This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for nearly 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 locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
Sylvie, late 40’s
I’ve seen my son, Alex, twice since the divorce five years ago. Once, for his high school graduation; the other, when I pulled up to my ex husband’s house to drop off Anna, our younger daughter. Alex was mowing the lawn. He saw my Volvo round the corner, and he ran into the house. His reaction was visceral.
I was a good wife right until the very end. We were fighting a lot, my ex and I. The kids knew it, too. Alex was old enough to understand; Anna was on the cusp. We were getting ready to sit down to dinner that night. I think I was at the sink, washing lettuce for the salad. My phone kept ringing and ringing, but my hands were wet so I didn’t go to pick it up.
That’s when it all fell apart. My ex wanted to work on our marriage. At the time, I didn’t. I’d been seeing Brad for a couple of months and things were going well. When everything blew up, I felt—weirdly—special. I was getting a lot of attention. I felt wanted, worth fighting for. But I didn’t have the strength to fight anymore. I wanted out of the marriage. I was excited by how new and good things were with Brad.
Our lawyers drafted up the divorce papers, and I went in to sign them. Except that I couldn’t. I had a meltdown in my lawyer’s office. I felt physically ill, confused, saddened. I didn’t feel ready to leave my family—the signature felt like a final ousting of me from the nest I’d helped to build for fifteen years. My lawyer called my husband’s lawyer and told him I had changed my mind. I wanted to work on us.
The call back wasn’t what I had expected: my ex didn’t, anymore. He wanted the divorce. It felt a bit like poetic justice. I accepted that he was angry. Both of us knew that things hadn’t been going well between us. Part of me thought that the kids would be relieved that the fighting was over. I remembered how awful it was for me to see my parents constantly going at each other; when they separated, things got better. I always turned to that memory when I thought about my own divorce: maybe it would be better for my kids in the long run, too.
I know I made a mistake, a really big one. I shouldn’t have had an affair. I should have ended our marriage decently, with a civil conversation or a nice handshake. But that wasn’t my reality. I’m not perfect. And while I may not have always been a great wife, I was always a great mom.
I’m afraid my kids won’t remember that. I can hear my ex saying the words that my son’s written to me: ”You had an affair with some guy while married to dad. You acted like an insufferable psychotic jackass during the divorce process, dragging everyone down with you for nearly a year.”
I couldn’t understand what was happening to us. I thought that Alex would get better—that maybe, with time, he would come to see that people in happy marriages don’t cheat on each other. He would understand that my actions stemmed from a very deep unhappiness—and that I could not keep punishing myself for wanting to be happy again.
But it got worse and worse. Every time I reached out, he screamed at me to leave him alone. Every text I sent only reopened our wounds. I was watching a program on TV one night when someone said something about parental alienation. Some stranger was talking about my life—and it felt like being punched in the gut.
I’d gotten glimpses of how my ex spoke about me to Alex. While we were going through the separation, my husband and I kept living in the same house, but in different rooms. I overheard him and Alex talking one night. Alex was probably still fifteen. And my ex said to him: “let’s play a game; let’s go around the room and figure out all the things your mother’s going to take in the divorce.”
I didn’t take a thing from that house. I left behind my career to take care of Anna and Alex. I gave myself to them completely. And even after things ended between their father and me, I thought only about them. I let my ex keep the house, and the kids stayed with him so that the disruption to their routine was minimal. They were surrounded by their things, their dog, and their friends. Maybe it was a mistake, losing myself in them. But I just never thought that my own child would hate me.
It’s been five years since the divorce and so much has changed in my life. I’ve gone back to school. I’ve started my own successful business. And I just got married—to Brad. My ex recently got engaged, too. My son is in college now, and my daughter in high school. Parts of us have moved on, but parts of us still live with the sadness accumulated during those years.
I try to see Anna as much as possible. She’s become a beautiful young lady.
I sent Alex a text a little while ago. It said: “I love you, I will continue to love you, no matter what you say or how you feel.”
His response: “I’m sure you will, I’m familiar with that sentiment. Now for the final time you need to Leave. Me. Alone. That is the best thing you can do for me.”