Sunday, December 4, 2011

Part Three: Refusing to settle

And so she left. My first born, my baby girl was gone. New address: Fiancé’s house.

As predicted, I headed straight for her room. I sat on her bed, surrounded by the emptiness of the space, and cried.

Minutes earlier she had confessed to me that she didn’t love him, but felt she had gone too far to turn back. She said she’d rather go through with it than have “that” discussion. She added, “I don’t want to have to deal with him.” 

It turns out he was good at manipulating her. For the first time, she told me she’d tried to break it off a number of times but that he’d “guilt trip” her and talk her out of it. He’d tease about not being able to “cut the strings.” He said much worse, but let’s just leave it at that, shall we.

That night, I wrote these words in my journal:

Why is my daughter settling? Because she learned this from me…

Then the guilt set in. And it was painful.  Then the memories came rolling in. And that was even more painful. Like an old home movie playing in my head, the memories clearly showed the many times I had settled during my marriage. How I succumbed to the manipulation, how I took the verbal abuse and how I allowed myself to be bullied. And she was a witness to it all.

Later that night, I sent her a text message.

Remember that I’ll always be here for you. Love, Mom…

She replied with a simple, “Thanks.” I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the one word reply set me over the edge.

I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, I did my best to be productive. I made coffee, got the little one ready for school and planted myself in my home office.

By late morning, she called to say she was stopping by the house before running a few errands. I took this as a sympathy drive-by, a pity stop. I could hear her voice in my head, “OK, I’ll stop by and see mom, make her feel good.”

She stuck her head in my office. I waved her in and she took a seat. Before I could make some small talk she said…

“Mom, can I move back in?”

My immediate response was, “Yes, of course!” followed by a quick, “What happened?”

“I can’t do it,” she explained. “It only took one night. I was nauseous all night.”

She said she realized that she couldn’t settle. She refused to settle!

She said for the first time, she realized she had picked someone who was so much like her dad, it was frightening. That when it came time to go to bed, which meant lying next to him, she was shaking and she knew she had to get out.

She said she finally saw things clearly: The manipulation, the guilt trips, the condescending remarks. Now the daddy issues she’d refused to deal with were suddenly choking her, she couldn’t breathe.

Later that day, she headed back to her fiancé’s house and packed her things for the second time in less than 24 hours.

My daughter was coming home. More importantly, my daughter was refusing to settle. I have never been more proud of her.

But it also got me thinking…

How many of us have settled?

Yes, my daughter found the courage to get out, but how many of us stay? 

When all signs say get out, how many of us stay? I know I did. 

Why do we settle? 

One day my daughter will move out to be with someone who I hope treats her with respect and truly loves her. Or, she’ll move out to be on her own, independent of mom.

For now, she’s home and it’s time to heal.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Part Two: "I don't love him"

“I think I’m making the biggest mistake of my life.”

She said this as most of her belongings were already en route to her new residence: her fiance’s house. 

She had spent the last three months trying to convince me that she was ready to move in with him. As it turns out, she may have been trying to convince herself.

I’ll admit she had me fooled at times. She picked out the paint and scheduled the painters. She got estimates on new carpet and had it installed. She talked in “we” sentences.

“When we settle into the house, we’ll have you over for dinner.”

“When we get new furniture…”

“When we get a Christmas tree…”

Although she changed her relationship status to “engaged” on Facebook (doing this makes everything official, right? *snicker*), I didn’t announce it to family members. I didn’t even tell her sister.

I had always imagined that the announcement of my daughter’s engagement would be festive, like in the movies, where the announcement itself kicks off a series of celebrations, dinners and impromptu wine drinking.

At the very least, I thought it would result in a series of phone calls, text messages and, yes, Facebook updates. 

The first phone call would go to my mom: “He proposed! He went to Jared!”

None of this happened.

Three months later, the words, “I think I’m making the biggest mistake of my life,” are hanging in the air and my heart immediately sinks to my stomach. Panic is setting in, but I can’t freak out on her now and it's not the time for "I told you so." 

She found the courage to tell me. Now she needs help. She needs her mom. 

I take a deep breath and calmly say,  “Then don’t go. Don’t do it.”

