Out of the Ashes

ashes

 

Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.

~ Eat, Pray, Love

The next day, I sat on my bed. I knew it was time. Time for me and God to sort things out. It was time to face my pain. The avalanche. The Tide. I felt like I’d been grieving for so long. I didn’t want to grieve anymore. I didn’t want to cry anymore. But it was the only way. I knew Pain was still in my heart. I knew I was broken. I have to work my way through it. Through it is the only way passed it. There’s no going around it. There’s no ignoring it. There’s no drinking it away. I crossed my legs and sat still. In the quiet, by myself.

I’m ready Lord. I looked within my own heart. The avalanche of pain that I’d been running from. I stopped. It took all of the courage I had. I stopped running. I turned around. And I faced the avalanche. I faced Pain. I was expecting to get flatlined by a torrent of emotions. Swept up in Pain’s avalanche where I would be pummeled, beaten, and buried.

Instead, slow tears came as I felt God put is hand on my heart. It wasn’t an avalanche. It was gentle drops of healing oil. I cried while my Heavenly Father poured his love on me. With the skilled hands of a surgeon, He began to mend my broken heart. I was a little lamb. A little lamb with a terrible injury. Running around the paddock in pain. Bumping into things. Making it worse. The shepherd wanted to pull me into his lap so he could fix me up. But whenever he came close I ran away. Don’t touch it! It hurts too much it hurts too much, just leave it. Leave me alone! But the little lamb was ready now. Ready to lay in the Shepherd’s lap. To let him put his hands on the sorest places. Trusting that, as much as it may hurt, He is going to make me better. If I just let Him. And that, when the time is right, He will send me bounding back into the paddock again. All healed up.

Four weeks grief settled over me like a gray sky. Incessant tears. Not like the waves that would come to drown me. Like steady winter rain. There’s a time to grieve. And I was grieving. The song “It is Well with My Soul” brought me much comfort. I sat. Staring out the window. The clouds and rain echoing my heart’s melancholy. Listening to the precious words of hope. Hope beyond brokenness. That my soul is well. Despite the loss. The suffering. The trauma. The pain. Death. It is well. The tears welled up in my eyes and fell down my cheeks. Dripping off my chin. Then more would well up and fall. Rise and fall. Rise and fall. The only way past it, is through it. I was lost at sea. In a boat. Feeling the water’s rise and fall with its gentle ebb. Unsure where I was headed. But trusting that God, my rudder, would guide me back to port. Eventually. That was me. Sitting. Staring. Weeping. My weathered soul’s lament. My baby. I love you my baby. I’m sorry baby. Mommy loves you, baby. Dean. Dean. I miss you, sweetie. Gone. You’re gone. Can’t get you back. Alone. I’m alone. Won’t see you. Not in this life I won’t.

Not long after my sister and my cousin got pregnant. Both with girls. The news stung.

My baby is dead. 

My husband is dead.

After my four weeks of tears, something started to happen. Something changed. A strength. A strength that I had never felt before, rose. Determination. Out of the ashes the Phoenix rose. That was me. I don’t know how. God. He’s the only One that could have done it. I felt iron in my bones. Where I had felt the shakes, quakes, and quivers. I was immovable. Undeterred. Resurrected. Determined not to give up. I am not going to curl up with a bottle of whiskey. Fuck no. I am not going to give up. Leaving the house to go work at Starbucks, walking out to my car. Fuck no I’m not giving up. NO! I had been in the fire and everything had burned away. All that was left was made of steel. If I can bury Dean. If I can let go of my angel baby. I can do anything. To the powers of darkness: You cannot have my smile. You will not take my joy. It is mine. I’m going to keep smiling and keep laughing and keep loving.

I made a decision. Any negative thought I had or sensed from anyone else, I’m going to turn it into joy. And love. And hope. With light, and everything good.

 

Submerged in Black Water

black-water

 

C had moved to Vegas. He found a job there and decided to go. We kept in touch. I gave him updates on the pregnancy. We decided that we would go to the doctors for the ultrasound when he was in town.

I was about 10 weeks along when he drove over for a visit. We went to a small clinic. It was exciting. I was letting this little life in my heart. Your child is your child, regardless of the circumstances. A mother’s love is a mother’s love and I was going to love this baby. Even if it meant things were tough. Even if it meant I was a struggling single mom with three kids.

The nurse went about doing the sonogram.

We waited. The boys were there as well. On the screen we could see the outline of the baby’s body.

