Chapter 1

I will miss those ice blue eyes. How they used to soothe my soul, how they used to smooth the crinkles of my worries, how they once were full of love. Your strong arms would hold me tight as those crystal diamonds held my gaze. Once they had calmed my woes. Now they burn me, now they scare me.

The way your voice would lull me, no matter the stressor. Removed my anxiety, no matter the level it had reached. When my emotions spilt over the control point. Your words were simple, straight forward and stronger than you would ever know.

“I love you. You’re beautiful, smart and strong,” not letting me go, you held me through my tears.

Juvenile in your words but refreshing and starchily truthful. The honesty that could only come from a child, I guess that proved how immature our relationship was. That I could lean on your support so much, it’s no wonder I fell so hard when you moved your stance.

I lay in bed, my limbs intertwined with your own. One arm stretched just above my head, I know you don’t like it under my head. It cuts the circulation off and becomes uncomfortable. Even when all I cry for in the world, is a solid cuddle from you, my love, you still push me away. You resist, citing it’s too hot, too uncomfortable. Yet, the dog will always have a warm body pressed to. I sleep on my side cold and ever alone.

I shift an inch to look up at your palm. With my finger, I traced the bumps bumps and ridges in your hand. Rough calluses cut from hard work but only for your career. Am I incorrect, James? If you could only put a fraction of that work into our marriage…but your job trumps all comforts. In your mind anyway.

I love you so much it hurts. It honestly hurts me, I cry far too often. Behind doors, between the sizzling sounds of dinner cooking and many Saturday mornings as I sit by myself. I send a text and receive no response.

I cannot take the emotional pain anymore and it seems I am incapable of truly explaining it. I can’t recount the times that we fight and it ends up being my fault that I’m ‘being a bitch’ or ‘overreacting’.

Tomorrow I will pack my belongings while you are at work and you will not see the whites of my eyes for a year from that date. That is what I have decided. And why, you might ask, did I decide this? Because life must hold more meaning than working a 9 to 5 job. Life must hold more for me than being your pristine wife. Attended hunt trips for your delight, to mock my fear. I would stray behind and the noise of the woods would send my heart crashing against my chest, you would laugh. Call me weak and continue on your walk. I would fish for hours in silence while imagining creatures under the water exploding through the surface to steal me from this existence.

I haven’t been alone since I was 15 years old, when I learnt my son was growing in my belly. I once had a multi-layered personality that shone from across the room. Now, if I get too bold I’m told I’m being annoying or out of place. I must keep my wild ideas to myself, like a child- be seen not heard. Your insistence has collapsed everything that was different within me. A ghost in a shell now, I am see through and complaisant to such an extent, I don’t even recognize my own face.

That sexy smile and wink you once had given me, the show of want I somehow believed was reserved for only me- I now see you send it to even the waitress at a cafe. A symbol I once thought was our secret love, shown to another in hopes that you get an extra dipping sauce free of charge. You treat everyone the same, you told me. You give me nothing extra from anyone else. Not even sex which has become a dusty memory that I thought we once had enjoyed?

Why did I turn so heavily into your hold? I could blame it on my traumatic youth, self induced. There is no one to blame except me but possibly better choices would have made me stronger in choosing a husband. Not one that hardly glances my way any longer.

My downfall began really, when my son was born. The best gift ever but too soon. At only 16 years old, I was a mother. The stress of parenting and school turned my gaze quickly at an easy out called drugs. They dwindled my life down to the bare minimum when I chose to live on the streets. The freedom was incomparable to anything else, evidently even a new baby couldn’t keep me tied down. The worry free life, no bills, no payments, no martial fights. No jealousy. Do I miss it? I tuck the thought away and nuzzle myself into the nook of your elbow.

My fingers touch ever so gently to the tips of your fingers. Ape-like, large, and skilled, your hands show nothing but strength, so why do I feel so weak? Because your hands no longer want to hold me up.

I say goodbye in silence as a secret tear drop rolls down my cheek. I pray for dreams to take me quickly as I lay in your warmth but all I see is dark swirls of emotion. Lines of hurt ending in fights, lead by words spoken and topped by misunderstandings.

