Chapter 16

“Hope, what’s wrong?” A temporary hush fell over the line as I pressed the phone’s receiver to my ear. I struggled to find words to speak. Meanwhile, Mom’s courageous tone reached across the miles and drew me into her confidence. “It’s OK, Sweetie, you can tell me what’s happening. Take a deep breath and just breathe. What’s going on?”

I swallowed my pride while inhaling a lungful of courage. “Things aren’t going so great at home. Brad and I got into another huge argument tonight after Calleigh went to bed, and things got pretty heated.” Tears streamed down my cheeks and dripped from my chin, air stuttering from my chest. “Brad doesn’t want a broken wife. He said I’m damaged goods.” I cringed as my words hit the air. Staring at the floor, I tried to come to terms with what that all meant. “I’m not sure we’re going to make it,” I cried. “He really doesn’t want to be married to me.”

“Oh, Sweetie, you are not broken,” Mom countered. The agony in her voice mirrored the heaviness in my heart. “Don’t think like that,” she implored. “Stay strong. Be positive. Don’t let him put those lies in your head. You know they’re not true.” Desperation wrapped itself tightly around her plea.

“But, I am positive,” I asserted my certainty. “I’m positive Brad thinks I’m worthless. He says I’m a horrible mom and a pathetic wife, and I’m not worthy of the air he breathes.” I swiped my nose with the heel of my hand and sniffed back tears. “He says he wishes he had never laid eyes on my sorry face, and that I’m the biggest mistake he’s ever made. If it wasn’t for Calleigh, he would’ve left me years ago, but he didn’t want to be viewed by others as a deadbeat dad.” Emotion saturated my face as hope dissolved with each falling tear.

“You’re a wonderful mother!” Mom argued. “He actually insinuated otherwise?” Disbelief tangled with Mom’s rational thought. I shook my head, aware she couldn’t see me.

“No, Mom. He didn’t insinuate anything. He came right out and said I’m a piss-poor parent—said so to my face. He’s sorry he gave Calleigh a mother like me. And, if that’s not bad enough, he said no one else would want my sorry ass or blame him if he kicked me out and never came home.” Shame furrowed my brow, and my shoulders slumped. “I don’t know what his problem is. I’m the same person he married. If anything, I’ve become a better wife and mother over the past few years; but, the more I change to meet his expectations, the angrier he gets. It’s like he’s on a mission to make sure I’m wrong so he has reason to put me in my place. He wants me to fail. It gives him pleasure to put me down and see me hurt. How sick is that?”

“Oh—wow! I don’t know what to say.” Mom’s shock resulted in several moments of stunned silence. “Brad must be dealing with some awfully big insecurities to be putting you down like that. How else to do you explain it?”

I laughed, sarcasm mocking the suggestion. “You don’t, because it doesn’t make sense. Forget being on the same page. I’m not sure we’re even reading from the same book.” Frustration overwhelmed every fiber of my being, the aching in my chest threatening to devour my sanity.

“Last night, Brad told me he’d allow me to continue seeing my therapist, Greg, but only if he doesn’t have to pay for my appointments or come home early to watch Calleigh any more.” I sighed.

Mom nearly choked on her response. “He’ll allow you? He’ll allow you?” Her voice raised an octave, cracking with indignation. “Are you hearing yourself, Hope? You’re not his child. You’re his wife. Brad doesn’t control you.” She grappled with her mounting frustration, disgusted with the inability to wrap her mind around Brad’s behavior.

“I don’t know what to do. Meeting with Greg is the only thing keeping me sane, but Brad doesn’t care. No one cares,” I pouted. I can’t keep asking you to drive out here, either. I know it’s a long commute, but I also can’t afford a babysitter—not that I even know of anyone who could watch her if I had the funds. We have no friends.” Shame dug deep into my soul. “Guess it doesn’t matter. We don’t have money for any more sessions anyway.” Despair diminished my hope, desperation welling up from a dark place inside me. It twisted my perspective and haunted my options.