“Okay. Yep…” She wasn’t saying much. “Are you sure you’re ten weeks along?”

“Yes.” Of course I’m sure. You don’t have to have a degree to count to ten.

“Hmm, okay. Your baby looks a bit small. I’m just having a hard time finding the baby’s heart beat.”

Something’s not right. I felt it. In the pit of my stomach. This isn’t right.

We left. I had mixed feelings. Seeing C again. It was even more evident to me that this was not the man I want to walk alongside in the journey of life. He left the next morning. I told him I would keep in touch.

About a week later, on a Sunday afternoon, I was working at Starbucks. I started feeling some cramping. Like period pain type cramping. That’s odd. I don’t remember having cramps when I was pregnant with the boys. Hmm. Weird. I went to the bathroom and there was the slightest spotting. Fear swept over me. Something isn’t right. 

When I got in my car, I called Naomi, who is also a trained Doula. I explained what was happening.

“Okay. Yeah. Listen, go home. Put your feet up. Get some rest. I’m sure everything is going to be fine. See how you feel in the morning, okay?”

I went home and tried to relax. It was harder to relax without having any wine.

I put my feet up on the couch. The cramping continued. Just the slightest sensation. I had another fitful night’s sleep. I woke up to worse cramps and more spotting. God, no. No, no, no. Something’s not right. Shaking, I called my sister.

“Calm down. Okay, I’ll come down to mom’s house. You stay there. Keep your feet up. We’ll take you down to the clinic just to make sure everything is fine.”

I was trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears. “Thank you, Noni.”

I called in to work and told them I was sick. Naomi came to get me. I was walking ever so gingerly. Afraid of making abrupt movements. We got in her car and drove to a clinic. They turned us away saying we needed to go to hospital emergency.

So we drove to the hospital where they admitted me. They got me into a hospital gown and laid me down in a bed. It was awful as most emergency rooms are. Sterile. Florescent. Devoid of color or life. Once again, I was grateful for my sister’s ability to make me laugh in any situation. She took time away from everything else to be with me. My heart squeezed. Thank you God for my sister.  We chatted and giggled over inside jokes and funny movies. Trying to lighten the seriousness and uncertainty that weighed in the atmosphere. I laughed outwardly but was quivering inwardly. The doctor came in, it was a female doctor. She asked me a few questions and then gave me a quick internal exam.

“There’s some blood there. It’s not a lot of blood, but there is some blood. We’re going to send you up to ultrasound to get a scan and see how your baby is going, okay?”

“Yes, okay, thank you.” I felt grateful.

A little while later someone else came and put me in a wheel chair. They wheeled me to the ultrasound room. A woman did my scan. She didn’t speak to me while I was there. Then they wheeled me back. I was grateful to have Naomi at my side again.

After some time, the doctor came back.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you, your baby is not alive. It looks like your baby stopped growing at about eight or nine weeks. You are going to have a miscarriage. Now, if you like, you can have a DNC done, which is a procedure we do here at the hospital where we basically vacuum and clean out the uterus. Or, you can go home and have your miscarriage naturally. At the stage you are, about half the people would have the DNC.” Her tone was sympathetically matter of fact.

I couldn’t hold back the tears. Naomi was crying. She was holding my hand. My baby is dead. Grief gripped me hard. I was trying to maintain some sort of composure so that I could respond to the doctor.

“I think I’d like to go home and miscarry naturally.”

“Okay, yeah. I’ll prescribe you some pain killers. It will be pretty painful, so just be prepared for that.”

Your baby is not alive. Her words echoed in my head. My baby is dead. My baby. My precious little innocent baby. My mind raced. I thought about all the nights I laid awake crying and sobbing. The stress. Anxiety. My body probably thought I was too stressed to carry the baby. I was too distraught.

“Cassi how can you go through so much?” Naomi was crying at my side. She’d been so strong. She’d been so reassuring. The doctors were gone now. It was just me and Noni. Crying. Pain. More tears. More pain.

We had lunch together. I wasn’t very hungry. We talked. I tried to process it. The cramps were slowly intensifying. Eventually, she had to go home to her kids. I went home, already feeling emotionally drained. I was trying to wrap my head around what was happening. I had made phone calls during the day, so that most of the family were aware of what was happening. I called C.

“The baby died. It stopped growing a couple of weeks ago. I’m going to have a miscarriage.” I said somewhat despondently.

