Thursday, August 12, 2004

PART 30 - Feeling Stronger

Every year, I promise myself that I will buy tickets to see Chicago at Atlanta's outdoor Chastain Park amphitheater. I never do, but I love them anyway.

Feeling Stronger
I do believe in you
And I know you believe in me
Oh yeahOh yeah
And now we realize
Love’s not all that it’s supposed to be
Oh yeahOh yeah
And knowing that you would have wanted it this way
I do believe I’m feelin’ stronger every day

I know we really tried
Together we had love inside
Oh yeahOh yeah
So now the time has come
For both of us to live on the run
Oh yeahOh yeah
And knowing that you would have wanted it this way
I do believe I’m feelin’ stronger every day
Yeah, yeah, yeah

After what you’ve meant to me
Ooh baby now
I can make it easily
Yeah, yeah, yeah

I know that we both agree
Best thing to happen to you
The best thing that happened to me
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Feelin’ stronger every day . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I should have known that I would pay for the lawn decorating, and I did.

The Monday following that weekend, I stopped by the ATM to get some cash and the transaction was declined. I pulled out my credit card to get a cash advance from the machine, and THAT was declined, too.

We had banked with the credit union in that town ever since he had become eligible to join through the fire department. Our car loans were held there, our savings, checking, even our credit cards. I decided to drive over to see what was happening with our accounts. I sat in the manager's office, stunned, as she told me that he had come in last Saturday, just before noon, and emptied every joint account and closed the credit card accout, too. "How could he do that?" I asked her incredulously, still not believing what I was hearing.

"Well, as the main account holder, he has the right to do that, anytime he likes," she answered kindly. "I can open a single account for you right now if you like, and we can get another credit card set up for you. I just need your employer's information," she answered brightly. When I told her that I was on unemployment, her smile dimmed. "Oh dear, well, I am afraid we can't do anything beyond opening a checking account for you and giving you some starter checks and an ATM card. Would that be alright?" she asked. Sure, I thought, what else could I do?

I gave her a $10.00 bill out of my wallet to open the account with. That was all the money I had on me. Period.

I drove home that day, not knowing quite what to do. My head was spinning . . . I had no money, no job, no husband, no kids, very little time left to draw unemployment, I was still in a sling and bruised up, hardly interview-ready. That bastard had painted me into a corner, stripped away every bit of financial support I had. He was playing hardball, trying to intimidate me, and it was working.

My mind was still reeling when I got home and checked the mail, and aimlessly shuffled through the piles of junk, bills, bills, paper, more junk . . . Hello! There in the stack was a preapproved VISA for $5,000. Paydirt. It actually had the damn card right in the envelope! All I had to do was call and activate it, which I did in about 10 seconds flat. It had some courtesy checks, too, and I went straight back to the credit union and deposited one for myself for $3,000.00 The same lady helped me again, and winked at me as I left.

Having crossed THAT hurdle, I was able to take a deep breath and decide what my next move was. I drove over to our lawyer's office to schedule an appointment. He was there, and available, and we talked just long enough for him to tell me that he couldn't represent me since he had acted as an attorney for the both of us. He referred me to another attorney, made a call, and an hour later, I was in that office beginning the process for a divorce filing. I wrote that attorney a check out of my new checking account for half the fee, and asked him to hold the check for 3 days, which he agreed to do.

I then drove over to the unemployment office, gave the lady at the front desk my new bank information for my direct deposit, and combed the job boards there on the computer. There wasn't really anything in that town for me, but I was desperate to land SOMETHING. Remember, this was a mill town, and a technical writer and desktop publisher was of little use to carpet manufacturers.

I did one last thing before I went home. I dropped by the police department and asked to meet with the sargeant on duty. I knew him, and he and I sat in his office and completed the paperwork necessary to file a restraining order. I wanted that served before the divorce papers - I knew how mad he would be.

After I got through that, I had to go back home - I was still recovering, and my head was pounding, I was sore and I felt like I had run a marathon. Just as I stretched out on the couch, the phone rang. It was my mother. "How are you, hun?" she asked, and I outlined the morning for her. "Do you need any money? Why don't you come home?" she asked me. I could never, ever move back home. Out of the question. I told her that I had handled the financial problems for the moment, and I was more concerned about the divorce filing.

"Divorce filing?! So soon? Are you sure?" she asked me. For the second time that morning, I sat, slack-jawed, completely stunned. What did she mean, so soon? What the hell? Was she insane?

