I’ve been putting off writing about this incident for a long time, not the least reason being that it’s — even now, over ten years after the fact — a giant, raw wound on my psyche. While it’s healed enough to allow me to go on living day-to-day without being reduced to a gibbering mess when something reminds me of it, it’s obviously still raw enough that certain people can bring it to the forefront. You see, my mother left my father in the summer of 1998, which in and of itself was probably a good thing, considering they’d fought on and off for years. The damage came in how she did it, why she did it, the lies she wove in doing it, and the way she metaphorically slammed the door on the way out hard enough to destroy the metaphorical china on the walls.
If you don’t like long introspectives about past butt-hurts, skip this post.
As my memory of the events in question are fading somewhat, I may miss important details and have to fill them in later. I’ve had my sister read this post and point out glaring omissions or errors, though she’s as far removed from the events now as I am. I’m fully aware that posting my reconstruction of the events on my blog makes them a matter of public record, and if the public record needs to be corrected (e.g. about anything that is not merely my understanding of the situation), then I will do so. This is factual to the best of my recollection.
I left home to move to Nova Scotia for my first year of university, and during the Christmas break when I returned home, I made sure my parents and sister had a decent computer and internet connection with which they could communicate with me. The university — whose tuition included a laptop rental and whose classes included explicitly internet-oriented and laptop-requiring functions — had pretty well shackled me to my laptop moreso than it did to my room and phone line. Therefore (and as has become my habit in the years that have passed since), the best way to communicate with me was via my various computer accounts — instant message, e-mail, et cetera. I even made sure to set up a way to play checkers and chess over the computer, so my father and I could play once in a while. When they got their dial-up internet account, to be used on the second phone line installed in my old room, a fight ensued about what the username for the account should be — both of them wanted usernames that reflected themselves, my father wanting “rock bolter” (his main job at the mines) and my mother wanting “tole painter” (I’ll explain that shortly). They decided on “rockpntr”, abbreviated to the requisite 8 characters, and probably only settled on that at the insistence of my sister that they should compromise. Neither of them knew the internet account username was not their public persona, and evidently they both wanted to be seen as the primary controller of the account.
As I was running my parents through all the things that we could do to stay in touch via the computer, my mother asked how to get onto chat rooms. I had, once upon a time, spent a lot of time on IRC in various chat rooms. My mother had seen me on one of them at one point, and her curiosity was obviously piqued. I didn’t think any harm might come of it, so I installed mIRC and ran her through how to find chat rooms that matched her interests.
Then, I returned to university, to finish my first year of the Bachelor of Arts (English) program that I would never actually complete. (Don’t worry, I eventually got an unrelated degree from an unrelated college, so it’s all good.) I got, as most university students do, pretty self-absorbed. I kept in touch with my family back home through email, but of course, nobody really filled me in on anything that was going on back home. I guess nobody wanted to worry me, or talk about things that were less than fixed and certain. And I’m betting nobody wanted to have to spend hours on the phone with me filling me in on details of the goings-on since I left, with the tension being so amped-up to begin with, lest some dam start to crack and the whole situation become a crisis..
Eventually, summer vacation rolled around, and it was time to move my stuff out of the dorm room, so my father came to pick me up with a borrowed pick-up truck. I was shocked at how pale and emaciated he was — I’m not a big guy myself, and in university I was at most 150lbs, but he looked to be far thinner than me. The first descriptive thought I had about him was “skeletal”, in fact. And his normally overwhelming nature was terribly subdued. All in all, I could tell something was wrong. I found out, in short order, that he had been on antidepressants for some number of months, but to what end, nobody would tell me.
As a brief sidebar, to explain the family situation as I understood it to be, I should probably catch you up on some of back story.
My mother used to tole-paint blocks of wood cut out into certain patterns, the wood cutting being done on an almost nightly basis by my father. My mother would often take in nearly a thousand dollars at one huge sale per year, and she’d be constantly parading people into her basement shop to show off her crafts. They were making so many of these crafts together that at one point, my father got mold in his lungs from inhaling so much sawdust.
