Confusion at the Police Station

I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the hand gun the father of my children used to end his life.  I never had seen a gun before and felt sick in my stomach at the thought of it!

The Police Station was in a basement and Natalie and I went down the steps carefully, holding the banister.  It was cold and rainy. The weather matched our sinister moods.

The Policeman invited us into a small, plain room: A desk, two chairs… was that a double mirror? I imagined it must have been the room in which they brought criminals for interrogations while the good guys watched them through the double mirror, like in the movies. We were not in a movie, this was our real life!

The Officer laid on the desk two hand guns, a worn out black wallet, keys… a lot of keys.

He started to write a personal property receipt.

Before writing down the description and serial number of the first hand gun, he picked it up and said:

“This is the gun that ended his life, a 9 mm automatic Smite and Wesson.”

Natalie’s eyes were bulging. Without a word, she stood up and walked out of the room, leaving the door open. I could see her back only, her shoulders trembled slightly and her head was bent…

I run after her, I wanted to hug her, wipe her tears, take her pain away. She pushed me away gently:

“I’ll be okay, go back.” She said.

 I felt paralyzed by my own confusion, and slowly collapsed back in the chair.

“Too much for the poor girl to see the gun which ended her father’s life!” the Officer commented. “How old is she, 16?”

“We didn’t know he even liked guns,” I justified my daughter’s reaction, as if it needed justification!

“For almost twenty years he told us, our children, stories about how he hated guns and that’s why he didn’t go to the Vietnam War…”

The Officer wasn’t listening anymore, he continued to write the report. Natalie returned and sat next to me. I reached out to take her hand into mine, but she wouldn’t let me…

“Would you like to examine the weapon?” He asked me.

I looked at it from across the desk but dared not touch. I wondered if it were cold, if at first when the Police found it by his body, there was blood on it… his blood!

” When did he exactly die? What triggered it?” I asked the Policeman.

“About a week ago… it seemed on October 27  Chrysler repossessed his 2004 Sebring convertible, and that triggered the suicide!”

Over the car, I thought, the car he purchased  the same day he told me he had no money for child-support…

Silence felt heavy in the room, and the Officer explained:

“For some people this is a way of life. When they are broke, when they see no hope, they just… go!”

Death is a “way of life?” They go where? I thought, how could he have just left and not think of his daughters? How could he have taken the quick way out? He died over a car? Didn’t care about his children? About the pain his death would cause everyone?

Suddenly I recalled another possible version of why he killed himself. I remembered once, our therapist tried to define Kevin’s attitude towards the world, and this was what he said:

“Kevin thinks the world doesn’t appreciate his value and he gets angry. He punishes the ungrateful world by punishing himself, by withdrawing from it. Like saying, “You didn’t appreciate me! Well, let me show you! And he disappears…”

Perhaps, I thought, his suicide represented the ultimate withdrawal. What difference did it make why it happened? No matter why, the pain left behind was the same. The real tragedy was not why it happened, but that it happened!

I was angry. I was confused. It seemed absurd! I said nothing.

“We found no money in the house.” Continued the Policeman.

Now he was writing down the description of the other gun…

Different sizes, I thought, which killed quicker? Less pain? Equally deadly.  The gun he was registering was grandfather’s, the one we had in our home for twenty years and didn’t know about it…

“Does this gun work,” I asked pointing to it.

Part of me didn’t want to know the answer, but I had to ask, I needed to feel the reassurance of the betrayal, the hurt of the response.

“Of course,” The expert answer came promptly. “That’s why businessmen like this type, small, easy to handle!”

Now the Officer was writing down the description of the two boxes filled with bullets.  Different sizes for the two guns.

He was almost done. His movements seemed surreal, almost as if filmed in slow motion.

He picked the 9 mm automatic and showed it to me:

“This one, the weapon of the crime, is a recent purchase. He bought it on August 8, 2005.”

August 8th? I thought. This was his birthday! He bought himself a birthday present to end the gift of life!

I examined the hand gun from afar. it was just a little larger than a man’s hand, looked smooth, black and silver. It looked impersonal and helpless if not in someone’s skilled hands, filled with bullets. Still, it could have ended anyone’s life, but it helped my children’s father ended his…

“I am not taking the guns with me, nor the ammunition! I am leaving them here, in your custody!” I told the Policeman.

He finished the report and handed me a receipt.

My hand was shaking. I signed.

“Are you alright?” He asked.

“I never … we, my daughter and me, never saw guns before, except in the movies…”

I put the receipt and the keys to his house in my purse. The Policeman placed the guns and bullets in a locker. He shook our hands and we went out the Police Station, into the rain.

Kevin’s house was two blocks from the Station and we walked slowly, as the drops of rain were awakening us to the reality of our tragedy.

Sooner or later we had to go inside, confront the fears he was still there, his ghost… was I prepared to fight a ghost… did I even believe in them?

Inside the house it was cold and his smell lingered on.

“We must bring and burn some sage here, clear the energies,” I told my daughter.

She didn’t answer yes or no, but the look on her face seemed to speak to me, ” Mom lost her mind?! What sage, what energies? What?”

His things  were everywhere. I could feel his energy all around us. Unsettled, sad energy! Yes, I thought to myself, I must burn sage!

Throughout the house, top of the line appliances, everything high-tech and piles and piles of unopened bills. No food in the refrigerator except half a gallon of ice cream. I counted 82 cents in a dish in his bedroom. The Police thought, there were no money, and look at that!

We looked for the cats throughout the house. Were they hiding? Did they leave in the chaos of the moment when the doors were wide open?  My ex-sister-in-law, the younger brother’s wife looked for them before, but with no success. They also helped with the most gruesome part of the cleaning of the “crime’ scene, a favor they did us, which was much appreciated. We couldn’t find the cats. We placed flyers and pictures everywhere, but no sign of the cats.

Natalie and I walked through the house again and down in the basement. We called them by names, Phoenix, the cat who was still-born and I revived by massaging her in luke-warm  water, was slightly retarded but her brother, Mercury,  was the smartest cat we ever had. They were born of the same litter, in our home, about 8 years prior. Mercury and Phoenix were inseparable from the beginning.  He  was protecting her, he seemed to guide her steps, so we kept both, they truly needed one another. When we divorced, because cats were easier to care for, Kevin kept the two cats while we kept the four dogs and the parrot.

We were now in the basement of his former house, and as we were about to give up looking for the cats again, they came  out from under a radiator.

“Oh!  Here they are. Thank God!”

We took them home, to the house we had been calling our home, that was. I wondered what the cats had witnessed and if cats might possibly suffer from Post Traumatic Stress…

I remembered the psychiatrist’s explanation about how we were all given at birth a bucket of resilience, and it wasn’t the same for all. I guess it applied to cats as well.

Mercury died of a heart attack on Christmas Day of 2005.

Phoenix lived to be 18.

And we, the  human survivors of suicide loss, started sorting out through the shambles, physical and psychological, left behind by the unimaginable!

Shock At The Funeral Home

It is not by accident that I refer to Kevin’s  surviving family only when absolutely necessary to tell our story accurately and clearly.  There are many reasons for my decision, but the most relevant  one is  because we had suffered enough pain already. I have made the decision to avoid additional suffering unless it is for a clear purpose.

In this particular situation, I had no choice but to briefly refer to Kevin’s brothers’ as we all participated in the meeting before his burial, at the Funeral Home.

The girls and I, the ex-wife, who however  was the executor of his bankrupt estate, and the two brothers and their wives participated in the meeting.  The purpose was to choose a box for his ashes and decide on an appropriate obituary for the papers.

The selection of the funeral box was easy. Simple and inexpensive. Kevin, a real estate investor, aware of the value of land, always wanted to be cremated, just like my mother. He, because he believed we were running out of places to bury people, she because she didn’t believe it made any difference as to her there was no God, therefore no life after death.

The Funeral Home, in a quint suburban town near Philadelphia, showed the profitability of death.  Everything screamed money, money and more money, and just by looking around I thought in horror we would not be able to pay!  Kevin’s younger brother offered to loan us $1,000 which was repaid later, but his generosity of the moment was much appreciated, as it took the load of  an  additional immediate financial stress.   

The fact that all of us sat in  the same room and for the first time in years  were forced to face one another was relevant.

We, the family,  were to tell stories about Kevin, to decide on the wording of the obituary and then go on with our lives,  as we did for so many years before Kevin’s death.

“Let’s use “sudden death,” the older brother asked, and the funeral home director started writing the newspaper obituary.

Yes, it was a sudden death, after all… we all agreed to the vagueness of the statement. Had anyone ever seen an obituary which said the person killed himself?

When it came to remembering stories about Kevin, our job was more difficult. The girls remained silent. I, the “disfranchised,”  party had no right to remember anything from my over twenty-five years I had known him and our almost nineteen years of marriage.  Through my mind paraded the questions our family therapist asked of us on a first intake: “What is the story your mother told the world about you the most?” and “What do other people say about you?” Yes, that was a painful, but important  therapy session, but there was no place for those memories or stories in the perfectly calm funeral home, where only good stories are remembered.

