Chapter 5: Take Off

A curly-haired, dirty blond bouncing 3-year-old stood on my knees in the back of the plane while we waited for take-off. I hate flying. I hate flying with a passion. The whole-leaving the ground at sky-rocketing speed, facing straight upward, ground becoming a sandy blur, and the fact that my stomach always takes an immediate flight of its own straight up to my throat, makes the whole wonderful event kind of nauseating. As a mom though, you can’t really sit too long in those moments, especially while your barely 3-year-old is looking around in amazement thinking this is the coolest ride ever. Justin always looked at everything with the widest blue eyes that held silent inquisition and merriment, even when he was that little. His blue eyes were just like his Daddy’s, kinda of like a stormy blue sky. I could never tell if it was the life traumas that made Jesse’s eyes such a cloudy blue or if that was truly just their unique color. Justin was a lot like his dad was in solid, authentic moments that were unencumbered by liquid courage…he was not afraid of anything. Not even the loud, thundering engines of the plane about to take off. I wondered that morning if the loud, thundering roar of all the fights that took place in our home fell on the same seemingly deaf ears. I wondered if he was able to tune us out in much the same way he was this growing louder by the second roar in my own ears; I hoped he did.

I stepped outside myself that morning while seated in the sardine box with wings and inhaled the stale air blowing fast and straight at my face from above us. I recollected on last week’s mega-fight. I had class after work that day so I left the kids at daycare instead of taking them home to be with Jesse. It was best for them and it gave a sense of security while I was away working on my someday-degree. That morning had started at 5 am getting the kids ready and dressed and myself as well while Jess slept off his hangover. I happily walked out of the house leaving that crap behind me and locking it in the house. I called to check on him at lunch time to make sure he was at least up and out of the bed, reminded him that I had classes that night and wouldn’t be home until late. He tried to convince me that it was OK if I dropped the kids off before class or that he could pick them up and bring them home. I argued that he needed to take this time for himself and just leave the kids to go on that evening’s field trip to Peter Piper. He begrudgingly agreed and said he would hang out with his mom and sister then. That was code for “f-you then, I will go to the Circle K, buy my 5th of Evan Williams and check in with you some time tomorrow”…. and so be it was what the girl at my mental desk said, nothing new there, maybe he wont come home at all and you can get on with your life and start enjoying your children instead of dealing with the daily roller coaster and drama that always just is”. 

When I parked in the driveway of our Golden Gate home that night, I didn’t want to get out of my van. I wanted to quietly, stealth-like, just put it slowly in reverse, back out, and drive out of our development and pick up I-40 and just drive in a direction, with no destination in mind other than away. I wanted away from all of this. This just couldn’t be what my life amounted to after so many years. I remember thinking I’m 27 years old and still taking part-time classes at a junior college to try to get my associates, working 50 hours a week at a daycare so I can keep my children with me all day when they are not in school to keep them out of the house, and not wanting to pull in to the driveway of my own home? I am completely dependent on food stamps, section 8 housing, state medical insurance, and a job that barely puts food on the table and gas in my van, while he sits at home pretending to fix appliances and drinks half of my paycheck. I am afraid to stop any of it or turn to someone for help because I don’t want them to take my children away from me. I am afraid of all the assumptions they will make about who I am, or am not….

Every day consisted of a dialogue like that, keeping me trapped in that beloved “land of enchantment” aka Albuquerque, NM aka “land of ENTRAPment”. The chick at my desk would argue with me a lot. When I got really depressed and scared, feeling utterly helpless I would tell her You are a horrible person, look at what you are allowing your children to witness, they see you being weak and cowering on the floor, they know you are afraid, look at the dysfunction you are causing in their lives, it’s no wonder Hart is in the principle’s office every day of kindergarten, it’s no wonder Zach refuses to speak at school making the guidance counselor pull you aside and discuss something called selective mutism as a response to trauma, look at the example you are setting for your girls, Nikki and Serenity both are going to grow up and marry some douche bag just like this and take all the horrible abuse you are now, all because they wont know any better, YOU are destroying your children’s lives and doing exactly what YOUR mother did, what a waste of breath, YOU would be better off just not here at all, as a matter of fact we all would be better off just not here at all. Jesse can’t hurt any of us anymore if we are all dead and gone…” then that girl sitting lazily back in my seat with her feet up on my desk would verbally whipper-snap me with one question, “So what are you going to do about?”. Some people have an inner goddess, I get stuck with a smart-ass, sarcastic, inner critic with bee-line ability to extract the obvious the whole while making herself at home and renovating my soul (or keeping it intact now that I look back).

