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Charles stands in the bathroom mirror, just staring at the reflection but not recognizing the tired, run-down shell of a man looking back at him. He is replaying Claire’s words repeatedly in his mind, “I no longer want to be married to you. I am leaving and taking the boys with me.” He remembered the pain he felt in that moment. Charles couldn’t breathe and felt like a cement cinder block had just fallen on his chest. Charles was attempting to be strong in the face of those words slicing through his body like swords. But his eyes stung from trying to hold back the waterfall that was sure to come if he moved even an inch. People always said when they had a near-death experience their lives flashed before their eyes. Charles now understood that feeling. His mind was racing, reliving the last 15 years with Claire in those 30 seconds after she’d dropped this bomb on him. In those memories, they seemed so happy, to him at least. He saw the first moment that he’d laid eyes on Claire. How beautiful she was. He remembered her gliding down the aisle at their wedding. The birth of their first son, and then their second, when he looked into his sons’ eyes and saw all the love he did not know he could have for another human. The picnics in the park. The snowmen they built in the front yard of their family home. Every memory brought a sharp, rapidly increasing pain directly to his heart, as though electricity was flowing directly to this vital organ.
Yes, there were times when Claire asked him to spend more time at home and less at work, but Charles felt that he was doing what a man was supposed to do…providing for his family. Their dates nights became few and far between but each summer he took her and the boys on a wonderful vacation to a different destination each year. Could there have been a clue to this impending doom? Would him helping Claire more with the cooking and cleaning have made her want to stay married to him? Would them having conversations after putting the boys to bed instead of him perched in front of another sports show have made a difference? Did Claire really want to take those trips with her girlfriends on the weekends when Charles was having his fishing trips? Didn’t all the gifts make up for his absences and lack of attention?
Now here he was, standing in the bathroom of his two-month-old apartment, trying to coax himself to let go of the past and understand that the future was going to look so different. But he just couldn’t do it. How could he? How could he let go of his family, his life, his American dream? How could he move on from this, from this pain? Everywhere he turned, everything reminded him of the life he had with Claire and the boys and of the sad, pathetic life he was no destined for. He would be alone, with no wife or daily contact with his boys. Charles loved his boys; how could he go each day without seeing, spending time with, and raising them.
Today Charles was going to spend some father/son time with his boys. He got dressed, grabbed his jacket, and got in his car. He would drive to the house that he was still paying the mortgage on to pick them up. When he pulled up to the house and got out, he rang the doorbell, as though he were a stranger trying to sell a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner. Claire answered the door, not looking 100% like herself, but not looking as worn as he felt. She did not smile or engage in eye contact with Charles. “May I come in,” he asked. “I would rather you did not come in,” Claire replied to him solemnly. “This is still my house. My name is still on it, and I still pay the mortgage,” Charles told Claire, trying to control the anger and frustration that was welling up inside of him. He also was feeling so humiliated because he could see the neighbor, who was walking his beautiful Doberman by the house, slow down his pace and furtively glance over at them. Charles recognized him from the block party they had two years ago – he talked incessantly about his dog. Now the dog lover from the block party was standing in front of our house, pretending to let his dog relieve himself on a tree, looking at me with a puzzled look. Charles could only imagine the thoughts going through the man’s mind: “why is Charles on the outside of the house ringing the bell.”
Climbing back into his car with his sons, Charles wanted to enjoy this time with them, but the little voice in the back of his head was whispering, “you have become a drive-by dad.” He just wanted his life back. Charles and the boys had lunch and then grabbed a movie. He wanted to have equal time with the boys, but he didn’t have furniture or beds for them to sleep in because Claire wouldn’t let him have any of the furniture from the residence. He tried to discuss a 50/50 custody agreement with Claire, but that did not go well. She immediately said no and told Charles he could get the boys every other weekend, once he had a living arrangement that was suitable. She also told him he would need to pay her some money for her support and the children’s before she would agree with overnight visitation. He was ashamed that he had to beg for time with the children that he helped create and raise, and basically pay for it.
Charles finally accepts that he would not get to keep his marriage, but he doesn’t want to lose his boys. He also does not want to have the wealth he amassed hijacked by his wife. Charles wants to spend just as much time with his boys as he did before (and that was a lot). He wants to continue taking them to school in the morning and having outdoor activities with them on the weekends. Charles wants to continue playing a large part in his boys’ lives, such as coaching their soccer teams, as he had previously done. “How will I ever survive this situation?” is Charles’s constant thought these days.
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