“Oh my gosh, really? Oh no. Babe, listen, I’m going to come out there as soon as I can. Call me whenever you want, I’m here for you.”

Yeah, but you’re not here for me. Whatever. 

I went to the drug store to get my prescription filled. A line started forming and I started feeling painful pressure. I need to sit down. I sat down and someone took my place in line. I tried to explain to them that I was uncomfortable and needed to sit down, but I was actually in line. They weren’t interested. Others formed in line behind them. The pain was mounting and I couldn’t wait any longer. Defeated, I went home without meds.

It’ll be like really bad period cramps. I’ll just have to grit and bear it. 

Everyone went to sleep. I tried to lay down in bed, but the pressure was getting too intense. I drew a hot bath for myself. As hot as I could stand it. Got in.

Alone.

The cramps were becoming unbearable. I grabbed at my stomach and tossed and turned in the bath. Crying. I had no idea it was going to be this bad. Oh my god. Oh my god. I can’t take this! I clenched my fists and teeth. I tried to swallow my sobs. I fantasized about someone coming in with a baseball bat and knocking me unconscious.

The worst physical pain I have ever endured. Matched by the excruciating emotional pain I was in. My husband is dead. My baby is dead. The finality of death and the pain of loss overwhelmed me. I looked down into the water. It was black. I was surrounded by death. Emersed in death. Death. I could feel my heart as it was breaking. My insides being slowly torn out at the same time.

Alone. So alone.

Dean. My husband. My baby. My angel baby. That I’ll never hold. My darling baby. My precious baby. 

I got my iPhone and played the Alison Krauss song, “Baby Mine”

“Baby mine, don’t you cry,

baby mine, dry your eyes,

you are so precious to me,

sweet as can be, baby of mine.”

I wept and I wept and I wept.

I picked up my phone. I called C. I need someone to talk through this with me. I need to talk. I need to distract myself from this pain. God, it’s more than I can bear. 

He answered, “Hey babe, how are you?”

“I’m in the bath. I’m in a lot of pain. It’s happening.” I could hardly think straight. I felt a wave of nausea.

“You are? Oh wow, that’s bad. Listen, do you mind if I call you back in just a minute? Just in a moment.”

“Uh, yeah, okay.”

He never called back. I rang him, he didn’t answer. Bastard.

Help me God.

I called one of my closest friends in Esperance. I didn’t know who else to call. She answered. I fought back the tears to try to explain where I was and what was happening.

She paused and then gave faning empathy, “Oh wow. Gosh, Cass. Well, maybe you’ll do that different next time.”

Her trite and insipid tone were salt in all my wounds. Making the all enveloping death, darker. Stronger. More powerful. It stole my breath. How can she be so cold? I never want to be like that. I never want to be that person. The conversation ended shortly after. And I felt I’d lost yet another friend.

Desire gives birth to sin and sin gives birth to death. 

That’s me. I’m literally giving birth to death! Oh my Lord, my God. Look at this mess I am in. This world of pain and hurt. This is so bad. This whole situation is bad. It looks so hopeless! Like the part in the movie where everything is so bad and you can’t possibly see how things could work out. You’re the only one, Lord. You’re the only one I know that can take broken and impossible situations and turn them around. Turn them into something good. I’m sorry I’ve been running from you, Lord. I’m broken. 

I could see it all so clearly then. I’d been running. Running from my pain. Making decisions out of brokenness. Living out of brokenness. Unable to see past my pain. And I was going to keep making a bad situation worse and worse until I let God heal my heart.

I’m ready God. Oh it’s going to hurt so much and I’m so scared to face my pain. I feel like that avalanche will crush me. But Lord, there’s no way around it. There’s no way around my pain, but through it. I’m ready Lord. Heal my heart. I want you to heal my heart. You can have my life again. God you can have it all. 

And right there in that bathtub, laying a pool of death, in a world of pain, with a broken heart, I surrendered it all to God again. I reached for Light. For Hope. And I asked Him to come. Come, Lord. For I am weary. I am faint. I cannot do this. My Lord, you will have to, because I cannot.

After four hours in the tub, I felt a gush. Relief. The placenta. It was a bit bigger than my palm, and an inch or so thick. I let out the blood water and dried myself off. It wasn’t over, but it was a reprieve. I carried myself on shaky legs to bed. Weak. Exhausted, but not alone. God was with me. Sleep.

