It’s all my fault
By: Stephanie Pak
It’s all my fault. Well, that’s mostly true. The dishes sit in the sink begging to be washed. For how many days now? Three? Four? I am now past aggravation and have settled on “angry.” I stand at the sink staring at them, willing them to do what Mickey Mouse had once done. Wash yourselves!! But I know better and sigh. Why do I even have to ask? Does anyone need to be directed like a child from activity to activity? Staying up late working on the kid’s papers and preparing for the next day means I won’t get into bed until well after 11 pm. I know I’ll need to wake up earlier than normal so I can take care of this mess before it grows a new type of penicillin. This also means it will cut into time to make a decent healthy breakfast because it took me 40 minutes to get through the mountain of dishes. Why would you buy new dishes because you couldn’t wash the ones in the sink? I audibly sigh because if I don’t do it, no one else will. I’m alone in my endeavour and apparently in my thoughts that washing as you go is the easiest way to make sure this doesn’t happen.
As I am walking past the kid’s bedroom, I remember I want to start laundry. That too has piled so high that I’m willing to bet that athletes would pay good money to climb to its peak. Not once in our 15 years of marriage did he ever wash, fold, AND put away their clothes. Now that I am working nonstop around the clock, I was hoping he would see it and know what to do. Knowing the time it will consume to take care of now, I make a mental note to wait until the weekend to get it done. The weekend is when I get to work on my five classes worth of homework that is nearly impossible while teaching during the day. The weekend is the time to catch up on readings and homework assignments. It’s also the time when he can sit on the couch to watch tv for hours on end while sipping on his mixed drink. He’ll sit on his phone scrolling and texting while never meeting his kid’s eyes when they try to get his attention, so they’ll come to find me instead. Any hope of concentrating will quickly evaporate. He will also climb into bed around 8 pm to “go to bed” which means he’ll be on his phone until 11 pm-ish. He wakes up go head to the gym around 0500 and doesn’t return until after 0930 and locks himself in the room to practice religion. By the time he emerges, it is near noon or after. He’ll ask what is for lunch while he watches me struggle to tackle the dishes and shout at the kids to complete their chore lists.
“I cook, I clean” is the rule since we married, however, the actual rule was “You cook, I clean.” If I didn’t take care of it, who would?
Family is coming for a visit soon, so I dust the entire house. I realize as I am doing it that it has been months since the last time. How did this much time pass without me realizing it? Have I been that busy? It’s his family coming, so why isn’t he offering to help out? Why am I the only one to see that the house needs care and maintenance? I make grocery lists and get things planned for their visit. After all this, I’ll head to the store with the kids because they’ll holler they want to go although they already spend all week with me. There are no breaks. It’s all my fault because I wanted three children.
The boy comes out of his room saying, “I don’t have any clothes to wear that fit. Nothing fits anymore!” I realize that it HAS been some time since we bought him new clothes. Okay, so let’s add that to the list as well. No biggie. “It’ll have to wait. I don’t know where you think the money is going to come from,” he says. I’m shocked. Why do you have NOTHING left at all?! Where has it gone. I begin to think about this. I mentally bookmark it to press further later.
Later in bed, he says, “I bought a membership to — MLM because I do not want them to miss this opportunity!” He’s super excited as he says it and with such enthusiasm. He doesn’t realize that I am staring at him open-mouthed because I had just asked for our son to have new clothes. Clothes that fit. That should be a thing, right?
Wheels are turning and I am terrified to ask this question, but it bugs me so much that I eventually say it with more force than necessary. “Can you bring home bank statements dating back from February? I’d like to see where all the money goes, and I’d be willing to help out any way I can with our finances. If you need me to get a job, I’ll do it.”
“That’s not necessary and I don’t know why you need to see them. You know what we make. All the money goes to you and the kids. This shocks me for a second because they need new clothing for the upcoming school year. They need shoes and school supplies, but there is no money he says. Weeks I continue to ask and am met with the same response. I want to see the bank statements. I alone decide that if I am patient rather than insistent, he’ll cave and bring it home. After three months he doesn’t but at this point, I have reached the point of no return.
