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Kids First

Mike told me a funny little story the other day. This past Friday afternoon there was a meeting at our house regarding at-home therapy for the boys. Not the type of therapy for kids going through a difficult time or anything like that, but the kind of therapy designed to help kids with autism. Since Erin (the boys’ mom) had them on Friday, she let herself into our house and was waiting for Mike to get home so they could wait for the entourage of two therapists and the person in charge to arrive to meet the boys and then discuss with us what to expect, etc. I say “us” even though I wasn’t there. I would have been there, but I didn’t know about it until that day and thought it was a quick meeting in an office somewhere. Had I known it was a three hour thing at our house, I would have changed my plans and been there. As a result, the next day Erin and I discussed her including me in group texts about what is going on with the boys because, well, we both know Mike.

Anyway, the funny story was that when Mike got home and found Erin there with the boys, Liam said to Mike, “Hey Daddy, this is Mommy!” He said it more than once. He thought this strange enough to point out. In his world, Mommy and Daddy are in two separate houses and though there are pick-ups and drop-offs and instances where we are all together in the same place, Liam isn’t used to his mom hanging out at the house where his dad lives.

That story made me think of my own son, Jarrod, who was also a child of divorced parents at a very young age, but for many reasons (that some of you know because you know my story or you follow this blog), there was nothing civil or friendly about my break-up with Jarrod’s father, Joe. We communicated only when absolutely necessary. In fact, early on, he didn’t even know where we lived.

I had hoped that we would one day get beyond that animosity. I envisioned time healing all of our open wounds. As ridiculous as it sounds given our history, I thought we could let the past go and be friendly one day. I attempted to when Jarrod got older by inviting Joe to his high school graduation party at my parents’ house, but he declined.

What brought us together was Jarrod’s cancer diagnosis at the age of 20. Why does it take something so catastrophic to get two people to set aside their grievances and breath the same air inside the same tiny room? We didn’t drive together to Stanford University Medical Center to discuss the next steps after the diagnosis, but we met there, and the three of us huddled together waiting for Dr. Ronald Levy to walk in and tell us something that would allow us all to sleep that night. It was a two hour wait. This doctor was the leading authority on Lymphoma and as a favor to my brother-in-law’s roommate whose girlfriend was a colleague on the fundraising for research side of things, (I think I got that right), we were gratefully squeezed in for a consultation. I would have waited all night for a sit-down with that doctor.

I don’t remember all that much about the wait because my state of mind during that time was one that only allowed me to go through the motions of living. I had one mission. And that was to find the right person for the job of making my son healthy again. But I do remember that Joe and I were both calm, united together by the same feelings we had for Jarrod. We were the only two people in the entire world who knew how the other felt during that time, and if that was all we had left of what was once “us,” then at least we had that.

Despite the circumstances we were able to share a few laughs with Jarrod. That I remember. And like Liam, though it was a different kid, a different time, and a different place, I remember something Jarrod said when Joe left the room to go to the cafeteria to get us something to eat. He said, “This is so weird.” I asked, “What’s weird?” He said, “You and dad in the same room with me.”

Incidentally, we all slept better that night.

Jarrod and Liam

Jarrod and Liam

 

 

Mr. Roper – Part 2

Moving day wasn’t too big of a deal. It was just a couple suitcases, a few boxes of Jarrod’s toys, and a few other boxes of toiletries and pilfered kitchenware from my parents’ house. I was excited. The place was adorable. The front door led right into a kitchen with a small table and two chairs and off of that was the main room with two beds, and a bathroom beyond that. There was one good sized closet, but no laundry. I could live with that. Not far in Pacific Grove there was a very clean laundromat that connected to a cafe/bookstore. I had been there once with a friend and while her clothes dried we had coffee and read books.

The one downside to our new little place was the front door. It was solid glass. The exact kind you find in business establishments. It made no sense and there was no curtain or shade. The door was situated in such a way that no one could see in unless they were actually coming to the door, but it still bothered me. The day after moving in I went to Cost Plus and bought a paper shade and figured out a way to hang it in front of the glass so we would have complete privacy while in the kitchen. It was the shade that prompted the first knock on my door. I peered out to see Mr. Roper standing there.

