By Dena Landon
Christmas. Lights, family, carols and presents. And, apparently, battles of wills with ex-husbands.
On Christmas Eve I flew my son back from Boston to be with his father on Christmas Day. He’d sent an email telling me where to hand off. It was not a discussion, nor did he provide alternatives. I emailed back. He’d chosen the parking lot of a grocery store that was closed that day. It was forty-five minutes from where we were staying the night before. It was also going to be two degrees with a windchill that dipped below zero. I didn’t think it was an ideal hand-off spot so I suggested a Starbucks at a midway point.
Warm, safe, a nice place to wait. A reasonable request. Or so I thought.
Emails, texts and general nastiness ensued. Threats escalated as I attempted to reason with him. We’d already gone to the Starbucks. Saying that something is “not open for discussion” isn’t co-parenting, it’s a dictatorship.
He tried to get me to say that I was denying his court-ordered custody time. I responded that I was not, I was making every effort to hand off our son in a safe manner.
And then he sent the text – I will wait here for another 30 minutes, and then I will explore remedies. Aka, call the cops.
I sighed and looked over at my son, happily coloring in the book I’d given him. A smear of chocolate on his cheek told the story of the hot chocolate he’d just finished. We were warm, safe and happy. I’d wanted him to have a good family and a safe household. There was no doubt in my mind that if I continued to push back against my ex he’d call the cops. And my six-year-old son would be stuck in the middle, confused and scared.
What many people don’t understand about divorce, unless they’ve been there, is that if you have a child with your ex the divorce is never ‘over.’
My ex was willing to ruin his Christmas like that, but I wasn’t. I figured out transportation and got us forty-five minutes across town to hand him off.
What many people don’t understand about divorce, unless they’ve been there, is that if you have a child with your ex the divorce is never ‘over.’ It has been my experience, and the experience of many friends, that they will try to drag you back into darkness. If they can push your buttons, if they can destroy your peace, it somehow feeds them. And it’s so damned hard not to sink to their level.
I’ll admit it – I did that day. It was Christmas. Giving in to an unreasonable, abusive man just felt bad. I didn’t want to do it. I had highly logical concerns about my son. I attempted to win a battle of wills with a toddler – no, not my kid, my ex, it’s roughly the same except without the naps. I sunk to his level.
And, watching my son get into his car in a cold, empty parking lot, I worried. There wasn’t anyone around. No witnesses to what my ex might do. Before getting out of my car I turned on audio memos on my phone to record anything he said or did. It went relatively smoothly but when I got back in my car I was shaking.
It’s been three years since I left him. And, if I give into the darkness, somedays I wonder if I’ll ever be free of him. If he’ll succeed in destroying my will, my career, my future. He’s cost me thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal fees for something as simple as refusing to tell me his new address (where my son would be living part-time). He’s highly likely to cost me the new job, promotion and raise I just got. And, while my boyfriend has said he’d support and move with me if I have to return to Minnesota, my ex could cost me that, too.
We just celebrated Solstice, the longest night of the year. It is a reminder that darkness ends and that light will come. It is a promise of hope. The days are getting longer and soon it won’t be dark when I leave work.
I decided to turn on the metaphorical light – the candle I lit on Solstice and carry within me.
A few hours after leaving my son behind in a cold grocery store parking lot I went to the airport to fly home. I was still in a foul mood, annoyed by the Uber driver who wouldn’t shut up, had my bag pulled out of security for a special check, slight headache. When I sat down by my gate I saw the over-worked, stressed flight attendants doing their best to handle delayed flights and irate customers. And I decided to turn on the metaphorical light – the candle I lit on Solstice and carry within me.
I went up to the desk and asked the gate attendant what kind of coffee she liked. Then I took the orders for the entire crew, went to Starbucks and loaded them up on caffeine. It was Christmas. It didn’t have to suck, even if they were working and even if I’d had to deal with nastiness and threats.
When I carried the precariously balanced coffees back to the gate the attendant told me she had a surprise for me. She’d upgraded me to first class. I almost started to cry. Okay, I did, but I blinked it back. It had been such a horrible, awful, no good day.
But when we put light out into the world, light is returned.
When you’re in the darkest of times, when the legal bills keep coming and the job is getting stressful and the ex, or soon-to-be-ex, just won’t stop, cling to the light. It may be small, it may be sputtering and close to dying, but it’s there. Eventually it will burn bright enough to drown out the darkness and the dawn will come.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.