That was during the good times, when they were willing to cooperate, which in my estimation came when my father was willing to play doormat. They fought fairly regularly, my mother constantly calling my father an idiot and otherwise belittling him as a simple drunkard Frenchman. Granted, my father wouldn’t win any philosophy contests, and he’s certainly not a pure “good guy” in this history, but I have far more sympathy for his role in this run of events. Maybe not so much for the fact that the “drunkard” label was fairly true, with a 24-pack of beer coming home on every grocery night, and every few months my dad getting so rip-roaring drunk that he’d play Supertramp or Cat Stevens records and fall asleep on the couch with a cigarette still burning in his hand. I’m not sure how much of my father getting drunk was escapism, or how much was out of spite for my mother and her constant belittlement.
Things had gotten physically violent on occasion between them, as well. There’s one incident I remember when she hit him across the face with a hairbrush, leaving a matrix of little bloody dots on his face. There were occasionally also bruises on her arms, I’m assuming from drunken attempts at restraining her by my dad. It seems as though every time he got drunk my mother would pick a fight, almost goading him to do something stupid. She had once locked him out of their room and refused to acknowledge anything he said for hours, until, by my understanding, while sobering up and getting a bit worried, my dad broke the door in — only to find out that she had climbed out the window. I still don’t have a lot of the details from that event, only that she had left. She obviously returned sometime later.
There were many other such events. So many, in fact, that it was obvious their relationship was poisonous. It got to the point where, before I had left, my father had agreed with my mother to stop drinking — and by all accounts had, for several years, though he’d fallen off the bandwagon at least once with his old drinking buddy. I seem to recall him being sober when I left for university, though this was shortly after his brother had died, so it’s possible he fell off again when I left. One way or another, the venom between my parents certainly didn’t end with the drinking, as I had hoped it would. My first impression when I saw Dad so rail-thin and pale was that he had fallen off the bandwagon in a big way, and had been on a month-long bender. That wasn’t exactly what had happened — turns out I was missing a hell of a lot of data to make any kind of judgment call like that.
I got home, joined the workforce at my father’s workplace in a program intended to help university students pay their way through their schooling, and found the whole home life routine had changed. My mother had wrist braces due to carpal tunnel syndrome, which I was told was either because of too much tole-painting (my mother’s account was that my father had worked her to the bone to make money from their crafts), or because of too much computer usage (my father’s and sister’s accounts, corroborated by the newly acquired smell her shop had gained when the computer was moved into it, and she sat there chain-smoking night after night). The fact that I could never get onto the computer to e-mail my friends back at Acadia, as it was always occupied, didn’t much help convince me that my mother’s story was true.
Her hours had shifted drastically, as well. She was pretty much staying on the computer til it was time for me to go to work at 7 am, then sleeping through suppertime. No longer were we having sit-down meals at the table together as a family, laced though they were with petty bickering and invective, as had been our habit right up until the day before I left for university. In fact, I’m not sure my mother was doing much cooking for herself at all — there’s at least one incident I know of where she had instructed my sister to watch a pot of eggs, and my sister being a fifteen year old got distracted by something and let it boil dry while my mother was in the basement on the computer. By all accounts, save her own, she had been at this for months, slowly replacing her home life with her virtual one.
The rationale behind the computer being moved was a bit galling, too. It was originally in my old room, and when my sister was forced to sleep there while work was being done in her room, my mother refused to get off the computer to let her sleep. On school nights, no less. This sort of addiction wasn’t out of character either, for her. At one point, she was addicted to two Super Nintendo games (Zoop and Zombies Ate My Neighbors, if you must know — I dunno, she had a thing for Z’s I guess), and pretty much refused to let me play anything myself while she monopolized it to play and replay. Sometimes she’d play for hours after I’d gone to bed, and I’d taken to throwing socks at her to try to drive her out of the room. And since I’d paid for the SNES myself, I refused to let her take it upstairs to put on the living room television. I played that system quite a bit myself, but with nowhere near the level of intense focus she had.
