Collateral damage: Injury inflicted on something other than an intended target; specifically civilian casualties of a military operation.
As Hurricane Irma cut her deadly swath across the Caribbean and headed straight for south Florida, I was on high alert like those crazy storm chasers. Since I’m clear across the country, all wrapped up in the late summer heat of southern Cali, why did I watch every tidbit on the Weather Channel about that heartless Irma, other than concern for my fellow Americans? My ex’s, mr. invisible’s, youngest lives with her hubby and 3-year-old at the exact spot where Irma slammed headlong into the U.S.–and said youngest is also 7 months pregnant with baby #2.
After invisible and I separated and after some difficult sessions with my therapist, his two kids (she and her brother) were on the list of people I expected to lose from my life. It didn’t matter that when her dad and I started dating, she was still in diapers and hadn’t taken her first wobbly steps, while her brother, who was small for his age and had trouble pronouncing the letter “r,” was in first grade. It didn’t matter, I thought, that I had driven what was surely a million miles for carpool with them in the backseat, sat through enough soccer and baseball tournaments to call offsides or foul ball like a ref, and bandaged beaucoup bloody knees. No matter that I sat on tiny chairs at tiny desks for every parent-teacher meeting, or that I was in the front row for every dance recital or in the bleachers for every band concert, or that I was there to take the youngest’s first prom pictures, as she stood before me in a stunning ice blue gown with enough bugle beads on it to blind me.
And no matter that by the time invisible and I separated, we’d seen all three kids, his two and my darling daughter, DD, graduate from middle school, high school and college and eventually walk down the aisle to say their “I dos.” And in all those years, I never once said the words, “his two kids” and “my daughter”–it was always OUR kids. I figured from the get go that if I was going to have kids in the house for the next 20 years, I’d better make it their home, too, and create a family, albeit one that shared lives and holidays and vacations with another set of parents.
So when it came to the discussion with my trusted therapist P. of what my family would look like post-divorce, I said, “Well at least he can’t take the kids from me,” and that’s where P. gave me the smack down I never saw coming.
“He’s their father, and you can’t change that–no matter what he’s done to you, to the family, to your friends. Be prepared and take care of yourself first–it won’t be the same, and there is a chance his kids will no longer be in your life.”
It was if he’d thrown a bucket of ice water in my face. My mouth and lips felt tingly, like they were about to go numb, as I tried to speak.
“But you don’t understand,” I said, voice high-pitched, rising. “I’m their mother!”
“You’ve been a great step-mother, but they have a mother–and they have a father–and they are adults now. You have an opportunity to explore new territory with them, but there are no guarantees.” He underscored it with the blood is thicker than water credo, but in far more psychologically correct terms.
I left his office that day wondering how many more left hooks and gut punches I could take before folding up in a bloody heap in the middle of the ring. But, dear readers, you know I didn’t hit the deck forever as you’ve followed me on my journey. So what happened next, you ask?
I’d answer that it’s complicated and still unfolding, but that I still have HIS kids in my life–for some holidays, and new babies, and photos and visits with DD and her family. We’re not together as often as I’d like, and there are now multiple homes to go to when they plan to see “the parents”–our one big, happy forever home where we celebrated so many BBQ rib feasts on the deck no longer exists. The one where we spent holidays around the dining room table set with the delicate china that had belonged to mr. invisible’s grandmother, it’s glaze of muted green vines and soft pink flowers gleaming under the tiny spotlights that cast a burnished glow like candlelight from the ceiling above, belongs to someone else.
I sold that house, you’ll remember, to a woman with the taste of a Clydesdale–and it still pains me to drive by it when I visit the midwest, not because I miss the house itself, but because of the numerous gazing balls in red, green and silver Ms. Clydesdale has placed out front, and the rickety old bench, looking alone and forlorn, that she put randomly off to the side of the garage, or her removal of what was once a riot of colorful blooms in the landscaping, replaced by some leggy, weedy-looking bushes.
What I DO miss is what went on in that house, holding hands at Thanksgiving dinner and sharing some of that year’s losses and blessings with our family, and laughing at the grandbabies trying to navigate the stairs like tipsy sailors. I smile at how the smell of bacon and coffee, like some fragrant pied piper, could draw kids who were home for a visit straight out of bed and into the kitchen, the girls soon talking about lunch at their favorite Swiss bistro, and their brother just hoping we didn’t have a long to-do list for him. Now a successful engineer, he displayed left brain logic early on, and could handily hang wreaths in precarious locations, stop a plumbing leak like nobody’s business and drive a nail better than anyone in the previous two generations of our family.
So here’s what I know today: I helped raise three kids in that house and the one before it. My DD had a brother and a sister growing up, no matter that she didn’t share their DNA. Today, we are a different version of the family in which mr. invisible was once a full participant, and upon careful consideration I have to admit that my therapist P. was right–there’s now an elephant in the room whenever I’m in the presence of his kids. I’m not sure they will ever know what I came to know after 30 years with their father: That every time he came to a dangerous fork in the road, he put himself before each one of us.
The other day I talked to DD, where her littlest one, baby T., always shouts, “Hi GG,” into the phone to make sure I know he is nearby, usually attached to his mama’s leg. A bit later, my stepson, who has begun designing a luxury hotel on the beautiful island where he resides, called with excitement in his voice about this expansive new project. And finally, I received the text I’d been anxiously awaiting from my Florida stepdaughter: She and her family escaped Irma’s initial assault by driving 17 hours to a cabin safely tucked away from the storm in the mountains of North Carolina where the biggest inconvenience is spotty cable reception. Praise the lord, as they say in the south.
It won’t be long before Florida daughter welcomes her second child into this scary world where the wind, and rain and storm surge have all the power to change lives in a heart-wrenching nanosecond; some of those who faced Irma never had a fighting chance.
But Florida daughter was born prepared. From the time she could talk, she had two bedrooms, two sets of parents and two sets of expectations. Adaptable could have been her middle name. Now as storms approach, she studies weather maps weeks in advance like they were Dolce and Gabbana catalogs, taking stock and stocking up. When the new baby arrives, she will be blissfully unaware that some biatch named Irma tried to wipe out millions of people in the very first place that she’ll call home.
No casualties this time around for my family, I think. Not this time.
©linda-notonfacebook.com. All rights reserved.