The father of my children is dead.
I was married to Jack for seven years. I met him shortly after I moved to LA (introduced to him by a friend at my workplace) and I lived with him for a year before we got married. He had been in Vietnam for three tours of duty as a door gunner and was, like me, a teacher.
When we met, I think we were both ready to get married. HE was funny and cheerful and outgoing…..and I fell instantly in love. THIS man was like the flip side to my personality. He had grown up in the LA area and had tons of friends. I loved to have people over. He loved to play war games, complete with little lead soldiers with his brothers, with whom he was very close.
His brother’s wife was my best friend and taught at my school, so we saw each other all the time. I felt as if I had fallen into the perfect family for me…close, funny, interesting. Sure, Harry had lived in his bedroom for seven years, but he had finally gotten a job as a probation officer. Richard was working for Boeing. Eddie was a teacher, Bonnie worked in a bank….so everyone was employed at responsible jobs and they were CLOSE. We spent every weekend with some or all of the family group. Every Sunday, we drove over to spend some time with his mother.
However, teaching was hard for Jack. (It was hard for me to get used to the way things were done in LA but I was HAPPY there; but I have been happy in my classs room about 99% of the time for the last 36 years. I am lucky that way.)
Jack battled his way into the classroom. I don’t know if it wasn’t what he wanted to do or where he wanted to work…I just know that his assignment was much more difficult and demanding than mine was. It HAD to be, since he was unhappy and I wasn’t. And somehow, that made my career not count.
I have always said that had we waited until Christmas to get married, instead of Thanksgiving, I wouldn’t have. In the year that we lived together he became less fun, more difficult and less interested in us as a couple. I pegged it down as just first year teaching…it is brutal. Then the second year was worse and by the time we had been married seven years, he was a stranger.
I did manage to get and stay pregnant and 9 months and one week after we married, we had a son, I remember so clearly how amazed he was; how delighted and in absolute wonder with our boy.
I try to hang on to that moment; keep THAT voice in my head to crowd out other words and other tones that later became commonplace.
When our son was six months old, I got pregnant again. Wow, was THAT not in his plan. I miscarried and was unhappy; I don’t know how he felt, since by that time, we rarely talked.
Shortly after that, I found a lump in my breast about the size of an apricot. The surgeon CALLED MY SCHOOL and had me go IMMEDIATELY to his office. He had called Jack, so we got there arout the same time. I am smart enough to know that your surgeon doesn’t call you in the middle of the day for good news. The surgery was planned for TWO days later. I was to get to the hospital at 5 am; well, that was going to be a problem for Jack. Ben couldn’t get to the day care until 6, so we would have to change that and then of course, I would have to pick him up by 6 PM but by heck, he would be home as soon as possible.
My surgeon FLIPPED OUT. I would so be at the hospital and Jack could take the baby to the sitter and no, I would not be driving for a week, so buddy, that baby and his care would be in your hands.
So that night, I was sobbing –I mean SOBBING my eyes out—and he came in and flatly told me that I had nothing to cry about. If I had cancer and was going to die, HE would be stuck with Ben.
That was pretty much when my marriage was over. I understand that people do a say odd things when terrible things are happening, but this was WAY out of what was acceptable to me.
So I had the surgery, they took a giant chunk out of me and I took two days off work, including the surgery day. It was NOT cancer, so there was no reason for me to lolly-gag around the house until I got the drains and stitches out.
Then when Ben was about 2, we went to Utah to see my sister at Christmas. Jack was loaded the entire time and stepped out of the motor home, tearing the tendon right off his knee. He had surgery that night and then spend 9 months recuperating. He mainly smoked pot, ate take-out and laid around. He refused to go to physical therapy. It was all I could do to get him to even go to his regular doctor’s appointments. He was SO difficult, that I went to my doctor and got Valium (when long ago, was as easy to get as aspirin) and ground it up into his food. That made living with him at least bearable.
When our son was 2 1/2 , I got pregnant again. He was less than pleased and told me that either I “do something” or I could forget about any support from him. Well, I did do something; I had my baby girl. He quit talking to me. I mean, HE QUIT TALKING TO ME. When I found out that the baby was a girl, I called his school…just to leave a note in his box..DO NOT disturb him in class. He came home livid and directed me to NEVER call him at work again.
He never asked me what I was planning to name my daughter and the day I went into labor, I woke him up to ask him to take me to the hospital. He told me that when he had told me I could forget about any support from him, HE MEANT IT. So I packed up my toddler and my labor pains and drove my own self to the hospital. I called my sister in law to come get my toddler and labored for 37 hours. I have looooong, easy labors. I talk on the phone, watch TV, wander out to the waiting room and steal all the magazines. After 37 hours, I decided to go ahead and have a C-section, so the doctors, the nurses and I welcomed my perfect little girl into the world. When she was 3 hours old, my sister in law brought my son to the hospital to see his baby and name her.
My husband DID call and told me he would pick me up when I was released. So on my release day, I got all ready and waited. And waited. AND waited. After about 8 hours of waiting, I found some stranger in the waiting room, had him check me out and drive me over to my waiting car. I drove over to my SIL’s house, picked up my son and drove home. My husband? Oh, he forgot.
