They say it’s not what you have, it’s who you have. For the record, I agree. Except when you have nothing and you feel like nothing; it’s not that simple.
Who did I have? Me? Back then? —I had my mom.
So, I didn’t actually have nothing. I guess it was more so feeling like nothing since we just packed the last 16 years of my life up in a bunch of boxes and called it a day.
No. The day is not over. But it was.
At the time, she and I were on our way to someplace new —someplace small. I was pissed off, scared and dark. I knew my mom wasn’t going to let us be anything but OK, it’s just I didn’t feel OK. I mean, we weren’t moving by choice. We were moving because we had too —because my dad failed to mention that our house was in foreclosure and he had long since stopped paying the bills.
But I’m not mad at him (at least not anymore). I get it now.
However, my mom and I were still about to be homeless while he got a tan in Boca Raton, Florida. It didn’t make sense or seem fair. Consequently, for a while, I didn’t talk to him. And for the record, my sister didn’t talk to my mom either.
I’m pretty sure my dad fed her a bunch of lies —pretending what he did was somehow my mom’s fault. So yeah, in a way, it felt like war even though there are no winners in this battle. Nevertheless, my mom says to look at it like a fresh start. So that’s exactly what I did or at least, what I was trying to do.
Here’s where we last left off.
We were moving into a single-family apartment; approximately 1,048 square feet of nothingness. Seriously though, comparing it to the numbers of where we just left, it made this place feel like an actual shoe box. I hated to admit that so I kept those thoughts to myself, (or at least I tried too) —even though I’m pretty sure my mom could tell. Like when she sees me walk from the front of the apartment to the back (my new room) in less than 24 steps huffing and puffing, she knew I was darker than usual.
Except, I couldn’t be mad at her.
She felt so awful about this life-changing scenario we found ourselves in that she actually gave me the room meant for her a.k.a. —the master. I couldn’t believe I had a walk-in closet and a full bathroom with a jacuzzi all to myself; both of which, my old house didn’t even have. Maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad after all?
Except, with me there, she was left with the much smaller second bedroom with a much smaller closet and a bathroom across the hall. I felt bad. But my mom didn’t care. In fact, she insisted. She wanted her daughter to feel at home. And frankly, the selfish teenager in me was pretty damn relieved. For one, I’m extremely claustrophobic (always have been).
And there was barely enough space in that room to walk the perimeter without falling on the bed.
In fact, the room was all bed, you couldn’t walk the perimeter at all. So if I was ever going to have friends over again, that clearly wouldn’t work, or at least in my head, it didn’t (all of which my mother knew). And since she didn’t need much, the answer was easy. Plus, that’s just the type of mom she was (still is). So I thank her as I admire my new digs.
A few days later, we were officially unpacked. It was such a strange feeling. Fortunately, we were able to keep a few pieces of furniture from country club drive, which made walking into our new family room a little harder to take in than I originally anticipated. I thought it would be comforting to have them. But thinking back, I’m not sure if it was a good or bad thing.
I say that because I was about to sit on the same couch I did all those years before. The couch hasn’t changed but everything else has. Perhaps it would have been easier to start fresh with new ones? Maybe it would have hurt a little less? Except, with our new life full speed ahead, that wasn’t happening. Why? Well, we had to budget. In our old world, if we wanted something, we got it. No questions asked.
Things were different now.
I remember thinking that my bad mood wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. It didn’t help that I could hear everything. What do I mean by that? We were basically surrounded. We had a neighbor on each side as well as four directly below, which felt like another reason why I didn’t want anyone to see where I lived. For the record though, my mom turned it into a home and today, I
think —no I know it’s beautiful. In fact, it was the whole freaking time.
Unfortunately, back then, I was too concerned with what people would think about me. I just moved from a big house to a cozy apartment, after all, and if you knew the town I grew up in, you’d probably feel the same way. I was lost in a sea of self-hatred. I don’t know why I was always so hard on myself (even back then like before shit really mattered). I didn’t expect anyone else to hold themselves to these ridiculously high standards.
Why did I expect this of myself?
