This is a tough one to write.
A childhood friend of mine, whom I have know since elementary school has become “one of us”… a single mom. I did not expect it any more for her than I did for myself. I know them both for many years.
Having lost contact a while ago, then having reconnected on Facebook, she reached out to me to say that she missed me and would love to chat sometime. Unaware of all that she had gone through in the past several years, the conversation took far longer than I expected it to take.
From the moment she heard my voice, the tears started to flow. They turned from slow pauses in the conversation in an attempt to cover up the fact that she was crying, to dry heaves when no more tears would flow.
I could imagine her tear stained swollen face and red eyes; I had seen that face looking back at me from the mirror many times in recent past.
Her story was not too different from mine, but her suffering was far worse. She was married to someone who was unwilling to provide for his children. Each month was a struggle to get him to pay child support. Maintenance, once known as alimony had since ended, and her only relief was in not having to hear his unkind words when he had to “pay her for sitting on her fat ass”. Child support was one thing, paying her to care for his children angered him to the point of her fearing violence. She had been there before, I was surprised to find out. It was almost a relief not to have to remind him that he “owed” her each payment monthly.
The specifics of her legal battles are not the point, and I won’t go into them. It is important to know that whenever he thought he was about to lose a legal battle, he showed up like the hero and paid what he was supposed to pay. Crying business slow downs, or the expenses of his new family, no legal action or penalty was paid. He smiled and appeared as a dutiful father did. He “could not understand” why it had to come to this; she knew he would pay like he always had.
She left Court feeling like a fool; relieved just to have money in her bag to buy some nice groceries.
While I have no doubt that he loved his children, I also have no doubt that he enjoyed making her struggle. Years passed. Maintenance exhausted, and only periodic child support, alone and unmarried, working part time jobs to be available as a parent to her children as they entered the teenage years, she turned to public assistance to fill in the gaps that she no longer could fill. He rarely visited the kids as he was involved with his newer family.
Still living in her family home that she had not sold because it was home to her children, and because its value had sharply fallen. At this point, she would be lucky to pay off the bank loan. Hoping to hang on and sell when she was at retirement age, she thought it was her security. Having traded his half of the home for her share of his business, she and her lawyers thought she made a good deal. Knowing there was no way to see the future, she made the best choice she could at that time.
Years later, his business was a success. No one cared about the pivotal role she played in its creation; it only mattered that it was no longer part of her future security.
Series of papers and degrading questions later, she interviewed with the social services worker for her SNAP benefits; once known as food stamps. Still waiting for approval, one month later, she continues to live paycheck to paycheck, finding more and more ways to stretch the dollar to feed her two kids, and to try to keep the bills up to date. No longer worrying about her credit rating, which she grew up to believe was so important, she alternated months to pay bills. She gradually fell away from friends and family who had no idea how bad things had become.
The phone hasn’t been late in a few months; eenie meanie minie moe… it’s your turn. Silently praying that being late this month would not eliminate the possibility of using her cell phone, she made a choice. The phone company would have to wait, or there would be no food on the table.
Applying for another job, attempting to sell AVON, and selling a piece of jewelry that her grandmother had given to her, juggling the details on her calendar, she wondered what else she could do.
Seemingly with no solution in sight, passing ideas of suicide and everlasting peace enter her dreams. Only her children kept her from making that decision.
More nights than not, she awakes in a cold sweat, praying just to get her kids off to college. She is close…. just a few more years of this. She no longer seemed to care about what her own end would look like.
We spoke about depression, and getting some help.
Today her dreams are different. We laughed a bit about how far we both had fallen; once married with hopes and dreams of the happy retirement with the men we loved, we compared notes and struggled to end the call with a list of reasons we are both better off alone. It was a short list, but it was a list nonetheless.
Wishing I could help more, we shared some recipes to “stretch the meal”, and we promised to keep in touch.
Empty and drained from that conversation, I decided to share her story.
Hopefully her benefits will come through soon. I wish I had more than prayers to offer. Not much of a religious person myself, I turn to BFF and her Rosary, appreciative always for her love and prayer.