“Mom, it’s too late,” she says, tears are swelling in her eyes.

“No, mija, it’s never too late. Never.”

 “I’ve gone too far to back out now,” she says. “Everything is done. My stuff is probably already there. He’s waiting for me. He’s expecting me.”

Then she said what I had already suspected: “I don’t love him.”

I knew we’d reached a pivotal moment in the conversation. It was now up to me to find the right words.

“Listen to your heart, to your gut, to your intuition. All of these things are telling you not to go. Trust what you’re feeling and listen to what you’re telling me. You just looked me in the eyes and admitted that you don’t love him and that you’re making the biggest mistake of your life. You don’t have to do this. It’s not too late. It’s never too late.”

As I pleaded my case, tears were streaming down her face as she sat there, silently listening.

“Mom, it’s too late,” she said again.

She then gathered the last of her laundry, put the dog in the backseat and left.

To be continued…

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Part One: Moving Day

The truck had just backed out of the driveway. It was pulling a trailer which was filled with most of my daughter’s belongings.

It was Monday morning and she was moving out of my house, my nest, to live with her fiancé.

I was holding up OK. I had not allowed even one tear to drop, knowing damn well I was destined to spend the rest of the day sitting in her room crying my mommy heart out.

While she continued packing a few remaining things in her car, I sat in my home office, staring at my Outlook calendar, wondering when I’d see her again.

“Thanksgiving,” I said to myself. “Wait… Is she even coming over or will they spend it with his family. But I don’t even know his family. Does she know his family?”

This line of questioning swirled around and around in my head until she walked in, I assumed to say good-bye.

She had hit me with the news of her engagement just three months prior. She also hit me with this…

Different questions swirled inside my head back then. The most important question being: Was she really ready for this?  

For the past three months, she’s been telling me that, yes, she is ready. She’s ready to make this commitment to him and to this relationship.

So you can imagine my surprise when she sat down in my office and said, “I think I’m making the biggest mistake of my life.”

To be continued…

Friday, November 4, 2011

“Do you like Oprah?”

Hi guys, it’s me. Been a while, I know, but keeping this short…

So I’m sitting in my big chair trying to watch TV, but my daughter’s boyfriend/fiancé/whatever is here waiting for her. It will be a couple of hours before she gets home and we have absolutely nothing to say to each other. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

It’s freakin awkward! If it wasn’t for the dog snoring, you could hear a pin drop.

So I’m watching Oprah's LifeClass, but not comprehending what Oprah is trying to teach me about life because I feel this pressure to break this silence in the room and strike up a conversation with my future son-in-law (OMG, son-in-law! Did I just say that!).  

Me: "Do you like Oprah?"

Him:  "Well, I don't hate her."

That's it. I've run out of things to talk about.

The dog's awake now. I think he senses the tension. He’s sitting in between us as if he’s about to referee an MMA fight.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An encounter with friends from my past… at Walmart… with no makeup

So there I was in Walmart, looking like shit, feeling like shit. I’d been sick for the last six days. Plus I had a huge rash on the left side of my nose because I ran out of Kleenex and started using toilet paper. Not good, my friends, not good.

But I had to pick up a few things so my little one could have something to put in her lunchbox the next day. I was whipping through the aisles trying to finish my shopping when I saw them.

Friends from my old life… my married life… married friends who were still together, family unit intact.  

Did I mention I looked like shit? Well, let me paint you a picture. I don’t have any makeup on and I’m wearing my hear “au natural,” which means after a blow dry, I did not style it in any way, shape or form. My daughter would later ask, “Man, what happened to your hair?”  

Not even this good...
But I digress…

This couple had started dating shortly after my ex and I met, and we eventually attended each other’s weddings. Later, we’d go out as couples – movies, dancing, meet at other people’s weddings. Our oldest kids’ went to school together. Our youngest kids’ had been in Girl Scouts together.

I hadn’t seen them or talked to them since before the separation. To be honest, I avoided these kinds of friends (couples) like the plague after the separation. I just couldn’t bear it. To see them hand in hand with kids in tow would’ve sent me over the edge. And I wasn’t ready to field the inevitable questions.

