I was standing in line at the grocery store with my three kids one late Friday afternoon when I saw my mom’s number pop up on my cell phone. She rarely calls us, usually preferring to text, so I answered it thinking it might be some kind of an emergency.
Are you fucking kidding me?
“I don’t have time to do this right now, Mom,” I said impatiently. “I’m about to check out and I’ve got the kids. I told you I don’t want to be involved with this, so stop.”
That wasn’t the first time I’d told my own mother, married and running around with my married father, to leave me out of this shithole.
My parents married when they were very young. They had a few kids right away. In fact, my mom was still a teenager when she had me. They were married almost 20 years and always seemed like they were in love when I was younger.
Looking back now, I see a clearer picture: My father was controlling and did what he wanted. My mother was meek and never stood up for herself. He didn’t want her to get her driver’s license. He didn’t want her to work outside the home. He didn’t want her to hang out with friends. He didn’t want her to have a life outside of being a mother and a wife.
That all changed when she got a job behind his back. She started wearing nice clothes and going to work every day. I think that’s when her self-confidence was built — she was in her 30s and was starting to get attention from men who treated her better than her husband did.
She left him the summer before I entered ninth grade. We rarely saw him anymore, and when we did, he spent a lot of time badmouthing my mother. He blamed her for their divorce, but I sided with her. My father was so strict and didn’t seem to understand my need as a teenager to see my friends and my boyfriend.
After returning from college, my relationship with my father started to mend a bit. He was on his second marriage, but it was also headed for divorce. My mom, by this point, was on her third. I’m still not sure what happened to rekindle things, but somehow their hate and discontent for each other turned into a sordid affair. They were both married, sneaking around having an affair with each other, and trying to include us.
To say my siblings and I were caught in the middle is an understatement. Our parents were open about their affair with us, and weren’t being very careful. They somehow expected us to keep it from their significant others at the time, and wouldn’t listen to me when I told them neither one of them had changed, and this was the worst idea of the century.
It wasn’t just their children who were burdened with this knowledge: our own kids, their grandkids, were also well aware of what was going on. At their young ages there was no way I could try to keep them from saying anything to whomever they wanted, nor did I think that I should have to manipulate them to keep such a secret. So, I didn’t.
One of my sisters got so invested in their affair, she made it her job to try and get them back together. She was very helpful but I felt like my other siblings and I could see the forest through the trees.
Recently I saw a meme that read, “Getting back together with your ex is like trying to reheat McDonald’s french fries.” While I know this isn’t the case for everyone — some people get back together and the second time is better than the first — my parents were definitely trying to heat up those fries.
Their affair was intense but short-lived. When it was over, their anger for each other came back tenfold, and their children and grandchildren have taken the brunt. Not to mention that my sister, who was so hopeful they’d get back together, was crushed and felt she was propelled back to that little girl who got her heart ripped out because her parents didn’t love each other anymore. I’m sure it was just as traumatic the second time around.
My father refuses to be around my mother now. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a grandchild’s birthday or a milestone like a graduation. Their kids and grandkids are the ones who are suffering because they can’t seem to get over the fact they took an already tense situation and made it worse. I just hope they don’t decide one day that three times really is a charm and give it another go — I won’t have the strength to deal with it.
There are seven marriages between the two of them, and looking at their situation was a reason I stayed in my marriage so long.
But then I realized something important: I am not my mother. I am not my father. I am me. I get to set the rules and boundaries for my own life — and just because I got a divorce, that doesn’t mean I’m going to go down the same road as they did. Just because they live their life one way doesn’t mean we can’t break the cycle and teach our kids there’s a better way.
Also, I only like McDonald’s fries when they are fresh, so there’s that.