Whatever it was, I did what I was told, the quintessential good girl following the rules: I studied, I smiled, I won awards, I did not rebel, I lived with secrets.
I followed the rules and did not cheat though I saw others do so and prosper; I followed the rules and did not lie though others did so and escaped the monsters. Monsters shadow us. Monsters swallow us. Monsters are God, didn’t you know?
I did not speak of secrets or lies.
I am weak as a flea. Two hours of driving and walking and I did not get what I was after I did not get what I needed I am trapped in this 90-year old body and these scattered thoughts and all I want to know is where I went, where I am hiding, where is the self I recognize.
* * * * *
I married the man I loved not only because I loved him but I believed in him: the life we would build together, the children we would raise in laughter, the travels that lay ahead. I believed in his smile and his stories, though even then, something was missing that I couldn’t quite articulate. But he painted a bright future, and his family was tangible: the embrace of parents I did not have, sisters I did not have, aunts and uncles and the grandfather I cherished with his toothless grin when we danced at the wedding party overseas. I remember his red sweater and how proud he was to wear it. I remember loving him and missing him perhaps most of all when they cut me off, though he sent word in his own way to give me his best.
I need injections; it is only a piece of the puzzle the new physician is assembling but I have been unable to make it back to the clinic because I am weak and there is no one to drive me. I am making calls to find someone, anyone, but I am frightened by my weakness and embarrassed by my situation. It is not that I cannot ask for help but I have led a double life for so many years – a public face for my pride and my survival; the reality, something else again.
It is morning and I am stronger in the morning though the sense of capacity does not last. I write in the morning after I take my son to school, but today I must do something else, today I have no time for words, today I must find a way to get to the hospital, today I know I cannot wait and in my suffocating limbs, in my heaviness, in my disappearance I know I must drive and walk and persevere and find a way or I will disappear.
They tell me shots will help and I will do as I am told because my body is drifting away and my mind cannot seem to stop it but no that isn’t right; it is more like something disintegrating and solidifying, though that is a contradiction and I know it makes no sense but this for sure is real: my mind is floating away to save itself.
* * * * *
I follow the rules: he loves to travel so I say nothing; he wants to take vacations with friends so I say no problem, because it makes him happy; he loves our babies on the weekends and occasionally at the dinner table. When he stops loving me and it happens quickly, I say nothing. I do what I am told and what I tell myself and that is to make the best of what is happening and to try harder.
I carry on. I wonder what is in his head but I do not ask and he does not offer and I carry on.
When I finally wake up after a decade of sleeping, I say no to something that would break me and I find myself at war though I do not choose it. A single no seems a small thing. A single no changes a lifetime.
I ask all the right questions. Will there be a co-pay each time for injections? No, they say. Will it be considered an office visit? No, they say. And so, I have just changed my insurance, again, effective in two weeks, with strictly limited visits and a higher co-pay. While each monthly premium is lower by hundreds of dollars, the premium itself is still many hundreds of dollars. But I have few options, and only a little bit of credit left. I am counting down the months. I have gambled before and lost. I do not like to gamble; I cannot spin the roulette in this.
The lawyers milk me for everything until there is nothing left and many tens of thousands of dollars are simply gone. I am given all the marital debt and still I do as I am told; there are words the attorneys speak and I believe: you can always modify in the future and so I settle as I am advised so I can end it.
They are my legal counsel and I do not understand that even in this I am naive and I do not understand that even in this I should not trust. I assume the father of my children will do right by our sons and I assume that legal papers are enforceable and I assume that I will find work and juggle child-rearing as I have done before, and I break my own rule: never assume.
* * * * *
Twenty years in the corporate world, doing as I am told, working hard, laid off during divorce, and the judge looks at my professional history and the schools I attended and says “oh, you’ll be fine,” denying alimony though I spent years helping my husband with a side business and his career, as my own took a back seat to domestic life. I hadn’t minded; isn’t that what a wife does?