“I care, Sweetie. I care very much. I hope you know that,” Mom replied. “You are welcome to call and talk with me whenever you need,” she offered, “but I’m not qualified to give you the answers you’re looking for. You need someone who is trained to deal with stuff like this—someone who has the proper resources and schooling. Know what I mean?”

Overwhelmed and downheartened, I leaned against the kitchen wall, touching the doorframe’s moulding with the side of my forehead. “I know. I need someone to teach me how to communicate with Brad. I keep getting it all wrong. It’s like that song. ‘Living in a powderkeg and giving off sparks.’ That’s me. Everything I do sets him off—and I do mean everything. I can’t win. I meet his demands. I’m wrong. I don’t meet his demands. I’m wrong. I don’t recognize this man I’m living with. The man I married would’ve never treated me like this. Ever.” I sighed again. “I used to be his everything—the queen of his castle, the warm fuzzy in his heart. Now I’m nothing more than a dreaded annoyance, his biggest regret.” Responsibility for Brad’s happiness brought tears to my eyes. “This just isn’t working.” I wiped the tears from the edge of my chin and dabbed at my eyes with the sleeve of my shirt. “I don’t want to keep living like this. I can’t. It’s killing me.” I pressed on my heart as a sudden prick stabbed at my chest, then I added pressure to my temples to relieve the tension.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Mom resigned. “So much of what Brad’s been doing recently doesn’t make sense. You’re not crazy. Others see it, too. Only problem from this side of things is no one knows how to help. What can we do? Tell me what you need.”

I sucked in a deep breath and summoned more courage. “I could really use a sponsor to pay for my visits to see Greg,” I ventured. “He’s my lifeline right now. It’s really only the cost of copays. Insurance covers most of it, but that’s still $20.00–$30.00 a visit Brad doesn’t have.” Yeah, I heard what I said. Our money is Brad’s money. He decides how every penny is spent. I have very little say. I’m not even sure how much he’s bringing home. For all I know, we’re destitute—at least that’s how Brad makes it sound. Lord knows, that’s how we’ve been living.

“With finances being as tight as they are, Brad says we’re barely making ends meet,” I confided. “I assume this has to be true. Our water and electricity has been turned off on a monthly basis for almost a year now, but I haven’t told anybody. Brad said no one would understand.”

“And what did you do in 100-degree heat?” Mom probed.

“Usually, Calleigh and I sat in the dark, or we endured the hot rays being outdoors. We haven’t had many options. If it’s the power that’s off, the water hose still works, so Calleigh has fun cooling off in the stand-alone sprinkler. I can’t bother Brad at work, so sometimes we have to wait hours before everything’s restored. I’ve learned to keep a couple jugs of water available at all times so we’ll having some drinking and cooking water. It’s not how I’d choose to live, but I have to deal with reality here. It is what it is.”

“And why can’t Brad be ‘bothered’ at work, as you put it?” Mom inquired.

“Because he doesn’t want to lose his job. He can’t be taking personal calls while he’s on the clock, so there’s no need for me to be calling him—no matter what the problem is. And since he’s not the one sitting in the the heat or going without water, he doesn’t care to know that a bill didn’t get paid on time. ‘He’ll get to it when he gets to it’—his words.” Exasperation seeped out of me. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but Brad’s told me over and over again that he won’t leave work to handle this issue, and he won’t arrange for me to pay our bills, so why call him? It’ll only make him mad, and I’m not going to be the one who gets him fired. He’s sooooooo afraid of that!”

“I don’t even know how to respond.” The apology could be heard in Mom’s voice.

I shook my head. “You do not want to see Brad when he comes home mad.” I pressed my lips together, remembering his last emotional outburst. “He has enough stress with stuff at work. I don’t need to be adding to it.” No matter how I spun the sentiment, the reasons for Brad’s behavior fell flat. But he’s trying to provide for his family. I should be supportive of his efforts. That’s the honorable thing to do, right?

“Everyone has stress, Hope; but that’s not how you go about dealing with it.” Mom sounded disappointed—partly in Brad, partly in my reaction to his indifference towards his family.