When I first began going to school, we sat and spoke about finances. This would be a great decision because I would be contributing financially to our household income, plus providing a better future for us by hopefully gaining a full-time position after graduating. We discuss finances and I explain that I will need a car because I will only attend the community college until I receive my AA and then I will switch to a university that is an hour away. We agree that this is a good idea and I suggest that the rest of the money be put into savings for the kids in case they need anything over the next few years. He doesn’t’ like this idea. He wants to use it to “pay bills” which we then argue about. I understand the view that the money could offset the burden of bills. I’m more than willing to contribute. But everything? I think that it is foolish not to make sure the kids have if they already don’t. We never agree on this. I have no statements to go on. I’m waving a red flag mentally, something I should have been doing.
I ask myself one night if I just quit doing so much will it be noticeable? I have to be honest this isn’t solely my idea, it was at the suggestion of our third or fourth family counsellor. She was amazing and provided valuable advice, life-changing even. On this particular day, she suggested that rather than begging him to help or explaining to him over and over what needed to be done to just quit. He may realize what I do and begin to pitch in a little more while learning to appreciate the full beauty of a day’s work. I don’t do dishes anymore after this. I don’t do laundry. I let it pile up one time for a week. I counted the days. It took him a week to realize he needed to do it. When the kids had no more cereal bowls left and he kept buying more and then realized the extent of what he’d done. He then berated the kids for not washing their dishes! I wrestled with guilt over this because the kids should NOT have to pay a high price for lack of parental participation. I stood watching him work through a week’s worth of dishes. I knew the kids had two mountainous chains to tackle now and Lewis and Clark want to give it a name. It is then that I realize that a house that looks like this is a cry for help. It has been the whole time. I need a village and without one to help me through these moments, I am slowly drowning in life. I’m so tired and defeated. I carry the guilt and blame for this. It is all my fault. I allowed it didn’t I? I didn’t point and dance and scream or yell that I needed help. No more.
After a month he finally gets the hint that the kids like to have dinner every night. He’s upset about having worked all day and had to come home to make dinner. He makes snide remarks to the children about it. I just laugh. It’s over for me at this point. I just can’t anymore.
At the following counselling sessions, I admit to the counsellor that I was filing for divorce. She was not surprised. “I’m not surprised. Men like him don’t change. I’m happy that you realize that now and you’ll be happier that you did this. Don’t worry. You’re amazing you keep focused on your goals.” I’m amazing? But I have just let everything fall apart around me. I keep doing back and forth with guilt and resolve to commit to this. It is not an easy thing to admit. But how do you watch your family and home life slide into chaos and disrepair without caring? But you notice when a friend wants to hit the bar or go to an MLM event states away? Oh, because “you only live life once and you can’t take money with you.” But what about your kids?! – I scream internally.
Two months after filing for divorce, I asked if he regretted that mindset. He said nope, and for the life of me, I can’t imagine why I was still shocked. I was past arguing at this point. I had even made it a point to never argue with him once I’d uttered the most difficult words I have ever had to say. “I want a divorce.” This was a source of bitterness for him. I had no fight left in m and this is all he wanted to do. Point out every flaw, mistake, and then some. For years, I overlooked every slight. I fought for us. I was the only one doing the fighting. I forgave years of degradation and severe alcohol abuse. Gas lighting and a constant need to be right sapped every ounce of what strength I had left. It is all my fault that he is belittling me in front of the kids and drinking again because I “asked for this. It’s not my fault that you . . .” I realize as he does this in front of the kids that I was only just now seeing what the counsellor had already seen and knew was coming.
I saw our marriage in bits and pieces. A highlight reel if you will. I began to see truths that I refused to acknowledge for the sake of saving our marriage. I pretended not to see or notice the things that might cause arguments because every one of them ended the same. It was all my fault. Over time, I became embarrassed by him. The arguments were no longer private. They were in the purview of neighbours, family, and friends. Often with a drink in hand, I would be reminded of how wrong I was. One night in particular, and the final straw that broke any chance of salvaging this relationship, was when he accused our son of being lazy for not taking out the trash. This remark came after a few drinks and our son became defensive. An argument ensued between them with me asking him to calm down and to not speak to him like that. I had taken a psychology course that went over, albeit briefly, childhood development and the effects of childhood abuse. “You can sit there and act all educated but you’ll still be wrong. Doctors don’t know everything. You can’t believe everything they say.” He would say this to anyone and without any qualms. I was never right about anything. I became reclusive. Often refusing to meet up with friends on double dates or going with him to his friend’s. We disagreed on parenting, politics, empirical science, finances, and education. I remember being so proud of earning an AA and mentioning it. He quickly reminded me that because he paid the power bill and bought my laptop, that the degree was half his. Again, I was shocked and became defensive, reminding him that I DID the work and no one else no matter what. Also, I was being paid and that I was contributing to bills to which he scoffed and laughed at.