Well, that’s what it’s like living with a mental health disorder (I just didn’t know it back then). We really are our own worst critic. Anyway, let me say —because there were four apartments up top and four apartments on the bottom, all right next to each other, this lack of privacy was a real thing. Let me give you an example. If a neighbor was vacuuming, I’d hear it (probably still can).
If they were coming or going, I’d hear it. I figured, they could hear the same from me. And who wants to talk and share things in private when it’s actually not? Consequently, I didn’t think I’d ever feel comfortable inviting anyone over again. I mean, in my previous life, we never heard anyone —not even cars on the street because most houses in that neighborhood were set pretty far back.
We had a beautiful yard with a ton of trees that kept things hidden. I loved it. It was the best.
I also loved having people over. I used to throw some epic parties in my basement, which was fully furnished and huge. My house was the best hangout spot. And now? I didn’t want to hang out at all.
As if things couldn’t get any worse.
We thought we were adjusting. My bad mood had basically faded. I mean, I could still hear the neighbors and it’s not like the condo grew inches overnight. It’s just our state of mind improved. But not for long. One weekend afternoon, my mom and I were watching T.V. in the family room like normal when she gets a phone call.
She excuses herself, walks into her bedroom, and shuts the door. A few minutes later, she returns a little more upset than when she left. Regrettably, the township she worked for was closing their foreign language department. If you couldn’t have guessed, she taught a foreign language —Spanish to be exact.
Except, she just lost her freaking job.
Jim, the school’s superintendent said it wasn’t personal. In fact, they loved her as a person and a professional. But they too had to budget and something had to get cut. My mom and her co-workers were able to finish out the year as normal, but she’d have to find another school and fast. The bills were piling up. On top of it, she had attorney fees to pay for, now that the divorce was moving forward.
We both knew none of this was her fault even though, she still felt guilty. I remember sitting and talking as she tried not to cry. I did my best to reassure her that everything would be OK. “We are in this together, mom. Isn’t that what you told me when we first moved?” She said I was right as she patted her wet eyes with a tissue. “Then why are you still crying?” I ask.
She says they were happy tears. I was growing up.
I was turning into the strong woman she raised me to be. That made me smile and seeing me smile made her smile. I remember insisting she’d find a new job and things would even out as they always did in the end. Her mind just kept going back to Monday. If you couldn’t have guessed, she was dreading it. With all things considering, who wouldn’t? Eventually though, later that afternoon, she realizes I was right.
“Maybe it’s not the end but rather a new beginning” my mom acknowledges. I reply, “GOD closed this door so he could open a window. It’s all about fresh starts anyway.” And you know what? Monday comes and goes. Despite any awkwardness, she made it through. Plus, she wasn’t alone —literally, all of her co-workers were in the same boat, which made it sting just a little less. And before we know it, it’s the weekend again.
She decides to hire this recruiter to speed up the employment searching process. The school year was almost over so it felt like now or never. Another week passes, and about a month after that, she comes home one day with good news. That recruiter found a school in need of a Spanish teacher who wanted to hire my mom. It was a little further away than she originally anticipated (like almost to Delaware) but you know what?
We had a plan and she had a job.
A couple months go by and things were finally coming together. We were living our new lives. We were kind of new people. Adapt and overcome, they say. We were doing just that. I even started inviting friends over again. And guess what? They loved my new place. Never for a second did they make me feel inferior. They didn’t even think anything of it.
So yeah —those negative and shameful thoughts I was having were, in fact, all in my head. My mom actually traveled to her new school a few times before the year officially ended. And you know what? She was digging their vibe. Turns out, her new room was bigger than her old one and she seemed to fit in with what teachers she did meet. Even the divorce was going her way.
With all things considering, how could it not?
My dad as you may remember was living his new normal in sunny Florida, which happened to be the same state (and city) as my older sister. Coincidence? I think not. If he was broke, he certainly had everyone fooled. I say that because his new residence was this super sweet luxury condo in east Boca. Oh, and he was driving a brand new BMW. But when he goes to court, he plays the poor card —claiming, he had no job and no money. So how was he living there, driving that?
