Swimming to Shore



We moved in. C, his parents, me and the boys. The boys shared a room. C and I had a room and his parents had a room. The house was quite lovely inside. This will be good. We can settle here. We can make memories here.

“Cassi, you have to be very strong.” C’s mother would speak to me in her thick accent. Offering her advice on all areas of life. I mostly enjoyed our conversations. She was a fiery Hispanic woman. Her face was lovely, but weary with lines of battle fatigue. We talked for hours about love, life, men, and housework. She was pedantic about housework. Not long after I moved in, I realized most of my days would be spent cleaning.

“If you use the oven, you must clean it.”

“The benches must be wiped and cleared at all times.”

“The floors must be swept.”

“The banisters must be wiped and dusted individually.”

“The bathrooms must be immaculate. No drops. No drops of water.”

“The toilets must sparkle.”

The washing. The windows. Emphatically she went through every area of the house with me, showing me how it was to be cleaned. If there was a drop of water left on a bench or the bathroom sink, she would call me over to wipe it down. It was “unacceptable.” I tried to embrace it as good training. But over the days and weeks I became a slave in my own house. She made all the rules, while I was still paying the majority of the bills. Rent, utilities, groceries, etc. I walked on egg shells trying to do everything right. Trying to keep the house up to her immaculate standards.

C came to church with the boys and I. I hoped that something said would penetrate his hardened heart. I silently prayed for God’s intervention. I noticed that He was texting on his phone quite a lot during the service. I was wrapped up in emotion, he looked bored. “We’ve got to make a stop on the way home, babe. Do you have fifty bucks?”

We stopped at a quaint neighborhood nearby where he exchanged the money for drugs in a mailbox. God, I can’t do this. 

Most of my family was estranged at this point. My mother and her husband, Brian, were the only ones I was really in touch with. I felt forsaken by almost everyone. Where were all the people that supposedly cared about me? Or the boys? Why didn’t anyone care? Why didn’t they reach out? There were only two friends I kept in contact with. They were life to my veins.

C would spend all day in his “office” looking for a job. I had to knock and be invited in before entering.

“C?” I knocked.

Nothing. What is he doing in there? 

“C?” A little louder this time.

“Come in. What is it babe? I’m working.” His tone was short. As though he were inconvenienced by my visit.

He would be in a pair of basketball shorts, no shirt. Sitting in his office chair in the dark. The only light coming from his computer screen. A haze of smoke encompassing his desk. Half empty bottle of whiskey on the left. Small bong sitting on the right. The smell of marijuana hung hot in the air. An open bag of sunflower seeds next to the mouse. Its shells scattered across the desk and floor. His leg was shaking. He always had a nervous, shaking leg. What was that about? He looked up at me with a dazed, vacant, somewhat annoyed expression. “What do you want babe? I’m working.”

You’re working? I wanted to be supportive. I was spending hours cleaning every micro millimeter of the house. My back was sore, my hands were dry.

“How are you going with finding a job?”

“It’s hard babe. The economy isn’t very good. I’ve put my resume out to every job offer that comes up on Craig’s list. I’m doing my best babe, it’s gonna take some time.”

My patience was wearing. “Well I can’t keep spending my savings paying for rent. One more month. That’s it. I’m done.”

“Fine.” He said flatly. With a tone that said he didn’t believe me.

I stood there looking at him. Was he even hearing me? Was he actually looking for jobs? Is he an alcoholic? What does he do in here all day? Why doesn’t he want to spend time with me? Why does he look so empty? Even through this pathetic exterior, I could see a glimpse of the ambitious and playful young man that I had grown so fond of in my young years. I had so hoped that my unyielding respect and affection would make an impact. Make a change. Why hadn’t it? 

New York. He let her ruin him. He gave in to every carnal desire. Every fleshly appetite. He didn’t deny himself any of her indulgences. He partook of all her snares. All her seductive vices. And now here he was. Bound. Chained. Chewed up, spat out. Cynical. Skeptical. Addicted. Empty. A shell. It had cost him his soul.

God, what am I going to do? God show me what to do.