“What happened?”

“Are you OK?”

“Who gets the house?”

To help me avoid them, I stopped going to church (there were other reasons), stopped attending Girl Scout meetings and ignored Facebook friend requests from several of the moms.  

As we spotted each other, me at one end of the paper goods aisle (where they keep the Kleenex) and them at the other end, I could see the look in the wife’s eyes. That look said, “Oh, poor thing, there she is, grocery shopping all by her lonesome, now divorced and a single mom.”

OK, so maybe I was reading way too much into it, but there was definitely some pity in her eyes. And it pissed me off!

“You know, right? That’s why you’re looking at me like that. I can see the way you’re looking at me. Why are you looking at me like that?” I say to the wife (with every ounce of paranoia that you are sensing while reading this.)  

She then pulled me into her arms and gave me a huge hug. (OK, I’m not that pissed or paranoid anymore, just somewhat annoyed.  But the hug sure feels nice!)

“We know what? What is it that we know? What is she talking about?” says the husband. He was clueless. We filled him in. He was shocked at two things:
1.       That we had divorced.
2.       That his wife never told him.

She then explained to her husband:
1.       “Of course they’re divorced. She’s too good for him. Everybody knew that.” (They did?)
2.       “I don’t tell you everything."

She explained that she had wanted to call several times, but she just didn’t know what to say. She said she was glad we ran into each other and that she could tell I was in a good place (despite me coughing up a lung on aisle 9).

She also said something very interesting. She said she knew I had tried. She said she saw it in my eyes every time she saw us together and the many times she saw me alone, but she never saw it from him.  

As she’s talking, I start to wonder…   
1.      Why did it take ME so long to figure out what everyone else already knew?
2.      How could she keep a juicy piece of news like this from her husband for over a year? (Damn, girl!)  

We went on with some chit chat, updating each other about our kids, work and what not. As she hugged me good-bye, she promised to keep in touch.

I hope she does…   

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Note to self: No more "dirty dancing"… and find a new grocery store

It’s Friday night and I’m alone in the house. I’m sitting in my big chair with the TV off wondering what I’m going to do with myself until my little one comes back on Sunday from visiting her dad. My adult child is out doing whatever young adults do on Friday nights.

I get a text message from a friend who reminds me that she’s invited me to join her and others for drinks. I’d totally forgotten, but I honestly had no intention of joining them. Going “out” is still new to me. Plus you have to shower, do your hair, makeup… Exhausting!

But I’m sitting in the living room talking to myself. Somewhere in that conversation, I convince myself to go. So I join my friends.

Drinks at a restaurant quickly turn into, “Hey, let’s check out that bar across the street where all the young people are hanging out!” It’s a college bar, but the music’s good and the drinks are cheap. I’m old enough to be the mother of most of the kids in this joint, but the more I drink the less I care and now I feel like dancing!

A very cute (and very young) gentleman approaches me, compliments me and asks me to dance. I accept.

First, let me say… My, things sure have changed on the dance floor!

So this is it, folks. This is where I have the first “dirty dance” of my new single life. Of my entire life – period! It was as if he got to second base. I look around the dance floor and realize this is how it is nowadays. (“All the cool kids are doing it!”)  

No, not this kind of "dirty dancing." 
When I return to my friends, the jokes come fast and furious.

Friend #1:“I think you’re engaged.”

Friend #2: “Or pregnant!” 

Friend #3: “At the very least he knows your cup size.”

Fast forward two days…

It’s Sunday night and I’m grocery shopping with the kids. As I reach for a shopping cart, a very cute (and very young) guy pulls out a cart for me and says, “Well, hello…”

It’s him!

The guy from the college bar! The guy I “dirty danced” with last Friday night!

And now I’m with MY kids! At MY grocery store! 

He works at MY grocery store! He collects the shopping carts! 


“You have got to be kidding me,” I say to myself.

Great, I’m talking to myself again.

“You’re never going out again,” I reply. “And it’s time to find a new grocery store.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Feeling blessed, grateful and thankful

I’m on an emotional roller coaster. I’ve cried tears of joy. I’ve cried tears of pain. And at times, well, I’ve just cried.

