I never felt comfortable identifying as a “survivor”. The survivors whom I have had the privilege of walking with for 18 years, have endured an unimaginable kind of violence. I didn’t think mine was relevant. Mine was the silent kind, the one with no visible wounds or scars. The kind people flip their nose at because “I made a choice”…Privilege over self-respect.
I have often felt guilty for feeling like I endured something because I had access to experiences and “things” that few people ever get to have. I lived a life of profound privilege for more than a decade. On the surface, I had it all….and really, I had nothing. I convinced myself I had love. He convinced me I had love. I owned nothing. I lived in isolation in front of millions of people. I endured silently with a smile and a lot of luxurious “things”…until I couldn’t any longer. I had to choose privilege or self-respect…I finally chose self-respect. But it didn’t come from me, it came from my son. Becoming a mom brought out a fearlessness in me, a recognition that I had better be everything I claimed to be because I now had someone who relied on me to learn it all. I tried to become all of that within our relationship, but that wasn’t the person he wanted. So after 15 years I left with my child, my clothes, my rocking chair and crib. No movers came because I wasn’t allowed to take anything. Not a spoon (although I did sneak some silverware and a blender from one of our guest houses). By myself, I packed up and drove away from our home and to my apartment.
I had to be punished for leaving; I wasn’t supposed to make life altering decisions like that. He was. I bought a bed and refrigerator before my credit card was shut down. And then the fun began. We camped out in our apartment with little furniture, but we had each other…and freedom. I remember one night lying next to my toddler as he slept, taking a deep breath and thinking that if my life never gets better than this, if this is my “it” and I just ride life out from here…what do I have to complain about. I have been blessed with this beautiful human who was born out of love, and I don’t want to miss a moment of his life looking for something else. Looking for a new man, a better life, a new brass ring to chase. And at that moment, I let go of my fears and breathed in gratitude for my life, his life, our life.
I felt guilty identifying as a “single mom” because I had funds, albeit comparatively few, to put a roof over my son’s head in California, which was more than many single parents. I made decisions every step of the way, to maximize my time with my son when he was with me, honoring his relationship with his dad, and always holding out hope that his dad would be a better father than he was a partner. Our son deserved the best of both of us, and I knew in my soul that the only way for that to be possible, was for me to create space from him, to allow me to be free to be the mom I was capable of being. I made that decision out of love for all of us. I was afraid to rock the boat for fear the support for my son would disappear. The only reminder of the debilitating control I accepted for so many years, was that support. I needed it. I wanted nothing more than to never need anything from him again, but I needed that money to give my child the kind of life he deserved.
We lived month to month for a long time. There were times when I had $10 and 4 days left in the month, but we made it work. We built forts in our house and walked to the park and ate dinner at friends’ houses…I’d be damned if I was gonna break under the pressure. That was what he wanted. I had no where near that privileged lifestyle that his dad had to offer, but I had more love than anyone could ever give. I learned that growing up.
Sometimes I was irrationally determined. I had moved us from a rented apartment next door to a stripper and into a rented home. I bought a basketball hoop for the driveway. Loaded and unloaded it myself. Grabbed my toolbox and sat in the driveway with all of the pieces laid out. The beginning of the instructions read: “You will need two people to assemble”. My response to the written instructions was: “Fuck you, I don’t have two people. I have one, and I’m putting this thing together.” . . .and so I did. Until I got to the part where I had to put the 50lb. backboard on the 10 foot long pole and stand. I tried everything I could, holding the stand off the ground with one foot while leaning to pick up the backboard and trying to shimmy it onto the pole. Propping the pole up off the ground with cinder blocks and trying to lift the backboard onto it. I turned red, and frustrated and disappointed in myself. Eventually I gave up and asked a neighbor for help. Because the goal was more important than my pride.
I had great successes too. I made sure that my son knew love. I made sure that he had great men around him in all areas of his life: basketball, school and friends. My family was unquestionably my foundation throughout this time, but there was only so much they could do given the miles between us. My girlfriends and their husbands were also a critical part of our lives. I relied on both family and friends to be a strong presence in my son’s life and felt comfortable asking them for help getting a Christmas tree or cleaning out the gutters, or even talking to my son when I knew he needed a man’s ear.
Some of the hardest times were during middle school and high school when I was working long hours and not home after school. Times when my son left his basketball bag in the trunk of my car and I had to drive 35 miles from downtown to school to get it to him in time for practice…and then back to work. I sat in the bleachers of basketball games writing work proposals on my computer while waiting for his game to start. And some days came home completely tapped out and realizing I had left no energy or patience for my own child.
I did all that. And I wouldn’t trade a single sleepless, bawling night of tears and fears and disappointment. I never took a breath to think about what I had been through or was going through, there was no time. High school graduation, college acceptance, and raising a thoughtful, happy young man…those were the goals. And we got there: my son, my village and me.
The child support is gone. I am completely free. I am a survivor.