clients, he got angry and said I was destroying his life.

That’s fair, actually.  I did destroy his life.  We had been together for nearly 20 years, and I had never asked him for anything.  For two decades, what he wanted was first and foremost in all of my decisions.  For 20 years, I let him dictate my behavior.  He wanted children, so I had them.  He wanted to be an artist, so I paid for daycare and a cleaning lady and a lawn care service so he could be free at all times to do whatever it took to pursue his art.

He used this time I gave him to sleep all day, play video games, and have at least one affair, and given his track record I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he had other mistresses as well.  Only one of them has had the emotional fortitude to confess to me and apologize.  She wants to be friends with me.  I hope someday I can get there because she actually is a lovely woman.

On Beltane of last year I woke up feeling like I needed more from him.  I needed kindness and romance and for him to help with the house and contribute financially.  I asked him to go to therapy with me.  He said “my world is ending.”

He did agree to go to therapy anyway.  Later, after everything had completely fallen apart, he told me he thought we would have a couple of sessions and the therapist would fix our sex life and that would be that.

He called me crazy.  He said I was an unfit mother.  He accused me of cheating on him.  He drained my personal bank account even though I made sure there was enough in the joint account to pay all the bills for as long as I could.

It took three tries for me to leave him for good.  I went back in May, in June, and in July.  In August my mother[3] put her foot down and said I could not go back to living with him in that house ever again.  He responded by having me served with divorce papers in the airport baggage claim when I was returning the children to him.  He even had a guy I thought was my friend do the service.

I have not been coping well these past nine months.  I was already in a perilous mental state from job burnout (being a public defender will do that to you) and crumbling under the weight of extreme unresolved childhood trauma.

When I asked my husband for help and he refused, I shattered.  I spent the rest of the year driving all over the United States, searching for a place where I felt safe and accepted.  There was excessive drinking and screaming and crying and self-harm and way too many nights when I truly wasn’t sure I would make it to the morning.

I found what I was looking for in the absolute last place I could ever have imagined.

I’m still not doing well.  I’m broke as fuck, in the middle of a nasty divorce, and missing my kids like mad.  But I have an address, at least for now, and I’ve managed to get access to health care, and I’m chasing down my dreams for the first time in my life.  I’m still having massive panic attacks every couple of weeks, but I’ve fallen into company with three guys who somehow see the good in me in spite of it all and are doing everything they can to help me heal.  They even feed me when I run out of money.  Which happens a lot these days.

I have absolutely no idea why those idiots have decided it is worth the massive amount of effort it takes to try to help me get better.  But I’m very glad they did.

It is my hope that sometime within the next year or two my children will get to experience what it is like to have a mother who is happy and healthy, and whose emotional and intellectual needs are being met.  Someday my children will have a mother who laughs instead of yells, a mother who hugs instead of cries, a mother who isn’t buried so deep in her own tragic past that she has trouble seeing their bright futures.

Someday my children will read this blog, which I intend to be a memoir of sorts, and draw their own conclusions about the summer Mama went crazy.  Someday my children will be adults, and when that day comes I hope to be someone they genuinely love and admire and want to spend time with.  I want them to KNOW me, the way generations of children never got to know their mothers because of the culturally ingrained expectation that women in general and mothers in particular should suffer in silence and put the needs of others before themselves at all times.

I am going to write it all down, mostly for my children, but also for all the women out there who are hiding their own pain.  And maybe for a few men, too.

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[1] Don’t worry, I wasn’t actually stuck in the city during Katrina.  Another man I had been seeing showed up at my apartment and told me to get in the damn car and by that time I was catching on to how panicked everyone was so I obeyed.

[2] Not an exaggeration:

[3] My REAL mother, who loves me so much she adopted me as an adult, not my incubator, known as BM on this blog.

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