Your guess is as good as mine. Luckily, my mom hired a damn good divorce attorney. And thus far, he was worth every penny. My dad, on the other hand, wasn’t as optimistic. You see, he battled as a pro se defendant —meaning, he didn’t have an attorney, he defended himself. That right there is probably the wrong move if you’re the guilty party in a nasty divorce. Like it’s ordinarily ill-advised to defend yourself, even if you’re an attorney.
On top of it, he actually did all of those things he was being accused of. He needed all the help he could get, which, unfortunately, in this case (pun intended) was nothing. He made his bed. And now? He had to lie in it. So yeah, he couldn’t afford to pay legal bills along with everything else. And yeah, he was an attorney (or at least he used to be) but he dealt solely with healthcare and medical malpractice suits.
He really knew nothing about family law.
I will say, he was a smooth talker. I think he figured he could charm his way out of it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. He couldn’t deny the cold hard facts that he forged my mom’s signature and committed credit card fraud. The damage was done. Now, it was time for my mom’s lawyer to prove it. Their case went on and on. Both sides explicitly spoke their truth over the course of several weeks.
From exhibits A-G, it was pretty obvious who the guilty party was. Needlesstosay, the judge favored my mom or at least, it seemed that way. However, it all comes down to one final verdict, which was officially in. Like I said earlier though, there really aren’t any winners in this type of war. But if there was such a thing, my mom took and ate the freaking cake. In short, the judge saw through my dad.
Finally! Some freaking justice.
As for the matter of where I’d live and with who, my mom won that too.
She was granted sole custody of me, which was a relief. I knew they wouldn’t have made me move to another state halfway through high school with a father who just pled guilty to fraud. But my dad didn’t go home empty-handed. I say that because technically, he “won” my sister. Since she was over 18, living in another state, it didn’t really mean anything though. Oh, and my dad had to pay my mom child support on my behalf until I graduated college.
Which was pretty awesome and rather unorthodox. Normally, child support on either side gets cut off when the daughter or son turns 18. That said, my mom’s attorney definitely did better than either of us expected. With that, my mom was also relieved. I mean, the two of us were living off one lolely teacher’s salary, which if you couldn’t have guessed, didn’t really cover the lifestyle we had been accustomed too.
We already gave up a shit ton of luxuries and still, we were struggling.
In short, it was a GOD send. My mom would be able to provide a little more than the bare necessities for her hormonal teenage daughter. It felt like a win. In fact, the court order explicitly stated that if my dad failed to pay what he was supposed too, he’d literally go to jail. But it wasn’t just child support.
Additionally, he had to send my mom monthly alimony checks for basically the rest of his life. Both of which she needed; both of which he didn’t want to do. Except, he had no choice. I mean, those checks were the only way my mom would be able to afford me while keeping the water hot and the lights on. Even after downsizing and getting away from the materialistic whore I used to be, things were tight. I was still expensive.
I guess some things never change lol.
The kicker? If my dad couldn’t allocate or simply refused to transfer the funds into my mom’s account, the government would literally do it for him. Meaning, they’d garnish whatever wages he earned from whatever job he supposedly had. Oh, and if he wasn’t earning (or at least telling them he wasn’t working), they had a backup plan for that too.
In this instance, they’d take those funds out of his monthly social security checks. There was no backing out. He was pissed and my mom? Well, this time, she was more than relieved. There was still one thing left to discuss —their debt.
You know the saying, money can’t buy you happiness?
For the record, I agree with that too. It’s just when you have money, it makes everything else easier. I mean, I wouldn’t be sitting in my room writing this to you if we had it back then. Who’s to say my parents wouldn’t still be together. In short, money was the very reason this whole thing started —or in this case, lack thereof. But remember, we all could what if ourselves to death. So we can’t think like that.
Except, things were about to get a little dark.
You know how my dad gave my mom those “fake” credit cards? You know how she purchased a bunch of legitimate stuff with them but didn’t know that she shouldn’t? Well because she did, in fact, willingly utilize those cards to buy things she already used, the judge said, she was proportionately responsible for a small piece of their “shared” debt.