“Oh, and he loved guns! He really, really loved guns, he had a collection!” I heard his older brother say, and my wondering mind came right back into the room.

“Who liked guns?” Eva asked, and I saw her hand reaching over and holding her sister’s. Natalie was pale and tears were traveling down her cheeks, and her face looked like a lifeless statue. 

“Your father. He had a collection which he gave me when he got married.”

He looked at me:

“Your mother hated guns! He only kept our grandfather’s gun…”

“You mean we had a gun in our home for all those years and I didn’t know about it? You mean when he punched holes in the walls he could have used the gun?”

The ex-brother-in-law stared at me. I stared back. He looked calm and in control. I felt confused, devastated…stupid!

“He had a gun,” was the brother’s final answer.

Both girls were crying and the funeral director brought tissues. Plenty of tissues! Their entire life they heard over and over again  stories their father told them about him being a pacifist. He told them he was a Vista volunteer, he didn’t participate in the Vietnam war because he opposed violence and  hated guns. While all the other kids in the neighborhood played with water-guns, our daughters, to make a statement, used squirt bugs… His anti-violence, anti-guns statements were among the things they admired about him, and now, their uncle was telling us it was a lie and we had a gun in our home and didn’t know about it!

“A gun? There was the gun,  in our home? Where? He never told us he liked guns. You are wrong!”

No one seemed to know where Kevin kept the grandfather’s gun in the house, but the thought that for over twenty years I didn’t even know he liked guns, never mind that there was a gun in our home, send shivers up and down my spine.  I had to believed his brother when Police found two additional guns and ammunition in Kevin’s new home.

In that moment, sitting in the comfortable armchair of the de lux suburban funeral home, I felt like vomiting on all the beauty, perfection and lies which surrounded even death! instead, I picked another tissue and wiped my tears and continued to watched my daughters cry over a childhood of lies and confusion. I felt my heart stabbed by doubts that for over twenty years I lived a “pretend game” and I was married to a stranger…who was he, really?

The Memorial Service was held in the same Church where we were married and our daughters Christened.

Many people were in attendance. Most of them because they wanted to support us, especially the girls, who didn’t deserve the burden of such a tragedy, so early in life,  or ever. What their father often said  when they complained about the unfairness of a grade or life in general,  turned out to be true,  ” No one said life was fair.”  His untimely death was  undeniable proof that he was correct.

Now, during the memorial service, I watched my beautiful daughters, holding hands,  supporting each other, stepping up in the same Altar where their parents were married and they were Christened. Only this time  was for a sad reason, to deliver an eulogy for their father.

My words cannot describe Eva’s. I asked her permission to share the eulogy as it was spoken  by her in 2005, at Kevin’s Memorial Service:

“As children, we remember our father as a devoted and affectionate Dad, dedicated first to our wellbeing and happiness.  He attended every one of Natalie’s gymnastics meets, spent hours sorting out our confusion over math homework, and often used his knowledge as a former lifeguard to show me swimming tips.

He loved gardening and every year took us to the Flower Show in Philadelphia, the site of his first  “real” date with his former wife, our mother Rodica.  He often included us in his passion for gardening, even setting up a corner of the yard with a rose-bush for me to tend…”

Eva stopped and swallowed her tears, squeezed her sister’s hand. My daughter was brave. She continued:

“My father was a man of great mystery, and I wish I had known him better.  He struggled in life, but now we hope his struggles are over, and he can finally lay at rest.

For us, the death of our father is mostly a loss of hope. The hope that he would see Natalie graduate from high school and both of us graduate from college and medical school. The hope that he would be present on our wedding days, and most importantly to us, the hope that he would meet his grandchildren. His love for us when we were children always assured us that he would show the same devotion to his grandchildren.

Today, we gather to remember and celebrate his life, and we believe the best way to do this is to look at the ways we can make a difference in the lives of others, most especially those struggling with inner issues.

We want to thank every one of you for being so present in our lives, today at the memorial service, in the days surrounding our father’s death, and especially in the countless ways you are all present every day, good and bad, in our lives. 

The Universe relies on balance, and your good balances the pain we now feel. Thank you. “

Holding hands, supporting each other,  as they did the entire time, my daughters stepped down and sat next to me.

It was over… or was it?



2005, The Year from Hell (Part II)

As I was sitting on the bus from New York, going back home near Philly, I was trying to make up a story for my daughters… How was i going to tell them the diagnosis changed and now, on top of everything else I had cancer! They didn’t need to know this type of cancer didn’t respond to many treatments and surgery was the best option, watching for a new growth and cutting it out!  No, they just needed to know it wasn’t a big deal since treatments weren’t required…

The girls listened to my story which I tried to make short and funny, how the diagnosis changed, how thank God I asked for the pathology report…

I was losing their attention and still could not just say it, the new diagnosis is cancer!

I called it a sarcoma and it needed no further treatments, just check ups.

“What is a sarcoma?” Eva asked and I could no longer avoid her clear, to the point question.

I explained, and smiled and tried to make fun of it and how rare it was, my luck, born on a 13th…

The girls stared at me and I couldn’t tell what they thought, if they understood, if they cared  at all

or if they cared too much.

One thing was sure, the change in diagnosis didn’t change our daily lives. I was still making appointments to re-start work in May, the girls still attended their daily activities and seeing their friends more and more often.  This new home didn’t feel like a home to them and I knew it, but it was a roof and that was all it mattered.

It was in mid-April when I woke up with excruciating pain in my right hand and wrist. I looked at my own hand but it wasn’t mine anymore, not the hand I used to have. This hand was swollen and painful and I could not move it. I called the doctor. A nurse practitioner had an available appointment, the same one who two years prior didn’t believe me I was bit by ticks and refused to give me antibiotics. She told me I just had osteoarthritis, I must have slept on my hand and triggered the pain and the swelling. It will go away.

Two weeks later, the hand felt worse. It was now May and I could not go back to work! I had to cancel all appointments and eventually closed my beloved Natural Therapies all together because the swelling would not go away! After endless visits to numerous doctors from orthopedic to rheumatologists to infectious disease specialists, it was decided to have a biopsy. Nobody knew what it was and why my right hand suddenly, literally overnight had become my enemy when for so many years it was my friend and my bread-winner. Why was my hand mad at me? Perhaps I worked it too hard? It wanted to rest… oh hand, please, I argued with it, this is not a good time to let me down!

By the end of the summer, the business was closed, the hand was still swollen and painful and I became officially disabled!  My friends were still helping me financially and my pension money was diminishing rapidly. Kevin was still not paying child-support and now Eva turned 18 in February, so he would have had to pay for one child only, but he wasn’t. He didn’t call Eva on her 18th Birthday and that triggered a wave of anger from both girls. The combination of taking us off his insurance policy without telling us, the lack of care for the girls and the ignoring of my surgery and now disabilities and loss of business, made the children to stop speaking with him.

I kept telling them he was their father, yes, he wasn’t perfect, but would Eva please let me invite him to her High School graduation. She opposed me, but I still invited him. My defiance of her wishes got me in trouble. Didn’t I know I had to respect one’s wishes? Natalie was so angry when she saw him at the church were the graduation ceremony took place, asked me for the car keys and went to wait in the car. He looked happy and proud of his daughter, especially that word had come she had been accepted at Harvard. Yes, he was very proud of her, but she barely spoke to him, and the whole attempt to reconcile our children with him was a total disaster!

“I know he really loves you, he just doesn’t know how to show it, ” I kept arguing, but my arguments were defeated by reality:

“If he loved us, he’d call on our birthdays, he’d have us over to his house every other week like all other fathers, he’d pay child support and not drop us off his insurance and not even call after your surgery!”

They were right, he was still not paying child support and because now the Courts were keeping track of it we had a Court date in August.

Kevin looked changed, his eyes were sparkly and he was sweating but the room was air-conditioned…

I looked at his skin and the scabs I had noticed before had gotten worse. They looked like sores, like he picked at his skin…

The Judge was a woman and she asked him to explain why he wasn’t paying the child-support ordered by the courts.

“I don’t have a job! I have no money!”

“We are required to take away your driver-licence until you start  paying…”

What, I thought, they were going to take away his driver license? How was he going to go out on interviews if they took away his license?

“Wait, wait!” I intervened. “Is there any other way to not take his license? If he doesn’t have a job can i renounce the child-support owed by him until he gets a job?””

” The law does not allow you to give it up completely, but it can be reduced to $25 a month from the almost $900 that he is legally obligated to pay now.

“Okay, then can I agree to reduce the payment to $25 a month on condition he will seek counseling to get a job and he’ll then keep his driver’s license, right?”

The Judge confirmed, and a woman who was going to mee with him and take care of his job counseling joined our meeting.

The new contract was drafted, and the Judge placed it in front of him to be signed.

“I am not signing anything! It’s a trap!”

He pushed the pen in the middle of the desk. He was red-faced and agitated.

The Judge looked at me, and then at him:

“Sir, your ex-wife is trying to help you keep your license and find a job. She agreed to payments of $25 a month. This is minimum allowed by law.”

He looked furious and hurt and picked the pen:

“Fine, fine, I’ll sign! I guess I have no choice!.”