Thanksgiving came around. I came down stairs, smiling. Wearing one of my favorite dresses. It was something that I felt pretty in. Determined to find gratitude where I was. I was met by the disapproving eyes of C’s mother.

Shaking her head. “Go change, honey. You don’t want to wear that. You don’t want to show all of that. Go put on something appropriate.” Dejected, I walked up the stairs. Slow tears stinging. Any joy I had was gone. I can’t even wear what I want. Heckled by her words of shame, I sat on the floor of my closet. Cried into my hands. Hurting. Alone. Lost. Broken. God. God. Help. God what do I do? Crushing weights pulling my heart down. Down into an abyss.

Weeks went by. Fighting became a normal part of life. C’s parents would start shouting at each other in Spanish. I had no idea what it was about. C and his mom fought too. Screaming in each other’s faces. I had my fair share of disagreements with mine, but never had I seen family look at each other with such hateful disdain. Sometimes I tried to mediate. I soon realized they didn’t want to stop fighting. The angry binge put a venom in their veins and they loved the high.

I found joy in my children as I always had. In their innocence and playfulness. There could be darkness all around and they would find the light. Dance in it. And they would lead me to it. I hate yelling. I hate shouting. I despise it. It makes me sick. Nauseous. When the shouting would ensue, I would take the boys into their room and play with them. I would play music and talk to them, trying to distract them. Forced to retreat to a sequestered corner for safety. Hiding in our home. The home we paid for.

“Mom, why are they yelling? Why are they fighting?” Asher was looking at me with those big brown eyes. Pools of innocence where there is no gauge for hatred between family members.
Oh my love. My love I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry we’re here in this house with these people. I don’t even know what we’re doing here. Jesus help me. God help me. What do I do? I don’t even know what to do.

“Sweetie, sometimes grownups disagree on things and it makes them mad and they yell. Let’s build some train tracks. Why don’t you show me how?”

Panic flooded my body. My heart on the roller coaster. Skipping a beat. Pause. THUMP. Rush of adrenalin. This became my normal. Incessant. Over and over. The roller coaster. Dozens of times per day.

At nights I looked forward to being held. C had his many faults, but at least I had someone. Someone to love. Someone to lay with. Lie next to. Enjoy. We watched a movie together one night and I showed interest. I craved touch. Affection.

He was preparing to go “work” in his “office.”

“Don’t go,” I gave him my cute pleading face. “Stay here with me.” I tried to pull him onto the bed by his arm.

He shook free. “I’ve got to work.” His tone was indifferent. He wasn’t even trying to be insensitive or hurtful. He didn’t have to try. He just was.

And he left the room. All I had done. All I was putting up with. Was so that I could have companionship. Affection. And after all I’d given. Forsaken. And spent. Still, I had it not.

Tension mushroomed in the house. C hadn’t found a job yet. My patience with his mother was waning. Her intentions may have been good, but I felt like her slave. Cooking. Cleaning. Constant. I was spending money like water. Paying all of the bills. Money that was supposed to be for me and the boys. I knew I had to put a cap on it before it was all gone. C’s drug and drinking habits were getting to me. There was something dark about him. I was getting glimpses of it. Suspicion grew in me. It was a sensation I hadn’t felt before.

One morning, in usual fashion, an argument broke out amongst C’s parents. The boys got caught in the crossfire. I was in another room. I overheard something and went to see the boys. They were in their room. They told me that C’s mom had yelled at them and sent them to their room.

That’s it. As far as I am concerned, these boys are paying for this house, and no fiery, Latina woman is going to yell at them and shove them in a bedroom. I put the boys in the car and drove to McDonald’s up the street.

I was in tears. Almost hysterics. No matter how much I run from Conflict, he corners me. Is there any escape from this drama? Drama after drama. 

I called my mother. The one link to my family that I still had. I recounted the events of the morning to her. She could tell how upset I was.

“Cassi, you get you and the boys in your car and you drive straight here, you hear me? Don’t even go back to that house. You come straight here.” She had that firm, “mom” tone.

So I did. I got the boys in the car and drove the hour to her house in Cardiff.


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