My attorney called today. The judge came back with a decision after a week of deliberating in regards to the custody of my youngest daughter. He ruled in my favor. The judge also ordered to dissolve the marriage, which means I’m officially divorced.

I wasn’t expecting the latter piece of news. I was expecting another court date, another court hearing in which my ex and I would face each other one last time. But there are no assets to split. Aside from the few pieces of furniture I kept, I lost everything, including two homes, in the bankruptcy.

The words “you are officially divorced” took me by surprise. It’s what I’ve been working towards for over a year, but I wasn’t expecting today to be the day.

I envisioned circling the date on a calendar, preparing myself for another court appearance and preparing myself for the day that I would sign some sort of divorce decree. I wasn’t prepared to hear that it had already been done, my presence not needed.

I’m not complaining. I’m just processing. I’m also accepting -- accepting that this chapter of my life is now closed.

As one dear friend put it, today was “bittersweet.” And she’s right. I fought for my daughter and for her best interests, and I won. Still, it’s sad.

I made time in the afternoon to talk with my girls, separately, about the news.

My oldest didn’t have much time, she was in a rush to get to school, but I quickly filled her in. Later that afternoon, and for the first time since Christmas, she sent me a text message that simply said “I love you.”

When it came to telling my youngest, I got nervous. I wasn’t sure how she would react, but I had mentally prepared myself for the worst.

“Your dad and I are no longer married… We are now divorced,” I explained.

She looked up, as if she were in deep thought, digging for the right words to say. 

“I’m OK with it.”

I was stunned. I was amazed. I was relieved!

She went on to tell me that she wants to join the Choir group at school and that I needed to fill out the permission slip. Someone get me a pen!

We then went on with the rest of our evening.

For dinner, I made shredded beef tacos.  My oldest daughter and her best friend (aka my “adopted son”) devoured them.  

We ended the night explaining to the little one that Journey came before Glee and not the other way around which led to a jam session on Rock Band.

They’re still upstairs, singing (if you can call it that) and jamming out to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” 

In the meantime, I’m downstairs, sitting in my big chair, feeling blessed... feeling grateful... and feeling thankful.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Will my nest be half empty soon?

The contractions started just after midnight. I was already three weeks late so I’d been eager to just “have this baby already!” But the pain was unlike anything I’d ever felt. Then a wave of panic hit me like a brick. Suddenly, it became harder and harder to breathe. I guess this is what they teach you in Lamaze. Too bad I blew off the class…

Last week, my baby, now in her early 20s, made it hard for me to breathe yet again. There were no contractions, just an aching mommy heart.

She says she’s in love and is somewhat engaged. I say "somewhat in engaged” because she and her boyfriend do not believe in marriage (don’t blame them) and neither want kids (whew!), but he gave her a ring. She said something about the ring representing his commitment, but I have to admit I got a little light-headed at this point. But nothing could have prepared me for what she said next…

"He’s asked me to move in with him."

I can’t breathe! The room is spinning, my heart is pounding and I can’t breathe!

I can’t let her know that I’m freaking out inside. I can’t ask her to bring me a paper bag while I hyperventilate. I can’t crawl under my desk, cover my ears, chant, "La la la la la la," and pretend like this conversation never happened.

I played it cool. Thanks to my boy Deepak and the meditation I've been doing over the last several months, I was able to get my breathing in check and remain calm. Fast forward 24 hours and I'm freaking the hell out. I can't focus. I can’t breathe. My heart is pounding. 

I want to call my mom, aunts, cousins, sisters-in-law, friends, mailman -- anyone who will listen, really -- and freak out all over them with this news. But I don't. I don't because this is a sacred conversation that took place between a mother and her daughter. And daughter hasn't made a decision. And mother is still freaking out.

*Disclaimer: Daughter has since talked to my mom about this which lessens the sacredness and allows me the clear conscience to write about this now.

I wanted to scream, "Don't do it! Don't go! Don't leave me!" but that would only send her packing. Instead, I listened. I asked questions. I presented her with various "living together" scenarios. I gave her a lot to think about.  

