Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Decision Tree

As I sat in the radio sound booth in downtown Ottawa, it was just me, alone with my thoughts.
I was about tell a national CBC audience on DNTO about the time my husband took me on a flight to London as a farewell present before he left me standing in the Toronto airport while he boarded a flight to Bermuda to be with another women, who later became his wife and step-mother to my children. The episode runs today.
Anna, the producer from Winnipeg, got on the line and we went over my story. She asked me a couple of questions. I felt slightly uncomfortable.
"What?" I asked. "You don't believe me?"
"It's not that we don't believe you. We just can't believe this could happen."
I smiled to myself and thought, "you don't know the half of it sister."
And then I began to tell the tale of the flight from Toronto to London that ruined my life more than 22 years ago, the flight that took all my hopes and dreams with it and left my emotional state in tatters and my bank account in financial ruin.
A person cannot describe their life in four minutes, so I thought I would put it down in this blog which has become my sanctuary for the last four years. Like the radio booth, I feel safe here, alone in the dark while my husband Scott sleeps soundly with the dogs. I don't feel safe anywhere else because I'm the victim of long time emotional abuse which has left me traumatized, crippled by panic attacks, often unable to sleep still, with reoccurring nightmares. The emotional blows of the past have softened thanks to the love and support of Scott and the unending commitment and dedication of my children who are themselves victims of abuse.
There are lots of women -- and men for that matter -- who are left for the arms of others, this is nothing new. They pick up the pieces and move on. There are many others, like me, who are simply blinded by love and faith, who are caught unawares by cheating spouses.
The upending of a marriage in this manner can cause emotional trauma, similar to PTSD and it is made worse when the victim is belittled, insulted, controlled and marginalized by a narcissist.

This is my story and more.