I learnt just recently what the word gas-lighting meant. I thought it was a joke at first, something that meant you spot lighted children. Spoiled them and caressed their down falls in character. Ending in manipulative little bastards that really just need a spanking. I was wrong though, not about spoiled children, but the meaning of gas-lighting. What it really meant was exactly what you have been doing to me. Telling me not to wear shorts too short, make-up makes me look old, if I go to a bar I’m a whore, if I travel to another city to visit a friend- I’m cheating. The way I have actually lost friends over our marriage since you pounded your chest and blocked them out. Or maybe I blocked them out, since I wanted so badly to make you happy.

I recall the day you told me I was too perfect, that it was hard for you to function next to me in a relationship when I was seemingly too large for life. Is that why you started beating me down with words? Broke my confidence, one brick at a time. Not even smashed them to bits but placed them between us, you created a wall of insecurities.

It was you that put me on this pedestal. It’s hard to sustain, all too often my toe slips and I nearly crash to the dirty dirt. When I do however, I quickly collect myself without you knowing and turn the washing machine to ‘normal’. Hoping for a quick cycle that is noiseless and not bothersome to your TV channel blaring.

To water our family tree had been exhausting. Leaves fall from it constantly, turning brown and littering the grass below. Causing the death then of the thin grass blades that take millions to create a pristine lawn. Some days I wonder if crush rock would be easier to maintain. It would be easier to smash those bricks of my personality, then at least I would be another entity. Instead we have a wall separating us and a dying family out of reach.

I am thirty-three years old and work as an x-ray Technician making just below a sufficient wage. A blood mother to two, a step mother to two and a grandmother to one. Yes, a grandmother. A daughter, a sister, a writer and I am done with my current life.

The day I met you is clearer than supper I slaved over for last night, you know; the one that ran cold on the counter top because conveniently you had to stay at work late. I say conveniently only because we’d had a fight the night before.

When I met you;

I was a 23 year old single mother of two children. Clean from drugs for several years but still struggled in my own skin. Rented a too-small townhouse from my parents who were comfortably loaded. Yet I lived paycheck to paycheck. Relying on assistance from the government. Low income applications were my nightly hobby.

Rental subsidy, child tax credit, GST rebate all on top of child support payments made my living easier. Not good but easier. My children; Jax was 8 years old and Sadie was 4. Jax was skinny, always feared malnourished, but strong willed. Smartest boy ever and the man of the house. He warned me, funny now that I think about it. He liked the man that used to play army men (not you) better than the bald man (you, James.) He’s rambunctious, funny, and handsome, which any mother would say but I am serious. Dark red hair and chocolate brown eyes. He would outwit his teachers, causing many after school meetings where I would laugh and tell the teacher, ‘you shouldn’t let young children outsmart you.’ That child is destined for greatness.

I broke up with Jax’s father less then a year after he was born. We both had drug problems and went our separate ways to get clean. It took me 3 years longer then that to get clean, my last use date was just before I got pregnant with my daughter.

My daughter, Sadie is the most beautiful girl. Her mind functions at such a high level that most would complain she had ADHD when really she’s so far into an imaginative world, no one could keep up. She notices so many more things then you, James, she notices a persons mood before they open their mouth. She notices the bug crawling into my ear before I know it’s there.

I had been so heart broken by her father leaving that you must have had an easy time taking over my life. Splintered in pieces, I was pining for anyone to hold me close. I met you at the beauty contest I had put Sadie in as a toddler. You matched her, both bold bald heads. It didn’t even phase me when she lost, all the other girls had long blonde curls and new brown cowgirl boots. Sadie had wrist rolls and mismatched teeth. You told her she was beautiful anyway and that stole my heart.

Sadie’s father had moved out almost two years before you moved in, so Sadie was ready for a male figure again. He left with nothing since he had been sleeping with a girl that befriended me just to get to my boyfriend. We were never married and I was broken after him. You picked up the pieces, didn’t you? A young ex-drug addict with two children from two different daddies. Struggled to pay bills and drank too much on the weekends, you came in as the hero.

