Surrounded by opened mail and neatly organized piles of bills and receipts, I sit cross legged on the turquoise sofa. My laptop rests on a pillow in the space between by knees and illuminates my makeshift home office. I click away, reconciling accounts, scheduling payments, and catching up on email. The television provides mindless background noise. As the sun sets I notice the change in lighting, a beautiful dusky shade more suited for sharing a bottle of wine than paying bills. I contemplate having a glass anyway.
My cell rings, glancing over I see my daughter is calling. Seems the weekends get away from us sometimes and we find each other on Sunday evenings. Luca is already fast asleep, he played hard today. She chatters on about her weekend, full of friends and fun. As she talks, I drift off a bit, wishing I had carved out some time for them, retracing my steps of the last two days; I realize she is busy too. I am drawn back to her voice and her words as the subject seems to have changed, her speech slows, her voice cracks and I can tell she is fighting tears. I listen . . .
I knew weeks ago she had a falling out with her dad. At the time she felt strong and justified in her resolve. She had made the right decision, setting boundaries and keeping herself and her boy safe from further hurt. And now, she struggles to makes sense of his absence, his disconnection from her, Luca and the rest of the family. For the first time my daughter realizes and accepts that her dad’s mistakes are his own, his messy life a result of his own doing, not mine or her stepmom or anyone else . . . just the choices he has made.
Her epiphany does not bring me vindication. There is no knowing sigh, or gloating words. Admittedly there was a time long ago that I wished for this day, the day she learned that I was not so bad and her dad was not so perfect. And while I am glad that I have grown far beyond that selfish wish, I was not prepared for how truly awful I would feel as she cried. Worried for his safety, broken hearted over the loss of a little girl’s dream; the flood gates open as she expresses her sadness. During a year in which her marriage ended, her brother’s struggle with addiction exploded, and my hard shell just got harder and harder, I am sure she has felt completely alone.
I do my best to only listen, no advice, no fixing or judging, just listening. She talks for a bit longer, letting it all out until finally there was nothing left to say . . . except . . . I’m so sorry. I love you.
I lean back on the sofa, eyes closed, head against the wall with my phone still in my hand. I have been divorced from her dad for nearly thirty years and still somehow, my instinct is to take responsibility for his behavior. This would never be his expectation, he would never blame me. Still my mind wanders to painful memories of a marriage ending, a young family broken apart and a mother who decided this was best. Over time I came to believe because the divorce was my decision, any fallout, pain or suffering had to be my fault. No statute of limitations, forever I would be responsible.
Yawning, I stretch and straighten my legs. Pushing my laptop aside, some papers fall to the floor. I remember a conversation I had with a friend a few days earlier. I asked him if it was hard for him to be happy when his children were sad or struggling. He said very matter- of- factly, No. He knew in his heart that he had been a good father, solid. The wellbeing of his girls always came first. He provided them a good education, great experiences, and built strong relationships. I wondered for a moment if this was a dad thing. Do dads not feel the pangs of pain and guilt that moms feel? Maybe not, but then I understood what was gnawing at me. . . . I had not put my kids first. I could not make the same claims about parenting my friend had made. As a single mom, I worked so hard, it seemed I never had time for them. I spent the free time I had chasing happiness. I shake off the memory, reach for the remote, and turn off the television.
I make my way to bed and crawl between the cool sheets. Laying in the darkness, I think of my girl. I don’t want her to follow in my footsteps. I want her to stay far, far away from my path. Tears stream from my eyes and well in my ears. I push away feelings of regret and the sad memories that sometimes visit me. Instead, I remind myself that every experience, good and bad, has brought me to where I am today, grounded in the belief that in spite of everything, I am worthy of love, forgiveness and happiness. I feel a little lighter.
Before falling asleep, I talk with my mom and dad. Peace comes to my mind and heart. I thank them for being amazing parents and I tell them I understand now why they worried about me, my choices and my happiness. I ask them to guide their granddaughter on her path.
While I can no longer hear their voices or see their faces, I feel certain their handiwork will be revealed as my daughter successfully finds her way, and the life and love she deserves.
I love you T.