Is she ready to handle a household? Can she cook? Can she clean? Rephrasing… Is she willing to clean? Rephrasing again… Is she willing to clean up after him? 

Is she ready and willing to answer to another person? Can she compromise?

Those of us who have been around the block know that moving in together ain’t all fun and games. Eventually, the romance and newness wear off just like a new toy.

A funny moment (hilarious, actually) in all of this came when she asked if I would continue to pay her car note and insurance if she moved in with him. Excuse me while I compose myself…  Bahahahahaha!

I explained that moving in with him means "her bills” become “his bills” or "their bills.”

Speaking of bills, I asked if he was willing to pay her bills until she finished school. And who would pay what once she got a job?

Who pays the rent? Who pays the electricity? Who pays for groceries? Who GOES to the store to GET the groceries?

Of my two kids, she’s witnessed and endured the most during the tumultuous years of my marriage. If you ask me (and her), she’s still messed up over it. Do I want to keep her from true love? Absolutely not! But she still has a lot of healing to do…

We’ve been in our new life for just over a year, and I feel like I just got her back. My baby, my first born… ready or not, she may be leaving my nest soon.

I can’t breathe… 

My baby...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two Kids and a Fish featured in Blogger Space series

The following is an excerpt from one of my favorite bloggers, Perils of Divorced Paulinewho is featuring yours truly in her Blogger Space series:

"Two Kids and a Fish is an inspirational blog written by a single mom reinventing her life post-divorce. Two Fish’s upbeat, lovely, down-to-earth personality shines through her engaging prose. Check out her Blogger Space..."

To see photos and to learn more about my blogger space, click here >> 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Unforgettable vacation moments: Police cars, flying objects and unibrows

The following are quick hits about some things that happened during our vacation. I’m still shaking my head at a lot of this stuff, but I survived and I can laugh about it now.

“Flattered but no thanks” moment: Where are you frrrrrrum?
I pick up the rental car with my two kids and my cousin (we’re giving him a ride to L.A. then picking him up on the way back). The guy at the counter, with the keys to my vehicle and access to all my personal information, is flirting with me. He looks to be about 21 and of Middle Eastern descent. (Note: I’m Latina but for whatever reason I’m a favorite among Middle Eastern men.) He’s staring straight into my eyes as if no one else is around. The fact that I’m traveling with a man and two kids doesn’t deter the kid. He’s keeps asking, “Where are you frrrrrrrum? I want to know where you’re frrrrrrrum.” He keeps telling me how cute I am. (“You’re too cute. You’re just too cute.”) My oldest daughter is getting a bit peeved and says, “Hello, I’m standing right here and that’s my mom!” My cousin walks over and whispers, “Girl, he’s looking at you like he wants to take you home.”  Awkward… More on this later.

“What the hell was that!” moment: Flying object on L.A. freeway
What looked like a white pole barreling straight for our windshield turned out to be a piece of a side molding used on mobile homes. Where did it come from? I have no idea, but it hit the hood of our rental car and wedged itself under the hood while we dragged it from the carpool lane to the far right of the freeway. It took three of us to pull it out from under the hood and that’s with the hood open. But we dislodge it, inspect the vehicle (just a few scratches) and everyone’s OK. We hit the road…

This is the flying object that hit our car on the freeway.

Pissed off moment: No food for you!
We arrive to our hotel after seven, eight or nine hours on the road. I honestly don’t remember anymore and the kids are tired and hungry. We wash up and head for the hotel restaurant. Several minutes go by and we still have no menus and no one has brought so much as a glass of water. Finally, someone takes our order. Forty minutes later, everyone around us is eating, drinking and leaving. When someone finally checks on our food, they discover our order was NEVER put in! We head for the door as we Google the closest McDonald’s on my phone. But wait… I’m pissed and my kids are hungry. I complain to the front desk who calls the restaurant manager. I give him a mix of “Oh no you did-ent” with a little bit of “I’m a single mom just trying to treat my kids to a nice vacation.” Within 20 minutes we’re having dinner and dessert in our room (and in our PJ’s), compliments of the hotel.

Dessert tastes so much better when it's free...