“I’ve thought about finding a job,” I continued, “but, if I went back to work, all my earnings would go toward paying for a babysitter. What’s the benefit in that? I’d like to raise my own child.” I ran my fingers through my hair, angry and feeling trapped. “I’ve already done the math. If calculations are correct—and I’m pretty sure they are—I wouldn’t be making enough money to help pay for any of our bills. Actually, factoring in gas, work attire, reliable transportation, tax increase due to our overall income, etc., etc., me going to back to work would end up costing us more money than if I just stayed home, but Brad acts like I’m making it all up. Proof on paper means nothing to him.”

“Yeah, funny how that works,” Mom sympathized. “It’s not always as simple as it sounds, huh?”

I stretched my shoulders and arched my spine, cracking the tension in my neck. “I don’t know why my staying home is such an issue with Brad. We discussed having a family long before ever having Calleigh. We decided if we were going to have children, we would be the ones raising them—that, or we weren’t having any. Plain and simple. We even discussed all the sacrifices that would have to be made—including me staying at home and budgeting everything on one income. He was totally on board with it; but now, now that our dreams are an actual reality, he blames me for us not having enough money.” I tapped my head against the wall several times in frustration. “I don’t get it. He insists I need a job, but that doesn’t make sense. I have a job. I have Calleigh.” I paced the kitchen floor, irritated I couldn’t wrap my mind around my part in the dilemma.

“I don’t see how this is my fault,” I sulked. “I cut coupons. I don’t go out to eat. We never participate in any activity that costs money.” I gave a half chuckle. “I can’t remember the last time Brad and I had a date night.” I threw up my hands and leaned back against the kitchen wall. “I even shop for all our clothes at the Goodwill because we can’t afford to shop at a regular store. What else does he want from me? This is humiliating.”

Empathy poured from Mom’s heart. “I hear you. Oh, how I hear you! Being a stay-at-home mom isn’t easy, but it’s the most rewarding job in the world.” I could almost see her smile. “It takes special commitment on both your parts to make it work, though. As you know, Dad and I chose for me to stay home with you and Julia when you were little because we felt it was important I be there for you growing up. Of course, we had our challenges, but I believe me being at home with you made all the difference with how well you girls turned out.” She paused to control her emotions. “We may not have always been able to give you everything we wanted to, but you always had what you needed, and that was enough,” she concluded.

“I never felt like I missed out on anything,” I added. “I always knew I was loved. You being there meant the world to me—always in my cheering section. Your presence didn’t go unnoticed. Thank you for that gift.” Several tears trickled down my cheeks.

“It was an honor,” Mom answered. “I don’t regret one minute of it.”

Shame mushroomed from a sacred place within me. “You know I would never ask for money if it wasn’t important, right?” I edged our conversation back in the direction of my financial bind.

“I know, but there’s one thing I don’t understand,” Mom admitted.

“And what’s that?”

“If funds are as tight as you say they are—and I believe you’re telling me the truth—then why is Brad still buying cigarettes and alcohol? Those aren’t cheap, nor are they necessary.” Rational thinking stirred Mom’s confusion. “Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging. This isn’t me taking some moral high ground with you. This is about Brad’s priorities; and, sad to say, I don’t believe you’re one of them any more.” She cleared her throat as emotion began to constrict it.

“Yeah, I know.” You don’t have to rub it in, I thought. I’m aware this relationship is coming up short.

“Do you?” Mom questioned. “I’m not sure you do. If it comes between food and buying other stuff, you make sure your family has their basic needs met. That’s Brad’s job as the provider in your home.”

“I know,” I repeated myself.

“Please don’t be mad at me,” Mom continued. “I’m not putting you down. I just want to see you happy. I want you to experience all the good things life has to offer; but, most of all, I want to know that you’re going to be OK when I’m no longer here. That’s what concerns me.” She released a long sigh.

I felt her pain. I wished things could be different. Brad’s disconnect concerned me, too; but I didn’t know what to say.

