I still vividly recall getting the text message from a friend, asking me about my ex husband’s age, where he lived, and if I had heard anything about him lately. I hadn’t talked to my ex-husband in over four years by that time, and I didn’t really keep up with the happenings in his life beyond what may directly impact my son and me. So, the line of questioning seemed odd. She then asked me if I had heard he’d been in an accident and wasn’t expected to make it.
The next day, I called my former father in-law and asked what was going on. I had established a relationship with my former in-laws about a year or so prior to this, so they could get to know Jaden. When I asked about what happened, I was told they didn’t want to worry me so they weren’t going to call until they knew more about what was going on.
As it turned out, my ex husband had in fact been in an accident, although the accident was precipitated by an apparent heart attack he’d while driving a tanker truck. http://www.coshoctontribune.com/proart/20121005/news01/210050319/man-listed-fair-condition-following-wednesday-crash?pagerestricted=1
When I learned what had happened, a series of conflicting emotions bubbled to the surface. I felt guilty, thinking perhaps I hadn’t given “us” a fair chance and, in doing so, had robbed him of the chance to know his son. I felt sad. After all, we had once loved each other, and even though marrying him turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life up to that point, there was no denying there had once been affection, even passion, between us. Our son was proof of that. I felt angry. I felt relieved. I felt all manner of things about the possibility that my ex husband was either going to recover and continue to linger as a specter in the background of my life, able to strike at will through the courts, or he was going to pass away and there would be a host of thoughts and emotions to sift through if that happened.
For ten days, he was on life support. After his initial heart attack, he had several more in a remarkably short period of time. Other than some reflexive actions, there was no sign that “he” was still there. He was gone long before his family ultimately chose to unplug the machines and let him go.
It goes without saying that my emotions and thoughts and hopes were all over the map during that time. When the end finally came, I was at once relieved and grieved. I saw my ex-husband as a man who had the world opened up to him, and he squandered it. I was as grieved by the fact the he left the world so wounded as I was relieved that he could never hurt me again, nor hurt my son the way he had hurt my son’s half-brothers.
To some people who knew him, he will always bear a hero’s status. He will forever be seen as a man who had all the best intentions for good, but whose plans were constantly thwarted by meeting all the wrong people, and they consider me one of those people. To them, he was a fun guy who maybe had a little too much to drink now and then, but did a great Jimmy Stewart impression, so that kind of made up for it. He could make people laugh, and in a weary world, laughter is a welcome release.
He could be funny, no doubt. There were also a lot of other things he could be, though, which only those of us who lived with him day in and day out, those of us he perceived as subject to his control, would ever be able to bear witness to. I could fill this blog with story after story about the nightmare it became to live with him, about how terrified I was even to fall asleep by his side, about the daily humiliations I suffered just so he could make other people laugh, about how he treated me when we confirmed I was pregnant, what it was like to go through a pregnancy alone even before I made the choice to leave him, and so on. But I won’t. At least, not today.
What I am thinking about today is one’s legacy. We all leave some kind of legacy behind when our time here is finished. Our families, especially our children, carry that legacy forward and perpetuate it in their own way, for better or worse. We can choose to leave a legacy or peace of a legacy of pain.
When my ex-husband left this world, he left a lot of pain behind. His two oldest children had stopped speaking to him, so wounded by the many years of mental, emotional, and physical trauma at his hands that they declared they “hated him.” He had never so much as asked for a picture of his youngest child, my son, and died without knowing what Jaden looked like. The memories his ex-wives and two oldest children carry are of a man who was controlled by his twin addictions to rage and alcohol, and those two things dominated his every choice.
As if to give me one final “fuck you,” he had made sure Jaden got nothing out of his meager estate. He left the world owing thousands in unpaid child support, and had listed his live-in girlfriend as the sole beneficiary on his life insurance. I don’t care about the money. Jaden and I have been and always will be fine, regardless of the money that comes in, because our Provider sees to that. What hurt me…what pissed me off…was the sentiment. He had made life difficult while he was alive, and was going to do his best to continue making it difficult after he died by leaving us even more broke than we were before he passed away. It was his final way of telling me what he’d told me many times before, “I don’t care about you,” only this time it also impacted our son.
That is the legacy he left behind for us. A legacy of pain, anger, vengeance.
Around the time of his death, my son had started asking me questions about his father, clearly trying to understand why his friends at school have both a mom and a dad, and not only does he not have a father in the house, he doesn’t have one in his life at all. I had left every legal door open for his father to step through, and his father chose not to. His father chose to move away and construct a new life in which Jaden didn’t exist. Someday, I will have to find a way to explain that to him. How do you tell a child that their father just didn’t want them, and help them understand that it’s not their fault? It’s not a conversation I am looking forward to having, and you can bet I will put that off for as long as I can.
When someone passes away, we say, “Rest in Peace.” It would be disingenuous of me to say I held that sentiment for my ex-husband when he died. After the initial shock of his untimely death passed and I recalled the genesis of our relationship, our divorce, and the choices he made after we were no longer “us,” I honestly hoped he’d have some serious lack of peace for at least a little while. I wanted him to be held accountable on the other side of eternity for the things he’d done on this side.
A year later, I am okay with the idea of him resting in peace, even if he had peace the moment his spirit crossed over. Jaden and I have moved forward. Jaden is thriving. I am not so much thriving but I am slowly getting my life back together after dealing with addiction and the fallout thereof. Jaden still yearns for a father, and it would be nice if he could have one. Even so, we’re okay.
Jaden’s grandparents on his father’s side stopped speaking to us shortly after my ex-husband died. In every way, that part of Jaden’s family lives as though Jaden doesn’t exist. I can’t change that, despite my efforts to reach out to them. I believe some doors are just meant to remain closed, and if it was in their heart to do this to their grandson, they are not people we need in our lives anyway.
I would love it if I was blessed with another chance at love and marriage, and Jaden could experience what it is to have a father. It could happen. In the meantime, my son is abundantly blessed with unwavering love by the handful of people he has in his life, and I have to believe that such a blessing will by far outshine the legacy of pain my ex-husband, my son’s father, left for him.
Today is a reminder to me that our lives carry on long after our physical bodies die, through the memories others have of us and the dynamics those memories and emotions create. I am a deeply flawed person, but it is my hope that when I leave this world, I will leave behind a legacy of peace, faith, hope, and, above all else, love.
We have a choice. No matter what life has handed us, we have a choice as to how we will leave and what we will leave behind when our time here is up. We can choose, every day, what our history will be. What will yours be?