Then, he was escorted out to speak with the jobcounselor, and I was left  behind in the room. He didn’t say good-bye, or thank you. He just left. He ignored me one more time.:

The Judge extended her hand and shook mine:

“Good luck . ” She said and I left the Courts.

Good luck…   yes, I needed it, and a ray of joy landed in our household when in October we drove

 Eva to her dorm at Harvard.

We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast, and as the girls were getting ready to go shopping and I was resting, my cell rang.


“Yes, this is she…”

“I am Helen, Jody’s sister.”

“Oh, yes, I remember, she spoke often of you. How is she?

“They found her remains today!” Helen managed to say in between sobs.

“Whose remains? What are you talking about? Jody and I lost touch a few years back after she moved to Florida. Yes, we were very close, she was our Maid of Honor.”

“You don’t know then… She moved from Florida to Beloxi and she was in a wheel chair. When Katrina hit, she and her husband made it to a shelter but the shelter didn’t allow booze so they went back home and… they both died during Katrina but they couldn’t find her remains… until today.”

It was October 27…

Helen wanted to know if I was her Power of Attorney, if I had  her will. I told her I didn’t and still crying we hand up.

I had to tell Kevin. No matter how difficult, after all she was our Maid of Honor and she died such a tragic death.

I dialed his number. It went streight to voice…

The box must be full, I thought.

Back in Philly, we tried to establish a new routine, Natalie and I. It was hard. I could sense she was slipping away from me… what was it? Boys? New school? New friends? Her sister leaving home? The divorce, yes I felt guilty for the divorce, but I really, really didn’t have a choice. it was between having a roof over our heads and homeless.

Jody’s death during Katrina brought back memories of my father’s alcoholism, the fear that Kevin was using again, after I observed his odd behavior at the Court and above all the thought that oh, my daughters  could have inherited it.

I started to attend Al Anon meetings. No, I didn’t live with active alcoholism but my whole life had been shattered by substance abuse, so I felt I would be in the right place. Perhaps someone was going to tell me what to do. What was right, what was wrong, what was appropriate. Were my children at risk and could I protect them? I banned alcohol from our home for nine years. I had not personally touched alcohol to sat a good example. Don’t they say, children do what they see? Yes, I didn’t drink. I did not just said!

Soon I were to find out in Al Anon nobody was going to tell me what to do. I was to find out and do it myself, because what was good for me was not good for someone else.

I was stunned at first to see that people just told their stories, the group politely choired: “Thanks for sharing,” and the group moved to the next “share.”

The miracle of these meetings was that it provided focused listening and if one wanted to learn each story had a message and the many messages put together many times gave one the answer they sought. 

Soon I was hooked on Al Anon meetings, and the one I attended every Friday night was a few blocks from Kevin’s new house.

That Friday night, November 4th, I was driving back from a meeting. I was stopped at a light which, if I would have turned right, would have taken me to his house. I was thinking of him, of Jody’s tragic death of…

My telephone rang. It was Kevin’s younger brother.  he never called me…

i pulled on a side street and answered the call.

“he is dead! he killed himself! His brother said and his voice seemed to come from far away, from a cave.

“Who is dead?

I thought somehow he found out about Jody’s tragic death, but he said “he is dead!”

“Kevin, he shot himself in the head! My brother is dead!”

My body shivered and I couldn’t move my jaws.

“Oh… I don’t believe it, are you sure?”

“The police found him this afternoon. A neighbor saw the cats trying to get out from the sun porch and he wasn’t picking up his mail, so they called the Police.”

“When did he die, can they tell? A macabre thought went through my mind, may be when i called to tell him about Jody’s death he was already dead!

“They weren’t sure but somewhere at the end of october… the 27 or the 28th. The official day is today, November 4th.”

“I must tell the girls. How do I tell the girls? Do you think i should wait until tomorrow or wake them up?”

“Their father died wake them up!”

Of course, their father died, what was i thinking… but I just wanted to protect my children from yet another shock!

“Yes, I will wake them up, Eva came for the weekend, she is here too.”

Eva was not home, she was at a party. I called and asked her to come home. It was urgent. Natalie was already asleep.

We were all sitting on the couch in the living room.

They were slightly aggravated. Natalie because I woke her up, Eva because I brought her home from a ffun party.

“I… don’t know how to say this,  the only way is to just say it, your father is dead! He killed himself, your uncle just called me.”

The girls ran into each other’s arms and became one big ball of pain and confusion. They were crying, howling sounds of sorrow and disbelieve, their bodies which became one was trembling.

I just stood there and watched speechless…

and now what?    How could so many tragedies happen in one short year and what was the long-term impact on my children? It was not enough they we almost lost our home, we divorced, their mother was diagnosed with cancer, became disabled and lost her business, but now their father, at which they were both angry for good reasons, killed himself!

Hello God! And YOU are where?????

2005, The Year from Hell! (Part I)

After the “incidental finding” that I had a tumor under my left shoulder-blade, I started a series of attempts to diagnose the tumor correctly. Of course, it was just another benign tumor, one of those scares, when one sat staring at the ceiling all night and prayed, and God listened and then everything was going to turn out just fine. The first shoulder expert, at one of Philadelphia’s renowned Institutes, after taking his own x-rays and studying the MRI from The University of Pennsylvania, told me I had tendonitis…

“Tendonitis?” I dared question. “The MRI showed a tumor…”

“No, you don’t have a tumor!” The expert assured me and smiled.

Probably, if I hadn’t spent half my childhood forced to sit in a doctor’s office, and if I didn’t have the unfortunate experience when Natalie was misdiagnosed, I would have walked away.  But the truth was my trust in the ultimate knowledge of medicine had been shaken and I dared say:

“Doctor, just for my peace of mind, would you please consult the hospital radiologists as well, I am very scared. I am a single mom, I really can’t afford to take the slightest risks to… die.”

The doctor looked at me puzzled, and he was probably so shocked that he agreed to my request.

It was Christmas Eve of 2004 when my cell phone rang as I was driving down Cheltenham Avenue, passed Willow Grove Ave. Yes, I did answer the phone while I kept driving, and I do know it is dangerous, and yes, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone drives and talks on the phone at the same time, but that one time, I did answer the call…

“Hello, this is Dr. X how are you feeling?”

Oh, he is super nice, he, the busy doctor, calls me in person… again, all the signs the news was not good!

“Do you have any news for me? I plunged past the formalities, as I turned left onto my street.

“Yes… nothing to really worry about but the radiologists think you should consult an oncological surgeon… just to e safe…”

Did I tell him good-bye, did I tell him f— you? I definitely hand up as I unlocked the door and collapsed on the couch while our dogs still hoped I’d let them out.

I made an appointment with an oncological orthopedic practice in Philadelphia and the doctor recommended a needle biopsy. I was worried about the needle biopsy. The tumor was under my scapula, how was the doctor going to reach under such a bony area? And was there a danger to spread if the needle didn’t go in the right spot and…

and the truth was I had no choice and I had to have a needle biopsy.

It was scheduled soon after, the doctor’s office made the request, another bad sign! The doctor scheduled to perform the procedure was a younger-looking, happy looking fellow and he assured me the procedure was an easy. As I was half sedated and being taken into an elevator to the operation room, I saw a young beautiful female doctor who was escorting me. Her uniform was dark blue, just as the other doctor and I slurred:

“Why do you all wear darker uniforms, what happened to the white uniforms doctors always worn?”

“White shows everything, but see, right here, it’s blood and it doesn’t show!” She explained pointing to a large spot on the front of her dark-blue uniform.

Her explanation was very reassuring indeed, but I was so out of it I started to giggle. At the time it seemed funny, but in retrospect, I’d rather see doctors with white, spotless uniforms.

The procedure room was small and to my amazement in the room, in addition to the doctor and two nurses there was a pathologist with a microscope. I think, it was a microscope.  The needle went into my shoulder once… nothing… twice… at least I was numb and still happy.

I lost count after seven stabbings and now I was feeling the pain. I looked at the pathologist. She had a puzzled look imprinted on her face. I wondered if she saw something very bad or nothing!

At last the procedure was over. They assured me I’ll have the results very soon.

Two weeks later, I was still calling the doctor’s office asking for results. Yes, I am persistent! At last, after two weeks the result came “non-conclusive.”

“What does this mean? Is it malignant or benign? Non-conclusive meant just that: They didn’t know.

I was now really worried, as the type of cancer I was suspected of was rare and those were to the best of my knowledge the only oncological orthopedists to specialize in it.

I went to work preoccupied by my tumor and disoriented. My first client that afternoon was a woman who suffered from cancer and who was well-informed.

“Why don’t you go to Sloan.” She suggested.

Sloan? I thought. Sloan was a large car dealership in our area… why was she sending me to Sloan!

“Why, I dared ask, “Did Mr. Sloan have cancer?”

She looked at me more than surprised, I don’t even want to express in writing what I think she thought of me.

“No, I mean Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital in New York City!”

“Oh, that one!” I responded pretending I knew what she was talking about and making a mental note so I could check it out and Google it later.