“Well, go get the counseling you need,” Mom encouraged, “and stay focused on getting to the bottom of this mess. Your dad and I will find a way to pay for it. Just promise me you won’t give up.”

A tear trickled down my cheek. “I promise.”

Mom sniffled back some tears. “Sweetie, I’ve seen a positive change in you since you started seeing this guy, Greg. It’s like he’s given you courage to live and smile and to see past all the Colleen garbage from your past, and you need that,” she acknowledged. “You have so much to give this world, just don’t let Brad detract from that.”

“Distract?” I questioned her word choice.

“That, too,” Mom laughed.

“I won’t,” I assured her. “Honestly, I feel less crazy when I talk with Greg. He gets me. My past doesn’t define who I am. He doesn’t view me as some kind of messed-up, irrational human being. I’m a person with thoughts and feelings and purpose for my life. Brad, on the other hand…well…I’m not sure I’ll ever be good enough for him.” A deep sadness encased my reality.

Mom released a slow sigh. “Well, your past shouldn’t define you. All of that is behind you, where it should be. You should be allowed to leave it there. It doesn’t change who you are. If anything, it’s turned you into a strong person who trusts God; and I admire that about you. You are a great mom, a terrific wife, and an all-around good person, Hope. If Brad can’t see that, he’s blind.”

I wrestled with Mom’s encouragement. “Are you sure you and Dad don’t mind covering the expense of me seeing Greg? I mean, I don’t want to be a burden. I can just as easily come up with a Plan B. I’m just not sure what that would be right now.”

“You’re not a burden,” Mom insisted. “I just wish I could do more. It’s hard not being able to snap my fingers and just make it all go away.”

“I know, but you didn’t create the problem,” I reminded her. “I’m the one who fell in love with a stranger. I thought I knew Brad; but, I’m finding out I don’t know him at all.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Mom answered. “You’re my girl. It’s my job to care. That’s what moms do.”

“I’m still so sorry. I don’t want to be the reason you worry,” I apologized.

Mom’s tenderness reached through the phone and wrapped its arms around my fretful mind. “There are just some things that come with the territory—nothing you can do about it.”

As a mom, I resonated with her words. “I get that.”

Shifting her concern, Mom pressed forward to the next topic. “I don’t mean to be nosey…but…what time does Brad get home from work in the evenings?”

Pensiveness took over my thoughts. “Well, I know he gets home in time to tuck Calleigh into bed every now and then, and sometimes he’s home in time to read her a story. Not very often, but I can’t say it never happens, I consoled my wavering conscience. Truthfully, I rarely saw his face before 9:00PM.

Mom didn’t buy my story. “Hon, I’m concerned about you, and I’m also concerned for Calleigh.” She released a slow sigh. “I can’t put my finger on it, but something doesn’t feel right. It feels like he’s hiding something.” The angst in her voice heightened my own concern.

Drug use? Gambling? Seeing another woman? I couldn’t prove anything, but something had been off for months. I felt it, too. “Maybe Greg can help me figure it out,” I suggested.

“Sounds like a good idea,” Mom contributed her support. “I’m not sure how to get the money to you before your next session, but go ahead and schedule an appointment, and we’ll figure something out.”

“I’ll do that,” I promised. “Thanks for being here tonight. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“And I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Mom reciprocated. “Now go find Hope and bring her back to me, OK?”

Tears streamed down my face, puddling in the mouthpiece of the phone. “OK.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Welcome back. How has your week been?” Greg greeted me with a warm smile and refreshed enthusiasm.

I plopped my purse down at my feet and casually collapsed onto the token couch. “I survived.” Or, at least I think I did, I surmised.

“Well, I’m happy to see you.” Greg’s smile widened, his words appearing sincere. Pulling out his trusty notepad, he glanced over his notations from our previous session and fingered his newly grown goatee. “How about we pick up where we left off?” Before I had the chance to respond, he added, “By the way, whatever came of those mysterious messages being left on your desk at school?”

“Oh, those,” I chuckled. “Yeah. They weren’t from Gavin.”

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