March 4, 1995. It’s not quite noon. You and the boys, now 11 and 13, are in the kitchen waiting for Dad to come and pick them up for their bi-weekly overnight. Things have not been going well with him. Last fall, unwilling to feed and toilet your younger son after he ended up in casts from knuckles to above the elbows for seven weeks as the result of a bicycle accident, he refused to take him on his weekends. He completely blew off Thanksgiving on his turn, leaving them, once again, waiting in vain for hours in front of the window. He had plans, you know. On recent weekends, when they are collecting their things to come home, he has urged them to bring their toys home with them. They have resisted; they think he’s plotting something.
Finally, you hear his car door slam shut. The side door opens and he comes up into the the kitchen. You very briefly discuss kid news with him as you are cutting up the veggies for dinner with your ancient paring knife, the one Mom gave you when you left home all those years ago. The boys pepper him with questions about the weekend’s activities, and then, your younger son makes a monumental error. He asks him about summer vacation. According to the custody arrangements, they’re supposed to spend two weeks every summer with Dad. So far, that has never happened, although he has sometimes taken them for one week. Your ex tells them that he will not be able to take a vacation this summer; he has no vacation time and cannot take them even for a week, since he won’t be able to stay home with them. You happen to know that the reason he has no vacation time is that he has just returned from 10 days in Florida with his new girlfriend. You don’t get to stay home with your kids all summer. You work all week; you make arrangements. It’s expensive and inconvenient, but it’s what you have to do. He can do that, too. You stop cutting and look up.
“You don’t have to stay home with them. You make arrangements, just like I do. I pay for them to go to camp at the JCC all summer.” One look at his face and you know you’ve just stepped in it. You thought you were done with this kind of BS. How silly of you. “I can’t afford to pay for camp for them. You wanna give me the money for camp, I’ll take them. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen.” You know better, but you remind him that no one gives you extra money for that full-time summer day camp and child support doesn’t begin to cover it. All reason flies out the window as he explodes.
“You NEVER compromise on anything. I ALWAYS have to come and get them and bring them back each time. I never have any time to myself. From now on, you will have to drive one way if you want me to see them.” Huh? No time to himself, just every day of the year, except the parts of the four days each month that he sees them and the odd holiday when he makes the effort. You’re not the one who walked out on your family, moved an hour-and-a-half away and can’t manage to save a dime. You are not driving anywhere. And that bit about compromise? You paid to have the window in his POS car fixed so that when the boys ride in it, they can roll it down to let the smoke out. And when his car broke down here in town, you lent him yours for an entire week while he got his fixed. And when he whined, a year after the divorce, about not having enough money and wanted a reduction in the child support, you voluntarily reduced it by nearly a third. You had no idea he was lying through his teeth about how much money he made.
He repeatedly jabs his finger at your face as he spews. His face is scarlet, his eyes are bulging, the vein in his forehead has popped out and he is foaming a little at the mouth, just as he always does when his rage spins out of control. The boys are terrified, frozen in place. They have never seen this performance before. As the spittle sprays over your face, unaware that you are still holding your 4″ paring knife, you point your finger at him, as if to punctuate your words. “You WILL not talk to me this way in MY home. YOU. WILL. NOT!” The crazy man accuses you of trying to stab him with your tiny knife, turns on his heel and stomps down the four steps to the landing. The last words you and your children will ever hear out of his mouth are FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! as he slams the door behind him.
***19 years ago yesterday, my children’s father disappeared. They have never heard from him since.