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What has been lost

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype


She is her mother’s daughter, this little one. She can’t let go of the past and its false promises, its promises of “if only, then everything would be better.”

She did not want to go to her father’s house last night. This is not the usual, not at all. We were stunned by her wailing, clutching the back of the sofa, begging to know why we can’t all just live in the same house, weeping that her parents being divorced means that nothing, ever, is going to be better.

This, all this, coupled with the agonizing insomnia she’s had since she came back from sleepaway camp. “I think sleepaway camp really messed me up,” she sobbed into my lap last night, as I was trying to coax her from the couch.

It did. She wasn’t ready for sleepaway camp, not even a week of it, but she didn’t want to let her dad and her grandparents down. So she toughed it out, but she’s shot, she’s completely drained.

“You never have to go to sleepaway camp again, as far as I’m concerned, kiddo. You tried, you were super brave, and now you’re done with it.”

This doesn’t make her happy. Nothing makes her happy right now. Everything hurts her. Nothing is right, nothing will do, except being in my lap. She is eight years old, but suddenly she is three again.

Her father and I are exhausted. He’s come to pick her up. I don’t know what he thinks, what he feels. We don’t talk, not like that. I swallow anger (now do you see?) and regret (what if, if only, why did I/he/we?). I can see his weariness as we try different tactics to get her moving. I will be leaving for the airport at 4am, so she and her sister must go back to his house for the night.

I look at him, this man I once thought I knew so well. I am bewildered by the stranger in my living room, and I wonder if he is thinking similar thoughts about me: who is this woman, cradling my daughter? How can we possibly be connected to this child? Is all that will never be said between us worth this, this broken little girl? When exactly did we decide that? I want to break something, I want to scream. My baby is hurting, and we caused this, together. And she is the only one brave enough to give it a name, to say it aloud.

She is not budging, she will not leave. Vicious, hot tears course down her face. She is frantic. “I’m not going! I want to sleep here!”

“I know, honey,” I say. “But it’s the same as always. It’s your week with Daddy. It’s not like you’re never going to see me again.”

She howls. “But I FEEL like I am never going to see you again! Why can’t you bring me with you? Why do you have to go? Why can’t Daddy sleep here? I hate this divorce! I HATE IT!”

I don’t know what else to do but hold her and keep telling her, “I hear you. I know. I hate it too. I will always hate it. I will always hate it, for the rest of my life. I am so sorry it makes you so sad. I wish there were a magic wand for this. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

I force myself to pry her fingers from my shoulders. I pass her reluctantly to her father. I head upstairs to find her baby blanket, the one that soothes her, usually.

It does not work. The only thing that will get her to go to her father’s house, she says, is if she can bring her cats, her dogs, her bed, her pink room, and me. This would be funny if it were not heartbreaking.

I cannot tell you how bad it gets from there. I cannot say the words. My heart is on the floor. I can tell you I finally carried her out of my home to her father’s car, trying to point out the stars she loves so much, clear and thoughtful above us.

She covered her eyes. “I can’t even LOOK AT THEM,” she said. “They just make me think of you and how I won’t be with you for a week!”

That does me in. My heart tears in half, on a fault line already long etched into the muscle. I am bleeding out, just like she is. Her dad avoids my eyes; I avoid his. I try to buckle her into her car seat into his car. She unbuckles it, flings herself out of the car, shoeless, into the street—an orphan of her own doing.

I catch her and put her back in the seat. I warn him to lock the door quickly. I say goodbye, pressing her feet, her hands, her fingers back into the car before carefully shutting it on my bawling girl.

I must walk away, I know it. I know standing beside the car will do no good, no good at all. I slowly mount the stairs to the house, strangling on my own tears, my fists balled. I hear her shrieks as they drive away.

Inside, the dogs lick my hands, knowing something has happened, something is not right.

I am afraid to let the tears come, afraid they will not stop, afraid of what they mean. We’re idiots, I say to the pets. Did you know that? We were idiots, idiots who now have nothing to say.

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9 comments so far...

  • Oh you poor thing.
    I hope a glass of wine helped.

    She’ll get better, it’ll get better.

    Are you still considering therapy?

    Kris  |  September 11th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

  • My heart hurts for you and your daughter. I don’t know you, but I want to give you a big hug and listen while you share your pain. I see this day coming for me, probably sooner than I think it will.

    RebeccaL  |  September 11th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

  • Oh my goodness, Jenn. I’m sorry.

    Keryn  |  September 12th, 2012 at 11:02 am

  • My heart breaks for you. My youngest daughter is very attached to me as well. I am sure your daughter is just going through a phase right now. Is it possible for her to spend some extra time with you during her dad’s week? Perhaps at this time in her life (which will pass) she just needs that security of being with you. (Unsolicited, unasked for advice, just a thought)

    Dawn  |  September 12th, 2012 at 11:12 am

  • This post is very upsetting, as I’m sure the events described were. I sympathize with you; I understand this is an impossible situation and you are just doing your best.

    My niece and nephew, similar ages to your girls, are in a similar situation. They live with the same horrible custody arrangement, which seems best for their parents but not for them. They melt down like this from time to time–mostly the younger one, who hasn’t yet learned to shut off the outward expression of feelings the way the elder has. When such a meltdown happens, I always think they are trying to look out for their own best interests the only way they know how, because they feel like no one else is looking out for them. I feel awful for them but there’s absolutely nothing I can do. I wonder all the time what the repercussions will be when they become teenagers, with so many years upon years of powerlessness and frustration.

    Janie  |  September 12th, 2012 at 1:31 pm

  • Wow! I’m sorry to read this. It sounds like life for my eldest. Try as she might, she can’t help but wish her life was different, that the divorce never happened. The “what-ifs” are always there. She’s also a big talker, to me anyway, about her feelings, and I think it helps. It’s such a hard thing to get over, for us, for them.

    Jen  |  September 12th, 2012 at 10:49 pm

  • I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry , I’m sorry. Awfulness.

    Amy  |  September 13th, 2012 at 6:17 am

  • oh, oh. my heart is in a million pieces for you all.

    keri  |  September 15th, 2012 at 11:22 am

  • This is so , so sad . At eight years old your precious daughter is little more than a babe and her father should have understood that . This particular visit could have been postponed for her to settle down .
    I often wonder if overnight visits/weeks away from home do more harm than good for children when their world is already turned upside down . Do lawyers take this into account ? Are there child psychologists in divorce courts ? Ihope this doesn’t happen again , if it does , get someone to video and take it back to court . I’m raging angry over this .
    My heart breaks for you , Jenn , and I hope your little girl is coping better now .

    ronnie  |  January 8th, 2013 at 1:48 pm