divorce

1 + 1 = 4: Baby Chapter 10

Three no evilsI know this is the story of our journey toward a baby, but don’t think we had forgotten about my daughter Nenè. Oh, no. Between all of the crap of the baby making situation, there was high school football games (she was in marching band), booster and PTA meetings, and the usual teenage ups and downs.

Nenè, like most children of divorced parents shuffled between our house and The Jackass’s, but her primary place of residence was with him. Nenè lived with us on temporary basis throughout the year. She was here every Wednesday and every other weekend. And it just so happened that she was here the weekend we found out that Bashert was pregnant. We could not have planned it any better to have us all together as a family to celebrate the happy news.

As usual, all too soon Sunday rolled around and it was time for The Jackass to pick up Nenè. This was 7:00 in the winter evening. We gave extra hugs all around and she was off. We then decided to walk up to our neighbor Laura’s house to let her in on the good news too. Laura was our neighbor, friend, substitute grandmother and greatest supporter in the Jewish community right from the moment we all met. It was going to be fun letting her in on the news.

We had been at Laura’s for about fifteen minutes or so when someone knocked on the door. Laura got up and answered it to find Nenè standing there, shaking and crying. We all immediately jumped up to pull her inside and find out what in the world was going on.

It turned out that Nenè had left some of her school work at our house and needed to return to get it. She realized it when she and The Jackass were just down the road and asked him to turn around. As Nenè tells it, he was not too happy about this and started an argument, but nevertheless did turn around. This must have been at the exact time we were walking up to Laura’s.

When Nenè knocked on our door (she didn’t have a key at this point because we didn’t trust The Jackass not to take it – we had our reasons to be paranoid) of course no one answered, but the dogs started barking. When we didn’t come to the door, Nenè said The Jackass kept insisting she keep knocking, that we would not have gone off without the dogs. She was beginning to get more and more upset with his treatment. She tried to explain that we did often go off without them and we were not home.

Something in this answer set off The Jackass. According to Nenè, he began yelling at her and a stand off ensued – she insisting we were not at home, he insisting we were but just choosing not to answer the door. The solution that the grown-up had was him getting in his car and driving off without her. He left a dumbfounded 15 year old girl standing alone, in the dark. At this point I am going to call up the old adage “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

I was proud of what Nenè did after she was dumped. She knew we were not home and couldn’t get in the house. She had no access to a phone, so she did the best thing she could – she ran to Laura’s house. And that is where I pick up the story.

At Laura’s house Nenè told us some things about living with The Jackass we had not been aware of. All was not well over there. She asked if she could stay with us at least for the night, still not knowing what the situation with The Jackass would turn out to be. Of course she could stay! Her primary residence may have been with him, but we had joint custody and at 15, she could choose to stay wherever she wanted.

It took a bit of time to get her settled down and all of the story out of her, so it was probably a good half hour or more before we said goodnight to Laura and headed back to our house. When we turned the corner to approach our place who did we see sitting in the lot in front? Yep, The Jackass. Seems he had had a turn of heart. He demanded Nenè get in the car immediately.

Remember how I said, go after one of mine and I go into Hulk mode? Prime example just about to happen. Nenè had confirmed some things about The Jackass that Bashert and I had wondered about and let’s just say I was not going to let Nenè back in the car with him driving that night.

First I made sure Nenè was firm about not going back with him, but would take her if she wanted me to but I also told her I was not going to let him drive her. She said no, she wanted to stay with me. I told her to go in the house and I would take care of things. The strength of Hercules rose in me that night. I turned to face The Jackass and gritted my teeth.

All the anger over the ten years it took to get our divorce and all the mud he tried to drag me through took over. I was a towering steam of barely controlled fury. I stood up in his face and I told him Nenè would not be returning with him that night. I told him he was a jerk and a fine example of what a parent should be and that he needed to leave now. Nenè would not be going with him.

He got hot, boy did he get hot. He really did not expect me to stand up to him. He started yelling about calling the police and charging me with kidnapping. Funny thing at that point, his anger transformed mine. I knew I had control then. Oh, I was still angry, but it was an anger I could use. I told him to go ahead and call, even offered him the phone. I told him that I wanted to see who got in the most trouble – me or the jackass who just dumped a visible shaken 15 year old girl into the dark alone. He seemed to sober a bit at that. Still sputtering to himself, he finally got in his car and drove off. Victory was mine and Nenè was safe.

I turned to go back in the house only to have it hit me that he had all of Nenè’s things with him in his car. We would have to go over there in the morning to get her school stuff she had returned to our house to get!

What a hell of a weekend.

Bashert and I talked about what was going on and we agreed that if Nenè wanted to make her stay permanent then it would be okay.  We talked about it all week – Nenè was still too upset to return to The Jackass’s house for anything but a quick run to get extra clothes. She finally said that she wanted to leave him for good. She wanted to live with us and not have to deal with all the issues going on with him. The decision had been made. Nenè was moving in.

In one fell swoop, our house and lives were about to get amazingly full.