The judge applies special guidelines to lower my husband’s child support because I was formerly a “high income” earner and for more reasons I don’t fully understand, though I know the father of my children is deceiving on many fronts and he does it well and I do not because I follow rules or there will be consequences and he does not, and there are none.
It is going on nine years. I was not fine. I have never been fine since.
* * * * *
As the years progress and my ex refuses to split certain costs according to the agreement and I am flabbergasted and he toys with me and uses the system to his advantage, he seems to take pleasure in the game of cat and mouse. Still I am bewildered and do not understand how he can do this when it is about our children. I speak to him clearly and he ignores me as he ignores the legal papers and there is no recourse without attorneys and more tens of thousands of dollars and more years in court where he will not appear, his mouthpiece claiming that he is out of the country on business.
And I weary of the battlefield. I do not want to live with hatred.
I go into debt so my children will have what they need and I work whenever I can and that is a great deal. I am tired but happy when I am productive and happy when I am learning and happy that my boys are growing stronger. But there are surgeries and bills and slow recoveries. There are accidents and no recoveries. There is death and more knowledge after the fact that while I follow the rules, those who break them – or disregard them – benefit.
I do what I can and I know I am fortunate; my children are magnificent.
* * * * *
No attorney will help; every attorney wants to be paid and I do not have money and I cannot blame the lawyers because it is their profession but then perhaps I can blame the lawyers because they’re part of the system of no consequences for one and too many for the other.
I will not think of attorneys today because it is the physician I need to focus on, the healing I need to worry about, the answers I need to regaining strength, the simple task of getting from A to B and getting better.
I am tired. I am growing old.
When my ex ceases paying the support and sending only the small amount he wants with his own particular justification once again I follow all the rules in the agreement to take action and make him pay; he has the money. It isn’t about the money because it seems to be about the war and that single no all those years ago which seems a tiny no in light of his new life and his secure future and all the yeses he has created since his departure. I find a lawyer who gives me 15 minutes on the phone gratis who says He’s smart because by paying a partial sum he complicates everything which forces me to court and I cannot bear a cycle of court again and I haven’t the strength for the car and the train and the walk and the paperwork and the tears and the anger, even if I had the money to pay the attorney.
It has been years of contracting and freelancing and never any benefits, years of selling off a heritage piece by piece and everything I’ve earned though some remains. Because some remains, Legal Services will not assist me because I do not qualify as destitute and I think of the strength it took to make that call and answer those questions and say Yes I am poor though I don’t look poor and then to be told I am not yet poor enough on paper. But I have my double life, my public face, my beautiful sons, my good days though the good days are few and the bad days are frightening.
I follow the rules and I read the agreement over and over and I document the non-payment and I make my photocopies and I wait the requisite number of months and inform my ex in writing and try to begin the process. I am told it will be a year or more in part because it is harder across state lines and I get sick. Sicker. I am sick from following rules and the rules change or the rules lie or the game is not the game I thought it was and I am sick at my own ignorance and sick that I believed and sick that I do as I am told and I cannot be sick because I have a job to finish and children to love and things still to do and say and maybe another no or a yes if I can find a way.
I’m raising my sons in a lie and I am teaching them lies and teaching them beliefs as I was taught and I do not want them to be lies. I frighten you, and I know this. I am a cautionary tale that no one wishes to believe and I do not wish to believe and I fight back when I can, to end this story, so I may begin another.
* * * * *
I drive myself to the clinic, slowly and I manage it. I can start the injections. I can begin to get better.
I talk to the nurse and she says I’ll need your co-pay and I am surprised and I explain that I was told that there was no co-pay, that this was routine, these weekly shots until I am better and though she is kind, she tells me that is wrong. She tells me that these count as doctor visits, that I need to make a co-pay.
My body wants to crumple right there, and I cover my face. I do not have the money and I need weeks of shots and I changed my insurance and this will eat all my allotted visits and the co-pay is increasing and I do not have the money. Can you give yourself injections? she asks and I say no and it isn’t that I am squeamish but my arms do not work properly since the accident and therapy to make them better was not covered by my insurance.
