To Have and Have Not
“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.” ~ Kenny Rogers
We walked around the block over and over, my best friend and I. She tried to talk me out of leaving my husband; I didn’t want to listen. I was stuck in emotional quicksand.
“Stop walking and stop talking, Lynn,” I said. “I have to do this because I don’t know who I am anymore.”
She heard the truth of my words. After only a moment of looking into my soul, she wrapped me in her arms. “Then go with God.”
I can’t say that it was God riding with me as I drove away from the small town where I had lived with my little family for a decade, but there was a force of some kind. It propelled me back to my other nest, the one built by my parents.
Leaving behind a stifling marriage that had stolen my identity consumed me with both relief and fear. While on the one hand I felt liberated, rock bottom grief for leaving my two young sons behind chewed up pieces of my heart and spit them out. I cried and cried and cried
As though my mind was in instant replay, I saw the eyes of my twelve-year-old boy holding himself together as though following instructions. Even at his age, he knew there was nothing he could do to stop me from going. Being the oldest, he must have told himself to be brave since his mother couldn’t show him how to behave. The longer and harder I hugged him, the more stoic he became. So like his father.
My mind saw my youngest son, my baby. How does one tell a nine-year-old that his life is about to change and will never be the same? I held him in my lap and rocked him like I did when he really was a baby. We both wept. I kissed his face and tasted his tears, not realizing that it might be the last time he would let me hold him close or cry with him.
The year was 1973. I lived in the Deep South where motherhood and apple pie was the benchmark to which young women aspired. Divorce that allowed a husband to raise the children was not in that equation. With the exception of my friend Lynn, who grasped my situation like only a good friend can, no one understood my decision.
My mother had suspected my unhappiness but it was hard for her to empathize. She gave me a safe harbor, but she could not own my broken heart or my shattered spirit.
I was thirty-three-years-old and as I look back all these years later, I am troubled by the serious errors in judgment I made. I was so tired, so lost that I didn’t consider the long-range emotional fallout destined to haunt both my children and me for the rest of our lives.
Strange as it may seem, Husband Number One and I parted on fairly good terms. We were civilized about things and he promised to keep me in the loop regarding the boys and he did.
Not long after we separated, he told me how they cried for me at night, and how valiantly they were coping in a world that had left them bereft. I so wished he had not told me. Even after all these years, I still hear my babies crying when I lay my own head on the pillow at night. I will hear them till the day I die.
I moved to where I had attended college because it was familiar territory even though I no longer knew anyone there. Because I lived alone, separation anxiety was my companion. The grief I felt for my children ached like a phantom limb; I missed being their mother and easily convinced myself that they would hate me. That thought brought me to my knees again and again.
At night I would grab the telephone to call them and then quickly change my mind, afraid that they would say they no longer wanted me in their lives. Emotionally, I never left my boys but I was scared to death that they believed I had abandoned them the day I left their father. I was also afraid of an opposite reaction. Would hearing my voice make it harder for them to adjust to the life they had not chosen? Did I dare risk heaping even more emotional stress onto my innocent children? I so wanted what was best for them.
In the end, I would call Dial a Prayer so that I could hear the sound of a human voice, albeit a recorded one.
Many years and a boatload of heartache and change would have to take place before I could begin to feel whole again, although a part of my sad heart would always remain broken. I was a mother who left her children, so my lifeboat was filled with guilt.
My sons grew up to be fine men and remarkably, my worry of not being loved by them materialized only in my fear-drenched mind. They have made me immeasurably proud by becoming better parents than I could ever have been. Their children are sweet and good and I am blessed that they, too, have allowed me to be part of their lives.
I had to leave the life I was living in 1973 because it no longer worked and I didn’t have a clue how to fix things. At the time, I didn’t know what my future held or if I deserved to have one. Driving out of town that day forty years ago, I wasn’t even sure I deserved a future.
As it turned out, Act Two was waiting in the wings.
CAPPY HALL REARICK:
Syndicated Humor columnist, Cappy Hall Rearick, has authored six columns: Alive And Well In Hollywood, Tidings, Simply Southern, Simply Senior, “Putin’ On The Gritz, and a monthly e-column, Simply Something.
She has six published books in print: Simply Southern, Simply Southern Ease, Simply Christmas, Return to Rocky Bottom, The Road to Hell is Seldom Seen and I Do, I Do, I Do. A regular contributor to Not Your Mother’s Book series, her work can be found in anthologies throughout the country.
Cappy and husband Bill live on St. Simons Island, Georgia and Saluda, North Carolina. Please follow her website, Facebook and Twitter: @cappyrearick.
SONIA MARSH SAYS:
Your story is filled with such honesty and your comments say it all.
“I was scared to death that they believed I had abandoned them the day I left their father. I was a mother who left her children, so my lifeboat was filled with guilt.”
I am happy to hear your sons have made you feel part of their family as a grandmother today.
Please leave your comments for Cappy and share her inspiring story with your friends. Thank you.
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Liz B says
How very courageous of you! My heart ached as I read your story. I realize that the 70’s was quite a different time than it is now, but how unfair the system in your state was with how they handled children in a divorce. It’s wonderful to learn how your boys have survived and have welcomed you into their lives! I look forward to reading more of your extraordinary writing!
Liz B recently posted..Baby’s Breath
Sonia Marsh says
Yes, as a mother of 3 sons, I put myself in your place when they were the age you mentioned as you left them. I can’t imagine how horrible you must have felt leaving them behind. They’ve turned into being “fine young men,” and I am so happy for you that you get to share their lives again.
Sonia Marsh recently posted..“My Gutsy Story®” Cappy Hall Rearick
Lady Fi says
Oh gosh – how heartbreaking and hard it must have been for you.
Lady Fi recently posted..Dances with leaves
Mary Stripling says
23 yr. friends, I met her long after “Act 1” and recognized her honesty.
Cappy in unable to live a lie. She could never pull off a real life charade.
I believe her story to be about that truth.
mary bonnette says
I have known Cappy many years and knew her during Act 1. She has been my inspiration to live authentically.
Shirley Maybury Egan says
What a poignant story and what courage it took! You are my hero, Cappy!
Janet Sheppard Kelleher says
The harder it is to write, the better it is to read. Great work, Cappy!
Trish Reeb says
I felt your pain deep in my gut as well as my heart. Maybe because I’ve had a lot of it in my life, too. I admire your courage. It had to be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. I love happy endings, although it came after many years of suffering.
You’re one tough lady to have survived a heartache of that magnitude without losing your way forever.
Glen Finland says
This is a story about a woman’s fear of facing the ultimate loss–her children Yet, somehow, in finding the uncharted strength to let go she discovers a pathway to receive the love she feared losing. It’s complicated and heartbreaking and ultimately marks this brave writer as human.
Penelope J says
A painful story. I can only imagine what you must have gone through to make the decision to leave your kids as well as your marriage. Glad to know that your kids love you.
Penelope J recently posted..WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YESTERDAY’S HOME WAS A MANSION AND NOW IT’S ONE ROOM?
Lucy Holman says
You and I really do have a lot in common!! Yes, it’s the children thing that grips my heart
and THAT kind of hurt really never goes away. Reading your story gives me the COURAGE
to get some of my own painful story together.