And I did, and marveled at my own ignorance for not knowing about it sooner. Oh, it looked just like what I needed, and thank good Kevin kept us on his Blue Cross insurance and I would be able to go there!

I dialed none less than the head of Oncological Surgery at Sloan (not the car dealership).

A pleasant woman answered on a second ring. A good sign, a human and she picked up!

“Hello, I am calling from Philadelphia and…”

I told her briefly the whole long story.

“And who is referring you?” She asked routinely.

Who was referring me? … me!

“I am referring myself.” I stated, and expected her to give me a story about how to get an appointment with Dr. John Healy I needed to be refered by another doctor.

“Okay.” She said. “He has a cancellation next week…”

When I told my friends I had an appointment with one of the best oncological surgeons in the world, Dr. John Healy, my friends didn’t believe me. Some told me people waited up to six months to see him. I heard stories of him never leaving the office until he saw all those waiting. Many times he worked passed mid-night. He was the best of the best and he cared!

I investigated the cheapest way to get to New York and the Chinese bus would have been the cheapest, but it would have left me in an area far from Sloan Kettering. I opted for Grey Hound and learned how to get the e-deals print it yourself deals!

Dr. Healy examined the MRI and simply said:

” The tumor looks suspicious, it needs to be excised.”

They scheduled me for surgery in March. We started preparations. Nick and Cass lived now in the Palisades and the surgery was scheduled right before Easter. We made plans how the girls and I would come to New York and after the surgery I would recover at Cass and Nick’s house. I couldn’t think of a nicer more relaxing place. A beautiful home, with faithful friends and the bonus of looking out my window and seeing the Hudson.

We were all sat, but it was February and as I was battling the needle biopsy, inconclusive pathology and still trying to assure my girls everything was alright, Kevin was nowhere to be seen and the child support payments established by the courts according to his income weren’t coming. The amount the Courts told him he owed his children was more that my $836 a month. I found out the Courts used a “grid” and it was all fair and mathematical, a simple, established method to determine what a parent must contribute to his or her child’s daily needs.

But Kevin was not paying the child-support and now in mid-February we had a court date! I had never been in Court prior to that date and I had a slight feeling that I might vomit… no my vomiting would certainly not make a good impression.

Our turn came at last, and my lawyer, myself and kevin followed a clerk who directed us into a small room crowded by tables arranged as a T.

Kevin declared he had a job at the time the child support was established but now he doesn’t and he also when asked about the health insurance which was a family policy in his name, he simply said:

“I dropped it!”

“You dropped the health insurance policy without having the courtesy to tell me, when you were receiving all the statements, you knew I was going through tests and I might need surgery, and you dropped the coverage for your kids and me without telling us?”

The mediator was stunned and tried to keep her composure.

“Sir, why did you drop the coverage without at least notifying your wife?”

“There is no law to make me keep my ex and kids on a health insurance policy!” He said, and that was the first time in years that I detected emotion in his voice. 

It wasn’t a good emotion, it was the triumph that he managed to hurt me, and the spark in his eyes, the triumph in his voice made me cringe.  I looked at his face and examined his every feature, his mouth, his eyes, his skin… what was wrong with his skin, it looked as if he picked at it, it looked different from what I had known for so many years.

“Sir,” Continued the Mediator, “You are under obligation to provide health insurance for your family, and the divorce is not yet final.”

“Fine,” He said, and mentioned an obscure health insurance company, a coverage most of the doctors I was seeing wouldn’t take.   

The session at the Courts ended up in confusion, with the Courts giving him another few months to come up with the payments for child-support. I, on the other hand had to stay on the insurance we already had which was accepted by Sloan Kettering where I had scheduled my surgery.

I called the insurance company and we were still in the 30-day grace period. 

“How much was the premium for the kids and I, if I opted to change it to an individual family policy?”

Almost $900 a months! That was a little less than my mortgage… so this was when the ride down into the basement of poverty started. I cashed in some of my pension money. My friends Cassandra and Nick started helping me financially again. I was embarrassed that I needed help again, but when one is that desperate, I guess pride is crushed somewhere in the depth of one’s heart… survival was and will always be more powerful in me, and win over pride.

March 25, the day of the surgery arrived. A hard surgery, the tumor was under my shoulder-blade, but I really was in the best of hands… and immediately after the surgery even better news, the pathology done right after the surgery showed a benign tumor!

Such luck, I thought,  it will take me a couple of months to resume my work as a massage therapist and esthetician.

As I recovered in Cass and Nick’s surreal home hanging over the Hudson I started calling my clients to line them up for May, when I was sure I’d be healthy enough to go back to work.

After a week of being in Ludington’s Paradise e the Hudson River, my friend, Kate, drove all the way from Philadelphia to pick us up. Kate was also a client, a beautiful person who I would always miss. She helped me, and probably many thought I’d be dead, but so it happened that in 2009 Kate died. I always wanted to thank her more for her kindness, and the stuff of life came in the way… now she is gone from this dimension, but who could be sure? May be, as The Flower of Life tought me, there are other dimensions and some time, in the future I will have a chance to really thank her. her spirit, I could still feel with me.

Two weeks went by quickly and when I went back to Sloan to be checked post-op, a younger, very pleasant doctor met me in the room.

“You already know the good news,” he said. “it was a benign tumor!”

Oh, such relief, I thought. All this fuss over a simple benign tumor. Then, a voice coming from me, but which was not mine, asked the doctor:
“Could I have a copy of the pathology report?”

“Sure,” he said, and left the room to make

me a copy.

I waited. And waited. And waited.

The copier must be far… I thought.

The young, friendly doctor came back at last

 He opened the door slowly. He was still reading the report which he was asked to bring in, and as he was reading, his smile disappeared.

By the time he sat down and looked me in the eyes, there was no smile left, but worry in his eyes.

“I have to tell you… they changed the diagnosis! This never happened before!”

I was not understanding. The room was spinning, my head was spinning. My whole life was in shambles!

“Please say it, do you mean it’s not benign, I have cancer?”

“Yes, a very rare type of sarcoma, hemangioperycitoma. It took a while for the cells to grow in the Pietra dih…”

I folded the report and placed it in my purse.

“How what? I asked

Dr. Healy came in and told me my cancer was so rare it was hard to detect and there was no follow-up with radiations or chemotherapy, this type needed to be excised and followed for a few years to make sure it doesn’t spread to the major organs, and the major organ in danger in my case, were the lungs! For five long years, I was to come to Sloan Kettering for check ups. First every six months then every year.

The reality of cancer, as I discovered slowly is that even in being diagnosed with a cancer type one could be lucky or not. There are the common cancers. For instance, the breast cancer, for which millions are raised every year. The type of cell most common is in the milk ducts. This is the type on which most research is performed because the greatest numbers of women have this particular type. However, if one is unlucky, to had for instance a sarcoma, which is rare among adults to begin with, than in addition a type of sarcoma cell rare among the rarest, then who is going to donate money to save ten people when one could contribute to more research to save the millions, affected by a common cancer.

My mother died from breast cancer. I never knew the type, the grade… my friend Susan died from a rare form of breast cancer, inflammatory…My daughters kept asking me to make donations for the races they ran for other types of cancers, and as I was giving my ten dollars I thought: “What about the cancer that affects me? 

Slowly, I was discovering that even when one is diagnosed with cancer, there is an element of “luck, but I was determined to survive regardless!

Incidental Findings

I had chosen to attend  the “Living Yoga Program,” in Austin, Texas for its good professional reputation but also because I was emotionally in need of distance from my normal surroundings. I needed to re-think the whole strategy of my life as a single divorced woman, mother of two daughters. I was worried about just about everything. About how was I going to maintain our household with no child-support from Kevin, how was I going to control and know what my teenage daughters were doing in their free time, when I worked two jobs and had no help, except the once a month dinner Kevin offered for his children.

The yoga certification was meant to not only diversify my practice which relied on massage, and work with my hands so heavily, but also it was meant to allow me ten days of focusing, rethinking and relaxation away from the source of the problems.

The Living Yoga teachers, Ellen, Charles and Donna rented space in Barsana Dham, a replica of the  holly Barsana Dham Temple in India.  Build as the center of a compound on which approximately 50-60 believers lived, Barsana looked to me as a Paradise lost in the mist of Texas.  It made me wonder why there? What was the history of building this magical place which looked so out-of-place in Texas.

I took a shuttle from the airport, and little by little all the other passengers got off at their stops. Now it was just the African-American driver and me and for a while he was silent, but tht kind of silence where one could feel heavy thoughts floating inside the head of the other person.

:I knew you was coming!” He declared quickly, as if this was a key statement, and it was, because it made me wonder why was he even thinking I was coming and how did his premonition that “I was coming,” fit into our sudden relationship.

“Oh?” I answered very intelligently, and decided I rather listen and find out more before I venture any opinions about the nature of our new and unexpected relationship.

“I am a Christian. A real Christian. This place not good. Wy you come here?”

I explained I was not there to worship whatever the place and Temple worshiped and that my teachers rented space in the compound, that was the only reason I were there, not to convert to whatever he thought it was going to steal my soul and put me on a wrong path. Frankly, after the Flower of Life Re-Birth experiment, I was myelf careful to hold on to my soul, so what he said worried me.