“How did we get here?” moment: It’s Saturday night and we’re in the back of a police car
It’s our first night in Santa Monica and we quickly discover that parking sucks. How? Our rental car gets towed. Thanks to the douche-bag, slime bag, valet parking dude who was a total jerk to me and my kids. Thankfully, there’s a Santa Monica police officer in his car questioning a guy and his underage girlfriend. They’re both drunk. I quickly stick my head in between the two idiots (Seriously, the cop says you can leave but you don’t’ stop talking and you don’t leave!). I tell the police officer what happened, point to the mean valet dude and even he calls the guy a jerk. He then asks, “Is it just you and your kids?” When I say yes, with a very worried mom look on my face, he says, “Get in the back of the car. I’ll drive you down to the police station. It’s not that far, but you shouldn’t be walking there at night alone.” As we're sitting in the back seat of a Santa Monica police car, the youngest turns to me and says, "So this is probably something I shouldn't tell dad, right?" I'm on the brink of tears so I just nod my head. Meanwhile, I catch my oldest taking frickin' pictures of the police car with her cell phone. My tears quickly disappear as I reach across the back seat and smack her. Yes, I smacked my kid while sitting in the back of a police car. Arrest me! Long story short, the parking fee was $120 and the towing fee was $205. @#$%!!!
*Side note: My daughters would like me to mention that the police officer was very cute. (He was!)
**Shout out: Officer Martinez, if you're reading this... Call me!

My kid's cell phone pic from the back seat of the police car. Ah, memories...

“OMG, I’m screwed!” moment: And gas is $4.89 a gallon!
Downtown L.A. and the gas light is on. It takes about 10 minutes to find a gas station and gas is $4.89 a gallon. @#$%!!! But whattaya gonna do, right? So I fill ‘er up and head inside to pay the cashier. I give my credit card to the cashier and she swipes it. “Maam, it says declined.” I tell her it must be a mistake and ask her to try it again. She swipes my card three more times and each time it’s declined. By the way, I only have about forty bucks on me. At the same this is happening, my cell phone is going off, but I keep hitting ignore to deal with the situation at hand. My phone rings again and this time I notice it’s a 1-877 number. It’s my bank telling me there’s been suspicious activity on my account and they need to verify some questionable transactions that have taken place in California. @#$%!!! So we review each “questionable transaction” and confirm each one is indeed mine because I’m standing in downtown L.A. trying to pay an $80 gas bill while my kids are waiting for their mother in the car. Eventually, the issue is resolved, the cashier swipes my card for the umpth-teenth time and it finally goes through. Time to head home…

“Seriously, dude, I’m not interested” moment: And please trim your eyebrows!
I take the rental car back and guess who’s there? Yup, “Where are you frrrrrrrrrum?” dude is there again. As I walk up to the counter, he immediately lights up and is suddenly grinning from ear to ear with the cheesiest smile. I’ll admit this much: being able to make a guy smile with my presence was kind of cute. However, his unibrow was not. This time he quickly goes from “Where are you frrrrrrrrrum?” to “You’re so, so cute” to “Can I call you?” Our time together was prolonged when I had to explain the whole debris on the freeway incident. He handed me a claim form and highlighted the fields for address and phone number. This concerns me. So I use my mom’s address and her home number. By the way, she’s standing to the side, laughing her ass off while she watches her daughter get hit on by the Unibrow Kid. I was then approached by Unibrow’s boss who asked me to recount the freeway debris incident. He explained that since I had opted to pay extra for the insurance that I wouldn’t be charged anything for the damage. Whew! Then he asked if I was single and if he could hit me up on Facebook. @#$%!!!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

One year later: Surviving a crisis and finding peace

The following was written on July 23, 2011 somewhere in southern California.

I’m lying in bed. My youngest is next to me, lying on her stomach and hogging the pillows as she watches “Good Luck Charlie” on the Disney Channel. My oldest is in the bed next to us texting, facebooking, googling and listening to music simultaneously on one device.

We’re staying at a really, really nice hotel on the beach thanks to a very, dear friend and guardian angel.

From our room, we can see the Pacific Ocean. We can smell the salty air. We see people walking, jogging and biking along the beach. The palm trees are swaying.