Who the hell was this girl and why was she sitting in my spot, filing my life papers, trying to dictate what should be and point out anything? Had I truly flipped my wig? Was this the exact moment my personalities decided to split and greet one another? I can’t answer that for sure but there was a distinct difference between the chick sitting in my chair and the girl day-dreaming about not getting out the van with all 5 kids to walk into whatever shit-storm was waiting inside that house. I would daydream alot about how different it was supposed to be… how much better it might be someday…when he stops drinking, stops hurting… himself… and all of us… that someday when we are this amazing, happy family in the picture I created and held onto with a death grip.

All the daydreams didn’t land in such a morbid spot but when they did that’s usually right around where I would snap back to my senses, and that chick sitting at my brain’s desk would mentally smack me in the back of the head for thinking such a thought in the first place and then go on a long diatribe of just how awesome life truly was, reminding me to be grateful for these amazing children and the opportunity to be their momma, and how I was serving a purpose, I just didn’t know what it was quite yet.

And I was truly grateful. I had a job, that I liked, working with people who I loved. I was sharing moments with friends safely within the confines of those walls and the playground at Sandia Learning Center. I was back in school pursuing my education again after giving up. I was a momma to 5 beauties and I was somebody’s wife. I belonged by legal bond and marriage to a family that I didn’t have to worry about being kicked out of, for once! (I will touch on the psychology of that belief later). I was grateful for my growing education, as I used it to protect myself … every single piece of justification I could find to support why I was staying and a dozen options to offer Jesse to get sober…”its normal to feel this lost when experiencing high levels of stress and trauma” said one research paper, “its research supported that domestic violence within the home increases during pregnancies” said another research paper, “anibuse is a medication that induces adverse reaction when alcohol is ingested” said yet another piece of research… blah, blah, blah… I used my course work as therapy but never reached catharsis is what it all comes down to. It was what it was and that’s was truly about it for me. The chick at my mental desk, she disagreed. She knew what I was doing as I compartmentalized the pain from the reality. She wasn’t stopping me. But she sure as heck wasn’t helping me do it either. Thus the many feelings of self-seperation and the dire need to feel whole.

My part-time college courses kept be from falling OFF the brink of insanity and gave me a break from it as well. When I sat in the classrooms surrounded by mostly like-minded people, even though I was the “nontraditional” older student, I still felt welcomed, alive again, challenged, and happy! That last one was my favorite. I felt happiness as the knowledge and education poured into my brain, and I was then armed to take on the world. I would leave the rooms with confidence and my chin held high with esteem again only to have it knocked out of me, literally. On a good note though, I still today, swear that is why my Nikki is as smart and into academics as she is; the poor child was listening to Lit, Sociology, and Psych courses through all of her nine-months of being utero! I often joke that she came out holding a book  but she truly did actually have a rare birth experience. She had this thing called a Caul on her face. My OB said it was a sign of a blessing when babies are born that way and that it was the first baby she had delivered in her 25 years that ever had it…. she went on to tell me that some people call it a veil and that it is a sign of “special destiny”. Well, I needed all the blessings and special destinies I could get. We need them in spades.

I was jarred out of my reverie as Justin began leaping up and down on my knees now, my window of opportunity for getting him to sit in the car-seat that I had lugged down the 2 inch width aisle of that plane was closing rapidly. My kingdom for a dose of Benedyrl. He laughed and giggled and brought me out of my funk, brought me present again. I remembered that I was just hours away from starting this seemingly new chapter in my life, in the book that I had put down the very first time Jesse hit me. I remember just truly not comprehending why he would kick me in my back, right in the spot he knew was the weakest, most in-pain part of my body. Even 2 years after my accident and all the physical therapy that I detested going to, it still ached daily. I couldnt wrap my brain around why his hands were at my throat or why I was on my knees begging that he stop, please, just stop, I screamed. I looked into his eyes for any sense of recognition that he saw me, the person he loved, but it was never there, it was always as if he disappeared inside and couldn’t stop the madness. I knew he wouldn’t remember this fight either. I knew I would wake with bruises and he would look at me and ask how they got there. We would talk again about what the last thing he remembered was and he would again apologize and beg me to not argue with him while he was drunk.

