I re-read The Foreigner’s email tirade and contemplate his reference to my second divorce.
How he says it isn’t really important, I’m immune to his tirades, for the most part. The fact that he knows at all is what strikes me. There isn’t any normal way for him to know, you see.
The Child doesn’t speak to him. He doesn’t know any of my friends, and even if he did, the funny fact is, even some of them aren’t aware of it. It’s not like I announced it in my annual Christmas letter; I don’t send one. He’s not on Facebook, doesn’t follow me on Twitter, and although he knows about my book review blog, there has been no mention of my personal situation on it. My Father certainly doesn’t speak to him.
My mother, on the other hand, does – quite often, in fact.
When The Foreigner and I divorced, it went like this: I was a stay-at-home mother to The Child, then just a year old. The Foreigner and I lived in Oregon, where we had moved at his behest, taking me far from both my support network and my job prospects, both of which were located in New York. He simply announced one day that he wanted a divorce and, as a result, would be returning to The Netherlands, to be closer to his family.
I could have pointed out that The Child he was moving half a planet away from was also his family, but that was not really the point; the point is, I was really in a spot, thousands of miles from anyone who could help me or any visible means of helping myself. I did what people normally do in this type of crisis: I called my mother.
She let out a deep sigh filled with her aggravation and disappointment in me, and told me, “Well, I guess you can come home, then.”
The next day, I looked over The Foreigner’s shoulder as he sat at his computer, and saw an email in his box from my mother. The subject line read, “Us.” I didn’t read the email, but she felt compelled to tell me at some point that just because things had not worked out between me and him, didn’t mean she should not be able to maintain her friendship with him.
So instead of going home, I moved to Seattle, where an old friend was living, one who graciously offered me a place to stay while I found a job, helped me find a daycare for my daughter, not to mention an apartment to live in, and let me cry on her shoulder and supported me in a thousand different ways that I don’t really remember but will forever be grateful for.
About two years later, when I was living in a small rented townhouse, The Foreigner announced he was modifying the child support agreement. The amount he had to pay – although significantly less than what the state formula called for – was too much, he said. So he had decided what he preferred to pay. You get what you get, he said. On one of these reduced payment checks, he deducted the cost of some candy he’d sent The Child, and called me an “Ungrateful Woman” in his explanation of the amount on the memo line.
I decided not to argue the point, and filed a request with the state agency that collects child support. On his next visit to the United States, the agency arranged to serve him with collection papers, which was made rather difficult in light of the fact that his new girlfriend (now his wife, and mother of the two children he claims he cannot feed) lied to the process server to prevent this from happening. Though people like to complain about the inefficiency of government agencies, I will never forget how impressed I was when after a week of chasing The Foreigner and The One Who Came After Me around, they finally managed to serve him just as he was about to board the plane to fly home, with all the other passengers as witnesses.
I received an indignant email from my mother not long after. I was a deplorable person for “belittling and humiliating him” in this way, when, after all, he was “trying” to pay.
I wanted to tell her that if I told CPS I was “trying” to feed the child or “trying” to find her decent child care or “trying” to provide medical care and a roof over her head, but not actually doing it, nobody would say they were being anything other than responsible in taking the actions they would most certainly take in such a situation.
But instead I just deleted the email, and all the other ones that followed. There’s a pattern to them: First a berating, then a friendly email that pretends the berating never happened. If no response, then indignance over my lack of manners. And so on.
I only see her now on the rare occasions I am in her geographical area for other reasons, but mostly I ignore her, keep my distance. I read all her emails, and reply to some but not others, depending on the tone and my mood. I send birthday cards and Christmas gifts without fail, but I put little thought and no feeling into it, and expect nothing in return. I mostly send them to remind myself that one of us, at least, is willing to do the right thing, the normal thing, in spite of everything else.
So in the midst of my divorce, it was no coincidence that The Foreigner suddenly needed an accounting of his child care payments at the worst possible moment. He knows everything that is going on, and although that isn’t much because I don’t tell my mother much, it’s still just enough to be troublesome.
While this exchange about medical bills is going on, I receive a nasty email from my mother, chiding me for The Child’s lack of manners in failing to send a thank you note for a birthday gift several months before. I delete it. A few weeks later, I receive two more emails, asking me “how things are going” and inquiring about some books she thought I might like. I ignore those, too.
I’ve had many thoughts over the years since my first marriage about my mother; some made me sad, others made me rage. Now I feel nothing, and worse, I don’t even have feelings about that.