I thought you were so much older than me. You had a full-time job, a 1989 Camaro Z28, soft top with Chip Fosse rims. You had life figured out, or at least I thought. You had a son, sweet little boy Ethan. He was two and your pit bull puppy was three. We had lots of fun in the beginning but the warning signs started soon too.

You lived at home with your father, Johnathon. You said you were still at home so your son had full time care but really it was so you didn’t have to pay for care.

Ethan had hair the color of a crushed cherry tomato. Dark eyebrows and freckles like Archie Andrews, gave him a mischievous look. Johnathon smoked like a chimney, drank a case of beer a day and slept through most of the care of Ethan but he tried. You had full custody of the baby which I found fascinating but it left you to drive him two hours to another city every Friday night to drop off to his mother, Janis.

Our relationship began to grow even through the constant text messaging she berated you with. Called to cry into the phone on a Friday night. Asked for you to come back to her, cried that she thought it was only a break, cried that she still loved you. While I sat next to you at the restaurant.

This was manageable and understandable to a point. You’re a handsome fellow with a nice car and money. Steady job, tall and muscular. ‘Water under the bridge,’ I would tell myself. Until the second girl showed up. You warned me, “I may have another baby,” were your words. I laughed and said “oh well, babies are cute.”

Carly was her name and she was due any day. Before our three month anniversary another carrot top baby was born to you. I kept you at arms length since the drama seemed to stink thicker than your cologne. Trailed everywhere you went, I did not want to be tainted by your scent yet. Initially smelt of the exotic, expensive type it turned out to be a cheap knock off. The type that got sprayed on you as you walked through the mall and couldn’t shake the stench.

She was born and named all without your input. Sabrina for the first name and no surname of yours. Before our 6-month anniversary, I was aiding and abiding in the paternity test. She was cute, I admit but it was the sleepless Friday nights that I expected to be cuddling and movie binge rather than bottle warming and diaper changing. Sabrina had large blue eyes with ruby red lips and her tiny fingers grasped my heart quickly. Thinking back I wonder if she were a part of the reason I stayed. I loved her too so fast.

That little girl seemed a blessing to our relationship. A baby that we could love and share on the weekends and give back to the real mom to raise. It cemented our love, as any baby born to a couple would.

That idea didn’t last long, Sabrina’s mother developed an addiction of her own and disappeared. The Ministry turned to us for full custody before she was one. We resisted at first, you had just recently moved in with your son. Our relationship had only just become full time. You had proposed marriage too early and wore me down that I finally accepted. Our three children learnt to love each other and get along, a baby was going to tip the scales we figured.

It was that fateful day that turned us upside down. When we picked Sabrina up one afternoon and she had a black eye. Her clothes dirty, her diaper too full. I was selfish, yes, and took it upon myself to decide right there that the darling babe would live with us full time. She had been assigned to your father for custody so this of course was not the popular decision but it was made.

Within a year and a half, I went from two children to four. I cut my hours back to part time to accommodate preschool and daycare. It seemed okay until your father presented at court against us. Regina, your step mother, slandered us in court. We were unfit parents. Your father and step mother cut us out from the family, we felt isolated so we grew closer together, or so you made me think.

Court settled down after some time, the children stayed with us. I gave them my heart and raised them as my own. The problems didn’t stay away for long, it was Ethan’s mother that started next.

Jax is twelve, Sadie is eight, Ethan is six and Sabrina four. It was shortly after our ‘secret’ wedding to ensure no ex-girlfriends appeared. I think it may have been the purchase of our first house that set her off. The fact I would sit in the garden for hours with her son playing, eating fresh peas and carrots. Ethan was thriving with us and it seemed to drive Janis crazy. They way we had built the picture perfect family from scraps of other families. She twisted the love Ethan had for me as a stake between us. It began as a splinter when she would call and tell you I was hitting Ethan. It grew when she went to court and signed subpoenas that stated the same. It was a plank that separated us when the judge stamped the paper. I never hit that child but we were wedged.