The next day I mostly stayed home to rest. I was having some light cramping but nothing bad. I had the good sense to go back to the drug store and fill my prescription for pain meds. When the next round hit, I would be ready. It was the following morning, about 6am. Pain woke me up.

I got up and took two of my Vicodin and laid back down. Trying to mentally prepare myself for the ensuing torture. I was squirming in bed and moaning. The pain was gradually getting more and more intense. I hadn’t passed the baby and the sack yet, I knew that must be happening now. My mom came in,

“How are you honey?”

“It hurts, mom. It hurts so much.” The tears were running across my temples and into my ears. Laying still was too painful. I was rocking around and rolling in bed. The Vicodin made me nauseous. I asked mom to bring me something to eat. Thankfully she was there to help the boys get ready for school and drop them off. I got up and drew a hot bath. Heat. I need heat and water. The Vicodin didn’t seem to be touching the sides. I sat up and banged on the wall. “DAMMIT!” I stood up. Leaned my head against the wall. Let out a bellow. “God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” My mom came back and sat in the bathroom with me. Having someone there somehow helped. Someone to witness my torture, even if they couldn’t stop it. I banged against the walls and shouted. I got out of the bath and back in bed. Writhing in the pain. I took two more Vicodin. Still no relief. I took two Advil as well. I continued to toss and turn. Crying. Moaning. Mom kept me from getting hysterical. My fists clenched, I punched the pillows. So angry. So frustrated. So overwrought. Dean. Dammit Dean. Why Dean. C. You fucking asshole. God. Oh my God. You’re supposed to have a baby at the end of all of this pain. My baby is dead. I’m going through all of this pain, and I don’t even get a baby at the end of it. I thrashed in bed and swore. Once again I wished that someone would give me a good hard hit in the head to knock me out.

Four and a half hours later. In the bath. I felt something between my legs. The sack and my baby. Before I thought about it, I flushed it down the toilet.

My baby. Oh my God. I flushed my baby down the toilet. A flood of tears came. The cramping was gone. I went into the living room and laid on the couch. I could feel the effects of the Vicodin now. The woozy, cloudy high. I’m empty now. Baby’s gone now. My angel baby. Is with Jesus. I’m sorry my little baby. I’m so sorry. I’m going to miss you. I’m sorry I never got to meet you. I’m sorry. I love you. I’ll see you in heaven one day. Angel baby…I drifted off. Sleep.

 

Something Mended, Something Broken, and Something Unexpected

nightmare

 

I told him to leave. I told him I needed a week. A week to think. A week to get some clarity. And then I cried. I cried for a day. Over my mistakes. Over the rift in my family. For my boys. For the death of my fairy tale. My dream that I had love in my life again. My dream of having a companion. Reality had given me a good, hard slap in the face. And then I thought. For the next six days. I cried and I thought. And at the end of the week I knew. It was over.

I called him and arranged to meet. We sat in my car. I was calm. I told him. It’s over. I explained why. You’re a liar. You’re an alcoholic. You do drugs. You’re not employed. There’s no trust. There’s no love. I used him to fill a void in my life. It was wrong. The relationship was wrong from the start. I needed something. Something to escape my pain. He was a great distraction. A fantasy. And that was over now. It was done.

He begged. He pleaded. I was insistent. I made up my mind.

The following weekend my siblings and their spouses, the boys and I, all went to my parents’ for a visit. My sister and I were on speaking terms again, for which I was beyond grateful. My period was four days late. It was playing on my mind. Surely not. I’m surely not. I wanted to get a test though, just to have the peace of mind that I wasn’t pregnant. I told Naomi that I wanted to go fuel up the car and asked her if she would come along. She agreed. On the way there she assured me,

“Yeah Cass, I agree, I don’t think you are. Let’s just do a test though, and then you’ll know for sure.”

I took a deep breath. Yes, that peace of mind will be good. We got some fuel and then went into the drug store. Found a test. Paid for it.

“Let’s just do it while we’re here. There’s a bathroom at the back of the store.” She pointed.

“Good idea.”

We went into the girl’s bathroom. It was a rather large room with a toilet in the corner. Florescent lights and white tiles. A typical commercial bathroom. It was stark but clean.

Being sisters, there was no issue with her being in the bathroom with me while I took the test. I squatted. Peed on the stick. And set it down on the floor. I pulled up my jeans and wriggled them back on. I looked at Noni.

“Are you okay? It’s gonna be fine, Cass.”

I couldn’t wait any longer, it had only been a minute or so.