I’m soaking up every moment. If only time could stand still…

I feel grateful, thankful and blessed.

A year ago, we were in crisis mode. I packed up the kids and our bare necessities and left my tumultuous marriage. I had $50 in my new checking account (the minimum needed to keep it open). A year later, I saved enough money to take my kids on vacation.

Back then, the words “fear,” “anxiety” and “struggle” consumed my life.

Today the words “peace,” “content” and “happy” fill my world.

Am I bragging? Maybe a little bit. But I'm damn proud of myself and my kids for surviving the separation, trauma egg therapy and the death of a family member(R.I.P. Kanishiwa!) 

I love my life!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Financially in the dark and in denial

He was sitting across the table from me at a restaurant inside the five-star hotel where he was staying.

“Order anything you want. It’s on me and you need to eat,” he said with a touch of pity in his voice. I could tell that he could tell that I’d been crying. My swollen, red eyes were a dead giveaway.

I kept it simple and ordered the two-egg breakfast with a slice of bacon and toast.

“What are my options?” I asked him, after getting past the introductions and some small talk. I finally picked at my eggs and tasted them for the first time since they arrived via our waiter 10 minutes prior.

He looked at the vanilla folder – my file – and slid it to the side, almost discarding it. He then folded his hands over his plate with his elbows on the table and then looked down for a few seconds.  

“You have no options,” he said, slowly shaking his head, again with a touch of pity. “Your only choice is bankruptcy.”

He suddenly looked more like a financial Grim Reaper than someone who was trying to help a friend of a friend. But the truth is he was a guardian angel. I would meet more of his kind over the next year.

The few bites I’d had of my breakfast were quickly making their way back up. I wasn’t sure if this choking feeling was from the remaining pieces of my broken heart trying to come up through my throat or the scrambled eggs. I felt faint, but I somehow managed to stay conscious and keep the eggs down. My heart was already in shambles.

I agreed to meet him at the urging of a friend who said his friend, an L.A.-based bankruptcy attorney, would review my case for free. He promised complete confidentiality, as if anyone in L.A. cared about my financial fiasco. 

He did more than review my case. He uncovered more accounts, more debt. I was in worse shape than I previously thought. He uncovered more secrets, financial secrets my husband was keeping from me.

No, he wasn’t hiding millions in an offshore account. He was spending every dollar I made, maxing out every credit card (some I knew of, some I didn’t) and using an offshore account for online gambling. It had less than $20 in it.

To his credit, the attorney kept it real. He didn’t bullshit me. He laid it all on the table, literally. He told me to write down three important things that I needed to take action on immediately:
- Get your hands on as much paperwork as you can on the mortgages
- Get as many bank statements as you can find
- Get copies of your tax returns

He gave me his cell phone number and e-mail address. He gave the name of another bankruptcy attorney – someone in my area – who he’d already contacted and who had agreed to handle my case.

Sadly, the above mentioned items were things my husband had stopped allowing me to have in my possession. I was not allowed to get the mail, let alone open it. I hadn’t seen a bank statement in years and I had no idea where he kept the mortgage papers or tax returns.

Following through on the attorney’s instructions would turn into a covert operation.

I felt like a stranger in my own home as I rummaged through his drawers, duffle bags and closet, carefully putting things back in their place as to not arouse any suspicion. He placed certain things in a certain way on top of the papers he was hiding. If something was out of place, he would know I had been there.

There was the paper weight facing east in the second drawer. There was a baseball cap tilted slightly to the side in the closet.

What made the operation even harder is that he rarely ever left the house and I was hardly ever home. He supposedly worked from home and I was actually working. 

I was in the dark when it came to our finances, but I was also in denial. I had put every ounce of my financial trust in my husband’s hands. 

Ironically, my decision to end my marriage had very little to do with our financials. It was at the bottom of the laundry list of reasons as to why I was divorcing him. 

What I already knew in my gut, suddenly became crystal clear as I stared down at my scrambled eggs. I had to move out of the house (with the kids and soon!) and I had to make this financial mess a top priority. We were not only on the brink of losing one house, but two.