STRESSED OUT

“I guess the lesson here is: don’t get divorced.”

This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and certain identifying details may have been changed or omitted to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Shep, mid-40s

I make $2,500 every two weeks, after taxes, working somewhere in the ballpark of a 60-hour week. $1,700 of that money goes to my first ex-wife for child support. No word yet on how much of it will go to my soon-to-be ex-wife, for more child support. I’m in my mid-forties, I don’t own my home—not for lack of trying—and my bank balance, after I get paid and before I pay the bills, reads -$1,200.

The rapid descent started, I guess, in 2016. My wife and I had been married for a few years. She’d been going to school to become a massage therapist, and I supported her financially through it. It took three years, and it was like pushing an elephant up a hill with a feather, but she finally graduated and established a steady clientele. She was making good money and things started looking up for us.

We talked about it and decided to start trying to have a baby. Of course, a heartbeat later, she was pregnant. The house I had bought—a $272,000 investment on which I still owe $222,000 after almost 10 years of payments (high interest, zero money down, 40-year mortgage)—was starting to fall apart. There were 252 broken tiles on the main floor. There was no way I would bring this little geezer into a world with crawling hazards.

I slowly started repairing the main floor, by myself, after work. I couldn’t do it while she was awake and about, because the fumes from the chemicals could hurt her and the baby. So I fixed most of it from the hours of 10pm to 3am, during which she slept in our bedroom. At 6am, I’d wake up to go to work. But I told my wife—”No matter what’s happening, you can always come talk to me; I’m always here for you.”

I get home from work one day and I find her in the bedroom, crying.

She tells me, “I cheated on you.”

And then she says, “But that’s not the worst of it. I’ve been reported at work, and I’m going to be fired, lose my license, and have to pay a fortune in fines.”

I ask her how many times she slept with him and she says once. To confirm, I look through her billing—she’s a contractor and has to keep her own records—and she’d been seeing this guy an average of thirteen times a month for the last nine months. His wife had found text messages that he’d erased on his phone and called the local board that regulates massage therapists to report my wife.

At this point, I don’t even know if the baby is mine. I take a two-month stress leave from work to think about things, and I decide, ultimately, that I can’t stay with her. They hold a hearing on the complaint against her, and they tell her that her license will be suspended for five years—after which, to regain the right to practice, she’ll have to go back to school for another three years—and that she’ll be fined $3,500.

There’s no way I’m going to kick the (possible) mother of my child out on the street and neither of us can afford to rent, so we end up living together, as roommates, while the divorce is getting processed. She doesn’t work, so I pay for everything. My oldest son from the other marriage is now living with us, too. I still have about $80,000 in debt from legal fees from my first divorce, so I have to represent myself in all matters, from the most recent divorce to any prior custody and child support issues. The bank is making a killing off of overdraft fees and interest payments. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that the house value has appreciated in the last few years, and we’re putting it on the market in May. My ex and I should each walk out with a bit of money—enough to make a fresh start or, in my case, just barely get myself out of debt.

I have a friend who works as a crisis counselor and sometimes he uses me as an example of the guy who always ends up in the eye of the hurricane, in the perfect storm. He tells people who are in trouble: “It can always be worse. Things will turn around.”

He’s right. We did a cheek swab after he was born, and confirmed that the little geezer is, in fact, my son. So, there’s reason to celebrate after all. I guess the lesson here is, no matter what happens, try to laugh about it, and try to look on the bright side. Oh, and don’t get divorced.

Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at craigslistconfessionalqz@gmail.com. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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