One day during the fated summer vacation, my mother came to talk to me about… something or other that I can’t recall. I believe it was something to do with the ongoing argument she was having with Dad about her computer over-usage. This was while I was trying to sleep, as I had to work the next morning, and she’d sat down on the edge of my bed to, I guess, get me to back her up on the argument or something. The only part of the conversation that I remember was her asking of me, “When did you become so cold?” I’m pretty sure, by virtue of that response, that I wasn’t playing along with her game, whatever her game happened to be. Only that last phrase, which she threw at me right before leaving the room, actually stuck in my memory.
During this time, I was trying to maintain all the high school friendships I still valued. My closest guy friend and I were in danger of drifting apart (which we eventually did, a few years later, when he and his girlfriend had broken up under some very specious circumstances), and I was in the process of converting the friendship my closest female friend and I had into a romantic relationship, so I was more than a bit preoccupied. I didn’t really see any warning signs, though I certainly should have.
A few weeks later, I came home to find my father sobbing and wailing uncontrollably. Mom had left sometime shortly after I had left for work, taking some clothing and most of our family’s picture albums with her. The only ones she missed were the ones my sister had happened to have out of our storage and in her room at the time. My first thought on hearing the news was, “The bitch actually did it.” Then I had to take a second and unpack why I would have thought that, as though I’d been seeing the signs that she was going to leave but ignoring them myself. Despite managing to calm my father down enough to try to ask for more details, all I learned was that he had previously caught her chatting with someone online in a relatively lewd way, and that he had been on antidepressants because he and Mom had gone to a counselor over that incident and the counselor had somehow given him the prescription. I had to get more of the story later on, from my sister, as my father wasn’t in much of a state to discuss the situation.
Evidently, the counselor had had some separate chat time with my mom, in which she convinced him that the whole event was all in his head, and that he was completely blowing the whole internet jealousy thing out of proportion. When my father repeatedly asked her to come to bed at one, two o’clock in the morning, her response was apparently “Go take your pill and leave me alone.” After that routine went on for a while, she convinced the doctor that had fulfilled the prescription to double Dad’s dose. And my father dutifully went along with it, allowing himself to be made docile and pliant. He took his pills and went to bed, and went to work, while my mother stayed up night after night spending all her time on the computer.
Some unspecified amount of time later however, shortly before I came home, he had apparently attempted suicide — in a hamfisted manner, as being trained as an EMT (or, at least, being one course shy) would teach him that overdosing on Tylenol isn’t the most surefire way of killing yourself. I strongly suspect it was just a cry for help. I say “just”, but of course do not mean to diminish the event, as you have to be in a pretty bad mental state to take these kinds of actions. My sister had been in the thick of things as it happened, and had called for an ambulance early enough that not very much damage was done, though he had had a prolonged hospital stay for at least a few weeks thereafter. I haven’t pressed my sister for more information on the incident, as she has told me that it was “intense”, so I’ll merely gloss over it. I do know that if nobody had done anything about it, he likely would have died, but he’s rationalized it away as an attempt at getting attention. So most of his physical state when he came to get me could be directly attributed to his stay, and likely his physical reaction to being on antidepressants he had no real reason to be on. That is, other than to make my mother’s escape — from her role as innocent abused victim imprisoned in a marriage with an ignorant Frenchman who knew nothing of English whatsoever, such that she was supposedly forced to speak French all the time — easier.
I say escape because it was premeditated, and my mother either honestly believed her story, or simply sold the story to others so often that she came to believe it. Never mind that my sister and I were brought up English, and my father actually spoke primarily in English at home despite being French himself. And most of the reason he thought himself to be an idiot was because she drove it into him day after day.
I picked up much of my first computer forensic skills while investigating the computer my mother had left behind, and I discovered a number of other pieces of information which she had attempted to erase — by clearing chat logs, cache, cookies, even going so far as to use some method or another to eliminate the records from the file allocation table so one couldn’t just undelete the files. It was likely something unsophisticated like a defragment, as there were no eraser programs left behind on the computer when I got at it, and I was able to rebuild the files with a program that scanned the drive’s raw data. I had reconstructed enough of the deleted logs to figure out that she was mostly on a 40-year-olds channel, with a flirty theme of some sort. There had been some guy she was flirting with at one point, that hadn’t worked out, when my father had discovered she was flirting with him and had gotten on the chat himself to confront him. His later re-telling of the story confirmed what I’d already learned through those logs.
