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This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
As time passed, my fears festered within me. I finally called Mark, "We need to talk."
"Oh, no. Here it comes," he said so quietly I nearly didn't hear the words. "Where do you want to meet?" he asked.
"I'll come to your house. See ya in a sec."
So I drove over to Mark's, deciding I'd have to tell him about The Schmuck.
"He's still texting me," I said. "One text said he won't leave me alone unless I get a restraining order. I've been forwarding most of the texts to his wife. But he's told her I'm making the whole thing up. She doesn't know who to believe. She's hurt…."
"Gina, there's more to this, isn't there? Do you miss him?"
"Honestly? Maybe sometimes. But not because he was good for me, because I'd gotten used to being treated poorly.... Sometimes it's comfortable staying with what you're used to, even if it isn't good. You're so kind to me, it's almost too good to be true. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but it's different. There aren't accusations, or fights. I'm used to a roller coaster, not normalcy." Half of the time I expected Mark to tell me what clothes I could and couldn't wear. I was terrified that he'd accuse me of cheating. I'd think he'd flip out if a guy "checked me out" at the grocery store…but Mark was a different sort of breed.
"So you miss him because you miss being treated badly?" he asked, flabbergasted.
"I miss what I've known…if that makes any sense." And from the look on his face I knew he didn't understand. "But the other thing that kills me about this… You know how The Schmuck was married?"
"It took me a whole month to get away after I found out they were still living together. Why did it take me so long?"
"We all make mistakes, Gina. All of us do. You're away from him now. Maybe you didn't do it at first, but you've done the right thing now."
I suddenly started crying. We stood there in front of his house and I sobbed. "Mark, he's never going to leave me alone! My friend said she saw his truck in my driveway the other day—I guess he'd come to see me? Luckily I was gone!" I paused, wiping a tear away.
"Why does he keep coming over?"
"I broke up with him over a text. He doesn't think I can actually say goodbye if we're in person."
"Well, then maybe you should tell him goodbye in person."
My eyes grew wide. "You want me to say goodbye to him? You aren't worried!"
"If he'll leave you alone. If you both need some type of closure, then go for it."
I had never even thought of it as a true option, and it bothered me that Mark seemed fine with the whole thing—wasn't that some type of red flag? Maybe he was right though. If I just told The Schmuck, to his face, he would have to stick to his promise and never contact me again.
As I drove from Mark's that night, I decided to unblock The Schmuck. It was time to face this demon, and tell him I didn't feel a thing for him. But even as I decided it, I worried that maybe the texts weren't always from him. Maybe some of them were from his wife. What kind of a crazy situation had I gotten myself into this time? What if I told him to meet me somewhere and his wife was there, waiting with a gun?
My ex-husband was bringing my kids home that night, so I went and waited for them to arrive. I pulled up some homework and studied as I waited. It was a class about child development and communication. The chapter I currently read detailed what factors could hinder a child's ability to progress. "Divorce," I read the word aloud, "how to help counsel children through hard times." I immediately devoured every word I could: How children with single, dating parents are more likely to be abused. How a child sees their own self-worth projected through their parents' failed marriage.
My thoughts mulled over everything my own children had been through. I knew I'd had to work and get through everything I had, but I wondered if I'd started dating too soon, not tried hard enough, not spent enough time with my kids when I wasn't working or studying. The Schmuck had been terrible to them, and now things probably wouldn't even work out with Mark because he wanted a baby I could never give him. It was such a mess, and my poor babies had been dragged through it all.
When my kids got home I hugged each of them hard, gave them some buttered bread and milk. Then I asked my oldest daughter to stay up with me so we could talk for a while.
"Are you doing okay?" I asked, mixing up some hot cocoa for her.
"I'm okay." She nodded.
"Are you sad that Daddy and I got divorced?" I asked.
"No. Not really. You guys fought a lot. And now we see Daddy more than when you guys were married," she replied, her defenses completely up.
"You're just okay, baby?"
"Yeah. I'm not great or anything."
I frowned and handed her the warm mug of cocoa.
"I'm worried that things won't work out with you and Mark," she said after a moment.
"Why?" I was literally shocked; I hadn't known she liked him that much.