Janis had an ugly jealous streak on her back, it had turned her rotten. Her insides had to be black. She contacted the government to audit us about Ethan’s care and in turn she was stripped of thousands of dollars. Money that had been paid incorrectly to her, so really her plan backfired. This infuriated her, caused a recoil of court dates and lawyers. Visits became strained. I had always paid for daycare, preschool, basketball, gymnastics, summer camps and now she was trying to take him and child support from us. I never understood how money could be chosen over child. It was Ethan that was suffering during those court battles and he got to watch a power couple start to crumble. Myself, being the step-mother, was mud and there is no going back from that.

Not too long afterward, Sabrina’s birth mom came back. Married to a rich man and armed with new lawyers, she fought for custody back. I began to have two children I loved ripped from me. The baby girl I had raised for years, from infancy, was being taken too. We had double the court hearings, bankrolled two lawyers and stress leave from my work was increased in time.

Torn apart with subpoenas, court dates, affidavits, and mediation meetings. Our communication fell apart. Police knocked on our door too often and private investigators parked in front of our house to video tape the home. Our family that was built from love and trust, had been torn to shreds. A family that was not blood but chose to be together and I saw the end creep close.

My children started to blame your children. Your children stopped believing in our relationship. Everything and everyone grew doubts.

You pulled away from me, I cannot pin point when it happened but I felt it. I sat in the backyard and turned myself more into the garden. My saving grace was the occasional marijuana joint I would smoke. Pulled weeds, tended flowers, planted vegetables. It was my Garden of Even. To make it possible to function at work even under immense household stress. But then I had a panic attack. I think maybe that was what pushed you over the edge. Watching me loose my shit that day in the bath tub. I was crying, stoned and half naked. I stated that I couldn’t leave the bath tub because the water was the only thing helping me breath. I thought I was dying and called an ambulance. You sat in the corner of the bathroom and told me I was just high. You shook your head as if disgusted by my reaction. My downfall from stress had begun.

You didn’t believe me that I was having chest crushing waves of inability to breath. I switched the water from hot to cold as fast as I could. Tried to shake the irregular heart beat. Causing my chest to collapse every other exhale. Maybe that was when you first thought me weak. I had prayed sitting in that bathtub that I would die, then you would believe me. I didn’t.

I sat in the hospital for eight hours with heart monitors on. The doctor discharged me, transcribed it as a panic attack and you never looked at me the same.

I don’t smoke marijuana anymore.

Okay, where are we? Jax is fourteen, Sadie is ten, Ethan eight and Sabrina six. I poured my heart and soul into those children for years and at the end of the court battles, we signed whatever the other moms wanted and walked away. Doubt, broken trust and untruthful stories burned into our minds.

We lived through joint custody for only a short time. With joint custody came fights as petty as, ‘you sent them home with wet shoes’, ‘where is this certain library book- well, you’re going to pay for it’, ‘I paid for hot lunch last time- you have to pay this time’. This was a weekly dealing, if not with Janis than Carly. Your father hadn’t spoken to us since court began and I felt we had no one’s support.

Jax had started smoking weed and worked every weekend for his grandfather’s landscaping business. He maintained straight A’s but his mental health suffered. He quit lacrosse, rugby and soccer. We couldn’t afford the sports any longer and I couldn’t mask my anxiety to sit through the games.

Sadie is a C minus student, she struggles with math, reading, and writing. She looks identical to me, has a heart of gold and immensely loves her siblings. A ballerina, hip-hop dancer and soccer player, she had to quit too.

We came to a dead end in our relationship, it nearly felt as though it would be the final stand. You told me about how your brother lives in Northern BC, he makes a lot of money.

“I talked to Cliff today,” through a mouthful of casserole. I recall that fateful conversation like it was yesterday.

“How is he?” I ask kindly, Cliff is the older of the two and I thank my stars I got the nice brother. I can hardly carry on a conversation with Cliff without him calling me stupid and not in the funny brotherly way. He is taller than you with more hair and 100% more tattoos. In a way, he would be more my type but you had something special. As brothers, you are both well over 6 feet tall, built like trees with skinny little bums and wide sturdy shoulders. Strong jaw lines, dark hair stubble and chiseled features. Cliff has a skiff of strawberry blonde hair that he has paid thousands of drug-dollars to keep. You are shaven clean with a full cul-de-sac male pattern baldness. Cliff is funny only when it’s on my account. You are the kind brother, the one that is all heart, a family man, a lover not a fighter and still with all the looks too.