But that weekend, he did drive me home to my parents house, about 200 miles north of LA. We stayed there six weeks, until my maternity leave ran out. He wouldn’t come get me, so my SIL came and got me so I could start work on Monday. (I had arranged for daycare before the baby was born).
So there was my life. To beautiful children, a great job, wonderful friends and a husband who would say two or three words a month to me. If that.
So of course, divorce was looming on the horizon. It was inevitable. Even though we lived in the same house until Lisi was 2, we didn’t live together. I didn’t know anything about his life or his days or his friends. He left every morning at 4:30 and returned home around 8:30, so he was pretty well non-existent as a father. For a while, we did go visit his mother on Sundays…he could go to the back of the house and get loaded with his brothers and I could sit in the front room with his mother and watch QVC and keep the kids out of the back of the house. In fact, in 7 years, I don’t remember his mother offering me a bite of food. I do remember her having ritz crackers and Hawaiian punch for the kids.
So we divorce; I get everything, including the house. He gives me everything I ask for, except agreeing to go to counseling. He tells me that he already knows what he is doing wrong and it would be a waste of time to sit in a room and have it told to him again.
Had I listened to what Jack actually said, I would have figured a lot of stuff out years earlier, but I was translating it with dysfunction ears, instead of actually LISTENING to the words he was saying. Two totally different languages.
I had spent about a year packing everything in boxes and made arrangements to have a moving truck to move me back to my home town, where I had gotten a job. (Something Jack told me WAS IMPOSSIBLE. No one would hire me.)
So one morning, he left for work at 4:30 and the truck pulled up at 5:00 and by 9:00 the house was empty. I left him the stove and fridge, a pot, a pan and a place setting of dishes and silverware and no note. I figured he would know I was gone.
It was actually his idea that I move back to my hometown; my folks were in their early 70’s and very spry, so we both thought they would be able to help me with the kids. He was right; both children were and are close to my parents…probably closer than I am.
So ten years go by and Jack faithfully pays child support and faithfully visits every other weekend. I work and spend time with the kids; no dating because really? I am just not up for another Jack. I had loved him once and look at what happened to that. Not something I wanted to experience again in my lifetime.
When Ben turned 13, he moved in with Jack. I am still a believer that boys cannot learn how to be men from their mothers. Ben needed to spend time with Jack because I could possibly be wrong about him…I mean it COULD have been me.
So I sent my son, whom I loved more than life itself, off to live with his father. When he packed up his stuff, he was so HAPPY and I am sure that he thought that there would be a lot of bonding and good stuff out of this experience.
Lisi and I lived together and I was basically a ballet mom. We had a nice quiet clean house; Jack came to visit every other weekend, so other than Ben not living with me, it was about the same. The one thing about the visitation was that Ben would still go with Jack and Lisi, because I felt that THEIR relationship was way more important than the two of us spending time together. That was a right call, since that was the relationship that needed fostering then and needs fostering now.
But then I met Mike in 1997; we married in June of 1998 and all hell broke loose.
I guess if Mike had been unsuccessful and we were living in a hut, Jack would have been able to handle it. Unfortunately, Mike is very alpha male and successful. (However, success doesn’t just rain down from the sky…..it requires A LOT OF WORK. A LOT. ALL THE TIME). And 100% of his success is done stone cold sober.
So the weekend that Jack met Mike was doomed. Lisi had decided to use our last name in school (screaming, tears, ugly words BUT NOT TO ME. He would get Lisi alone in the car and go at her. Unfortunately, Ben was there, too. Ugly is too kind of a word to use.)
Then Jack gets mad at Ben in the middle of night and throws him out of the house. Ben is across the street, calling me from the neighbors house and Jack is bagging his belongings in black trash bags and tossing them out the window. Mike and I drive down to get Ben in the middle of the night, pick up all of his bagged belongings and take him home.
So then there is bad blood between me and Jack, Jack and Ben, Jack and Mike….the only thing that works is the dynamic in MY house.
Then Ben starts trying to kill himself, starting in his junior year. It is a nightmare that Jack chooses to be both uninvolved in (I spend hours waiting at hospitals while an adolescent unit is located) and hours driving to the adolescent unit for family meetings. I’m pretty sure that this is not a family dynamic problem; I think Ben is possibly schizophrenic and probably autistic…something that we find out for sure about 2 years later. In the meantime, Jack uses the “family counseling” times to go off on the little social worker…making a conference call that will probably go down in that particular social workers store of whack family dynamics. He is so loud and angry that Ben can hear every ugly word in the hallway. It is, all of it, my fault, in very ugly detail. And I get a glimmer than maybe, just maybe there is something wrong with Jack. One social worker does mention that he probably needs counseling, since it is difficult to discover that one’s child is mentally ill….after Jack’s tirade, I am pretty sure that the social worker found another job doing something else BESIDES dealing with people.
That’s when the kids decide that this will be the last holiday they spend with Jack. They make the announcement at Thanksgiving dinner and find themselves on the outside (obviously I’ve put this idea in their heads)….and then when they follow thru at Christmas (we go to the Grand Canyon for Christmas…something Ben has always wanted to do)…that is when they are pretty well disowned by Jack and his family.