My former husband is wealthy and powerful. He has been the right hand man of premiers and prime ministers. He is fawned over by the media, for good reasons. He is smart, no he is brilliant, but he is also capable of unspeakable abuse, abuse that is not by the hand, not even by the voice, but by the action.
His name is unimportant, though Scott has asked me to name him. I will not. I believe these stories of abuse must be about the victims, not the perpetrators. If I were to utter his name, then this story would be all about him, and I think it's been all about him for too long.
This is my story, and I'm telling it, warts and all.
I'm telling it in fear though I no longer have anything to fear. I'm reminded of the line in Orange is the New Black when Piper turns to Red and says "what are you going to do, not feed me?"
He can't hurt me any longer because he no longer has influence over my life.
But I still fear retribution like a person with phantom pain in a leg which has been amputated.
I felt the fear for a long time because I was dependent upon child support for the three kids he left who were under seven at the time. I felt the fear after he convinced my son to live with him for four years and would not let him see me or speak  to me for all that time. I felt  the fear even when the children were older and he considered not paying for their post-secondary education. And I felt the fear just this year at the thought he would ruin my daughter's wedding.
In retrospect, maybe we would have been better off if he had not paid at all, if he had not taken the children in the summer. Then maybe I'd be happily ensconced in a job somewhere, away from his influence
If somehow, I'd been able to escape his influence, my daughter wouldn't have wet the bed for years after being forced to endure the actions of her sociopathic stepmother who would lock her and her brothers out of the house in the hot sun for hours in the summer while their father was on long business trips.
Maybe my son Stef wouldn't have developed anger problems that landed him in the hospital, or on the doorstep stoned and blasted out of his mind after being traumatized by the sight of his grandfather surrounded by hookers. And maybe poor Nick, the one who got away, wouldn't have landed on the street after suffering horrific abuse at the hands of his stepmother, made to eat Beefaroni alone in the garage at night, then sent to a private school without my knowledge, a private school that was just the subject of a class action law suit after thirty years of abusing its victims.
Life is full of what ifs, isn't it?
"Stop being a victim," he once said to me, tired of me begging for a few extra dollars to make ends meet. It was the one time he let down his guard and actually told me what he thought. Mostly, he would listen quietly to me whine about how difficult it was to raise three kids on child support that left us living just above the poverty line. I did work, of course, but all my money was eaten up by child care costs. Besides, the children were too needy for me to work full time.
"But it's just a hundred dollars," I would say. "Just to pay for a few extras."
There would be silence on the other end, then simply "I can't afford it."
In the meantime, he took his wife on trips, lived in Paris for a time and bailed out his parents who had neglected for years to pay their income tax on a business that allowed them to live in the Town of Mount Royal and in a palatial cottage near Tremblant. He and his wife had the money to own a house in Montreal and a horse farm in the country, but wouldn't send my kids more than fifty bucks on their birthdays. He even spelled my daughter's name wrong on the card.
Once he took Stef to Florida and bought him new golf shoes.
"Now don't let your mother wear these," he scolded.
Who says things like this to their children?
I lived under his thumb for twenty years, in a house with snow drifts coming into the bedrooms because I couldn't afford to get the windows fixed.
I was demeaned at every turn. When the kids needed their teeth fixed, it was not up to me to go to the dentist. Because he paid, I had to put them on a train to Montreal, tripling the cost of the procedures because I could not be trusted with this task. The kids had separate clothes at his house, much nicer than I could afford, because I could not be trusted with them; I might ruin them.
My daughter's hair -- her pride -- was cut without my consent.
"You'll never have nice hair," her stepmother told her at the age of four.
Slowly, I began to feel worthless and to blame. Eventually, I became the caricature that I was painted: a waste of air.
It took a visit to my daughter's dermatologist to finally free us from his grasp.
My daughter's feet were swollen from eczema to a size 10. Dr. Pratt asked what was going on. I explained that my Marissa was enduring stress travelling back and forth to Montreal.
Dr. Pratt shook her head and said simply: "Visitation is for parents, not for children. You should stop that."
It seemed that Dr. Pratt's words became the catalyst for my husband's eventual abandonment of the children in their pre-teen years. The money, taxed in my hands, still came but he no longer did.
"They've made their choice," he said over the telephone. And that was that.
Things got better for Marissa and Stef, but not for Nick who had been caught stealing candy from a convenience store. He was sent to a group home because he became rebellious, then off to boarding school when he got into a violent fight which sent his stepmother scurrying  into a closet for fear Nick would kill her.
The boy had had enough. Fighting back in his father's house was not an option.
At boarding school, he began to open up to me about his life, about being abused and made fun of by the other boys at the private school he attended.
Eventually, I forced my ex-husband's hand and Nick was allowed to come home. He was not his normal weight because the staff at the boarding school had not given him his life-saving thyroid medication. His eyes were wary and wouldn't meet my gaze. He hid under a hoody and bummed smokes at the Quickie down the street.
Life with Nick was yet another movie, The Deep End of the Ocean, where a child returns home a stranger. He began to sleep in the crawl space in the basement. He abused drugs. Eventually, he went on the street.
The other kids were not much better. Stef, always the good son, had drifted, preferring tequila and hallucigens to school. Marissa began to run the roads.
Still, it became a happy time with the introduction of Scott into the mix. He lent a steady hand, drove drunk girls home and held Stef after he became violent and catatonic one evening after a fight with his sister over bleach in the wash.
The financial stress remained, and I finally got up the courage to take the children's father to court because he was waffling over whether he would pay for their advanced schooling.
My wonderful lawyer Jack Pantalone listened to my tale, and got busy arranging financial disclosures. Me, I had an income of $1,000 a month and no assets. He had an income of $6 million.
I was stunned.
I knew he had lied about the financials. After all, he was the vice-president of a major resource company. But $6 million!
We reached a settlement which allowed the kids to attend university and finally have access to nice clothes and proper bedding. I myself got some money as well and I was able to replace the ratty furniture and buy a proper dining room table for the family to eat around.
Had I taken him to court all those years ago, I actually might have been able to qualify to be a reality show star, one of the Real Housewives of Ottawa. But it was never about money for me.
It was about respect, something he never gave me, the mother of his children.
As I write this, the past plays out before me, in my mind, like a bad television movie, or a Sidney Sheldon novel.
Nearing my 58th birthday, I have begun to heal.
I still suffer from panic attacks and severe bouts of self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness. But I feel stronger just by talking about this, on national radio, in this blog.
This summer, Scott and I will bear witness to the wedding of my beautiful daughter Marissa.
Her father will not be there. He has not acknowledged his children for nearly a decade, not since I took him to court. Not a card on their birthdays, or a congratulatory phone call when Nick made him a grandfather.
I don't believe he thinks much about the family he left behind.
He once showed my young children a decision tree, and demonstrated to them how each decision affects the trajectory of a person's life.
The children, he would say, they made their choice.
Yes, and so has he.

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