“He’s good, making a shit tonne of money,” you had said.

“Yeah, he seems to be a magnet for money,” mainly because he has no children, no girlfriend, no house and no bills other than his cell phone. He works as a hoe operator in the oil field and pulled in over five thousand dollars a paycheck. A far cry over what we bring home. You work for the city and bring home under eighteen hundred every two weeks.

“His boss has an opening,” you said so casual but your eyes told me you were hinting towards something. I stopped eating and put my fork down to really dwell into this conversation.


“He told his boss that I’m a welder.”

“Where does he live?”

“Fort St. John.”

“How far is that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Fourteen hours or so.”

“That’s too far.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Fourteen hours!”

“I’m going to put in a sick leave and give it a try,” you shrugged and piled more casserole on your plate, as if the decision was already made. You refused to make eye contact with me.

“Fourteen hours!” I insist, I don’t have words. I think I was in shock.

“Well, it’s only an hour and a half flight.”

“And what if you like it?”

“What if?”

“You won’t be able to move your children there,” I’m grew angry, exasperated and irritated. You never gave me any say, the conversation ended and you told me you were leaving in two weeks. I could come, or stay. If I stayed, it would be without you.

Jax and Sadie, my children, lived with us full-time and I knew they would move with us. Ethan and Sabrina however, had shared custody now. Week on week off. You sat there and shrugged off the thought of moving without your children. As if possessions that we could just replace. My shock dwindled as, once more, you talked your way into my reasoning. I began to trust you, believe that it might be okay.

“You don’t like your job either. This could be a good change.”

You had a good point, I had been stressed out. Beyond my normal, ‘I can deal with’ point. The drugs that doctors had prescribed me were layering on top of each other and I wasn’t enjoying it. Anti-depressants, Ativan and Buspar had become my crutch. I felt like the ocean of feelings was drowning me faster than the tides could calm me. I struggled for a deep breath even on the best of days.

“That doesn’t mean I want to move!”

But it did. And we did. I took leave from my job, put the house on the market and stumbled upon a new job in Fort St John. Fourteen hours away from where we lived. I still recall the phone calls I had to make, “so, we’re moving to Fort St John,” it would start, “when?” or “why” or “what the hell you thinking?”

You gave up any rights to your children and left. I stayed and went through the motions of a normal person, moved months after you. I sent my children to live with their fathers for six months, to ensure they made an informed decision when they moved (yes, I was that confident) and they did come.

We eventually purchased another home in Fort St John and resettled. With half the family no less. Jax lived here with us only until his fifteenth birthday. He left shortly after and up until recent I didn’t know why other than he didn’t like the snow.

Jax is seventeen, Sadie is thirteen, Ethan, eleven and Sabrina is nine. Jax’s son is one years old, Jax moved away because he got a girl pregnant and got scared. I dread that he learnt that from you, James.

The fights began to shift, they turned from me being upset and you apologizing. To you saying ‘is it really a big deal?’ or ‘you’re reading into it too much.’

The pressure of our everyday life changed our dynamic. After years of feeling like your boldness was crushing me, I cannot take it anymore. I cannot live in your shadow any longer. I cannot be the happy house wife in the window anymore.

It’s not me. It’s not me that caused my pain. Caused my hurt feelings or mental torment. Sleepless nights. Tossed in bed until the closet door seemed to open on its own. Open to a monster we had created. From our indecision, our miscommunication, our willingly breaking of the family. Our words unspoken. Our lack of care to work it out, as we both roll away and fall away.

We go to sleep angry and it forces the closet door wider, to an entity that is unwell. A relationship that is unhealthy. I tried though, to vocalize what the problems were. It’s not me. It’s not me that causes my own pain. I don’t make this up, I don’t want to have hurt feelings.

It’s not me. It’s you. It’s you that let that wedge became a crevasse. It’s you that drove us so far away from each other. You turn when I try to talk. You push when I start to cry.

It’s not me that wants to leave. It’s you.

I’m just taking the first step.

so strong, my love but never strong enough, are you?

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