"Well, I heard you talking to someone the other day, about how he wants a kid of his own." She grew so teary-eyed. "I really like having him in our lives. He's good to us. He's not like The Schmuck."
"How do you know you really like Mark? I thought you liked The Schmuck at first. He took you shopping for your birthday. You said he was awesome." I reminded her. At first all of us had liked him.
"But toward the end... Mom, he scared me bad. They talked in school about that 'bad feeling' you can get when you know someone is 'bad.' I got it from him."
A chill ran up my spine. "Honey, why? Did something happen that I don't know about?"
She stared at me unflinchingly. "He used to tease me—when you were cooking and he was alone in the room with me. One time his face almost touched mine…. He smelled gross, like beer. I thought he was gonna...I don't know. He'd always back away though, after saying how much I looked like the best parts of you; he'd always back away. It scared me, Mom. Really it still scares me."
I held a mug of my own, and my knuckles had turned so white around the handle, it should have broken. "I saw it one time. Remember, when you begged me to break up with him, after you overheard him saying how he wanted to buy us a house in a small town, and take us away from here? That's when I finally broke up with him. It scared me too."
"You never get scared. You're an adult."
I tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear. "Grownups get just as scared as kids do, maybe even more scared. I'm the only adult here, babe. If something goes wrong, I don't have anyone to turn to here. I'm a young mom, trying to make a way in this crazy world for you and your siblings. I'm just learning myself that we can't trust everyone." She nodded. "Life is so much work, and I'm responsible for all of you. I'm so sorry that I haven't..." A sob broke through my voice. "I haven't been strong enough to be alone. I've been selfish. Lost. Sad.... I love you kids more than anything. I'm just trying my best to get back on my feet. I'm like one of your puzzles, and while putting myself back together, I've realized I'm a mess."
"Why didn't you tell me about all of this before, Mom?"
"I want you to think I'm strong, working graveyards before, now working from home and going to school. I'm supposed to be a good example!"
"It actually makes me feel better knowing you're having a hard time too."
"Oh, really?" I said, and we suddenly both laughed.
"Mom, can we always be this honest with each other?" I nodded. "And you are strong. I've seen it this whole time. I knew you and daddy weren't good together, but divorce is still tough sometimes. I'm just glad that we can talk about things now. I stopped telling you stuff after what happened with The Schmuck. You just seemed so into him, like you wouldn't believe me over him, or listen to anyone else. Now you'll listen."
I hugged her tightly and rocked her as we stood in the kitchen, tears falling from my eyes. "I am so sorry, baby. I got so lost in my own sadness, I wasn't being a good mom. I should have been looking out for all of you better. Paying attention to the signs."
"Mom," she sobbed, "you wanna know the worst of it? He came to the house the other day. You were at the store. He rang the doorbell and none of us answered. He scares the crap out of all of us!"
She went to bed soon afterward, and I realized the truth of the situation. I had to get that man out of my life. I'd called the cops, one of whom turned out to be his relative! They'd eventually told me to take him to court; that seemed more dangerous than leaving things be—he'd retaliate for sure. It seemed my only chance remained: tell him face-to-face that he needed to leave me alone.
It was time to defeat my own demons and be strong for myself and my kids. I can do this, I told myself, hoping I was right.
This needs to end…. When do you want to meet?
A reply came within a couple of minutes.
Glad you finally came around sunshine.
My wife and work has me pretty busy.
How's two weeks from Monday.
That far out? LOL! You act like you need closure—
you even came to the house.
Then say let's meet in two weeks?
Forget it. Just leave me alone.
Not until we've said goodby in person.
I said I'll never leave you alone until you say goodby.
Why won't you just quit?
We had something once, but now I've moved on.
I have a boyfriend.
YOU are married.
I won't take no for an answer.
I felt bad for his wife; I felt bad for myself; I felt bad for Mark, being tied to someone with baggage; I did not feel bad for The Schmuck.
Fine. Two weeks from Monday.
But you better hold up to your end of the deal.
No more contacting me after this.
Where do ya want to meet?
Text me that Monday morning.
I'll tell you the place then.
This last bit sent a shiver up my spine. Was I really texting The Schmuck, or was I texting his wife? The cops hadn't helped me. How else was I supposed to get him to leave me and my family alone forever?
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