Playing the Game
I’m completely over my ex-husband. We got divorced eight years ago, and he is a completely forgettable person, certainly not one of my great loves. He was a perfectly amicable guy to live with most of the time. We didn’t fight about important stuff, we bickered. Other men saw us doing it on our honeymoon. He got really angry about dumb stuff like getting rid of his pickup truck and getting a mini-van when the time came to get a bigger vehicle. He let me catch him flirting with other women and probably cheated on me. He put me down in front of his friends and his family so that I couldn’t have lasting relationships with most of them. Despite the financial hardship it caused in my life, I took it as a heaven-sent relief when he discarded me back in 2005. I don’t feel like writing about him today, but I need to, because he and I did something that I didn’t do with either of my two other ex-husbands: we had a child together. The three of us constituted a military family: our baby girl was just under 2 years old.
You know those little games you play with the man in your life, games that make getting through each day with him easier. Letting him win when you probably shouldn’t, because you know the stupidest things mean so much to him and a bigger battle is coming along down the road that you need to focus on. Part of our game was his shifting expectations of me that always made me feel like I stood on quicksand as months went by and the seasons changed. I had no career because, within a week after we got married, he refused to permit me to go on tour with the orchestra I had prepared my voice for since 1993. Once we got back to the US, he told me to “get off my lazy butt and go back to school.” So I did, and when I finally got faculty approval for my major at my undergraduate school, he got a transfer out of state. When I refused to drop out of school, he divorced me. He was the one with the job and the income, and I was the one thrown out of family on-post housing with nothing, struggling to stay in school. When divorce papers came that I was supposed to sign, I went to JAG on post for legal advice since I had no money for a lawyer.
Naturally, there were parts of the divorce decree I disagreed with, but the JAG attorneys told me to sign it and not cause trouble because I didn’t have money to fight my soon-to-be ex-husband in court, and if I didn’t cooperate I might not ever see my child again. The head lawyer, let’s call him Mr. Sebastian, told me that when the child lived with me I could file to have the parts I disagreed with amended, and in his opinion it was a badly written document. So I signed it in good faith. I reasoned that my soon-to-be ex-husband really wanted the divorce and if I did what he wanted, he would be forgiving and do the right thing for our family. Why wouldn’t he? There’s no reason for him to keep hating me if I cooperate, like the JAG attorneys told me to. Yeah, yeah, I thought: you’ve got all the money and you can hire a lawyer and I can’t, so goody for you. Maybe you’ll pay less money in child support when the time comes. Fine.
I reassured myself that my priorities were in the right place, since the Divorce Decree said I would get custody at some point. Having a family was a choice I had struggled with for years. I didn’t have really good modeling in my own family for two loving parents. Mine got divorced when I was seven years old, and the first year they separated I cried frequently and easily. When I reached adulthood I seemed to find myself in relationships with men who didn’t want me to get an education, so it took me 20 years to get my Bachelor of Arts degree. I really wanted that baby, but I needed to finish school and I couldn’t do both by myself, so she went to live with his parents for two years, but she stayed with me for several weeks in the home of a church friend in Baltimore County as I was finishing up at college, then came to live with me in New York at the age of five, a year earlier than the Divorce Decree said. If I had it all to do over again, I would not have missed the opportunity to have the beautiful little whip-smart girl I have now, who looks like a Barbie doll, even though her dad made me give up my career and then left us without support.
Due to the setbacks I’ve faced after the failure of multiple committed relationships where I compromised for the guy and then lost out waiting for my turn, I’m living at the poverty line with no career. And here I am, writing this letter to the reasonable person I once expected my ex-husband to be:
When we met at the church dance in 2001, we were both Mormons and I came to believe that family was important to you. I assumed a lot when we got married. You led me to believe when we were dating that my career was important to you and that you cared about it and would be supportive. Then once we were married, you accused me of being a liar and a cheat because I took you at your word but you had changed your mind. We went back to the U.S. and I never sang again but I tried to be a good military spouse and make you happy. Remember the parties we went to with your friends? Remember how you volunteered to go on assignment and I took our baby daughter to Utah by myself to meet your parents for her first Christmas? Remember how you told me to go back to school, and I did what you said?
I was so sad because every time you said something, it turned out not to be what you really meant. I tried to take pills because that’s what the other wives were doing at church, but I know that marriages don’t work that way with the wife taking pills, so I stopped and decided that I wasn’t the problem. I let go of my dashed hopes and my career and started over with a new identity of being a student and trying to do something else. And then you didn’t want me to have that, either. We sat down for a family discussion about your own career plans and you tricked me into helping you choose a path that would make me drop out of school again.
You know that you’ve always earned at least four times what I do, but when you hired your lawyer, the two of you made up a story that I was capable of earning the same salary you do and therefore you should never pay child support. You and your lawyer signed that document and dated it, along with another one where you told the Court I was working full-time earning minimum wage when you knew that I was in school. You knew when you divorced me that I did not have a place to live, yet you were negotiating how much money I would owe with a Court in a state far away from me and had the judge sign documents that I had never seen.
I remember that you love to play games. You like to win and you’re proud of how you cheat. Raising a family is not a game. You have a ten-year-old daughter that you see three times a year. You’ve paid off my own lawyers so they don’t do what I ask and your own lawyer torments me with Motions to Compel and passes repeated judgments on me for thousands of dollars. You won. Doesn’t that make you happy? You have more money than I do and you beat me in court. I am raising our little girl without child support or any kind of alimony from you. When are you going to get tired of playing the game?
I am just a single mom now, that’s all I am. Not a singer, the head of a company or anyone accomplished at anything. I have tried to pick up the pieces the best I can and raise the little girl by myself. Don’t you want to help at all? I thought the Mormon church was all about family, but your parents hate me, especially your mom, for no reason. When are you going to stop trying to bankrupt me? What did I ever do to you?
What pleasure does it bring you proving that you don’t owe me or your daughter anything, and that no one can make you pay for the promises you made and failed to keep?
You know who I am. I’m not going to sign my name.