Chapter 24, april
“Sometimes we fight not because we hate what is in front of us, but because we love what is behind us.”
After the court hearing that granted John full custody of his boys, our lives were suddenly more hectic than they had been. We quickly hired an amazing nanny, since John and I both worked full time, and spent a few days getting the house ready for three additional little humans. On the trial date, the judge had given no solid schedule for how John and Loren were to split their time with the boys.
Both attorneys were able to draft an order stating that the boys would continue to alternate households every two weeks throughout the summer. Once summer was over, the boys would begin living with John full time, just three days before the new school year began. Loren was granted the visitation of every other weekend.
Throughout those few weeks after the trial, our interactions were mostly uneventful. Witnessing John and Loren exchange their children, was like watching two strangers meet to sell an old toaster. They acted as if they had never been married.
There were no words spoken, no instructions given, no pleasantries exchanged. This was the beginning of a very dark and lonely time for me. During this summer, I became invisible. What I felt, what I thought, and what I said no longer mattered. It seemed that Loren’s animosity towards me had reached an all-time high. In my mind, I was nothing more to her than the woman that destroyed her family. No matter how kind or helpful I tried to be, my attempts to communicate with her went unnoticed and unappreciated.
The first positive change in our situation came when Loren decided to move back to North Carolina. I remember some of the reactions we received about the news to be less than positive. Those close to us worried that it would cause problems in our relationship - if Loren were to live nearby. Honestly, that thought never crossed my mind. I was just so excited that all of us, most importantly the children, would not have to travel between states any longer. In my opinion, this was a step in the right direction for us all.
That joy was extremely short-lived.
Not long after we were all settled into our new roles, we received a call from John’s attorney. She explained that Loren’s recent move back to North Carolina resulted in a change of circumstance, meaning the judge would now agree to an additional custody hearing.
Since one of the main bases of the judge’s decision lied in the fact that Loren had taken the boys and moved out of the state, her return showed her willingness to put her children first. This meant that we needed to prepare for another trial. Fear of the unknown lingered for John and me. I could not watch this man lose his children again. In our minds, it was a miracle he was ever granted full custody. This had never been even a thought, let alone the plan. We imagined that once Loren settled, the children would alternate equal time between both households.
Once again, John’s attorney advised us to have as little communication with Loren as possible, only doing so via text message or email. We were also informed that we should keep a journal of every single interaction, good or bad, we had with Loren. This, along with our full-time jobs, taking care of four young boys, and remaining sane began to consume our lives.
One of the stipulations I had before agreeing to marry John was that we would begin couple’s therapy. I am a firm believer in preventative maintenance, and I thought it was necessary to help us blend our large family. Of all the resources we were given and professional advice that was offered, making sure we carved out enough time for just my fiancé and I was the hardest by far. I wanted to start the next chapter of my life, my happily ever after. Instead, every minute of alone time we garnered went to preparing for the next child custody trial.
The next few weeks can be easily compared to a rollercoaster ride - physically, mentally, and emotionally. I had been in John’s life for an entire year, yet I felt like we were having a hard time really getting to know one another on a much deeper level. Most couples date for an extended period, get engaged and married, then start a family within the next few years that follow.
We both came to our new relationship as a supersized value meal, no charge for the upsize! I had finally found the man of my dreams, but he was still so strongly connected to another woman…and three was quickly becoming a crowd. Maybe it had not been about finding my happy ending after all.
Maybe this would just be another part of my story…
The summer came to an end, which meant it was time for the boys to move in with John and I full-time. We spent the weekend going back-to-school shopping and settling in for what we prayed would be a fantastic year. We sent a text letting Loren know what time we would arrive on the first day of school.
That was the first ‘family’ event we would attend, and John and I were very anxious about how Loren would react.
