Friday, July 1, 2011

The Monster in the Mirror -- Coming Home (Pt. 9)

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
He came in the door from work the next Monday and seemed to float in like he was lighter than air.  The youthful softness of his transfiguration remained.  I had feared it would disappear in the night like a dream, but it had lasted 48 hours and counting.  I had walked on eggshells for so many years that I didn't trust any reality except a fragile peace easily broken by random and unpredictable events.  I pinched myself to check to see if my senses were trustworthy. Perhaps I was in some parallel universe?  Nope. Pain was still pain.

Most days, I let him have 10-20" alone on his return from work.  I edged around him warily trying to get a bead on the kind of mood he was in before I overwhelmed him with chatter. Even then, I would tread lightly til I knew it was safe to say much. Some days, I didn't say much of anything only speaking when spoken too.
 He had never been violent, never raised a hand in any way. But, the seething anger that had always ruled him had trained us to be on guard lest each day be the one that reality changed.

This Monday, he stopped and leaned against the kitchen counter vs sailing on by me w/ a grunted, "Hey." He grinned like a little kid on Christmas.

" was your day?" I asked not sure if I should be relieved or perplexed.

"Incredible. For the 1st time in my life I could look people in the eye...especially men! I could look anyone directly in the eye and keep on looking without being afraid.  My entire life, I have been unable to look anyone in the eye for fear they would see the monster inside me and know who I really am! I feel so free, so alive!"

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
In truth, what had transpired the last 2 days was nothing short of a Lazarus like resurrection.  I breathed in long and slow wondering if my years of labor in a lonely marriage were finally paying off. Were we, indeed, finally free of the ghosts of the pasts?  I had always known that the man with whom I had fallen in love was in there somewhere--buried deep beneath layers of something.  Only now I knew what that something was and how the missing piece of the puzzle fit so that our lives could fall into place. But, would they?

The boys were like me...not quite sure how to respond to this new and improved version of dad.  They were fascinated like a moth drawn to flames by this new fella that had emerged from the bedroom on Saturday afternoon and stayed over a couple of days. Was he real?  They were not quite sure. Our older one was wary. The younger one was delighted.

The cold, unexplained anger that had always seemed to drive Jeff had caused our oldest and me to distance ourselves. So many times, it had seemed like us against the world AND his dad. We had forged a well oiled machine to survive. I wondered, "If this new Jeff is real, how will we help our oldest son adjust to the change in our family dynamics?"  I guess it was the former child and adolescent counselor in me again thinking through our lives like I was thumbing through an admission chart. I could already see that a fairy tale ending for my marriage might kick over dominoes in our other family relationships. Stress is stress whether it is good or bad.

Counseling came not soon enough that week. Rather than the reluctant participant I had been, I went eagerly wondering what ground we'd cover that had never been covered before.  The clinician quickly addressed the letter we'd both received pointing out the more sensitive portions to make sure I knew about them.  Asking if there was anything else I needed to know.

He affirmed that something monstrous had happened to my husband but that my husband was not the monster in the scenario. Jeff seemed both relieved and uncertain. For so many years he had taken responsibility for someone else's sins.  For so many years, the face staring back from any mirror had been that of a monster.
We quickly defined issues that would rear their heads:  Jeff's quick temper, his social anxiety, the change in our family dynamics as our oldest and myself learned how to be a team of 3 instead of 2.  It was a heady time even though uncertain and new.

I almost immediately noticed an abrupt change in Jeff.  Up to the day the truth set him free, he was particularly affected by any news reports of children who suffered abuse.  He would literally run from the family room while crying out, "Change it! Change it! Change it!" I would scrambled blindly for the remote I could never find fast enough, my heart racing wildly as his sudden and inexplicable panic spread to me.

Three days after he gave me the missing puzzle piece, a particularly heinous story came on the news. One that made even me, the former psych hospital counselor who had read all kinds of records of families in crisis, flinch. I breathed a sigh of relief thinking Jeff was in a remote part of the house.  As the story ended, I heard him clear his throat.  He stood transfixed and whispered, "HOW can anyone do that to a little, defenseless kid."  He turned and walked calmly away. I was as transfixed by the sudden change in him. The entire segment had played in full without him uttering a word of panic I wondered if, for the first time in his memory, he finally knew he was safe from the monster that had lived there.

He suffered 2 more definable angry meltdowns between March and July.  Each time left me shaken to the core fearful that the old Jeff was back, and the fairy tale was over. So many things were changing for the better that those sudden reminders took us almost back to square one.  Son #1 and I would eye one another with unspoken paragraphs of distrust and disappointment telegraphing between us. More broken dreams to sweep up like shards of so much broken glass. Son #2 would come confused and uncertain wondering where the new dad had disappeared  and why.

And yet, as quickly as the storms overwhelmed him, the new and tranquil man we were getting to know returned.  He became easier to trust.  I had missed so many of the little things that so many wives appreciate and enjoy like a husband who would drop by the grocery store on the way home from work. For the 1st time in 17 years, I no longer ran all the errands.  Date nights were things I heard about and longed for.  A big night out for me had been a hasty solo trip to the grocery store fearing what chaos I'd find on returning home. And, there always seemed to be chaos.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creations
We finally began to act like a couple and reveled even in quick trips out to do simple things.  I joked that I was an easy date. A Coke, a Milky Way, and a ride to the landfill were enough to fill me with transforming joy.  I wondered if these feelings were what it should have felt like to be a newlywed all those years ago. I mourned what we had been robbed of. We had been robbed of all we could have been as a couple. All 4 of us had been robbed of all we could have been as a family.  I was willing to accept all God had required of me during the long years between 1999 when Jeff got sick and 2005 when we were back on our own 2 feet again. It finally made sense.  Perhaps God really was going to restore all he had stripped away in the process of setting us free.  I thanked my good God for his good plan and trusted that the best was yet to be.

As heady as the time was, I was right. My world shifting into place had resulted in disorienting my son. Suddenly, he was no longer my traveling buddy. To watch his dad and me sail out the door to run errands came as a shock. He felt betrayed and abandoned just as I feared. I know we didn't get it right, but we tried as best we could to ease him into this newly formed and correctly structured family paradigm. He grew angry and distant and waited warily for his dad to fail us -- sure the old dad would come again when we least expected it and come to stay.

One day in utter despair, I looked at my son who was by now in his mid teens and said, “Don't you see? You are begrudging me a trip to the grocery store with your father. Other wives would be OFFENDED by the bread crumbs that satisfy me. This is not a week in a suite at a resort. This is not a hot date at some fancy restaurant. It's a trip to the grocery store for crying out loud. That is what you are angry at me for. Can't you just be happy that we are finally what we always should have been? Why is that so hard? Would you rather we go back to the way it was? Would you?” He was between the proverbial rock and hard place for sure. Was there any right answer? Maybe not after all we'd been thru that he'd never asked for.He was not yet 18 and had lived more lifetimes than all his friends combined.  Good stress was just one more stress for a kid whose cup was empty after so many draining years.

Courtesy of Mad Penguin Creations
Counseling was finally fulfilling. I'd finally come to believe that all the missing pieces had been accounted for. We were finally building the foundation we'd never had. The counselor proposed something I hadn't seen coming. There was a weekend retreat for couples at a mountain resort. It would be a nice reward for the ground we'd gained. Here it was...the thing I'd longed for all those lonely years, a romantic weekend. My heart froze. I looked for a place to run and hide. How had I gotten myself into this jam and how could I get out?


  1. Once again, there are no words to say. I simply await the next post~

  2. You are a trooper. Thanks for making me part of your day!