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Friends, now what? Chapter 2 of my version

J&EI have to admit it didn’t cross my mind that our friendship would be anymore than that; friendship. Considering the gruesome breakup I was experiencing, I certainly was not looking for anything more. But somewhere between that first, “Geez, why doesn’t she just go away?” and my realization that I was going to be devastated if she really did move to Israel as planned after her graduation, the relationship had moved into something else entirely. Much to the amusement of our other friends (yes, I made more friends regardless of what my daughter Nené might say) we became a couple. The story of the in between is quite a tale unto itself, but that is ours to savor and occasionally let tidbits out, but for now I move on to the next step: cohabitation.

When Bashert and I first moved into together, it was as if we were on vacation every day, well at least at home, well at least some of the time. You know that closet that you hear about gay people coming out of? Well, let us say our life was pretty much one big walk-in.

I was still immeshed in that nasty ongoing divorce and my attorneys at the time suggested that I not reveal to my daughter the true aspect of our relationship. The laws in the state of South Carolina, the state that had power over the divorce proceedings, were not kind to those of my ilk. The ex-husband-to-be was not below using any and all means to keep my daughter away from me and cut off any kind of financial support he could. Bashert and I were forced to set up a farce of a roommate situation whenever Nené stayed with us.

Bashert had graduated and was in the “real” world teaching art at the local Catholic high school. I know, joke in the making: Jewish, lesbian teaching at Catholic school. When she was hired, she had to sign a “moral turpitude” contract. This meant that they had control over her so-called moral behavior even outside of school and oh, let us see – what was the official 1997 Catholic standing on homosexuality? Oh, yeah – get the hell off our property, die and burn for eternity. We were forced into another farce of pretense. Not that we were very good at it, in either situation.

By this time Nené was around nine years old and it was pretty apparent that we weren’t doing such a good job keep ourselves in the closet around her. I found a crumpled note in her room after a weekend visit. “Mom – I think you are gay with Bashert”. I guess it is hard to explain to a nine year old why Mom’s “roommate” is involved in most every aspect of our lives and not have her be suspicious. Trying to be something we were not in order to keep Nené in our lives was causing more damage than helping.

Things at Bashert’s job were not much better. Bashert took her ring off each morning before work, a painful thing for both of us. She took “beards” to various school functions. We separated whenever anyone from her school was seen in our vicinity when we were out and about – even at the grocery store. Despite the precautions we thought we were taking, we ended up having our car keyed and wonderful rumors were heard about us being seen making out in the Winn Dixie parking lot. Really? At least they could have picked a more up-scale place than a grocery store parking lot..

On a weekend excursion to Atlanta, we stopped in a jewelry store and lo and behold, Bashert heard a student call her name, “Hey, Miss Smith!”  Arg. We couldn’t even relax when we went out of town. The closet was getting mighty stuffy.

In 1999, after two years of teaching there, the Catholic school Bashert was working for suddenly “lost” their funding for the art department and her contract was not renewed. Funny how the funding was “found” two months later when they hired a new art teacher. I’m just saying.

Now at this point you may be wondering why all this background. Why not just jump right in with the baby story? Well, to understand some of the coming story, you had to know some of the back story. You see, it took those years of struggle – finding each other, overcoming our differences (still working on that one occasionally), hiding from family and the world – to build the determination and convictions needed to start fresh as an open and proud family.

After Bashert lost her teaching job, we decided that whatever job she found it would have to be one that accepted us. No more hiding. I also made the decision to fire my attorneys. All the secretiveness had done nothing to further my cause, in fact, it had done more harm than good to the relationship with my daughter. It wasn’t until Bashert and I made the decision to “come out of the closet” together that Nené started to come around.

Bashert found another job as a graphic artist at a place that really didn’t care one way or the other about her personal life and I found an attorney who specialized in representing gays and lesbians. We were on our way. The only thing left to work out was my lingering strings tying me to The Jackass. Bashert wanted to expand our family and I did not want to bring a baby into our relationship until I was able to say I was free and clear to be hers. You see, as liberal as my views had become, I was still old fashioned enough to say that we needed to be “married” before we had kids.

It took two more years before the divorce could be finalized and believe me it wasn’t for want of trying on my part. By the time it was all said and done, I had graduated with my BFA, started not one, but two part time jobs, Bashert had started working for a private dinner club as Membership Director and Nené had begun high school. It was a long haul to get to that sad, but relieving day in May.

Once the shock of the reality of my divorce had worn off, Bashert wasted no time in preparing for our commitment ceremony – she had that fierce determination going again. On July 27th we were standing in front of 50 of our closest friends and family to proudly show them that we were committed to living an open and loving life together. It was a beautiful ceremony that people still talk about today 12 years later. I only hope our legal wedding will be half as warm and special when that day comes (hint, hint to the federal government).

After the ceremony, Bashert began talking in earnest about wanting to have a baby. I admit it, I was nervous. I was now 40 years old, trying to maintain two jobs and going through the teenage years with Nené. One by one, Bashert knocked down my arguments, made sure to include Nené every step of the way and had me convinced.

We were going to make a baby.