I picked up the stick.

Two lines.

I collapsed. All I could feel was the cold tiles underneath me. Pain like a tidal wave crushed me. I’ve ruined my life. Pain. Oh my God, I’ve ruined my whole life. No, no, no, no, no. This can’t be. Oh my God. This can’t be. What have I done? What have I done? Dean’s family, my family, what will they think? Oh my Lord. Thoughts bombarded me like a barrage of bombs. Hundreds, all at once. Wreaking havoc in my mind. Anxiety. Dread. And panic swept over me. I could feel my sister next to me. She was trying to comfort me. I was in a world of my own though. A world of regret, pain, panic, and despair.

Naomi helped me off the floor.

“Okay, Cassi. Listen. Let’s just go next door to Applebees, get something to drink and talk this through okay? Do you think we should let C know what’s going on?”

That guy. Oh my gosh. How can I have a child to that man? It sounded like a life sentence. A life of fighting. Like his parents. Screaming matches. Bitterness. Hatred. Blaming. Resentments. Oh my Lord. Oh my Lord. Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus. 

I sat down at Applebees with Naomi. She had a way of making light of any situation, for which I was most grateful at that moment. We got in touch with C. He seemed happy. Yeah. This is just great. Did this man possess any foresight? Do I try to make a relationship work with him just because I’m going to have a child with him? I couldn’t figure out if that sounded right or wrong.

We got back to my parents house a number of hours after we left. I don’t know where they thought we must have got to. I was exhausted. I was pregnant. Pregnant!?!? Sweet Jesus. Since when is this my life?

Bed. I need sleep. Bed.

Over the next week I cried. A lot. I would sit in my car looking out at the ocean and weep. And weep. The idea of bringing a new baby into my situation was beyond comprehension. I can hardly take care of myself and the kids I do have, let alone a new baby. Anxiety pumped through my body. Whoosh. Adrenaline. Why do I have to be so damn fertile? Damn those Irish genes. God. Oh my God. I’m going to have two kids to a dead guy and another kid to a dead beat guy. Who will want me then?! Any man would have to be insane to want me with that package. Oh my Lord. What am I going to do? Tears, tears, and more tears. I’m so sick of crying. When will it ever stop? When will it stop?

I told my mom and Brian. They were compassionate and supportive.

“Well, if we’re gonna have a baby, then we’re gonna have a baby. We’ll just make it work. Worse things in the world have happened.” Mom comforted me as the tears flowed. I was grateful for their help.

That weekend we went to my dad and Ginny’s house again. I knew I had to tell them. There are some things that…there’s just no easy way to say. I know. I’ve tried to find one. There’s no easy way to say that you’re pregnant. Six months after your husband’s death. With a man who is an absolute mess. How do you say that? Other than, say it. Some things are just hard. There’s no way around it.

I sat my parents down in the living room. My sister was there.

“Guys, there’s something I have to tell you…” Pause. “I’m pregnant.”

They were quiet. Thank God that they are the beautiful and gracious people that they are.

“It’s been rough, Cass. We never wanted this for you. We never wanted you to have to go through what we went through.” My dad was referring to the visitation, custody, child support, blended family business that we were all too familiar with.

“We’re here for you. It’s going to be okay.”

I spent the rest of the day there. I had a sort of relief now that they knew. I wasn’t shouldering the burden so alone anymore. I had my family with me. And for me.

The boys were enrolled in school now. I had gotten a job at Starbucks just a few blocks away. There was beginning to be a sort of rhythm to life. The days were okay. I had something to get me out of the house, I had the boys to tend to, and family at home. It was the nights, when everyone was asleep, that Torment came. I was fraught with worry over my baby. Over my relationship with C. Over my future. Panic and Anxiety came over and over again. Assaulting me. Taunting me. I was so lost. I’m sleeping on my mother’s floor. My kids are sleeping on the floor. I was grateful for a place to stay where there was Peace and we were provided for, but it was so transient. What am I going to do? I filled my blankets with tears in the night. Fearful that Grief and Agony would swallow me. Their jaws, a death grip. Trying to hold them at bay. Trying to fight them. Push them down. Run from them. Ignore them. But they won out. And I caved to their bidding. And so in the quiet darkness of night, I would sob my heart out. Weeping over Dean. Crying over my regret. Worrying about my future. Desperate to figure out how I would care for a new baby. And how I would deal with the other half of that baby’s family. Eventually exhaustion would overcome me, and I would fall into haunted slumber. Where Trauma and Fears would take shape and hunt me down in my sleep.