"I mean, Rita, I know he did a terrible thing, but it was just once. He has always been good to you. Couldn't you wait a while to see if you could patch things up?" Of COURSE she would say that! I reasoned, nearly slapping my forehead. Look what she had lived with, and still lived with. Of COURSE she would be surprised that I would make a move like this after only one bad episode.

Funny thing was, as the days went on, everyone else had the same reaction, too. I never knew that I was such a good actor. No one, NO ONE knew that our marriage was anything less than perfect. He and I had presented such a perfect idyllic image that no one ever, ever saw any of the things that comprised most of our life together. They only saw the hard workers, the dedicated foster parents, the heroic fireman, the beautiful house. None of our friends, none of our family ever knew there was a problem, and the reaction to my divorce announcement ranged from surprise to outrage.

"What do you think, that marriage is PERFECT, and the first time it hits a rough spot, you bail?" I heard from more than one well-meaning person. "You two have worked so hard, you have accomplished so much, do you really want to throw that all away over ONE DAY, over ONE ARGUMENT?" echoed through my head on more than one occasion. Every time I was approached that way, I felt a little more alone, a little more unsure, a little more afraid, and a little more hurt.

It was hard to stand my ground, but after enduring a few weeks of relentless arguments, everyone seemed to finally get the message that I was serious. In that time, the papers had been served. I had not seen him since the day he retrieved his things, and now I had to agree to meet with him to finalize our financial agreements and submit the plan to the lawyer. I called a friend of ours, a cop, and asked him if he would sit in with us because of the restraining order. He said he would, and told me how sorry he was to hear that we were splitting up. "Thanks, and oh yeah, bring your gun," I said as we hung up.

I grit my teeth when we sat down together to go over the financials. I couldn't bear to look at him. He began to lecture me about money and responsibility, and when I immediately shoved the chair back from the table, telling him to go fuck himself and heading for the door, he stopped in mid-sentence. "I'm sorry, I won't do that. Please sit down so we can get through this. I'm sorry for all of this, I don't know what to say. I hope you'll be happier, that's all I've ever wanted for you."

"Oh, yeah? You wanted me to be happy while you were breaking my arm?" Our friend's eyes widened for a second, and then returned to their alert but emotionless state as I ranted for a few more minutes. "You hurt me too, you know. Let's see if we can end this as easy as possible." He began to outline all of the current debt, the assets, and the cost of the house per month. He then compared his outlay to mine for the past 6 months. Of course, I had been on unemployment. Before that time, I had earned just as much, but he painted the picture to look as though I had been mooching off of him. Even though he acted like he was doing me a favor, I bit my tongue and heard him out.

He offered to let me take the furniture and my car (it was 4 years old but paid for) in exchange for signing a quit claim deed on the house. He agreed to pay off all of our outstanding credit card debt, which amounted to about $6000.00 at the time. He also had a check in his hand for half of the money he had taken out of our accounts, which amounted to about $1,100.00. I knew he had shorted it a bit, but I was surprised that he had offered anything at all.

Of course, the house had about $35,000 in equity. He told me he would never agree to sell the house, and he would fight me for as long as it took to retain the property. I believed him, I wanted away from him, and I would have chewed off my arm at that point to escape out from under him.

I told him that I would agree to the settlement if he didn't delay the divorce. We agreed to meet at the lawyer's office at the end of the week to sign the papers. He left with our handwritten agreement in hand, and I quickly hightailed it to the bank to deposit his $1,100 check and another $2000 VISA courtesy check. He was going to have an extra 5 grand in credit card debt to cover, which made his deal a tad less sweet, and I was sure that would be the last money I ever saw out of the motherfucker. He didn't ask me if I had incurred any other debt up to that point, and somehow, I forgot to tell him.

To be sure, it wasn't the best deal, but it was the quickest and the easiest.

4 weeks later, I was moving my belongings into my new apartment and getting ready to start a new job that I had landed the week before. It had come literally out of nowhere - a listing in the paper seeking a technical writer with desktop publishing experience to write proposals and reports for an environmental engineering company. It was a perfect fit.

The Monday I started the new job, the divorce was signed by the judge. It was uncontested, I didn't even have to appear. I got a call from the lawyer as I was organizing my new desk. "Things went well - it's over Rita," he said. I thanked him and hung up and disagreed.

It felt like everything was finally beginning.

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