In his rough and gravelly voice he asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s a shade,” I answered.
“Well, I know what it is, but why is it there?” he asked.
“Because the door is glass and I don’t feel comfortable with it,” I answered.
“Well, why?” he asked. I couldn’t believe the conversation I was having. My heart was sinking. I knew right then and there that I couldn’t live behind this asshole. He couldn’t understand why I put a shade up?
He said, “No one can see in that door.”
Finally, I said, “I’m the one living here and I have to feel comfortable.”
He turned and walked away mumbling under his breath as he left.

It was the beginning of the end. Within the week I had started searching the classifieds again. Allow me to give you a sampling of why:

He looked out his back window at me almost every single time I came and went.

He yelled at Jarrod for being too noisy while playing on our patio. The third time I yelled back at him and told him he was not to speak to my son that way.

One Sunday morning I was sitting on the patio with a girlfriend and we were having mimosas. He walked out and told me that it was in the signed rental agreement that I couldn’t have parties. I said, “I’m not having a party, I’m having a friend over. Are you saying I can’t have a friend over?” Again, the turning away and mumbling under his breath.

Another day my toilet overflowed. Not wanting to deal with him, I called a plumber. Of course Mr. Roper came right over to see what was going on. The plumber pulled an ugly crystal nightlight out of the toilet. Mr. Roper said, “Is that yours?” I told him I had never seen it before in my life and that it must have belonged to the previous tenant. He grumbled that he would go and get his checkbook. When he came back he told me he would split the cost with me. I tried to argue that I shouldn’t have to pay, but then I decided it wasn’t worth it. I wrote my check for $35.00 and then he asked me if I would write his for him because of his eyesight. I did that, he signed the check, and then he asked me to record it. He had a balance of over $65,000.

I once had an overnight guest that I thought I did a very good job of sneaking in to the house. The next morning there was a note tucked into the front door telling me I owed him $10.00. It was in the rental agreement.

There was only one week of peace in that place. It coincided with my second month of rent being due so I knocked on his front door. The girlfriend opened it about an inch. I had only seen a glimpse of her and we had never been introduced.

I said, “Is Mr. Roper here? I have the rent check.”
She said, “No,” and not kindly.
I said, “I haven’t seen him around for a few days.”
She said, “He’s in the hospital,” and before I could say I was sorry or inquire she added, “He’s not going to die.”

He didn’t die. He came back in time for me to tell him I was leaving on the very day I was leaving. I was supposed to give him 30-days notice but I had no intention of giving notice because I wasn’t sure how he would react in the time leading up to my leaving.  He came outside to see what was going on and I told him I was leaving. He didn’t seem surprised. He just wanted to know why.

I said, “Do you really have to ask?”
And then he shocked me with, “I really like you, Jodee. You’re a good girl and you have a sweet little boy.”
I said, “What?! How would I know that? You were not nice to us at all!”

And then he turned around and walked away mumbling to himself.

Mr. Roper – Part 1

After spending three weeks in a shelter for battered women, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Don’t get me wrong, it served its purpose. It was very well run and the women in charge were the kind that would fold you into their soft bosoms where you could weep like a child. But there were rules. So many rules. I understood that the rules were in place for my own safety and the safety of the other women taking refuge from their own horrific situations, but I had just escaped from the control of another person and I didn’t want anyone else telling me what to do.

I can write a chapter on that place, but I’ll save that for the book. This is about the very first place I lived after leaving my husband. Still in my 20s, I was on my own for the first time in my life. I wish I could say I was carefree and happy, but my situation didn’t allow for that. It was as if I were on the run. This was before going through the process of attorneys, custody arrangements, the inevitable restraining order, and everything else I needed to separate myself from the life I’d been living for seven years. And I had a five-year old boy who needed to get through all of that as unscathed as possible.

While at the shelter, I perused the newspaper daily for a suitable place. I found a furnished in-law unit for $350 per month; manageable on my bartender’s salary, and furnished was a bonus since I had no intention of haggling over furniture or anything else with the man I was running from. I was doing my best to have as little contact as possible. I wouldn’t tell him where we lived and the child exchanges were always through the extremely patient, long-suffering babysitter.

I made an appointment and met with the owner of the home. He was an elderly gentleman who lived in the main house with his sort of younger girlfriend. There were a few red flags coming from my (soon to be) landlord, but the place was perfect. It was detached from the main house and sat in the back corner of the property overlooking Monterey Bay. It had a private entrance from a side gate and its own little patio. It was very tiny, a studio basically, but it was clean and rustic and it was furnished with two twin beds. One for me and one for Jarrod.

Spoiler: We lasted six weeks.

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