Monday, October 10, 2011

Claire's Question

We sat on my bed early in the morning.  The children had been dropped off at my apartment Friday night by their dad and Wanda, and we’d stayed up late watching 13 Going on 30, eating Jiffy Pop popcorn, and relaxing together.  Jackson and Faith were still asleep in the living room on their airbeds, and the aromas of fresh coffee and hot chocolate mingled in the air.

Claire had woken up first, which was unusual.  She usually slept in, even when the sun was streaming in through the bay windows.  But this morning, we sipped our hot chocolate and coffee in the midst of a cushy nest of white pillows and linen.  My bedroom was like a sleep lab - a serene oasis - clear, uncluttered, and brilliantly white.  I’d bought all-white bedding, a down feather mattress pad, matching comforter, white cotton sheets, and down feather pillows, rendering my bed a cloud.  The room itself was purposefully spare and empty except for the island of a bed and a large, dark, antique wooden dresser.  From my window, I had a clear view of the Fremont Bridge, and on this morning, we watched the sky change from black to grey to pink to a clear blue.

“Mommy, why did you make Daddy leave?”

I caught my breath and reeled back to reality from the peaceful moment I’d been enjoying quietly with my oldest daughter, now ten years old.  The question caught me off guard.  It had come up before, but I had dodged the issue.  She obviously hadn’t let it go, not surprisingly.  After all, not only was Claire the oldest, but she was also the most hurt and irritated by the changes that had occurred in our lives over the past two years.  And even though she was thriving at her new school in Salem, having quickly moved to the top of her class while developing close friends, she seemed angry with me most of the time.

“Honey, it’s hard to explain.”  I took a deep breath and steeled myself.  “But I’ll try.” 

First though, I wanted to ask her a question.  I took a sip of coffee and turned to her intently, trying to make the eye contact that she was avoiding.

“I’d hoped your daddy might say something to you about this.  Have you asked him?” 

“No.  He doesn’t want to talk about it.  He just said you wanted to move.”

As much as this answer pissed me off, I wasn’t surprised by it one bit.  I chose my words carefully.  All the books and articles I’d read about divorce gave good, basic advice, but they never took into account what to say to kids if one spouse had messed up so royally there was nothing to be salvaged.  Our situation was definitely not typical.

“Well, the main thing is for you to know that you didn’t do anything.  When parents get divorced, it’s not because of the kids.”

 This really was going to be hard for me to explain.  Another sip, another deep breath. 
“When two people love each other, and when they are married, they make a promise to each other.  They promise only to love one another.  They promise not to date anyone else or have another boyfriend or girlfriend or love a different person other than their partner.  You know - their husband or their wife.”

“I know.”

“Well honey, your dad didn’t keep his promise to me.  He loved someone else too.  It broke my heart and I couldn’t trust him anymore.  You should not stay with someone you cannot trust.  I didn’t decide to move us just because I was tired of our old life or because I wanted to move to another house and work downtown.  It was a change I felt I had to make.  It was not just because of me, it was because of what your dad did, leaving me to make some hard decisions.”

I could tell she didn’t quite buy it.  She looked down at the comforter and picked at a feather escaping from the bright white pillow in her lap with a frown creasing her brow.  She didn’t say anything else.  She didn’t ask any other questions.

“Claire, I love you.  I’m sorry I made choices that you didn’t like.  I never thought I’d have to do what I did.”

A tear rolled down her cheek.

I silently cursed Mike for his negligent actions again, and I was furious that not only had he put me into the position of being the one to tell our children what had happened, but that he’d encouraged Claire to think I just changed our lives on a selfish whim, for no real reason.  I promised myself, no matter how hard these conversations might be with Claire, I’d never doubt the decisions I’d made in response to the course of events that our lives had taken so suddenly.

Later that year, the news leaked out from my old church that there had been a shocking and horrible incident involving people from our old circle of friends.  A few of the fathers had taken their children on a camping trip.  The wife of one of the fathers ran a daycare in her home, like me.  Their daughter, a friend of Claire’s, and another ten-year old girl, were molested on the trip by one of the other fathers, a member of Mike’s Men’s Accountability Group.  He was found out and swiftly imprisoned.

Because of the incident, both families’ lives were ruined.  The church community was in shock.  When I heard the news, I was dumbfounded, for many reasons.  But what I kept coming back to, more than anything else, was the thought that I had gotten my daughter out of there just in time.  Mike surely would have gone on that camping trip and surely would have taken Claire.  I never would have discouraged their going - in fact, I would have encouraged it.  After all, it was church-sanctioned.

I would not curse God for the unthinkable sin this man committed.  Instead, I prayed.  I prayed for the children and the mother of the girls who had been molested.  I couldn’t even imagine what she and her daughter were going through.  In addition to praying, I thanked God for putting our evacuation into motion.  My daughter had probably been rescued, without any of us even knowing it, by our preemptive departure.  Looking at it that way, Mike’s act of indiscretion was a backwards miracle.  It was perhaps the only thing bad enough to change our situation so immediately, for me to take action and pull my kids completely out of that environment.  No matter how mad she was at me, even if she was mad at me for the rest of my life, I felt surer than ever that I’d done the right thing for my family.

Mike called me at work the following Monday, furious and seething.

“I never loved anyone else, God damn it.  How could you tell her that?!”

What was I supposed to say?  “Oh, I mean, your Daddy (detailed spoiler removed).”

But I didn’t say that.  Instead, I shrank in my cubicle chair as he berated me, and when he finally let up long enough for me to speak, I quietly apologized.

Exerpt from ILLUMINATION: How One Woman Made Light of Darkness available now as an ebook on Amazon (only $.99 until 10/13/11).


  1. girl you are made of stronger stuff than me...I don't think I could have apologized for that...the truth is the truth and he needs to face it and quit letting you be the fall guy ugh

  2. I am here with tears blurring my eyes so badly I can hardly see. It's like I am reading my life. Even down to the names involved. I have an ex- named Mike and a daughter named Clara. I too am a non-custodial mother. Over this Christmas break I had a very similar conversation with my daughter.

    I asked my daughter if she had asked her dad about it. She said yes, all he says is I don't want to talk about it right now, or I will tell you later. He went as far as to say I left because and I quote "your mom decided she didn't want to be a wife or mother anymore". I was floored. Just positively sick over it.

    He had paid prostitutes while we were married. I did not tell her that part. But pretty much explained things the way you did. That he broke my trust, to the point that there was no coming back from it.

    He called to yell and swear at me today, for "telling her my secret. It was none of her business". After having him scream at me for almost 20 minutes straight he took a breath and I too mumbled an apology. I don't know what else I could have done either. Was I supposed to lie to her?

    I do feel your pain, and I am so sorry for it. Sometimes it just helps to know that someone else knows.

  3. "I don't know what else I could have done either."

    Probably saying something along these lines: "Sometimes when adults stay together, some things happen that they can no longer get along. As a child, it will be irresponsible of me to muddle you through what we, your parents went through. But it had nothing to do with you, and it is not your fault. When you are a lot older, say at 21, we can explain everything you are curious about."