It surprised me that he let me go without a fight. We’d been together for a long time.
Without that fight for us, I expected to be blindsided by something big. A punch in the face. Hands around my throat. Retaliation for “taking my daughter away from me”.
I spent two years filled with anxiety that he would hurt me.
The day we had to deal with the realtor and I had refused to sign away certain rights, he gave me a look that terrified me. Everything about that look said, I’m going to kill you.
It was an expression I’d seen before on men who were capable of murder. The intent and the violence came through loud and clear. In my fear, I had forgotten that he likes to keep his hands clean.
But I’d never left him before. I didn’t know what he was capable of in that situation.
That first year, I waited for the physical violence. I waited for the retaliation. I waited for the big moment when we sat across the table from each other with it all laid out.
You can’t do this on your own.
Nobody will ever love you.
You’re a quitter.
But he never came to me. He shouted from a distance.
Text. Phone calls. One stoic letter. And proof that I had once loved him.
There was the lunch ‘date’ on the first court day. He mentioned that I looked like I did when we first met. The way I smoked my cigarette made him think of back then. Implying, I guess, back when he loved me. When things were okay.
He said it would be like a second chance first date. A way to start over. I didn’t get it. We were in the middle of signing legal custody papers. He promised to pay, and then searched his wallet for cash when the bill arrived.
It all trickled in. There was no big bomb. It came in chewable bits.
One night he asked me to go out to talk about our daughter. I really wanted him to care. To do the hard things that single fathers have to do to keep a relationship with their kids. So I agreed. He picked the place and paid for the beer. I drank to ease my nerves.
We had sex in his car. He explained that the condoms in his glove box were just a coincidence. He didn’t get me drunk with the intention of fucking me.
I felt embarrassed and ashamed after. But I still gave him a hug when he dropped me off. I still kissed him goodbye.
For me, it was goodbye. I guess it was something else for him.
The phone kept lighting up with messages.
Good luck with the wolves.
You’re just like your parents.
And, to me, those messages meant that he was angry, that he wanted me to feel bad. I kept waiting for his anger to end. But it never did.
The first Valentine’s Day after I had left, he came to pick up our daughter. She was so excited to see her daddy. Excited that he’d driven all the way downtown to celebrate the evening with her.
I was dressed in sweats. No make up. Hair in a pony. It was typical for him to take her out until 8pm on weeknights before he had stopped his weeknight visits. So I confirmed, “You’ll be back by 8, right?”
“I was just going to take her out for an ice cream around the corner.”
“I have things to do, Fred, I wasn’t planning to be back until 8.”
He had his daughter in his arms when he spat out, “I’m not your babysitter, Fran.”
Some instinct kicked in. My girlfriends call it The Dragon Lady. I asked our daughter to go get her toys for the car ride and then I pointed my finger right in his face.
“Don’t ever say anything like that in front of your daughter again.”
He didn’t understand. I tried to explain, but it was useless.
When they left that night, I walked to the corner market and a few other places, grateful to move faster than possible with a four year old. I picked up groceries. I listened to good music on my headphones.