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My husband is a filmmaker and he made our wedding video. I am blessed like that. He edited it, picked out the music and even hired an animator to make an animated version of the highlights of our relationship. Impressively, he did this while broke and during a really painful separation I had instigated. #MaritalSaint.

We watch it from time to time and we had been meaning to sit and watch it again for the past few months now. Our daughter Lena loves weddings and kept asking when we would watch it. We finally carved out some time to watch it last week. As Lena sat oohing and ahhing over my pretty dress and the “beauuuutyful flowas,” I found myself crying. Which was odd. You see, I am not a crier. I mainly cry when

  1. flooded with pregnancy hormones
  2. when extremely exhausted or
  3. when extremely depressed and heading into a panic attack. When it feels I am falling into the blackness and my world is coming to an end.

I cried several times during the video despite not wanting to do so in front of my sweet, very empathetic Lena. Unlike my boys, she notices any time I am sad or angry. Sometimes she notices before I do. #HighFunctioningAutism. And unlike the boys, I can never lie my way out of it.

I cried as we watched my father give me away and when my nieces walked down the aisle as little flower girls. My wedding was really the last time I saw my sisters and my nieces. I have since then physically seen them a few times, but it was a hollow, awkward exercise. It only served to remind me of what I’d lost.

I watched my two nieces in their pretty little dresses walking down the aisle. The older one was 6 1/2 and the younger one 4 1/2. Smiling and sweet. At the reception the younger one danced with abandon and ran around, often times chased by her father trying to get her to do something. She was quick and evaded capture often. As I watched them, I realized they will forever be caught in this age in my mind. They will never age. Forever sweet, spunky little girls.

I saw them for the first time since the wedding (the first time in 5 years, in 60 months, in 1,825 days) this past summer. 11 1/2 and 9 1/2. They were hard to recognize. They looked so much like their mother now. They looked so grown up. They did not talk to me or my boys.

My boys, especially the Axe, had been asking to see them for five years. He never gave up. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed. I didn’t understand either and couldn’t figure out how to explain it. I told him, my sister is mad at me and doesn’t want to see us. He asked why she was mad and I said, I don’t know. Because I don’t.

Now, they were strangers.

My sister gave her older daughter my name as her middle name. Because I had helped her through her very long, very difficult, downright heroic labor. It meant a lot to me. An overwhelming lot. I wonder now what she tells her when she asks where her name came from, as I often asked my mother when I was a little girl.

I cried because I will always miss them. Because they will forever be little girls in my mind even as they grow. And that is a very sad thing, to never grow up.

I cried too to see my parents. My father giving me away.

“Who gives this woman to be married?”

” I do.”

But they didn’t really give me away. They couldn’t bring themselves to let me go. They couldn’t stand the thought of letting me grow up. I was forever a little girl to them. *Their* little girl. They could let no one take me away. It did not occur to them I was choosing to go away, that no one was taking me. In their mind, I was theirs and now he was taking me to be his. After all, a little girl is not able to make such decisions.

If they’d let me go, I would have. I really did want to marry my husband and have a home of my own. Every time I’d left my home as an adult I always came back. I went away to college but then transferred to the local school and lived with them. Then I met my first husband and moved away with him and got married. But then I divorced him and again lived with them for four years during medical school. Then I met my forever husband and moved away again. If they’d let me go, I would have stayed with him. But they couldn’t and I didn’t. I left him twice. I left him in a sudden, jarring, couldn’t see it coming way. Twice. And each time returned to them. The first time I physically moved back in with them. The second time, only emotionally so.

And a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife. No mention of the wife in that one.

My husband would say to me I was too attached to my family and our marriage wasn’t going to work until I grew up and left the nest and learned to put my kids and marriage first. I kept insisting I had and offered up various bits of evidence to support the patently untrue assertion. He was never convinced.

They had made clear while we were dating they didn’t like him. My sisters broke off with me after the wedding. My parents remained and put up a show of liking him. When I left the first time, it was at my family’s urging and we sat discussing their true feelings about him. When he and I attempted to reconcile shortly after the separation I kept it a secret as I knew they’d be upset. I was right. When they found out from reading text messages on my phone, my mother kicked me out. Me and my three kids. Me with nowhere to go. I remember calling my oldest sister crying uncontrollably, panicking, terrified. Terrified because I had nowhere to go but mostly because when this side of my mother came out, I felt that black hole feeling. That I was being sucked into the abyss. The world was ending.