 

And then the Spell was Broken

cracked_rose_colored_glasses

 

I called C.

I told him what had happened that morning. He had been in his dingy hideout.

“Oh babe, oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. My mother had no right to do that. You’re right. It’s too hard all of us living together. You know, I really want to help them, but…I tried. I did my best and sometimes things just don’t work out. This will be better babe. I’ll find a job closer to San Diego. We can get a place over there. It’ll work out, babe. Don’t worry. I’ll pack your things and the boys things and I’ll drive to your mom’s house. I’m so sorry babe.”

My doubts over the relationship grew daily. What do I do? I had been so hopeful about it. It all seemed like it would work out so well. This was going to be my happily ever after. How did it all go so pear-shaped? I don’t know. God help me please? Is this man supposed to be in my life? Lord, if this man isn’t supposed to be in my life, please show me. Show me God.

I had started talking to God a little bit again. I wasn’t ready to fully let him in, but I knew that I needed guidance. I was making a mess of everything.

His whispers still followed me.

C came to my mom’s with our things.

“We can stay here babe. I’ll set up my computer here and I’ll start looking for jobs first thing tomorrow.” More promises. My confidence was waning.

We set up beds for the boys in my little brothers room. My mom still had two children at home. My half siblings, Gaetano and Izzabella.

There was a small family room just off from the living room. We put a blow up mattress on the floor in there for me to stay in, and C when he was there as well.

What a day. I welcomed sleep, but I tossed and turned. Battling my demons. The memories. Dean. Chasing me. Running after me. Me, terrified, running away. I knew it would never end. I knew he would never die. 

Christmas was a few days away.

“Babe, there are some excellent job opportunities in Texas. I mean the economy in Austin is just booming. I have filled out some applications, but I really think I should make a trip down there to interview for some of these jobs in person.”

Texas? Am I supposed to move to Texas with this man? 

“Um, like now? Before Christmas?”

“Yeah, babe, if I leave tomorrow then I can be gone and come back before christmas. I can stay with my friends in Austin. I just need money for gas.”

“Oh. How much do you need?”
“I don’t know, probably $800 should be enough.”

All I had was $800. I didn’t know what to do. So I gave it to him. “Okay. Yeah. Alright.”

That night we decorated the Christmas tree at my mother’s house. I still hadn’t spoken to my dad, my step mom, or my sister. It had been months. It was agony. My family torn apart. Dean dead. I’m sleeping on an air mattress. God help me. This is bad.

We were all spending time together doing Christmas-y stuff. C was no where to be found. I went and found him playing video games in the bedroom.

“You should come out, we’re having fun. We’re decorating and watching movies.”

“Not right now babe.” He was in an alternate reality where he was saving the planet from certain destruction.

What? This man doesn’t even want to spend time with me? Does he even love me? Does he even love himself?

All night he stayed in that room. All alone. Captivated by a screen.

This is not what I want.

The next day he left for Texas.

Anxiety was my constant companion.  Nausea came with her. Heart beat. Heart beat. Pause. BOOM. Flood. It felt like a drug. I need some wine.

I skyped with Sue and Karen. It was so lovely to see them. They seemed a million miles away. It felt like years since I’d seen them. I tried to keep my composure, but my efforts failed. “I’m trying…I’m trying to do the right thing. I don’t know. We might move to Texas. I’m not sure. I really want to do the right thing.” I was fighting a losing battle against tears.

Karen did most of the talking. They were emotional as well.

“Cassi, we just want you to know. We are so happy that Dean married you. We have no expectation of you at all. We just love you.”

Her words were honey from heaven. Love. I feel loved. They really love me. In spite of everything. Wow. The tears streamed. Karen showed me the love of Jesus. Thank you Jesus. You don’t judge me. You aren’t mad at me. You love me, Lord. You love me. All I could do was cry tears of awe of the profound love of God. I had been feeling so much shame and condemnation over my decisions. So judged by people. By Christians. By people who I thought were my friends. Other’s thoughts, opinions and labels as bags that I’d willingly chosen to carry. Karen’s words were that of unconditional love. This unconditional and undeserved love gave me wings. And cleared my mind.  They gave me wisdom to know what to do and the strength to actually do it. This love. This love empowered me. Love and grace gave me power over my sin. I felt strength flood my heart. Not like the ferocious waves of grief. This was different. This was a river of life flowing into my parched soul.