Because money had become an issue, I felt pressed to begin working. I knew as soon as the AA was in my hand, I would begin applying for any job that I could get. I was met with disdain. “I don’t think you should get a job after you graduate. It’ll just take time away from me and the kids.” The funny part of this one is that I had already asked for a divorce six weeks before this. I’m not sure what he was thinking. As soon as I had asked for the divorce, he moved from amicable to bitter quicker than a Busta Rhymes song. However, when I refused to engage in arguments or counterattack pithy remarks that commented on my selfishness for leaving him, he began to put the kids in it by asking them to pass messages. Any response died there as I refused to engage in that behaviour. The vitriol became worse as did the drinking. I had tried asking him to quit but was reminded that I asked for this and it was all my fault he behaved this way. One day after taking my daughter to the park he was beyond upset that I had even taken her without inviting him. He said aloud “fuck you” and walked out the door. I heard the garage door open and I thought he was leaving. After a few minutes of not hearing his car start, my daughter came to get me scared. She said, “mom! I don’t know what dad is doing but I’m scared. He didn’t leave.” I rush outside and with her following. We both stare at him in complete shock. He was removing parts from my car, preventing me from leaving. He realized that he was wrong and put them back but not before I packed the kids and I up in small bags and left. He moved out that day. It would be five more months before constant nausea and fear would dissipate.
This isn’t even the worst of it or nearly everything. I will get to that at some point. For now, though, I want to say that while many things are my fault. I am NOT responsible for the actions of another. How he chose to behave is completely on him. A result of his character, which ironically enough he commented on how mine was flawed because I left. I don’t know how I kept my cool most days. Once I spoke those magic words, “I want a divorce”; I felt SO free. It was everything I had ever dreamed it would be. The sky was bluer. I know that because I spent time in counselling after asking for the divorce. It is easy to believe that because you are the one asking for it, that it is clean-cut and simple. It’s not. I processed so many emotions on any given day. I chose to do so with dignity. I opted to not respond to the things that I knew would only perpetuate the cycle of hate and abuse. I knew that I was somehow better and that although I was certainly not in a position of leverage or power, I would be okay. I would be okay because my children needed me to be.
So yes, it’s all my fault that many things happened because I chose to keep quiet rather than fight. I chose to be graceful and calm when my kids needed me to be whole. It’s all my fault that I held it together when all I wanted to do was fall apart. When somedays, I didn’t know how I was going to do it all and manage the emotional burden, but I did it. I did it on my own, and I am quite proud of that. I do not believe that anyone should go through these things alone. I think everyone needs support and a village, but that is something I did not have. More than anything, I want to be that for any woman going through anything like this. No one prepares you for how difficult divorce can be.
Although I shouldered almost all of the parenting on my own, I worried about how my children would cope. Surprisingly, two of them were not shocked and admitted they already knew it was coming. It was easier to help them through it knowing that I had to remain resilient for them. It made things so much easier being the one they counted on for keeping the routine and emotional support. The transition was easy for all of us, so long as I kept the difficult parts hidden.
I know it is hard, but it is achievable. You can set yourself free from a relationship that makes you feel trapped. You can start over. You can choose yourself without being made to feel guilty about it. I stared at that blue sky for many sessions and felt that I made the right choice. That blue sky showed me that I had an entirely new life waiting for me to chose it. I had to decide to choose me every day; so I could create a happier life for myself and ultimately for my children. And I will not feel guilty for it either. So yes, it is all my fault that I move on with my life and I am a better person and all the happier for it.