Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
There was nothing under the tree for the boys, nothing I could afford, nor any spare time to shop. It was going to be a dismal year, one of the worst. But when Nate called to talk about coming home, he sweetened the pot with news of plenty of gifts for Scott and Brian, and I couldn’t help but give in to at least that much.
The mother side of me wanted the boys to have presents and their daddy home with them. The hurt wife side of me was angry he even had the nerve. But I allowed him to come, and when he showed up bearing a trunk-load of nicely wrapped gifts, I couldn’t help but think how much nicer it would have been for him to send money home instead of going so far overboard. And it also made me feel like the worst mother ever.
“Who wrapped these?” I asked, noticing each gift was wrapped and ribboned with much care. I knew very well that Nate wasn’t the most patient or talented with such things, and they bore a very distinct female touch.
“His girlfriend,” he said, meaning his youngest brother’s live-in.
Nate and his brother (and apparently the girlfriend) were now living and working in Atlanta, Georgia. According to Nate, the money was good. I dared not ask why some of the good money hadn’t made it our way since I feared a fight. I just wanted to give the boys a little bit of happiness, so I bit my tongue and let it go.
As I helped Nate unpack his bags, a picture of a girl fell out, a Polaroid with the words, “Don’t Forget Me!” in bold, black letters across the bottom.
“Who’s this?” I asked.
Nate took the photo from me, scanned it quickly, and then tossed it into the fireplace.
“No one. Well, she’s kind of staying with us. She’s a friend. Not mine. My brother’s girlfriend.”
I just nodded. Like I believed a word he said.
“She likes me, but she knows I’m married, that I love you.”
I felt something inside of me stir, something of disgust, and something of possession. He was my husband. She couldn’t have him. And the last thing I wanted to do was give him reason to turn to her.
We spent the rest of that day getting closer, snuggling. I hated myself for letting him back in, and yet a part of me still thought we could start brand-new. For the boys, maybe. Or maybe I just didn’t want to let him go completely. Maybe I just didn’t know how to really be alone, without him telling me what to do, or perhaps I didn’t want to go on without someone leading me.
By nightfall, after tucking in the boys, we were in bed together. And as soon as it was over, I came to my senses. Again. What was I doing? I felt so dirty, used. I rolled over and berated myself for being so stupid yet again.
“I have to tell you something,” Nate whispered over my shoulder.
“I can only guess,” I said. And I could. I almost knew what he’d say.
“I want to take Brian back with me for a while, so we can get to know each other better. It’s not fair that he doesn’t know me that well.”
I wanted to scream. It wasn’t what I expected him to say, but then again, it was worse. My baby? Take him? And whose fault was it that Brian barely knew him?
“Who will take care of him while you work?” I asked, wondering what lie he’d come up with.
“That girl? In the picture? Her name is Jenny. She will.”
I willed him to just be honest with me. Just tell me that he was with her. For once, I wanted him to be honest and not make me drag it out of him.
“That’s really nice of her,” I said. “For someone who likes you but knows you’re married.”
He sat up and pulled on his clothes. “We’re actually together.”
And there it was. I knew it. I knew he was with her, and it was the possessive side of me that wanted to take him back from her. But for what? Who was really the winner here? Surely not me. Not even her. It was Nate. Once again, Nate was getting everything he wanted, and I played right into the game.
I wrapped the sheet around me and walked out of the room. I showered, scrubbing my body with scalding hot water. This is the last time, I told myself. The last time that bastard ever hurts you.
After I showered, I grabbed a wine cooler from the fridge and downed it. And then another. And then another.
I ventured outside, the cold smacking at my face, and I sat on the porch, listening to the dead of night. “Stupid!” I said, berating myself. “Idiot! You know better!” I did. I really did. But I didn’t seem able to act on what I knew.
Minutes or hours later, I went back inside and slept on the couch, wishing for everything to be different, but knowing I’d wake up to more of the same.
On Christmas morning, Nate and I were cozy, but for me, it was distant, a part I felt I was playing for the boys, and even for my mom. In the back of my mind, I planned my future, one without Nate. How would future Christmases look with just the boys and me? How could I put him out of my life once and for all, without cutting him out of our children’s lives?
Ultimately, against Mom’s wishes, I allowed Brian to go back with Nate to spend a few weeks. I even drove Nate home.
“He’s not going to give him back,” she warned me, but he wasn’t taking Scott, so I didn’t fear he’d run off with Brian. Besides, a kid would drag him down. Without me to leave him with, I just didn’t think he couldn’t be trusted in this respect.
Once I returned home, life just the two of us now, we quickly got used to our routine. Scott went off to school first thing in the morning, and I went to the newspaper. By afternoon, I’d pick up Scott and spend precious moments with him, and then I was off to my waitressing job again.
It was a never-ending schedule, but we were growing stronger. I stopped thinking of Nate as much, stopped calling to talk to him (and only checked on Brian when I did call), and I continued on with my own plans.
Nate became concerned when I stopped calling, though. It was, it seemed, quite the blow to his ego that I might move on.
“Are you ok? Are you seeing someone? You know you’re still my wife, right?” he asked when I did call one night to talk to Brian.
“And you’re still my husband, but that hasn’t stopped you from living with someone else,” I retorted.
“We’re not really together,” he said.
“Ok.” Whatever he needed to say to help himself look or feel better, I just accepted it at face value. I didn’t care. Funny how it was perfectly fine for him to do exactly what he didn’t want me to do. As if I had time even if I wanted to.
I was doing just fine without him, thank you very much.
But the truth is, I was scared. My period was late and I felt the telltale signs of pregnancy. The smell of food at work made me ill, and something deep inside of my warned me over and over, “You’re pregnant.”
Without telling Nate or Mom or anyone, I went to a local pregnancy center and told the nurse I was a month late, even though I was barely two weeks. I knew. I knew I was pregnant. The pregnancy test verified it, and I was left to wonder what came next. How in the world would I take care of my boys, work two jobs, and do it all while being pregnant?
I swore I wouldn’t tell Nate. I didn’t want him to know. He’d probably tell me it wasn’t his, that he hadn’t been around, accuse me of cheating on him. Even though we slept together over the holidays, and even though I was on the pill, it still happened. He wouldn’t believe it was purely by accident, even if he did accept it was his.
As soon as he called again, I blurted out the news anyway and was disappointed when he didn’t respond.
“You don’t seem very happy,” I said, knowing how stupid that sounded.
“Well, it’s a surprise, that’s all. You said you were still taking the pill.”
“Oh,” he said, letting silence take over and drag on.
“Well, anyway, whatever, right? I’m going to come get Brian this weekend. It’s time for him to come home.”
“Yeah, ok,” he said. “But let’s plan for you to pick me up from work and then we’ll drive home…uh, to my house together.”
When I showed up that Friday night, he got into the car and hugged me.
“I’m so glad to see you. I thought about the pregnancy and I just think it’s wonderful!”
Something inside me jumped for joy. I shoved it down. There was no way I was falling for this again. Besides, he was still living with someone else.
“But I have to tell you something,” he said, the smile leaving his face.
I braced myself. Anytime he had to tell me something, it usually meant a punch to the gut.
“Jenny…she’s pregnant, too.”
Yup, there it was, right in the gut.
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!