“Tell me more, why are you saying this? Do you know something… would you like to share?”

As we drove up the maniqured road, I observed several people dressed  in Orange saris. Some had white tunics over tight pants. Tey had a red line in the middle of their forehead, which I learned symbolized the path of God.

“They certainly have very colorful clothing,” I told the driver, as he didn’t seem to be willing to share with me the fears for my life.”

“When their new-born males are born, the fathers kill them instantly for fear they will be competition later!”

“What, what? They kill their male children? Oh my God, but you must report this to Police! Who horrible! And how did you find this out?”

The driver looked at me and as we continued to drive up to the main building, out in the fields, he pointed at a group of beautiful pea-cock.

“I saw them! When male bird, father kills! I saw them!”

“You mean the birds? You were talking about the birds?”

“Yes, peacocks bad, evil place, you not good here!”

Oh, I thought, at least we are not talking of mass murderers of male babies. If the Chinese would only know, and the rest of the world with their adoration for male babies. If only my mother would have known when I was born a girl and she was disappointed. Hmm, the peacocks were certainly unique in their determination f values and threats…

“I am so sorry, yes you are right, it is terrible they kill the male bird babies.”

“Stay away from them! Evil!”

We stopped in front of the Temple where next to it there was a small gift shop and I paid him. As I was handing him the fee, he hesitated:

“How long you here? He asked.

“Ten days, I am taking a course, I am not worshiping… I don’t even know what they worship…”

“I come back to see you okay.”

I was confused… was he telling me I was in danger, that he will check I was still alive in three days… he wanted to come back? why? when?

” Thank you, but I am here with a group of students in yoga and our teachers. Thank you, you don’t have to come back, but I appreciate.”

He looked at me in silence, took the fee and as he was driving away said:

“Yoga not good!”

Great beginning for me, seeking peace, to be far from the maddening world, to re-organize by shattered life!

I walked in the reception area and was assigned to my small, austere room which had two beds. I was going to have a roommate, but she was to arrive later.

I changed and went outside to try to understand my temporary residence. Who were the people who lived here? Why was this devoted Christian so much against them? Where was I?

I am not sure that my understanding was correct, but some things were for sure. They were vegetarian and we ate some of the best vegetarian meals I ever had. They had a rigorous partition of their duties and were very simple in their way of dressing and speaking. Very kind and slightly reserved, but not in the way which told one yo are not welcomed.  After some investigations and reading their brochures, I understood they belonged to a  Krishna Temple, also called “The International Society of Devine Love,” established by  His Divinity Swami Prokashana and Saeaswati.  He started ashrams in India, New Zealand and now i the U.S.

To this day I am not sure I understood correctly who The Radha Krishna was. It seemed a couple of divine origin… a manifestation of God?  They are a couple that God is both. Yes,  I could agree to that, that God is both.

Later I was told they had a branch in Philadelphia, strangely close to my house!

I even participated at a Krishna Service in the Temple. No shoes allowed.  The Temple is spotless and it has marble floors and is carpeted in the actual worship chapel.  There were pillows everywhere on the floor and the worshipers sat down with some exceptions when they stood up. The ceiling of the Temple looked like a sky with fluffy white clouds. There were two stages in the worship room. One stage has in the center a picture of their Devine… and the two characters, the couple I believe to represent God who is both man and woman. Everything around them is serene, peaceful. Flowers, trees.  The other stage is closed by a courtain until the end of the service when the worship climaxes in chanting, the worshipers raise their hands to Heavens… and since I couldn’t understand the words, I am sure my perceptions were distorted. I was taken to an adjacent room to watch an English version of the service, but I didn’t resist through it all, I turned off the TV and tiptoed out. I put on my shoes and headed back to my room. May be my roommate had arrived!

Her name was Kate. She was a tall, beautiful woman who definitely was practicing yoga more than I did. I could tell just looking at her flexible, beautiful body. I am still friends with Kate, and over the years that passed since 2004 many things happened to both of us. I must say though, of all the things we shared and did together, the one I will never forget were the exercises she was doing every morning upon waking up. She didn’t even come out of her bed. She had an amazing technique of stretching right there in her narrow, hard bed. Her body was already flexible and ready by the time she stood up ready to start the day.  Come to think of it… she should start a class teaching people how to do the bed stretches. I think that would be awesome!

The yoga program was just what I needed at the time. We worked hard, with training starting at 7:00 AM and with some short breaks ending after 5:00 PM. A group of wonderful people, united by our desire to understand more about the meaning of life, to become more flexible in our minds and bodies and become good enough to teach others.

When the time came to say good-bye and go back in our real worlds I cried. My soul knew, this was the break I was allowed and what was going to follow in my life, was going to be nothing from easy. I needed the nourishment of my soul, to learn that all is relative, to appreciate the small things in life and nature, which no matter how sick or poor we become, we all still could enjoy. A Full Moon brushing behind the clouds and reappearing again, is the same to the rich and the poor, the well and the sick.

Back in Philadelphia I threw myself in our new life, me as a single mother of two teenagers, holding on to the memories of positiveness, friendship and hope I had learned in the Living Yoga program.

I was hopeful, I was determined, I believed in my own capacity to fight and defeat adversity. After all, don’t they say there are peaks and valleys? I was in a valley but I was sure going to climb out of it!

Then one day, I noticed my right hand started to tremor. A little at the beginning, worse and worse. I couldn’t use it to eat any more. I trained my left hand, who was not shaking.

I was scared and my doctor didn’t seem to know what was my problem. It was not Parkinson, she assured me, which was good news, but it wasn’t Parkinson, what was it? I could not use my right hand to eat.

“I will order an MRI. You have arthritis in your spine, let’s see if something is not pressing on a nerve…”

I stepped into the MRI room at the University of Pennsylvania and listened to the technician’s instructions. The MRI tube always reminded me of a coffin, not my favorite test, but as they say you do what you have to do. I had no choice.

A few days later my doctor called me personally. Not a good sign when the doctor calls, usually an assistant calls and tells you cheerfully  they found nothing wrong with you! Why was the doctor calling and not a nurse?

“How are you? How are you feeling?”

Oh, I thought, she was now making small talk. It must be really bad…

“Fine, fine, but my right hand is still shaking… do you have the MRI results?”

“Yes, that’s why I was calling… well, the MRI doesn’t show why your right hand shakes, we still don’t know, but the MRI went a little out of the spine area and the radiologist discovered you have a tumor under your left scapula. Does it hurt you, your left shoulder?”

My left shoulder didn’t hurt. The doctor could not feel and tumor as it was under my shoulder-blade…

“I suggest you have this tumor checked out as soon as possible.” She advised me, and the worry in her eyes made me believe I really had to take it seriously.

I am still thankful to the radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the technician who went beyond the strict call of their duty and discovered and took the time to report an incidental finding on an MRI.

The incidental finding which changed my life!

2004, The Beginning of the End

That spring of 2004 was maddening by all standards of even moderate sanity.

Between discovering my husband’s financial deceit, which did not resume to taxes, unsuccessfully trying to convince my daughters that everything was going to be okay, my work, cleaning and putting the house on the market,  and trying to still fake normality, my life was rushing ahead of me. 

In spite of my friends’ considerable financial help, the market was so high, there was not much available that we could afford, if Eva was to finish at Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy and Natalie to move to the Springfield Township High School in her sophomore year. 

The hunt for a new house started, and I was driving the streets of our neighborhoods, calling realtors, calling owners who sold their own homes, but nothing seemed to work in our favor. The settlement date for our house was approaching fast.  Kevin had bought a small house in Ambler and I was now also considering the proximity to his new house, for the kids’ sake, assuming they would spend time with their father. As I was driving around one morning, on a side street I noticed a shabby ranch, weeds grown everywhere, covering a “For Sale” sign.  I parted the weeds and wrote down the number. I called the realtor and she told me it was an estate sale. The house was in very bad shape, but that’s why the owners were willing to sell at a lower price. 

The realator met me at the house.  She was a petite, pretty woman whom I liked instantly. We went in, and a smell of rancid carpets hit us in the face. The windows’ frames were rotted, the bathroom and toilet black with dirt. The plumbing was bad, and later was fixed thanks to the generosity of our friends April and Chuck.

“I have never seen such a dirty bathroom,” I commented.

“The man who lived here for 40 years was alone and blind. He wasn’t speaking with his children and had no friends. beside, he was blind, he didn’t see the bathrooms.”

“How sad, how did he die?”

“He died alone, we don’t know when exactly because the postman noticed he wasn’t picking up the mail and informed the Police…”

I really didn’t want to know any more details. Under any other circumstances I’d have walked away but this time I was grateful. The roof had no holes!

The sale was “as is,” meaning I could not bargain, no matter what an inspection found wrong with the house.  It was a take it or leave it deal, and I took it because it had a roof. Oh yes, and it had no holes in it!

When I tried to purchase the mandatory homeowners policy I could not find any company to offer me insurance because the wood was so rotted, the appliances so old…

We had to scrub and repaint and repair the woodwork and at last a company took the risk and offered us the homeowners insurance necessary to get the house settled.