My mom sat down with me.

“Cassi, are you giving him money?”

I squirmed in my seat. Well, yes I am giving him money, but…well, how do I excuse that?

“Uh…yeah.”

“Listen to me. That stops NOW. If this man is for real and he wants to take care of you, then you sit back and see if he can do that. You don’t give him one more cent.”

She looked intently into my eyes.

“Cassi. Not one more cent, you hear me? You watch how fast this relationship comes to an end when you stop. You just watch.”

I felt good about that decision. It seemed right. It was put to the test sooner than I thought. He called that afternoon.

“Babe, I need some money.”

“Oh, you do? What do you need money for?” He blew through that fast.

“For gas, to get back to California.”

“Oh. What happened to the $800 I gave you?”

“That’s all gone babe. I just need it okay? Can you put a deposit into my account?”

I paused. Courage. Be strong, Cassi. “Um, no. No I can’t.”

“What?” He sounded hurt. “Why? How am I supposed to get back?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I don’t know. I guess you’ll have to figure that out.”

I hung up. I smiled. Wow. That actually felt really good. I can be strong. Being strong feels good. 

C got back Christmas morning. He was looking less and less appealing. He looked dark. Empty. Angry. What was he so angry about? God, please help me. Show me what to do God. Show me, Lord. 

A couple of days after New Years, I woke up. C was asleep next to me. We were on the air mattress in my mother’s house. As I stirred, he woke up.

“Good morning.” I smiled at him.

“Morning.” He yawned. He looked bored.

“I’m gonna go have a shower. Do you wanna come?”

“No babe. You go. I think I’ll try to go back to sleep.”

I walked down the hall into the bathroom trying not to be disappointed. The house was empty. Mom must have taken the kids to the park or something.

I didn’t turn on the light. The light coming in from under the door was just enough. I ran the hot water and breathed in the steam. I got in. Finding therapy in the heat and sound. I hung my head under the water. Jesus. Help me, Jesus. The tears came. God I need you. God help me. I pray for this man, Lord. Show me what to do. If this is not the man you have for me, then show me what to do. Help God. I leaned me forehead against the tiles. The hot water gliding down the nape of my neck and down my back. I soaked in the moment. The quiet. The hot. The dark. The solace. God I need you. Help me Jesus. After a long time adrift in a sea of thought and prayer, I turned the water off. Grabbed my towel, and dried off. I wrapped my hair in one towel, and wrapped another around me. Opened the door and walked down the hall. I went into the family room that was my ‘bedroom’ with the air mattress and C’s computer. He was sitting at the computer. I looked up at him sitting there. He didn’t look back. Not noticing I had walked in. His computer screen caught my attention. What are those pictures of? It looked like something odd. He was scrolling down. Slowly. Carefully. Studying the images. What is that? Intense panic surged through me.

He clicked on one and a video started. It filled up the screen. A woman got up. My heart was pounding so hard it was jolting my whole body. She had no clothes on. C pulled down his shorts and started to play with himself. Oh my God. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. I was horrified. Mortified. I can’t watch anymore. Lord. Oh my Lord. I took a step forward and touched his shoulder. My stomach, sick.

He swung around, shocked and startled. He got up.

“Cassi! Oh shit!” He started mumbling. He started apologizing and excusing. I felt like I was going to throw up. I couldn’t look at him. He reached out to touch me and I shuddered. I finally saw him. I finally saw him for the man he really was. Depraved. Perverted. Disgusting. Completely given over to evil. What’s worse is he preferred that image on a screen to a woman in the flesh. Me. I wasn’t satisfactory. I felt complete betrayal.

And then, the spell was broken. In that instant. Any love I thought I had for him was gone. The illusion was shattered.

I sat down numbly.

He was looking at me. Grabbing my shoulders. Shaking me. Making promises. Making vows. Giving excuses, saying sorry. Talking. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. In fact, I think that’s all he ever really did, was talk. And look at porn. And drink. And smoke weed. How could I be so stupid? How could I be so blind? I was amazed at my own naïveté. How could I possibly think I could change this man? How could I love this man? How could I want him to be a father figure to my children? He’s not a role model. He’s weak. He’s a sick, weak, pathetic man. My dad was right. Everyone was right. He was nothing compared to Dean. He wasn’t half the man Dean was. He wasn’t a shadow of the man Dean was.

 

Swimming to Shore

1

 

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.