She had been extremely vocal in her disgust at the judge’s ruling. As a mother, I wondered if I would have had the restraint Loren had to not come rip my children from their father’s home. John was constantly stressed that she would take the boys and never bring them back. He suggested that we go early and take pictures, then leave so Loren would not have to interact with us. However, when we arrived at the school, Loren was already there.
We walked to the awning outside the classrooms, waiting for the bell to ring that would allow us to enter the building. Jett was in the stroller, and the other three boys trailed behind. Tanner was starting 5th grade and Jackson was going to 1st grade. I did my best to not even look in Loren’s direction. I figured that the least amount of interaction we had would be preferred.
The next series of events happened so fast; it literally made me second guess reality.
In order to keep Jett entertained, I had been pulling the stroller back and forth, ever so slightly, to mimic walking. Meanwhile, Loren walked over to the stroller to pick up Jett. Since I had not noticed her reaching down to get him, she assumed that the stroller movement was me jerking it to keep her from taking Jett.
After she bent down to grab Jett, she got extremely close to my face to tell me that I was trash and did not belong there. I asked her to stop being rude and reminded her that I had just as much right to be there as she did. It was also my son’s first day of school, and I would not have missed it for anything. She accused me of lying, and insisted that I was inserting my presence where it was not wanted.
Loren took the younger two children over to her side of the walkway, and I stayed on the opposite side with the older two boys and John. That gave insight to what our future co-parenting scenarios would intel.
John attempted to come to my rescue and defend his soon-to-be bride, but that only escalated the situation. He and Loren continued to banter back and forth until the bell rang. I told John that I would go with Tanner and he and Loren should take Jackson.
Once everyone was tucked away in their classrooms, I waited for John to return so we could leave. My ex-husband, Jerry, was also there with his youngest daughter. He walked up to me and asked how I was doing, noticing that I was visibly upset. He and I were no stranger to those types of incidents. However, they had been occurring for an entire year, and they were only getting worse.
I did not want to continue living a life of anxiety and hatred.
Jerry completely understood; he and I lived that misery for three years. He hesitantly assured me that things would work themselves out. I do not think either of us believed that statement to be true. I noticed John walking towards me, and Loren was not far behind - looking as if she was rushing to a half-price sale at Macy’s. It seemed that she was not finished telling me just how much she could not stand me. She reiterated what had been vocalized only minutes before, adding that I was not only trashy but also a bitch. I had done a great job at remaining calm, but I soon reached my limit. You can take the girl out of the trailer, but it is hard to take the trailer out of the girl.
I told her to stop acting like a lunatic in front of the children, and apparently that ignited a fire that could not be extinguished. In a matter of seconds, arms and legs were bending and flying, hair was flinging in all directions. It was as if the woman before me was possessed. As our audience grew, I attempted to slither away – praying I would just melt into the pavement. Just in the nick of time, a strong-armed man scooped Loren up and began carrying her away. I had always wanted Jerry to swoop in and save me – who knew it would happen under those strange circumstances.
John and I walked to the car embarrassed, angry, and defeated. Embarrassed by the scene that was caused. Angry that we had allowed the actions of another person to affect us. Defeated knowing that this would not be the last time we would be in that situation.
When we arrived home, we discussed the schoolhouse fiasco, documented it in our journal, and agreed that we could have definitely handled it in a much more positive manner. I tried so hard to have faith that things would get better, but that hope was fading fast. I had always done my best to be a good person, to be kind to others, to always see the best in everyone. With each interaction, I was finding it more difficult to see any good in John’s ex-wife.
All the chaos and commotion left us very little time to plan our wedding. John and I had picked a date and a location, but not much more than that had been outlined.
We decided a date night was in order to discuss our upcoming nuptials. As we sat down to make our to-do list, terror began to rise through my body. Something did not feel right. I was scared, anxious, and visibly upset. John began to panic, pleading with me to tell him what was wrong.
I could hardly force my mouth to release the words that my brain was thinking.
With tears rolling down my face, I looked the man I loved more than anything in the eyes and said,
“I cannot marry you…”