It was a big change from our three-story Victorian home with beautiful wood work, crystal chandeliers and French door, in addition to the huge sunk in year and the four-car, two-story barn. But we needed a roof…and it had no holes!

We moved  in mid-June, as Kevin was moving in Ambler, about five miles away.  Eva’s school was close and  Natalie’s new high school was almost across the street.  The girls put on a facade of acceptance, even relief. Kevin was visiting every ten days or so at the beginning. When August arrived, we all, for the first time went to his new home. I baked his favorite, a peach pie, and took it over. He invited us in and asked my opinion on how to decorate. I was flattered and hopeful we were one of those few couples who could maintain a good relationship and not put the children in the middle. Yes, we read those books, at least I did, and shared with him, that no matter our feelings, we were not to bad-mouth one another in front of the girls. According to experts, that would have been a very bad idea with long term consequences. Also, because they were teenagers, they would  have played one against the other and do what they wanted to do… whatever that was when one was a teenager with freshly divorced parents and a need for independence.

It was his birthday, August 8th when we visited, and we sat outside first, in his back yard. When we separated I gave him two weeks to get whatever he wanted from  our house. To me, they were objects with little value. After the earthquake in Romania I had learned objects were just that: Objects, dispensable goods!  I took to our new rotted house the left-overs, what he didn’t want.  Partition was easy and uneventful.

After we ate the pie, he invited us inside. A small but delightful house, which even had a guest-room.  When we entered the guest-room, the girls’ eyes sparkled. They sat on the bed and Eva said:

“This is our bedroom, right?” She was smiling. Her younger sister was silent. I was expectant.

Kevin’s answer came quicker than I thought:

“No,” He said, “This is my guest room!”

Eva’s smile disappeared. Natalie left the room without further comments and we followed her.

On the way back to our new home they told me what they expected when we divorced. They wanted what their friends with divorced parents experienced.  They had a schedule, they spend time with both parents… Suddenly, the reality of our uniqueness struck all of us, but there was nothing we could have done and I let it slide:

“Did you like the peach pie?” I asked, and sugary stuff  cheered any teen, and it did my daughters, at least at the surface. What was deep in their hearts… only they knew, I could only guess, but I really didn’t want to because it was too painful, it made me feel guilty and helpless… again!

That summer, in 2004, I started working two jobs. One 9 AM-5 PM for an insurance company, and another 6 PM to 10 PM in my own practice, doing massages and facials.  My doctor warned me it was too much, but I had no choice, Kevin was paying no child support.

In October I flew to Austin, to complete a certification to become a yoga instructor and bring in more money. While I was in training, one evening, when I called home, Natalie said:

“We have floods here. Dad’s car was taken down the stream and is completely destroyed!”

I was stunned. How did that happened? Was he okay? Yes, he was fine, he ignored the barricades indicating floods and thought he could drive through the water… but he miscalculated and ended up losing his car, but thank God not his life.

I called him directly, and offered the car that the girls were driving. It wasn’t a fancy car, but it worked. He seemed surprised, than hurt and finally said:

“No! Thank you.” And hung up on me.

Upon my return home we rarely saw one another. I was exhausted but that Saturday morning, in October, we had to get together to close our joint accounts.

We met in front of the bank and went inside together. There were a few dollars left in the accounts so, again, not much to divide.  

Outside the bank, we looked at each other and he said he’d try to take the girls out to dinner once a month. I told him that was nice, but he still needed to give me money for their daily expenses. I told him I worked two jobs and I was exhausted.

“How much money do you want!”

“It’s not for me,” I became defensive. “I calculated to cover everything for one girl I came up with $836 a month. I thought we’d split. I’d pay $836 and you $836. Fair enough?”

He looked stunned.

“$836? I don’t have that type of money!”

We parted on an angry note. When I got home, Natalie looked excited.

“Mom, mom, ” She said. “Dad just called, he is buying a new convertible car and wants us to test-drive with him next week!”

I went streight to the phone and called my lawyer:

“Do you remember, months ago, when you advised me to file for child-support with the Courts because if it’s not filed I get nothing? It only counts if it’s  filed on the books? And then I said no, Kevin would pay, I was sure it wasn’t necessary? Well… you were right, we have to file!”

Underneath the Quiet Waters

Our household had become strangely silent after the decision that the only solution was to sell our home and divorce. I finally did what I should have done a long time before and one day, when Kevin was not home, I looked in the drawers which held our finances. My head was spinning and when I saw several checks written to “cash: which could not be justified and I didn’t know they existed, why they existed, who gave them to him and why did he deposit them to immediately cash them back… It made no sense. Nothing made sense anymore and again, that same little girl who ran away from home at the age of five, the one who had the guts to leave communism, took over the suburban comfortable mother and wife I had become in recent years. Even more, now I didn’t have only the responsibility of my own person, but that of my teen daughters and oh… how many helpless pets?

I spoke with my friends, Cass and Nick and as how many times in my life, they were the only ones who truly helped me through this nightmare. I filed for divorce and contacted a real estate agent. She assessed the house and decided she could get us a price good enough to pay all our debts and left some over. Of course, there was one condition, we had to declutter the house in which we lived and raised our children for almost 19 years. No problem, I thought, until I started doing the actual job.

Kevin was stunned at the price the realtor thought she’d get for our home, and declared we were both crazy. He completely withdrew himself from the operation clean.

Several of my friends came to help, but the more we cleaned, the more appeared out of nowhere, from all the closets, corners and basement of the house.

The girls were still in shock. They had known for a long time a storm was pending, but none of us expected it to come out of the blue. Eva, almost 17, was in her entering her last senior year of high school. Natalie, was not 16 years-old yet, and for her, the move was going to be even more significant. We felt like people when they expect the death of a sick 100-year old grandfather who suffers, but when the death comes, we still acted shocked, surprised, as if what was wrong with what was happening? Once one gets in the custom of “pretend,” pretend takes over and it  becomes one’s reality.

Statistics showed that moving was one of the most stressful experiences, but when to that divorce, the turmoil of teenage years, and the responsibility of paying the IRS are added…  that makes for feelings which could not be described. 

I took the girls to a psychiatrist, not a therapist, to help and assess our situation. She spoke with each girl for a long time, in private, and at the end she had a joint meeting with all of us. What she told us, was one of the simplest explanations as to why we may not compare people’s emotional resources to one another. She told us, at birth we are given a bucket and in the bucket there is a certain quantity of resilience, but the quantity is not the same in all of us.  In other words, the same event which I, who have been blessed with a lot of resilience in my bucket, could endure and learn from it and come out stronger,  someone else, who was not as lucky, and started out with little resilience in their God-given bucket, might be devastated by the same event which made me stronger.  She also said that every time a traumatic event occurred in one’s life, some of the resilience was consumed.

That’s where medications came in place, to help people when they ran out of their natural “resilience, and no one could have general rules for when that was going to happen, because we were so different from one another.

How full of resilience were my daughters’ buckets? They smiled… it meant nothing, they went to school, had good grades… the surface of the life of perfection was maintained, but I knew, I knew, the storms underneath the calm waters!

Cleaning the house in which we lived in Heavenly lies for  so long was a nightmarish task…

Those big, black plastic bags and throwing away toys and things which at the time we either bought them, or the kids received them as, seemed so important, so essential to the wellbeing of our lives. Now, they were a pile of rusted toys, dirty, broken plastic, which I imagined thrown somewhere, on top of other mountains of plastic appliances to suffocate our Earth forever!

The township had to make several special trips, and the night before the trash pick up, I looked one more time at the sea of  plastic black bags filled with the broken memories of our lives, our dreams, our hopes.

I didn’t need to take a picture of that horrid image,  and to this day, when I am tempted to buy something which is not really, really essential, all I have to do, is close my eyes and the sea of black trash bags filled with illusions of happiness suddenly appears in my mind. It is an instant recall, which at the beginning made me vomit, but as time went on, it left me with a feeling of sadness and guilt that for som many years I accumulated all those things in an attempt to buy my children’s happiness with things!

To Kevin’s surprise, the house sold in one day. When we told him, he said we probably didn’t ask enough, although initially, when we all discussed the price he said we were asking too much, it would never sell.  Too late, the amount was going to pay the IRS some other debts and the rest we were to split to help us get two smaller separate places, although the amount left wasn’t enough.  The girls wanted to live with me, and their father was going to visit. With 60% of marriages ending in divorce and many of their friends coming from divorced families, they didn’t seem as affected by the divorce, as they were by the fear of homelessness.

“Where are we going to move, Mom?”

A  couple from the Main Line, offered to let us stay in a part of their mansion. We visited the idyllic place on top of a hill. I even gave the couple massages and facials, oh yes, and I was a good cook too!

I was eager to show them that I’d be  useful  and left my 

massage  equipment there, that’s how sure we were we would move in.

