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Wednesday March 12, 2008: Burning the Past

        The past weekend contained an unexpected day of inner cleansing.  Randy cleaned out the bedroom file cabinet and handed me several dated envelopes from my folder.  One envelop of bank records was moved to a downstairs file cabinet, the envelop of older bank records was set to one side, destined to be burned in the fireplace that night. The final envelop contained legal correspondence covering a painful custody battle and years of my ex trying to scam his way past Ohio’s predetermined system of paying child support.

        Ten years have passed since the custody battle—a nightmare far worse than the divorce and its aftermath.  After the divorce I’d struggled to pull three boys through medical, academic, emotional and social problems until their lives were balanced and running smoothly. I’d worked hard to ensure a good relationship between the boys and their father, despite my own family’s objections that I was not being truthful about their father’s behavior.  

        I’d struggled through every trick my ex could pull to shave off child support and  run up my legal bills. At the divorce, I’d assumed half the debt my first husband brought into our marriage, debt which remained about the same at our split despite ten years of attempts to reign in his spending and regain a financial foothold. I’d taken on tax liabilities, given up alimony, and taken over covering all medical, dental and schooling costs for the boys. My only concession was that child support be adjusted yearly because of his flexible income.  Based on commission, it had been abnormally (obscenely) low at the time of the divorce, though (surprise!) immediately afterward jumping back up to far more than I would ever make.  We ended up with yearly court battles because the ex always felt he might shave off more than the year before, even as his income continued to climb.  The issue of custody had not come up at the divorce because my ex preferred the freedom of seeing the kids for visitation and not worrying about realities of day-to-day living.

        After years of high living, my ex grew tired of paying child support.  The boys seemed easy enough to keep around in summer: other than a larger food bill, the boys took care of themselves, mowed the lawn, cleaned the house and cared for the pets.  Seeing a  new way to get back at me, he began the custody battle. It ended with the recommendation from the guardian ed litem that the oldest go to Cleveland to live with the father, while the youngest two stay with me. It was a rare case in Ohio to split the kids, but the oldest was making everyone’s life miserable in his attempt to pressure the younger siblings into moving.

        Things worked out for the boys. They never knew what went on in the background. Since my ex was making three times my salary, it did not relieve him of child support payments even though it raised my portion of the support obligation.  It made a difference in the money I could set aside for the boys’ college fund and put me back on a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, but did not shift payments enough to put me in dire financial hardship. It didn’t put extra income in my ex’s pocket. For him, that meant the battle continued. No need to go through the details. The point was that I’d saved my copies of the lawyer’s communications over the scams that followed. I’d thought of the papers every time my kids talked about ‘poor Dad going through such hard times financially’ and of the reality to which the boys were never privy.

        I’d save the papers in hopes that someday—when the boys were grown—they would understand what had happened. Now, looking at the papers I realize we are past the days of child support. I don’t need these papers. Is it so important to keep evidence against their father?  What do I hope to accomplish?

        I know the high road. The high road says to burn the past records.  This was my problem and does not change the relationship that evolves between the boys and their father. Yet I struggled with emotions.  Deep down, I want the boys to know my struggle and what was kept out of their tender lives. I want recognition someday that makes up for getting through this without sinking to the ex’s level.  And I know that is a petty response.

        I make the decision to burn the papers and Randy raises his eyebrows.  He thinks I should save them so the boys can discover the truth somewhere down the road. His remark reactivates my gut reaction to preserve documentation. It is my rational side that burns the paperwork that night. Regrets tug at my heart the whole time, but I force myself to throw paper after paper on the fire. Afterward, I tell Randy I may need a completion meditation to fully let go of the past, but as the next days pass the regrets fade on their own.

        It remains a surprise each time I face these challenges—how difficult it can be to do the right thing and not look for social acknowledgment or cosmic compensation.  The best I can do is return to the center of my being and take comfort in living by my own standards.

        I am reminded of the two monks who come to a stream where a young maiden is unable to cross.  The first monk does not hesitate but picks up the woman and carries her to the other shore, after which the monks and woman go their own way.  As the monks walk on, the second monk talks incessantly about how this act of ‘kindness’ violated the monks’ vow never to touch a woman. At last, the first monk stops walking and turns to his companion. “I put that woman down on the other side of the river.  You are still carrying her.”

        I have carried these papers, unsure if I am doing the children a disservice by keeping them ignorant about the reality of their father’s lifestyle, or if I have preserved their emotional connection to their father by letting them come to their own conclusions.  Now the papers are gone.  I am disappointed in myself to discover how difficult it was to let go of the papers. The boys tend to see Mom as the one who is financially secure and poor Dad as the one who always must struggle with hardships.  

        Why is it so hard to sit and listen as they expound their father’s woes?  I wonder if someday I will ever become like my ideal of a spiritual being: one who takes the right action with no need for recognition. What part of myself would I have to root out to become a silent monk? If I could ever get to that point, I wonder how it would affect my ability to share and bond with others. Is my spiritual goal in conflict with an equal desire to live life as a fully vested human being?  There are no easy answers.

Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 09:51AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment | References2 References

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