Saturday, October 16, 2010


                                                                                                      {photo by Cassie Kammerzell}

Years later (15 to be exact) I sat at the top of the stairs in my Lake Oswego townhouse, looking down at the cold, white, entry tiles on the floor.  Their simple, straightforward pattern, with the predictable line of caulking in between momentarily fascinated me.  Little things like this are reassuring when the rest of your world is turned upside down.

It was the first week of August.  I had been in the Lake Oswego townhouse for one year exactly.  It had served as a safe-haven, the perfect landing pad for the children and me after the Big Bang, because it was an in between place -- purgatory.  It wasn’t Beaverton, where Mike lived.  Staying there held too many painful memories.  It wasn’t Wilsonville either, where I’d grown up and my parents still lived.  If I’d moved back to Wilsonville and lived in an apartment near them, I would have felt like I’d taken a big step backwards.  Because I drove from home to my job downtown, then to Bill’s, then back home on a daily basis, living in Wilsonville would have made the daily commute untenable.  The townhouse in Lake Oswego was comfortable and safe.  I was near Jenny, Beth, and RJ, my friends who had helped me and provided support throughout the changes and challenges I had been through.

Once Mike and I agreed it was in the kids’ best interest to change our parenting time and their residence, I gave two-weeks notice at the townhouse.  Since I’d have the children each Friday through Monday, I could move closer to my job downtown.  I no longer had to consider the school district I lived in.  Mike and his new girlfriend lived within the boundaries of the Evergreen school district, which was considered one of the best in the region.

I boxed up the last of the children’s books from the shelves in their bedroom.  Goodnight Elmo was the last thin paperback, and I looked at the worn edges and bright red cover before slipping it into the box for my son Jackson.  I’d read it to him every night before bed until he was four, back in our old life when I had the time and energy to read to my children.  Tears welled up in my eyes, and my heart lodged itself in my throat.  Was I making the right decision?  I kept asking myself the question.  Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I doubted myself.  I worried and wondered what I was doing, if it really was the right thing for my children.  Logically, it seemed the best thing for them, but I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of loss and dread, like I’d given up in some way.  Why wasn’t I stronger?  I felt like a bad and weak mother.  I had never imagined not having my children in my custody all the time, and now the house and my life was too quiet without them.  But they were with their Dad now.  They would get back the sense of routine and comfort that they used to have, and that they needed, I told myself.

Exhausted from emotional turmoil and a lack of sleep, I was on the edge of breaking down and crying on the floor, right there at the top of the stairs -- again.  But instead, I pushed the nagging worry aside and got back to work.  I assured myself that this was the best thing -- the only thing -- that I could do for now, and it would be good for all of us.  I told myself that it would be okay; the children would be safe and happy and have more time for playing sports after school and not being chauffeured back and forth between their dad and me every single night.   This is only temporary, I thought, the means to an end until I put things back together for us.

I put the lid on the box and carried it downstairs, then set it onto the white tiles in the entry.  The townhouse was almost empty, except for the garage.  I’d been avoiding that area completely.  Boxes of receipts, files, and documents from my life with Mike were stacked along the wall.  The children’s bicycles, Jackson’s basketball, Claire’s soccer ball, and our unopened crate of Christmas ornaments all sat covered in dust in the cool, damp, darkness of the tiny concrete garage.  I’d found a home for our dog through one of my coworkers at the school, and although I’d dropped her with a her new owner a few days earlier, piles of dried dog poop still littered the cement floor here and there, creating a minefield of hardened shit between the outdoor toys and boxes of paperwork.

I pressed the button to open the garage door from the inside and turned on the light.  Sunlight streamed in and revealed the thin layer of dirt and dust frosting the abandoned contents in the garage, making them look more forlorn, used, and unappealing than ever.  The minivan was backed up to the garage.  I started clearing out the last boxes, then setting them into the trunk.  Once the final mesh bag of sand toys was loaded, I glanced around one last time to make sure I’d gotten everything.  A few stray papers remained in the corner, along with another pile of dried dog poop.

I grabbed one of the papers and carefully scooped and scraped the little, brown, petrified pile onto it.  The paper was an Ambulance Paramedic Training Diploma.  Mike had spent countless hours in school and training programs when we were together.  He’d attempted many times to return to college, and our family’s money had been spent on pre-nursing textbooks and business administration classes from Mt Hood, Clackamas, and P.C.C. Community Colleges.  We’d spent much of our family budget on his college registration fees and tuition.  For a while, he had aspirations of joining the fire department, and had spent a lot of time volunteering at the local branch in Beaverton.  He studied for hours for the pre-firefighter exam, which he failed more than once.

This slip of paper was proof of one that he’d actually completed and passed, then decided it was not the right career for him.  I thought about all of the Sallie Mae student loans, and the multiple times I’d called to ask for payment deferments on Bill’s various different student loans because of his irregular employment history.  I remembered the many hours I’d spent watching my stepson Ryan while he attended classes, and wondered if he’d had affairs with college classmates while I was at home, juggling the cooking, cleaning, and children.

I looked down at the hardened fecal matter covering the raised, gold lettering on the 5x7 diploma and thought about how finally, today, the end result of at least one of Mike’s scholastic endeavors was proving useful.  How appropriate, I thought to myself – abandoned poop from the abandoned dog collected by the abandoned diploma.

I walked out of the garage to the side of the house to deposit the petrified turd into the garbage can.  It slid off the paper, bouncing off the refuse below.  I held Mike’s hard-won diploma in my hand, and after wondering very briefly if I should return it to him, I let it drop into the barrel with the rest of the abandoned reminders of the past.

Exerpt from ILLUMINATION: How One Woman Made Light of Darkness to be released as an E-Book in November 2010

1 comment:

  1. I came across your blog a while ago when i started a similar journey and im only just now reading your blog. Your life is pretty much a carbon copy of my life! I can not believe the similarities!! I've started my own blog if you'd like to read it you can contact me to follow it if you like.