 Of all our pets, we were in the process of finding homes for all of them, except a small 8 pound dog whom my daughters adored. He was a shitzu, a non-alergenic dog. At the beginning, the lady of the house where we were about to move was okay with the dog, but suddenly she changed her mind.  Not directly, but through a mutual friend she informed me it was not okay to bring the dog, so we couldn’t move in any longer.

Just like the image of the tens of plastic black bags filled with our life-long  broken illusions would always follow me, this second image, of me, in my bedroom,

surrounded by boxes of books and clothing, after finding out we had just lost our place, and my children, coming from school, smiling, and I, unable to pretend everything was alright.

 I should have compose myself, tell them the truth slowly, have tact… but my resilience was wearing off and when they asked: “What’s wrong, Mom,?”

I blurted out:”We can’t move there, she doesn’t want the dog!.”

Tears, tears and more tears. Desperation and fear because it was the first time when Mom was not coming up with plan B at the snap of the fingers…

I knew it in my gut,  in that moment of confusion over our future, something broke in my daughters’ hearts. That something was the trust that they will never be homeless. The same fear I had at 16, when my father chased us out of our apartment on New Eear’s Eve, enveloped my children’s lives. That which I tried so much to protect them from, was happening, and I was powerless! The fear of homelessness seeped into our already scared souls.

The shock didn’t last long in chronological time, the time, we humans assigned to our lives to keep track of our doings. In my children’s time, I believe it was an eternity.  When my friends, Cass and Nick called and assured us they will help us get a house, that we would not be homeless, their generosity and love overwhelmed us and we would forever remain grateful for all they did and continue to do for us.

Unfortunately,  the girls’ fear and shock that in a second one could lose it all, is still in them, distorted, eating at their self-confidence together with the fear of being ignored by men, as their father ignored them, or that they are not worthy enough, when the truth is they are beautiful, smart, extraorddinary! There is not a day that goes by without me thinking: Could I have offered my children something else, to make them see just how amazing they are! Perhaps, but at the time I did the best I could with what I knew and had available as a resource. Probably years of therapy to understand their own worthiness  would take away the hurts from a childhood which was far from perfect and an ending which was  so shocking because it was the first time they realized Mom didn’t have a Plan B!

In that moment of the greatest need and despair, there were my friends, Cass and Nick again, who picked me off the floor, just like I did with the convict fish so many times, and put us back into the water, so that we may live!

The waters became calm and hopeful again!

A Letter from IRS!

It was a cold spring day, it felt like winter. Somehow it turned out it was going to be winter in our household in spite of the hope for renewal spring most time brought to the outside, the normal world… the world which was not ours!

The letter was addressed to both of us and since I understood the role of Uncle Sam in everybody’s life, I immediately opened it.

My heart was racing, the letters were dancing, my sight was blurred by the stream of tears springing from my eyes, and I had no control over them!

Briefly, the letter stated that since we didn’t pay our taxes nor did we contact the IRS to enter into a payment contract with them, as suggested before, they will freeze all our assets. What did this mean exactly? My business which was not incorporated, the bank accounts… our home… what was going to happen to our home? My job as a mother and wife had been to make a home, but to make a home one needs a house. What was going to happen to the house which we acquired in 1986 using my bonus from the financial company, this beautiful house in which our daughters were born, in which we laughed and cried and fought and made up? This house in which we lived as a family, for better and for worse, just as we promised when Randy married us!

I flew upstairs, on the third floor, in his zone, and  opened the office’s door. I stared at Kevin’s back.  I saw him seated at the computer, playing Solitaire, just like I saw his father play when I first met him, years before. The only difference was that now Kevin was high-tech and the cards were flipped on a screen, not a desk…

He stared at me startled and silently I handed him the letter from the IRS. He read it slowly, perhaps twice, or was he buying time?

Finances were his part of the “job” in our household. He, from the beginning made it clear that if I took care of the overall finances, is manhood would be hurt. Of course my sizable contributions to the household were expected, but not my overseeing the whole operation!  He had an MBA in finances, he was a real American, not like me, fresh off the boat. I  was giving my share and in addition paid for all food, on going expenses and the kids’ needs. I never checked to see that taxes were paid or the mortgage. When tax time came, I signed forms he handed me, never thinking we were not paying  the taxes due.  It felt good to have a husband with an MBA in finances!

“What does this mean? They will freeze our assets? What do we have to do?”

“Talk to them I guess… ” He said. He was calm… so calm, I wondered if he understood what was happening, or if he cared…

I grabbed the letter and  written in bold letters, I found a phone number where those like us had to call and make arrangements. I called and we had one more day to avoid the disaster of frozen assets.  I ran to the local IRS office in Jenkintown and paid a monthly installment…It had became clear we wouldn’t be able to keep up with the payments for long. I ran back home:

“How are we going to pay all the debt?  Can they take the house? My business? Say something!”

He looked at me surprised and shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know, do whatever you want!”

He turned around and started walking upstairs, disappeared around the corner and I was left to figure out what to do.

As I sat awake in the middle of the night, all sort of images danced in my head. The times when I didn’t understand why all our friends could re- mortgage at lower rates, but somehow Kevin told me he tried and “they” offered him a rate higher than what we already had, popped in  my mind.  Real estate was his business, I didn’t know why we wouldn’t qualify for lower rates, but I trusted him. Perhaps because we both worked for ourselves we were not trustworthy, we were a high risk!  I didn’t know then that if a person is late on paying their credit cards, or any bills everything is reported to the three credit agencies and a credit score is assigned to each person and when you marry someone you also marry their debt and their score!  This writing is not meant to turn into financial advise for women going through hard times and deceit, but I could, unfortunately write a book just on that alone.

Later in life, many well-meaning  people, I cannot call friends, in an effort to make me feel even worse asked: ” “How could a well-educated woman like you, let this happen? Why didn’t you check on him every month, make sure he was paying all bills and taxes!”

Yeah… why didn’t I? And for a while I felt I had to explain we were a team this was his part of the ‘job” and I had other responsibilities, and I’d name all of them diligently. Beside, I was an immigrant, just learned about Uncle Sam, while his family came on the Mayflower and he had an MBA.

People, not all, but the ones who really, really needed to make me feel like disappearing off the face of the Earth would be best, would just shake their heads in disbelieve.

After a while, that little girl  in me, the one who ran away at the age of five said to herself: “F— you all!” and I stopped justifying.

No one was giving me a solution, only questions and more questions, more guilt piled on my soul!  Yes, I was the convict fish and gasping for air and I had to save myself because no one  was going to pick me up and put me back in water!

As I was thinking and praying and thinking and praying and then mostly thinking, I realized that  the good part of being unable to refinance for almost 19-years, was that we accumulated equity and in 2004 the real market was booming.

“We must sell the house and split the money after all debts are paid.” I announced  the following day.

“House is a mess, we can’t sell it, no one will buy.” He said.

“I will take care of it, and we will also get a divorce, I am tired of lies!”

It was my turn to walk upstairs and disappear behind my bedroom’s door, in my comfort zone. I took a cold shower in hopes it will awaken my brain and a power from above will teach me how to tell our daughters that we couldn’t wait three more years, or a year, or even a month.  To tell them the only home they ever knew needed to be sold.

The future was NOW!

The Convict Fish

By all standards of normality I could have been considered an animal hoarders.  Of course, as all insane people, I thought it was perfectly normal to have five dogs, six cats, four small birds, a parrot, a turtle, a frog and two iguanas who grew so big and strong they pushed the lid of the tank and lived in our pipes for six months! After all, the kids loved it, and that’s all I cared. one I even allowed our cat, Olga, to have the experience of motherhood and she had a litter in the mist of a thunder storm, in my bed. Her howl made an impression on the kids, and after all this was the purpose, my children will have all that I desired as i child and was not allowed to have.  The effect of the Olga’s howl on Natalie was so great, that the following day, when the teacher, as part of a routine lesson asked her: “What sound do cats make,? expecting the standard meow, Natalie answered: “Cats haul.” Her answer triggered a special meeting between me and the teacher who was concerned about my child’s distorted sounds perception. At that age, the teacher told me, Natalie should have known the basic sounds common pets make. I tried to explain my strategy of exposing the kids to “real life situations,” and how she the birth of the kittens, but I am not sure the teacher thought my method was ideal. Oh… well!

So, if we already had so many pets why did Natalie get a Convict Fish of her own on top of everything else?

The truth was, one day we met a wise man

 from Burma.  As we lunched together, we asked him why he wasn’t married. He answered wisely (I guess all people from that part of the world seem wiser than most of the people I know who were born in other parts of the world),:

“First I have to prove I can keep a plant alive. So far, I killed all plants! Once I keep the plant alive I have to keep a pet alive for at least a year, and only then I could think of marriage!”

So, Natalie, a pre-teen at the time, was so impressed by the words of the wise man from Burma, that asked for a pet just of her own, not like the other twenty pets who were everyone’s responsibility, but somehow I was ending up keeping them alive. So, how could a responsible parent refuse her daughter her desire for growth and responsibility?

We bought a Convict Fish and placed it in a large, round glass bowl in her room. She loved this fish. He even got a name which I could make up but frankly I don’t remember.