My mom was definitely thinking, “But it’s not ‘shared’ debt!” I mean, if she knew what he was really up too, she would have stopped it before it started. But remember, things are what they are. Luckily, the amount the judge made her pay wasn’t insurmountable. I mean, she wasn’t the one in trouble.
My dad was.
The judge merely had to do what he thought was “fair” for both parties, which included my mom coughing up some dough. Dough she really didn’t deserve to cough up; dough she truly didn’t have, but she complied. It could have been worse and I think for my dad it was. Besides the stuff you already know, he actually had to file for bankruptcy (for the second time) since he couldn’t afford to pay back his portion.
I mean, he clearly didn’t have $1 million at his disposal, so agreeing to file seemed like the only way to bring everything back to zero. And so, with one last signature, it was official. They were legally divorced. I think my mom was thrilled to be out of limbo. Finally. Only, it didn’t change the fact that everything she once knew for the past 30 years was gone (almost like it never happened). There was a learning curve, for sure.
It stung for a little while longer.
And during that time, she decides to go out more. For a while, she didn’t leave the house or have an interest in making new friends. Except, she said she was ready. Long story short, she becomes best friends with this one lady. Before I know it, the two of them are going out almost every night. There was this one restaurant in particular that became their spot.
Chances are, if you lived in South Jersey, were over the age of 45, and recently divorced, you’d be there too. It was always something new and always a good time. I was really happy for my mom. She seemed more optimistic than ever. I will say, because of her new social status, I had the place to myself most evenings. I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind at all.
In fact, I took full advantage of it.
I wasn’t embarrassed to invite friends over anymore. I didn’t care if people knew where I lived. I didn’t mind that I used to live in a big house. In fact, I loved our cozy apartment now. Life is funny like that. Eventually, if you hold on long enough, you really can get used to anything. But it wasn’t all serious. I had some killer parties there too.
The cops even had to come a few times, which gave me some popularity points back at school.
I loved it —I can’t even lie. But not everyone did. Apparently, one of my neighbors below us was not too keen on loud music or teenagers. It was literally the same lady every time. Like clockwork, whenever I had people over (even if it wasn’t a party and we actually weren’t doing anything wrong), she’d call the cops complaining about something (anything).
There were times when we were, in fact, up to no good but mostly, it was innocent. I’d tell you otherwise. Nevertheless, when she’d call, they’d send a local officer over to see what was up. I’d hear a knock at the door, quiet everyone down and answer it. Somehow I’d always find a way to charm my way out of it. I guess I’m more like my dad than I thought.
A few smiles later, normally, they’d leave.
And we’d carry on a little quieter than before. Remember my mom was out. By the time she got home, there was never any proof of a party or that the cops even came, so I never got into trouble. She never had to know —only she totally knew (lol). Several weeks go by and then a few months do too. Before I know it, the school year is over. I felt better than I thought I would —better than I thought I could.
Yeah, I still missed the McMansion I grew up in. I still missed going out and buying things without worrying what it cost. And I definitely still missed my old life and my old family but that feeling of overwhelming sadness became less and less. I started realizing that those materialist things I once thought I needed —well, they didn’t actually mean as much as I thought they did.
Honestly, I think they were a defense mechanism I created to protect me from myself.
Like a shield or at least a distraction. And if you take that distraction away, what are you left with? A girl who’s pissed off, alone, and dark. So in a way, those materialistic things were my light. It’s just that’s not normal or at least it shouldn’t be. We need to find a way to glow in the dark whether you battle with mental health issues or not. We have to learn compassion and contentment.
Self-care is for everyone, but they don’t teach you that in school. I didn’t know any of this shit back then. I wish I did. Like even though you and I spent countless years learning in academia, I think they missed a few somethings worth mentioning. I think they failed to teach us how to love ourselves. I think they failed to teach us that it’s OK to be dark. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to feel lost.
Even though you feel lost, that doesn’t mean you actually are. And even if you are, in fact, lost, that doesn’t mean you can’t be found. Honestly, though, I think you get lost out of a desire to be lost. But in the place called lost, strange things are found. What will you find? Or better yet, who will you find? Because the best and most beautiful thing in this world cannot be bought —it must be felt within.
Because it’s not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it’s who you are.