I know someone who could do it, I say and I think it is true. I will need to make it true.
She tells me to have a seat and she excuses herself and I do as I am told. I sit, but I cry and I cry so easily now and I cannot stop crying and I hold my head in my hands and I do not care who sees me because I am not really there, you see. I don’t know where I am exactly, but I’m not really there because my body has been evacuating for months so perhaps it doesn’t matter that I sit and cry. But something in me is prideful or respectful. I do not wish to make others uncomfortable. I cover my face with hands and I am quiet.
How did I get here? I did what I was told.
* * * * *
I do not want to be this woman and I do not want to be a victim and I will not disappear quietly in my fucking ignorant blindness. I cannot be done yet. This cannot be all there is.
The adult voice in my head scolds me and calls me an ass and a child and tells me to grow up and do whatever it takes and fuck the rules and stop crying and if your body hurts then lie down and don’t do what you are told and do whatever helps and there is nowhere to lie down.
The nurse returns and sits beside me and she is wearing orange and I cannot remember her face. I am very far away now but I know the color of her dress registers somewhere in my mind and she’s asking for the number of my pharmacy. I fumble with my cell phone to find it and she copies it off the small screen and tells me she will call in a prescription for three shots. It will be less expensive for me that way and I won’t have to travel so far to get the shots but I must have someone who can give them to me. She tells me it will be four or five more days at least before the prescription will be ready and a week or two before the shots begin to do any good.
I thank her and tell her she is kind and I am not thinking clearly; I should have asked for one shot while I was there to get things going but all I could think of was $30 and I had it today but I am not thinking clearly after wandering through the maze of hospital again and through the parking deck and getting back onto a familiar road only then do I realize my mistake. But I am crying again and crying as I drive and this cannot be me this woman crying and this woman who is weak and I drive through tears carefully. It is mid-morning. There is no traffic.
* * * * *
I am home. I am in bed. I am too tired to move. My son forgot his tennis equipment and his shoes and we were late this morning. He has a match today and I do not know that I have the energy to bring his things to school and then go back several hours later to pick him up. If I am to do this then it must be soon but my body does not want to move and if I do not go, I will not need to move.
My son will accept whatever I choose to do; lately, he asks little of me. I think he looks at me and is frightened and I do not want to frighten my son.
* * * * *
I don’t know if the tears flow from rage or frustration or indignation or despair but they start again and I cannot stop them and so they must be functional, some necessary outlet for everything that breaks. A river, so my mind may float away from ache and exhaustion.
I do as I am told and I ask rational questions and I believe and I follow rules. And I am a damn fool, because our country is broken and our systems are broken and our citizens are broken. I am left believing in broken things, left to a path of fragments, left in the company of so many others who are equally isolated and bereft and confused and broken. Or maybe we are not broken, only drifting, only evacuating our selves in parts.
I do not dream. Odd, that for now, even nightmares desert me.
I cannot lift my arms today to hold the mask, I cannot find the strength to pull the curtains closed, I will not hide, though I would like to. This is me, my life, my life I do not recognize, my daily humiliations, my anger, my fear, my insistence on continuation, my dislike for myself and from somewhere, still, the discipline to write.
I have things to say to my country and I will speak plainly.
America: I want to love you and I was raised to believe in you and I did as I was told and I worked with you, and for you. Yet you abandon me, and millions of others like me who also believed, and did as they were told, and you break us, more painfully than the unexpected death of love, more irrevocably than the loss of family, more viciously than my deepening poverty. I am not proud of you and I am not proud of us. You are a lie, and still I cling to the hope that this need not be the case. You provide your house to good people with big hearts and I meet them when I venture out and this morning, one of them wore orange and spoke softly, though I cannot remember her face.
How do I get better and how do I contribute to making you better? How do any of us heal if we haven’t the right to say no or the strength to stand? If we are invisible and we do not speak our truths? Who do we believe, if not those we are taught to trust?
© D A Wolf