Starting just one week after my ex and I told Luca we were divorcing, my then six-year-old son decided he hated me. He morphed from the snuggly moppet who asked me if I could marry him into a Linda Blair-like creature, projecting verbal vomit all over me.
"I want to stab you with a knife!"
"My dad says you're the bad one and he's the good one!"
"I hope my dad remarries and cuts you out of the picture!"
This went on almost daily for seven years. Along with screaming fits, pushing, scratching, and stalking me around the house until I slid down into a crumpled heap against my locked bedroom door.
Growing up as an adopted kid, I had never felt truly connected to anyone until I gave birth to my son. Then to have that bond ruptured, over and over and over, was beyond excruciating. It was sewing a limb back on only to have it yanked back off. It was Demeter wandering the parched earth, searching for Persephone. It was a sick lifecycle deja vu: as my birthmother lost me, so I lost my son.
Over the years, I learned the art of numbing myself. I learned to stand outside pain, and become a narrator to my existential nightmare.
That other woman is blinking back tears, watching Prince smirk as Luca runs into his arms.
That other woman's stomach is lurching as her nanny describes how Prince's mother told tales of her former daughter-in-law's "mental illness," with the children standing nearby.
That other woman's cheeks are flaming as her son refuses to acknowledge her at his elementary school graduation, and watches as he hugs his stepmother seated on the front row bleacher.
Fast forward through a custody battle, then a year-and-a-half in residential treatment for Luca, to every other weekend "visitation," to a week ago at a local pizza place.
Luca, now sixteen, announces casually, "Mom, I really don't like my dad."
"Now, Luca, you didn't like me for a long time," I said, sinking my teeth into a slice of pepperoni in order to hide my jubilation.
"Yeah, but that was because my dad demonized you."
"Hmm," I said, swallowing. Pizza had never tasted so good.
"Why is he such a control freak?" Luca turned to his friend Paolo, seated across from him at the table. "My dad tries to control everything my mom does at her house."
"My dad is the same way too. He tries to control everything too."
As I listened to Luca and Paolo lob stories of patriarchal tyranny back and forth, an immense wave of gratitude poured over me.
After years spent keeping my head above despair, the invisible wall between the other woman and me had finally collapsed. And in the process, that other woman stepped back inside me, and my two halves became whole.
I am relieved that Luca has figured out his dad. It isn't so much about vindication -- okay, 25% is about vindication. But mostly, I'm grateful that Luca has developed the ability to think for himself. With all the brainwashing he received growing up, it's staggering that he has -- psychologically, at least -- broken free of the Your Mother Is Evil cult, and that he has done it while still living with the cult leader most of the time.
Although it's paradoxical, and contrary to the Parental Alienation conventional wisdom never to stop fighting for your child, I've come to believe that letting go brought Luca back. Letting go of the custody battle. Letting go of trying to control the outcome. Letting go of my hope of raising Luca in a traditonal context, or at all. Letting go of the embarrassment of being a non-custodial mother.
I'm squeamish about saying my nightmare happened for a reason, but I do think going through the gauntlet forced both Luca and me to define whe we are, and what we believe. And I believe that our story stretches beyond the two of us, that it gives Alienated Parents a glimmer of hope, and proof that ruptured relationships can be stitched back together.