I had yelled at him again about drinking too much and was trying to have a civilized, adult conversation about what exactly was supposed to go on after we had Zachary, our very first child, if he couldn’t string together 3 damn days of sobriety. These arguments always landed him in the same defensive posturing and pissed-off relay race away from me but I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do. It made total sense to me to fight for what I wanted. Fighting with him while he was lit, was my not so bright point, and I totally own that. I had fought my whole life for everything else and this was no different. I want the white picket-fence and the 2 little kids running around in our backyard with a golden retriever like my grandparents had, lapping licks across their faces, and the smell of burgers trailing across the noses of all our friends we had over to celebrate the boys’ first and second birthdays…

My picket fence was chain-link. My two boys were 11 months apart because I apparently can look at the opposite sex from 5 miles away and still become instantaneously pregnant. My golden retriever was a black, mutt-pup named Mesa. And there were no friends ever because I couldn’t let anyone know what happened inside these closed doors that I, like my mother, kept locked, closed, curtains pulled, and dark inside. There were no burgers unless it was the Mickey-Dee’s greenchile cheeseburgers off the dollar menu. There were no birthday parties either, not the normal kind that is, where you open presents and everyone is smiling and laughing and happy to be with each other, there were however hangouts at the daycare center I directed with my teachers and the owner who became like a mother to me and the catalyst for getting the heck-outta-dodge. Sandia Learning Center was my Middletown High School. Again, I had found a safe haven to create a fairytale life where I was happy, welcomed, appreciated, needed, loved, and safe. Inside those walls I was always safe and so were my children, and for the 8 hours a day that Jess was clocked-in, so was he. I found a way in my very naive mind to keep him safe from himself or at least the bottles of Evan Williams that always found their way into his pockets.

I had gotten him hired after one of his turns at Rehab and it was working out, he was amazing with the kids in his Pre-School B classroom. He was a natural at teaching them and loved it. He would bring in his guitar and play for them, he would create amazing schedules and curricula for them and I truly saw enjoyment on his face for the first time since I had been with him. (Not discounting the first time he held his boys in his arms, that was a soulful smile that happens only that very first time you are handed the life that you helped create). He had a look of belonging when we were among the other staff. When he was sober, we were even making friends. No one knew his deep-dark-life-depleting secret other than me and my best friend Halo who worked the office. Oh my, did we work awesome together! She was ironically going through the same exact life I was, we both had 5 kids by that point and husbands who had good days and really, really bad weeks. Its kinda funny how we can look at another persons life, even when it’s totally identical to our own, think to ourselves “oh-my, that’s just horrible, I would never let that happen to me or my children”… and then be completely obtuse to the fact that I was… letting it happen… to me… to all 5 of my own flesh and blood.

The plane started to move sideways, well turn to the right I mean; it was moving. My heart began racing from the rising fear and anxiety just as much from the excitement that was waiting for me on the other end of this ride. The Manzano mountain tops were beautiful from this view too. Looking down over the trails that I had walked when I first moved to Albuquerque and Jesse was this new, exhilarating rush of life in my veins, before the reality of his disease took away everything we dreamed, we would walk the La Luz trails and sit in the ruins of the stone houses. It is a sort of cosmic irony for me. It was on top of that mountain that I had fallen in love with him and we shared who we were, who we wanted to be, with and for each other. We talked for endless hours about what a great life we could have and how different it would be someday… and here I was again, kind of on top of the mountain, well soaring thousands of feet above it, at speeds I care not to think about, holding one of my bouncing bears in my lap, and this time headed to fulfill my pre-destined-dream… to start something… different… but necessarily new at all.

Justin must have felt it too, he was calming down and so was I as I rested my head against the seat behind me. He rested his cute blond-top on my chest and snuggled in. Wrapping my arms around him and hitting my elbow on his car seat, again, I looked down at him and whispered, “thank you”. I wrestled with the chick at my desk, Justin’s car seat, our carry on luggage, and the hope building inside my heart whole flight home. I remember trying to quiet myself inside while Justin slept in my arms so that I could talk frankly with the chick at my desk. I begged that I find some semblance of congruency on this impromptu trip and that something would finally make sense. I needed strength to be there for my mom while she grieved the loss of our Uncle. I needed someone to watch over the 4 babies I had left at home with Jesse and I really, really needed to know why the Love of my life had been brought back into my life at such an odd time in my opinion. I knew my life was changing. I knew I was excited to see my friend after all these years and I also knew I wasn’t saying a single word about what my life had really been like all this time. Cool thing is, it didn’t even matter, not to Heath anyways.

The plane finally landed. I gathered up my sleeping mess of blond curls as he continued to drool on my shoulder, put my back-pack on one shoulder, the diaper bag on the other and somehow grabbed the tip-top strap of his car seat so I could drag it thudding down the aisle. “Welcome to Baltimore International Airport, please enjoy your stay”.

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