I suspect that after that confrontation had scuttled her first attempt at getting involved with someone new, that’s when she’d developed the elaborate fictionalized versions of the actual events that drove her to want to leave. Some time later, after some repair work to the relationships and friendships she had in the chat channel, she evidently hooked someone new. She’d primarily been chatting back and forth with a specific person, a 42-year-old farmer in Indiana. After guessing her Hotmail password (ironically, it was “tibo” — a short form of the name she so desperately wanted to escape), I found out that he had driven up to retrieve her on a specific day that had been planned for several weeks in advance.
My sister corroborated a lot of the story, including some pieces of information she knew that I hadn’t while I was going through the computer. She also corroborated the time frame I got from my mother’s email, by telling me about a time that my father had taken my mother to the beach, hoping to rekindle the flame, shortly after he’d found out that my mother had gone out and bought some sexy lingerie. The beach thing apparently did little to sway my mother’s resolve, and my father was left confused about the lingerie. She also tanned on our deck topless a few times during these weeks; one time, my sister catching her doing so. In retrospect, they were classic signs that my mother had found someone new, but at the time, my sister wasn’t able to piece them together, and I was oblivious as I was too busy trying to keep friendships together (and failing, by taking everyone to see Titanic at the drive-in, and deciding we should leave fifteen minutes before the end so that we would beat the traffic — but that’s another story).
Another sign that should have thrown up warning klaxons was when my mother had asked my sister whether she would go with her, should my mother decide to leave. My sister said no. A few months after she’d left, during the divorce proceedings, my mother attempted to demand that the court give her custody of my sister and demand that I resume contact with her. I was above the age where she could demand anything of that nature, of course, and our radio silence was entirely imposed from my side, not by some outside force. It was the least bit of punishment I could mete out on her. I discussed with other family members that she should not learn anything about my whereabouts. When I became a public blogger, I guess I shot down what little I can do about her figuring out stuff about me now. Oh well. As for my sister, my father had to fight for custody, and thankfully, won.
At a point sometime further down the road, my father saw the counselor who had fallen for my mother’s lies while in line at the bank, and he decided to make a public scene. He told him exactly what had happened, that my mother had left him for the guy she was chatting with frequently online, and that he had never been depressed or delusional. I suspect he would have been depressed at nobody believing him when he was completely right about what was going on — that my mother was obviously addicted to the chat room, and was using it to try to snag herself a new partner. He also went on to say that he would punch the counselor in the face if he ever chanced to see him again, which I feel was a bit over the top — though I might have threatened the same thing if the wounds had been so fresh.
My father has since remarried, and while I’m absolutely sure he’s had more problems with alcohol since then, he at least seems relatively happier than he ever was with my mother. We’ve had our squabbles since, and he’s no angel, but at least in this one situation, I consider him mostly the victim. My mother married the man she had taken off with, then divorced him, claiming abuse again. Far as I know, she’s still drifting about America with a belly full of spite. She and I are still mostly not in contact, though once in a blue moon, I will post on some family member’s Facebook and she’ll troll me with some bit of venom or ridiculous accusation. In fact, one such instance just prompted me to write all this, so in a way this is simultaneously retaliation and catharsis. If I ever see her posting here, chances are I’ll summarily delete her comments. Much as I like free speech, she has no place telling her side of the story here — she’s done it often enough in other forums, that I don’t need to give her a platform. Chances are it would be picayune but unevidenced “corrections”, or pure character assassination, anyway.
I’ve mostly avoided talking about this as long as I have, because in my experience, my mother is a vindictive woman, and would do something untoward if she ever caught wind of this post. I doubt she ever will, but I also hope that if she did, she would recognize exactly what this is: a telling of my view of the story. Since nobody in my family has heard it yet, in full, it’s about damn time I tell it.
But on the off chance she does: Mom. Thanks for giving birth to me. That was nice and all. But you can stay the hell out of my life now. I don’t need the dramatics that would come with any such incursion, and we’re well beyond any point where you could reconcile your actions with my sense of morality.