Our mothers are the source of life. They are supposed to be the safe womb we can always return to in times of distress. Mine was not. It was in times of distress she was most likely to turn from a seemingly sweet cookie baking, nurturing mom to an ugliness words cannot describe. A cold hate would flow from her and destroy me. My world spinning around me, closing in on me, suffocating me into non-existence.  I would go from being a sacrificial devoted mother in her eyes to a crazy, unfit mother who put men before her children. She would threaten to give my ex-husband money to get a lawyer and take my kids away. Crazy. Unfit mother. Woman who puts men before her children. These were the things I feared most. These were the demons that haunted me. Was she right? Is that who I truly was? That doubt, that possibility, was an endless source of shame deep within me.

You never really knew when she would turn. I grew up in a minefield. Trying so hard not to set her off. And always failing.

I remember going back to my bedroom, the room I had slept in all my life, that I had returned to once again, and calling my husband. Speaking in hushed tones and sobs about my mother kicking me out. He couldn’t understand what I was saying. I was terrified for my mother to hear me so I spoke quietly and ended the call quickly. He had no idea what had happened.

My mother soon summoned me to the living room with an offer. She would not kick me and my babies out on condition that:

  1. I send my two boys to live with their father as she did not have the energy for them. My daughter could remain and she would watch her while I completed residency and
  2. I was to cut off contact with my husband. Any time we met for visitation with our daughter, I was to be chaperoned by my father. They didn’t want my manipulative evil husband sucking me back in. After all, I was just a little girl and easily tricked.

I agreed, so scared. I cut off all contact with my husband without even explaining why. They soon rescinded the demand I send my boys to live with their father, but not the second. We met for visitation with my father awkwardly standing with us. My husband brought me gifts, sweet gifts. A CD he’d made me. Sweet, thoughtful gifts and cards. My family rolled their eyes and laughed. How could he think gifts would make up for what a horrible person he was?

In time, I began communicating with my husband again and we decided again to reconcile. This time, I knew I couldn’t let them find out as we prepared, finding a house to live in and meeting as often as we could (he was living 3 1/2 hours away). My parents rarely left the house, but in August there was a family reunion they would be at for a few hours. In those few short hours we packed up my belongings, disassembled my boy’s bunkbeds and moved all of it out to the new house, an hour away, where I was completing residency. I left them a note saying goodbye.

Their little girl had once again been stolen.

In time, I unpacked the dysfunction of my family in therapy. I began slowly to set boundaries and view my family and my childhood for what it was. I realized there was no emotional intimacy. I realized I had been raised to trust no one but the family. I realized how afraid I had been all these years of my mother disowning me, as she had other people in her life. I realized my mother and I were enmeshed and yet not close at all. Not in the ways that matter.

I left my husband again this past summer just as suddenly, just as secretly, just as heartbreakingly. We reconciled again. And my parents said they were fine with it, but began to punish me in subtle unspoken ways. But still I kept them in my life.

The breaking point came a few months later with the dog incident I have explained in previous posts. I found after I broke with them, my marriage was suddenly so much better. My opinion of my husband so much better, my love for him unconditional. I was not expecting this. I came to see all the subtle ways they had undermined our marriage while, on the surface, appearing to be supporting it. How incredibly cruel. To me and to my kids. Crazy. An unfit mother. Projection.

I no longer have my family in my life and so I cried as I watched my father giving me away in my pretty white dress. They say in Catholicism that we are not waiting for the world to end when Christ comes. The world ends many times in our lives. When we get divorced, get a bad diagnosis, lose a loved on. It ended for me when I found out my son was sick at 6 days old, when a guy I’d been in love with broke my heart, when my medical school tried to ruin my career for turning in a child molester. The world ends but a new one begins. It prepares us for death, they say. For it is in dying that we are born again.

My world has come to an end once again as it has before. But this time I can see clearly the new world that has been created in its place. My children growing up healthier and happier than I, my marriage finally solid, my body and mind stronger than they’ve ever been, my connection to God growing.

They couldn’t give me away and so now I have left of my own will. I am not a little girl. I have grown up.