When Ben turns 18, we have to go back to court to change visitation and child support, which for some reason makes Jack crazy. Really crazy. We spend TWELVE hours with the mediator, trying to hammer out what is essentially the very same visitation agreement, except without Ben and I now want either Easter or Christmas, or at least switch off every other year. Jack goes ballistic to the point that the mediator calls in a security guy to sit with us.
Again, had I recognized how sick and dysfunctional he was, I would have handled things differently. By that time, 2000, Jack had been using drugs for 30 years, every hour that he was not at work. He had taken two years off from teaching and used up his retirement…I now think he had had a series of heart attacks and figured he had a short time to live. The drugs plus what I believe was an undiagnosed case of schizophrenia and high functioning autism, along with being raised by an dysfunctional family, with a chronically depressed and possibly schizophrenic mother and truck driving, alcoholic, abusive father all sort of avalanched down on him.
He saw the kids that weekend and it appeared that all was peachy…except that he was really disgusted with me. He wrote and mailed about 10 increasingly ugly letters to me that weekend…I saved them for years and just shredded them last week. The person he described wasn’t me, but it certainly reflected who he thought I was and it wasn’t an very attractive reflection, I re-read those letters for years, trying to see if maybe he WAS right…..and then I decided that he was sick and angry and they weren’t words I ever wanted my kids to read. So I shredded them.
So that weekend, after visiting with the kids, he drove down to LA, saw his mother on Sunday, went to work on Monday and during the morning break at his high school, got into his car and drove away. He called the school the next day, asked for the rest of the week off for “personal reasons”.
Two weeks later, the police called me to see if I knew where he was. He had left a suicide note in his house and no one knew where he was. I talked to his brother, Richard and he told me that Jack was so smart that if he had committed suicide, he was smart enough to have done it in such a way that his body would never be found. (Oh, I married into a GREAT family.)
Of course, this put us all in a crazy spin and we drove down to LA to clean out his house…which was a sty. (That is one sign of untreated schizophrenia). We still have all of his belongings in a storeroom, since 2000. That’s 6 years.
Where he WAS was somewhere in LA, working (I think) at the VA hospital. His family may not have known WHERE he was, but they did see him every week. My kids called their grandmother every week to see if she had gotten a call or maybe a card from him. Anything to give them a little hope that he was alive. Nope, she hadn’t gotten a call OR a card. She didn’t bother letting them know that she saw him every week.
Then in 2002, Grandma dies. The kids get a box in the mail with things she has left them. but no phone call from the family. In 2004, Richard dies and Lisi gets a postcard. Jack does call and tell the kids that he will come get them, take them to LA to the funeral and then bring them back. Uh, no. Then Eddie calls and tells them the same thing. Uh, no. So we call Richard’s widow, who tells them when and where Richard will be buried but that she does not want me there; I must park outside of the cemetery so NO ONE has to see me. We drive down to Inglewood (3 hours); Ben gets out, offers his condolences to Richard’s widow and sees Jack, who immediately goes berserk, because how dare he come when Jack had forbidden him to show up. Ben walks out of that argument, walks up the hill, gets in the car and we drive away. Lisi never even gets out of the car; in fact she is lying on the back seat and never even looks up.
And that was the last we heard of Jack. Lisi would send him letters and pictures, but they would always be returned. Once, she sent him photos from a winter formal and they were returned from the Post Office here; he had had all his mail sent to our post office in care of general delivery. So there for a while, we thought maybe he WAS here and was watching over the kids from a distance.
What I think he was doing was living with his brother in his mother’s house and probably working under Harry’s social security number, so he wouldn’t have to pay child support.
So one day, in October of 2006, I am digging around the internet and i find his mother’s death information and where she is buried and I type in Jack’;s information AND HE IS DEAD. Has been dead for six months. I call my sister in law, who doesn;t know ANYTHING…which means that Jack’s death was so….immaterial that his brother had not even mentioned it to Sarah.
Tia calls Eddie for the information and to make a very long story short, Lisi and I go to the LA County Coroner’s office where she picks up his personal effects in a little manila envelope. (Which means he was not living in his car.) The coroner had told me he had had a heart attack, but the sticker on the envelope says suicide, which upsets us all.
What I think happened was that he planned on killing himself that morning, overdosed and had a heart attack. The “passerby” who found him was Harry, who called it in from the corner or a pay phone. Then after Jack and his car had been removed and Harry was called to identify Jack. he told them that Jack had been a vet, his prints were on file and the VA would bury him. And that was the last contact the family had.
It’s a sad story all around. He could have been helped. He had children who did love him. We have little rentals that we would have gladly let him live in, in exchange for some yardwork or something. We’ve done as much for total strangers who have needed help. Mike would have done as much for Jack.
So we all have a lot of anger, which Mike doesn’t get. He is the kind where today is a brand new day…yesterday is over.The rest of us over think stuff and feel bad and beat ourselves up with “if onlies”.
If only we had know he was so sick. Maybe we could have done something.