We were students together at Brigham Young University (BYU) and faithful Mormons, and we started our family rather quickly. Barely married, pregnant, and going to classes together, we awkwardly tried to figure out how to navigate our mutual dysfunctions. He was a brilliant artist and programmer. He wrote a zork-like game to ask me to homecoming our first year of marriage. (I said “YES!”) We spent our first New Year’s Eve as a married couple at his office, with another couple we knew, playing Doom until 3 in the morning. He worked too much. I studied like my life depended on it.
Our baby was born and we were so delighted. Our little boy slept 5 hours a night from the start, rarely cried, and was constantly curious about the world around us. I realized I hadn't actually ever fallen in love before when I started loving my child. Pregnant again, still adjusting to life with our first baby, my exhaustion level rose to heights I hadn't been able to imagine before. My then-husband would get up early with our 10 month old and sit and program in the other room. He would put headphones on our son, so he could play on our little electronic key board while his father worked.
My former husband's father was a bully, my mother a narcissist, so we hurt each other in the ways we understood meant love. Our daughter was born and we adored her. His job became more and more consuming. I learned how to make cinnamon rolls from scratch and to pretend I didn't miss being a student, didn't miss being seen as a person. We tried to be okay with how things were- until we couldn't pretend anymore.
We separated. We divorced. We stayed friends for years after, working together to be the parents we believed our children deserved. We celebrated holidays together, went to counseling, and took the kids to Disneyland with our other partners. We tried. We loved each other and liked each other and hurt each other in ways only ex-lovers can do.
We found other loves and couldn't always find space in between to be our best selves. We tried. He fell in love again, with someone who finally consumed him in the way he felt was love. She demanded everything, including his past. He resisted for awhile, and then, finally, he gave it to her. We became a distant memory that he visited for birthdays, sometimes. Our children were confused and hurt. They knew he loved them, how could he disappear like this? We tried. I won financial support. I took them to concerts (he loved music) and supported their hobbies and hated my helplessness to give them the one thing I couldn't give them- their father.
June 2016, he died unexpectedly, 4 days after Father's Day. His wife, so caught up in her story of claiming him, threatened our children. 19 and 20, confused and broken hearted, they bore the burden of her insecurity. I watched our daughter grip her chest, gasping for air, when I told her I had learned her stepmother had threatened to arrest them for trespassing if they attended their father's funeral. I watched them crumble when their aunts and uncles, save one, and their grandparents, so afraid they too would be denied the chance to grieve, accepted this. "We don't want to take sides" said one aunt. Not realizing that was taking sides. That not standing up for the person being bullied and rejected is siding with the person who is doing the bullying.
We made it through. Unexpected kindnesses from old friends, and expected strength from their uncle and each other, together, we made it through. We were able to go to a viewing of his body, through much effort on behalf of many people. Our son attended the funeral, obeying the condition that he not acknowledge he was his father's son. They were mentioned in the obituary only as part of their uncle's family. They were erased, like she wanted, in her final attempt to claim their father's life in mourning his death. Our daughter couldn't make herself go to the funeral where she would be a stranger to her father. She couldn't accept the mantle of secretive mourner. She loved her father and knew that he loved her. She didn't want to hide that for someone's fears and insecurities. We went to Starbucks and read while her brother attended.
My ex husband died last year. And it changed the course of our lives in ways I would never have imagined.