Two weeks went by and she stopped changing the water every other day. Then, she changed it every other week, and after about a month the fish was lucky if the water was cleaned once in a while. He was being fed however, we were not starving the fish!

When the bowl started to smell, one day, when the girls were at school, I took the bowl to the kitchen  and placed the fish in a different bowl, with a little water of the same temperature. I cleaned the big bowl and was trying to get it to the right temperature, when the fish jumped so high, it ended on the floor. Oh, thank God I was there and rescued him, and put him back in the cleaned environment. Natalie thanked me and another month went by, and now the Convict fish looked dead…

So, I took the bowl with the fish in it in the kitchen and as I poured the water in the sink’s drain, the dead fish suddenly jumped all the way to the ceiling and ended on the floor. He was alive! Quickly I put him in water and repeated the routine of cleaning the big bowl, getting the right temperature and placing everything in Natalie’s room. 

I asked Natalie if she still felt she could care for the Convict fish and she wasn’t that sure anymore, it was hard, harder than it seemed at the beginning. Saying and doing were definitely two different things. We decided to care for him jointly and I saved the Convict Fish off of the kitchen floors many times.  He always jumped out of the bowl, out of his familiar environment and somehow I was always there to save him, to see him the moment he  and be quick enough to save him over and over again, until one day, he jump and I wasn’t there, I wasn’t fast enough and he died…I cried, but to be honest, it wasn’t just his death a mourned but a whole metaphor which had seeds in my mind. I had come to believe I, like the Convict Fish, was saved so many times, out of so many situations, but I feared, some day, when I’d need help the most, the savior would look elsewhere just when I needed help most, and I’d die…

Yes, I was crying the death of hope that one could be saved forever… unless I learned how to save myself and not rely on others!

I Stay in This Marriage for My Kids’ Sake!

By early 2000, therapy or not, my husband and I lived on different floors.

 We were perfect housemates. The distancing resulted in less violent arguments, which was good for everyone, or so I thought. I didn’t want to disturb my daughters’ school routine, uproot them from their neighborhood, friends, activities. I had a very clear purpose in my mind and I was doing it all for my kids.

We were visiting a new therapist who was also a naturopath who advised me the worst time to divorce was when  the children were teenagers, a time when they are fragile anyway. He also said I should have walked away years ago, the first time the hot cup of coffee directed at us hit the French doors, but the problem was I could not turn back the clock and now my girls were almost teenagers…

Fear enveloped me like a tornado but I had no basement to run to and I decided the best was to stick it out for a few more years, as if there were a few more days, for the girls’ sake, in their teen years they would need a father figure more than ever!

The reality was that my children were asking me to divorce him, especially after the long nights when I worked and they were alone with him. There was never an explanation as to why, and just as the therapist said, pre-teens and teens are fragile, their hormones are all over the place, what did they know! I was an adult, their mother who loved them and I knew better!

How or why I forgot my own pain when I was chased half-naked out of my bed on a New Year’s Eve  by my father. I was fifteen then, but the memories were as fresh as yesterday.  How didn’t I think how I wished my mom would make up her mind and not come back? I didn’t even think, never mind try to put myself in my girls shoes, although I had been in their situation and chose to forget. Today I know what I didn’t then, I was subconsciously determined to repeat the cycle of abuse, physical and emotional, because this was what I knew best. In fact, this was all I knew!

 After all, I thought, they had it so much better than me.  They had their own rooms, lived in a big house, had plenty of pets, good schools, friends, opportunities. Yeah, by my standards the best plan was to wait, after all what’s a few years?

One day, my husband left for work at his regular time to only come back after two hours.

“Why are you home early?” I asked.

“I quit, I will work for myself.” He answered shortly and walked on the third floor, his floor where it was understood I had no business to be. That was his safe space and I was not to invade it with hopes of closeness or questions about what was really going on… yes he had his comfort zone as I had mine, on the second floor. I did have one, for sure… the work I loved, the girls activities and involvement in their school work, my friends, the volunteer work. After all, I argued with the other voice in me it wasn’t that bad, he gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted. Oh, never did I think “after all, he couldn’t careless what I was doing!” Never thought about what kind of example we were giving our daughters, living on separate floors, fighting, pretending in public that all was just perfect. The perfect family! What were we teaching them about how real loving relationships look like? I still believe there are some, although I personally haven’t experienced any…so how was I going to teach my daughters? Don’t they say children learn what they see? It wasn’t about having their own rooms and pets, it was about love, tenderness and how to express one’s feelings, but at that time I did my best with what I knew and what I thought it was the most vital for their happiness..

As I continued with my plan to protect our children from a divorce, because it wasn’t that bad, one night, I came home from work later than usual. The house was so quiet. Everyone seemed asleep. and in the kitchen I found a broken chair. It was a solid, oak kitchen chair and wondered how it broke…

The following day, over breakfast, I asked the girls:

“What happened to the chair?”

They looked at each other and Eva, the spokeswoman of the group said:

“Dad sat on it and it broke!”

The explanation seemed odd, but he was really getting heavy, I thought, to break the chair. My mind quickly moved to a scheme to convince him to lose weight, to go for blood work to… change!

Making doctors’ appointments, watching over the health of everyone in the family was one of my presumed responsibilities. At least I wasn’t questioning it, I felt a moral obligation to force everyone into a healthful mode.  After I became a certified massage therapist my determination to relax everyone in my household became obsessive. I even tried to give Kevin a massage, until one day, when he looked me streight into the eyes and said:

“Touch does nothing for me… it reminds me of when I was a boy and my father was always asking me to give him massages…”

How could I argue with such a confession. Did I want my massages to bring bad memories to his mind? His father was definitely not on Kevin’s list of favorites, but the house of his childhood was another household, I thought, disconnected to ours, just like my family and what happened to me as a child and teen had no bearing on the reality of our life at the present time. Kevin was also allergic to aromatherapy and that didn’t work either and finally I realized that nothing would work because he didn’t want it to work. He was very happy working on the third floor and as our bills started to pile up, we were all waiting for the “big deal” to close. He was always working on that one huge real estate transaction which would pay all our debts and something would always happen and the darn people would back off, the building would burn, the partners would quit… and the deal would never close.

Even the children became involved in the waiting game of the deal which was going to close soon. When the girls became nervous, when I couldn’t calm them down with my massages, positive thinking tapes and aromatherapy, I’d caress their foreheads and smile, but they weren’t fooled anymore, and continued the undesirable questioning:

“Mom, are we going to be able to pay our bills, we heard you and Dad talk…” 

“Don’t you worry, I always managed to say, Daddy will close the deal and we will be alright!”

That was usually the extent of our conversation until after about one year of no deal closing and me working weekends too, when I told the girls to not worry, Daddy will close a deal, Eva, looked at me and said:

“Mom, sometimes I don’t know who is more dillusional, you or him?  This deal will never close!”

Just like that… a thirteen-year old had the guts to tell it to my face she knew, they, my children knew we were in trouble and I was afraid to face it.

I  chose to joined the club  of delusionists rather than facing the truth and walking away! Oh, I thought, what the girls didn’t know was that I was sacrificing myself in a miserable situation for their sake, so that they had a father who would drive them to activities when I worked, who would tell them how beautiful they were before their first dance, who would lay the foundation for them to become confident young women.

But this was my plan, my fantasy about what was supposed to happen, the ideal role of the father I never had and I was going to offer this ideal father I missed to my daughters at any cost, as if I had the powers!  Now, that’s what I know now is a form of distorted thinking, and yes, as Eva said, I was delusional in more ways than she knew.

I came across a letter I wrote Kevin during that period, and reading it now, with a new understanding and perspective on our lives, I could clearly see how unrealistic my plans for his perfect fatherhood were. The only problem was, these were my plans!

Here is a fragment of my letter to him:

” Please try to help me keep our children in a safe, normal environment. I work on weekends and nights and therefore I am unable to drive them where they need to go.  You are their father and I feel you are responsible for sharing in their needs. Please understand that it affects them when you complain about everything you have to do for them.  If you feel that what you have to do for your children is a burden, then what isn’t? ”

Looking back, what echoes in my mind are conversations when Eva was coming home from school telling us she was a streight A student and her father would say, but I was the first! As if they were competing, not a word of congratulations to his child, but the need to be above her… and when Natalie would get awards in gymnastics or diving, he’d say “I was the best at football in high school.” 

Then came the dances, and they needed to hear how beautiful they were, and I kept telling them enthusiastically they were stunning, the best… but they were turning to their father and sought approval, a sign of admiration:

“Hmm… yeah, very nice.” He’d say and eventually smiled. “Very nice” was not what they needed and I knew it and I continued showering them with compliments… but the only problem was that I was a woman and they needed reassurance from their father, from the first man any female loves even when she thinks she hated him. Or perhaps, after many disappointments love does turn into hate, after all they are sides of the same coin!

Yes, I was determined to hang in the Hell of a pretense marriage for my children’s sake… only that I was the only one convinced that was the best for them.

My daughter was right, delusional was the right word. She was always good with expressing the right feelings but I chose to remain blind until I was forced to open my eyes and look the disaster in the face and there were no choices any more. I ran out of the options to lie to myself and the world!