The Ex

She walks into the gymnasium – hair done up, nails freshly polished, make-up carefully, if a bit thickly, applied. There are only two weeks left in the four-month season and this is just the second of her son’s basketball games that she’s attended.  He is playing right now and she is the focus. Her blond is a bit too brassy, her perfume overwhelmingly sweet and strong, but the most striking thing is her complete lack of shame. No awkwardness, no guilt, no apology. Thirty days she’s been in court-mandated lockdown rehab for a DUI and this, her first day out, is her comeback appearance. It is accompanied by the surprising announcement that she got the kids a dog. A Miniature Schnauzer.  Almost, it turns out – a bearded mutt from the pound. While she was away the power was shut-off at her home for nonpayment. Upon her release, the first thing she does is go to the salon and get a dog.
It’s midway into the second quarter when she makes her entrance. Effusively friendly and chatty, like she’s encountering long lost friends in me and my then fiancé, her ex-husband, with no reference to the fact that she’s been gone for a month or why – just the buoyant energy of someone who won a spa retreat reporting the exciting news that the kids now have a dog.
Ten weeks later she’s arrested again. This time she spends one night in jail and gets fired from the job she’d started two days earlier. My husband and I are out of town. Way out of town – in Maui, on our honeymoon. So, the kids are left to fend for themselves with the help of grandma and grandpa and distraught calls to dad far away with his new wife.
She went to great lengths, but somehow she did manage to intrude, to insert her crisis into my life through the kids. Her drama, her need for rescue, has become the status quo. Two and a half years later, there is relative order, which makes me expect that chaos is about to explode. I’m supposed to want to believe that she can get better. I’m supposed to believe this for the sake of the kids. But can someone who doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong - even after two wrecked cars, three more DUI’s, and 10 months in jail, really get better?  Someone who believes they are “too nice” to be incarcerated, and that nobody really got hurt, and that one of the citations shouldn’t count because she was really just texting? How much chance, really, is there?
It’s not supposed to affect me, but it does. I’m not supposed to care that she uses a “work” release from her electronic ankle bracelet house arrest to go shopping at the same time her son is playing a soccer game, when she doesn’t have a job, bother me. But it does.  And what is it that bothers me? Is it their undying devotion to her? Their complete ecstasy when she makes time for them. The son doesn’t know that while he was playing in the rain she was out buying things, telling him that she’s not allowed to go to soccer games and that there is no money. But even when he does know, it’s ok. He understands that Mom has had a hard time and that she does her best. So I’m jealous because no one cares whether I’ve had a hard time or not, no one cares whether I’m trying my best, no one craves my attention or begs me to spend time with them. That’s the self-pitying route, but it feels so appallingly unjust in the midst of it. The more troubled and inaccessible she is, the more they desire and defend her. The harder I try, the more uptight I become, and the more they ought to disdain me.
She is a woman of lies and convenience; a woman who walked away from her husband for an affair with her daughter’s teacher. Except that she didn’t. She kicked the father of her children out of the house that he built for his family instead. She claimed that the teacher, who moved into that house, was just a friend helping her through such a difficult time. A time of her own making. She had her kids call that teacher step-dad, though he was “just a friend,” and he claimed them as his tax return dependents. So many lies, so many twists. Mind-bending and exhausting to even try to recall or recount. The story manages to change so that the kids now sometimes wonder if it weren’t for me, who came along a couple of years after the teacher, mom and dad would still be together. And the weird thing is I don’t even know how to write the story she tells, because that idea gets transmitted but those actual words are never spoken. She’s far too nice, far too sweet to ever say a bad word against me. It’s just that I watch the timeline and all remnants of cause and effect get suspended and altered and I have no way to respond that doesn’t make me look a bit crazy and mighty bitter.
She lies. Sincerely enough and habitually enough that it is normal. If you took one sentence she spoke and diagramed it, you might find five different lies. So many that the brain just kind of short circuits and surrenders. There are always real things said, so you cling to those rocks and abandon all hope of making sense out of the rest of it. If you were standing in a pink room, she would tell you it’s a purple room and you’d leave knowing it was a room and assuming that, somehow, you must have been mistaken, the light must have been off and it was, after all, really purple. Later, you would lie awake at night and KNOW those walls were pink, but you are alone – everyone else has moved on. It’s too much fun and much too easy to agree with her. She gets what she wants when she crafts her world and, maybe you, too, will get what you want if you just go along and pretend.

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