I ran into my ex-husband on the day before what would have been our twentieth wedding anniversary. That is, if I had not divorced him two years ago. It was a wonderful happy un-anniversary gift for me. It reminded me of how happy I am that I am not married to him anymore--and why I divorced him.
And to say I "ran into him" is not quite acurate. More like chased him down. I haven't seen him out anywhere in over two years even though we've lived close to one another and I still frequent the same places I used to. We do live in a pretty well populated area (Orange County--so I suppose the odds aren't too great.)
The other day he drove right in front of my car in a parking lot. I would have t-boned him had I kept driving. He had his window rolled down, elbow cocked on the door, and looked right at me. I didn't think. I turned my car around and followed. He was driving the same suburban we'd had for years and had his young wife with him. I couldn't see if our kids were in the car.
I saw the suburban parked in front of the garden section of Home Depot. I parked and walked into the store. I saw them up the aisle ahead of me, pulling a flatbed cart with bags of soil on it (presumably for their new home.) I walked quietly. I was sure if they saw me they'd make a fast getaway.
I got right up behind them and said his name. His wife looked so young. Smooth white fleshy skin, unlined, no wrinkles. He turned and smiled casually, seemed unsurprised. He said hello like he was greeting a welcome friend. He introduced me to his wife. Next to him, she looked like a child. I wondered how this young woman could be raising four children, and caring for a young man with special needs (our son, Levi, who has autism.) My ex-husband had grown a beard that was mostly gray and his face had become more creased and red. He mentioned he was still at his job of twenty-some years. He spent his days working out in the sun.
I asked him how the kids were and he said they were doing great. He leaned his arm on the handle of the cart and grinned. He asked after my family: my mom, my sister. I said they were well. I said my niece would soon be turning five, and I had just been up to Washington to see them all in April.
I commented that he had quite a few kids now. His chuckle seemed forced and he said, "Yeah, and I didn't want any more kids." He asked me if I was going to have more. I said no, that I was too old. He said, "Too old?" with mock surprise. His wife scowled. I could feel my body shaking. He said he thought our daughter heard from my mother. I said I supposed so.
He straightened up. "You know we haven't heard anything from your dad or sister or your brother." I told him maybe they didn't know how to get in touch with the kids, or maybe since I didn't have contact with the kids, my family thought they wouldn't want contact with them either.
"Well, RaeAnn, they could at least show the kids love and support. My phone number hasn't changed in twenty years!" He didn't in the least appear to see the incongruency in this--that his phone number is not the kids', that perhaps my family would like a relationship with my children but not with him.
I asked him where they were living now. He said, "You know, I've talked to the kids about this and they don't want you to know our address." I said that because we share joint legal custody by law I am supposed to have that information. He said, "Well, my kids make their own decisions and they don't want you to have it."
I said, "They are children and it is not up to them to make that decision."
He had stopped smiling and his mouth became a thin line. He said, "They are teenagers now. They are almost grown-up." He said this as if I was mentally challenged.
"Our daughter is not almost grown-up, she's fourteen," I said. "And initially she still wanted to live with me and you never brought her back home from her visitation with you. And then I couldn't reach her by phone. You didn't comply with court stipulations."
"What court stipulations?" he demanded.
I sighed. "Well bringing Tanith home that time would have been the first thing. Taking the kids to reunification therapy. Showing up in family court for mediation about visitation."
"That's voluntary," he said. "I didn't have to go to mediation. If you doubt that call Kathlene (his attorney) or call your attorney. I took the kids to counseling, RaeAnn. You didn't show."
I already felt as though I was back in our marriage: like a ball hitting a wall. "I was in Washington then, I couldn't come."
"Exactly," he said. "You moved to Washington and abandoned your kids.You didn't show up for counseling. That's not my fault."
"You didn't pay the mortgage on the house like the court told you to, and I thought it was going to be foreclosed on. And you wouldn't agree to sell it. I had to move in with my mom. I had no where else to go."
He shook his head, like a tsk tsk motion. His wife had stayed silent, almost forgotten at the back end of the cart.
I continued, "I called the counselor from Washington to find out what was going on with the kids. And when she told me Levi was having seizures and I called you, you quit taking them to counseling because you didn't want me to know anything about the kids. And then you threatened to sue the counselor. And she had every legal right to share information with me."
"I didn't threaten to sue her, RaeAnn," he said. "I just told her not to share information with you about me."
I sighed heavily and looked at my watch. This was pointless. "People get divorced all the time and they still see their children," I said.
"It's not my fault you made bad decisions, RaeAnn. I did everything I was supposed to do. It's not my fault if the kids don't want to see you. I am not going to force them. I am not going to jeopordize my relationship with them, RaeAnn. I am not going to tell them they have to see you."
As he had been lecturing, it was like a noose tightening around my neck. And that had been what it felt like during our marriage. I couldn't breathe. And I was always in the wrong. "When I moved back to California, in our divorce it was stipulated you were suppossed to take the kids to reunification therapy and you didn't comply."
"I did everything I was supposed to do. You made poor choices, RaeAnn. You let some corrupt realtor buy my house that I worked on for ten years, out from under me. You wouldn't let our kids live in their home. You took my retirement that I worked hard for and now I'll have to work an extra fifteen years to pay it back. I'm sorry you don't like the results of your choices, Rae Ann. It's not my fault.I did everything I was supposed to. You didn't."
I took a deep breath again. "I just miss the kids. It's been three years."
"This is not how I wanted to spend my day off," he said. His wife moved to the front of the cart and stood next to him.
My throat felt constricted and I realized I was close to sobbing. "Well, good luck to you," I choked.
I walked quickly out of Home Depot and got in my car. I expected to start crying but instead I felt relief. I did not have to listen to him anymore. I did not have to.
As for my children, I worry, I miss them, I love them...and I am at a loss for words.