Rather than do an immediate Mt. St. Helen's impersonation, I met my friend Stacey for some emergency lattes while we hashed this out. The kids were at home (MY home) with their dad, and I was climbing higher on my anger scale by the second. I'm not one of those people who believes that anger is a bad emotion, but I do fully understand the thin line between productive anger and volcanic eruption. I was aiming for the middle ground, but I was missing. I was all magma. And that wasn't going to get me where I needed to be.
Because here's the fine line. All of my justifiable anger, all of my legitimate and reasonable issues, could, if one chose to look at it this way, be chalked up to jealousy. Jealousy of the new girlfriend. Jealousy that he had someone and I didn't. Jealousy that he had "moved on" while I was still "locked in the past". I had to find a way to say what I wanted to say without making him feel that I was doing this because I wanted him back, that I missed him, that I was feeling left out. I knew the true story behind those ideas and I somehow had to convey it to him.
I knew one thing. I was tired of pussy footing around the whole issue. It was (again, for the love of god), like the floodgates had opened and I would not rest until this was on the table. I went home to take Gumby to a drama class, and as I was getting ready to leave, I asked the FX to come along with me. For the ride. I don't think I said it in a terribly nice tone, for what it's worth, but he agreed and climbed in the car. He knew something was up, but couldn't quite put his finger on it. It was a three minute drive to drop Gumby off. My mind was on auto-pilot in preparation.
Gumby had not been out of the car thirty seconds when I played my opening card.
"I have two things for you - a question and a favor", I said.
He looked at me guilessly and said, "Okay, go ahead."
So I did.
The question shouldn't be a surprise. Why did you feel it was necessary to tell the kids about your new relationship at this stage of the game? Well, let me rephrase that. It may not be a surprise to anyone reading this blog, but it sure seemed to be to him. He was silent for quite a little bit before he answered. And while I don't think a lot of his reasoning, it's not really out in left field for him. In a nutshell, he and the gf have been hanging out mostly in the town where she lives. They want to be able to hang out here without the fear of accidentally running into the kids or their friends and freaking them out when they see Dad holding hands with a woman they don't know. He figured it was better to give them a heads up.
I told him how upset I was that they had all come home stressed out after he had told them, and said that I really believed it might have been smarter to keep it under his hat for awhile longer. Told him that I had spent two days doing damage control and cleaning up his messes. He said they hadn't seemed at all stressed out when he talked to them., and that they all seemed to take it in stride. That's when my (ahem) floodgates opened.
"You know why they didn't seem stressed with you?" I asked. "It's because they are afraid to show you how they really feel. They put on a good face with you all the time because they don't want to upset you. You left our marriage with almost no warning, and they're terrified that you're going to leave them too. What do you think they're going to do when you tell them something like this? Tell you they don't want to talk it? Or just smile and not rock the boat?"
There was more. A lot more. I pulled no punches on the fact that he was on the verge of totally blowing his relationships with his children. Told him that he was going to have to be especially careful with his new situation that the kids didn't feel like they were coming in second place. Pretty much everything kid related that I'd been wanting to say for quite a while got laid right out. There was no sugarcoating whatsoever on my part, nor was there any exaggeration. By the time I was done he looked a little sick. Fine. If that's what it takes, that's what it takes. We ended up having a long and hopefully productive talk about steps he needs to take with them, and then he really surprised me by thanking me. I know it wasn't easy to be so blunt about this, he said, and I want you to know that I really appreciate it. You can show me that you appreciate it, I replied, by doing what it takes to make it better. I know you want to be a good dad. Now just go and do it.
And then we came to the favor.
I want you to stop treating me like a friend, I said. That's the favor. I'm not your friend. I'm your ex-wife, and if we didn't have three children together we probably wouldn't have anything to do with each other. His face was assuming that stunned look again, but I kept right on going. I don't want to chat on the phone, I really don't care about your day unless the kids are with you, I'm not interested in your new relationship or the fact that you've just now told me you think it could be a long-term thing. We were friends once, but we won't be friends again until you do two things. First, you'd need to apologize to me for the absolutely despicable way you treated me all year last year. And second, you'd need to be able to look me in the face and accept responsibility for all of the ways you destroyed this marriage while blaming it all on me. I want specifics. Man up. I've said this before, I'll say it again. I don't hate you that you wanted out of the marriage. I hate you for making it all my fault. Until you accept your share of the blame, I really have nothing more to say to you.
And to my absolute amazement, he apologized. Said of course it wasn't all your fault, accepted more than the lion's share of responsibility and stated once more that he just hadn't known how to handle the whole situation. This turned into a conversation in which I was able to say a large percentage of the things I'd been formulating in my head for a year, and the two of us had a really decent talk about our marriage and our lives. We sat in my driveway for over an hour while my children quietly starved to death waiting for dinner inside.
We had one of these discussions last July, and I mistakenly thought that one talk like that would be enough to clear the air, but I realize now that I was looking at it the wrong way. I was looking at the divorce talks as one big clear the air type of eruption, but it's more like a bunch of zits. You get them, they come to a head, you pop the suckers and you move on. There's a whole bunch of them, but they don't have to be huge. They just have to be dealt with. One way or another.
And the whole jealousy issue? Very early in the conversation I brought it up, and he almost cut me off with a snort. I don't think for a second that you're jealous, he said. Why would you be? You've already told me that you've been miserable for years.
It's true. I have told him that. And I meant it, too. We were just not good for each other, not right for each other, too different, too much the same. I'm happy, he told me. And I want you to be happy too. Oh, but I am, I said. You have no idea how happy I am with my life. But there's this one thought that pops up sometimes...
You can't imagine what I would give to be laying in my bed crying myself to sleep all night because I miss you so much. So lonely I could die. Sobbing because I wanted the marriage back so bad. Because that would mean that I hadn't thrown 21 years of my life away on something I don't even miss.
I'm sorry, he said. I wish I could give you 21 years back. I had no idea you'd been that sad for that long.
But in the game of blame, I have no one but myself to blame for that.