Today, I feel awake to life, aware of the possibilities, awed in gratitude for everything showing up for me. I did not get here easily. I took the long way home, fueled by fatalistic thoughts and choices. I wrote the below essay 9 years ago and I want to share it with you as a peek into part of the story of my life. At the time, I thought I would die of fear, desperation, poverty and a broken heart, but here I am. I sit at my kitchen table with a beautiful candle lit, a copy of my mock book cover in view, singing to the top of my voice……I’ve come a long way baby.
The day dawned gentle. I secured a cork on the hook of my four-year old son’s red fishing pole. Caleb and I stood on a wooden bridge that overlooked a beautiful lagoon on South Carolina’s Daufuskie Island. Caleb smoothly cast his cork-baited line into the water. My nose twitched as the scent from the freshly cut grass wafted in the air. Sweat gathered on my forehead and upper lip. The lagoon permeated with warm serenity. Massive oak trees draped in Spanish moss swayed gently. Egrets, eagles and red tail hawks soared above us.
Nine curious turtles swam towards Caleb’s line.
“Look mom, there’s Toady and Little Toady.” Caleb found delight in assigning names to everything he encountered, including our chariot, a green golf cart named “Hunter,” which sat just a few feet away. We cast a few times and then had to go. My then-husband, had volunteered to deliver Meals on Wheels to four original Daufuskie residents twice a week but he was buried under work. Once again, I would step in on his behalf.
Caleb and I loaded up the fishing gear, jumped in Hunter and took off toward the docks to pick up the meals. Once the food was carefully placed between us, we drove towards Janie’s place. Janie, well into her nineties, lived in a creaky hand built wooden house about 100 years old. Chickens clucked and pecked in the front yard. Clothes gently blew on the line and sheets dangled in front of windows for privacy. The pungent smell of cow manure stung my nose on arrival.
Janie greeted us at the door and asked the same thing each time I came.
“How you folks like livin on `Fauskie?” she asked through a toothless smile.
Each time I hesitated in my response…
What could I say? Well, Janie, I moved from Washington, D.C. against my wishes to an island with a population of 200 and no bridge connecting it to the main land. And no car. I live with some of the wealthiest and some of the most impoverished people in America. My children attend the new one room school house built near the “old school house” written about by Pat Conroy in ‘The Water Is Wide.’ PTA meetings deteriorate into strained discussions over the right to pack heat on the annual field trip to Sea World or are interrupted when a child discovers two giant poisonous snakes on the playground and the parents run out to kill them. Gee Janie, what could I say about living on Daufuskie Island?
I hated living there.
And I loved living there. Who wouldn’t love living with daily views of breathtaking sunrises on one side and awe-inspiring sunsets over the marsh on the other? And I’d grown to love Janie and the other islanders. Sweet friendships had been forged.
“I like it just fine,” I told Janie non-committally as I set her meal on the rickety kitchen table.
No, my problem was not engaging in life on Daufuskie, my problem was my husband! He’d moved our family to Daufuskie Island and started a building and development business that was currently in a downward trajectory due to the economy and unscrupulous business partners. We’d sold our home in beautiful Alexandria, Virginia, and poured all of our money into the business. I’d begged him not to try such a risky business but he’d turned a deaf ear. Days turned into months and then a year, and as our savings dwindled, I became increasingly scared and angry with him.
We’d fought the night before. Trying to protect the children from our argument, we went into the bedroom.
“Give it up, John. We need to throw in the towel and do something else,” I’d cried. My chest and neck muscles tightened as I fought back the tears. “John, please. This isn’t working. Why are you doing this to me and the children? I can’t take this instability anymore.”
He replied calmly, almost condescendingly, “You’ve never trusted me, you don’t support me. Just trust me, everything will be okay, I know what I am doing, this is going to work.”
I’d felt unheard and worse, unloved. Truthfully, my marriage felt in the same downward trajectory as my husband’s business.
After delivering all the meals, Caleb and I drove home for nap and reading time. We snuggled on the couch as I read Shell Silverstien’s, The Giving Tree.
“I have nothing left, I’m just an old stump,” said the tree” I read the words but my mind churned.
That’s me, always giving and always losing. Yes, I can relate to that tree. Why do I always have to give? If I keep going like this, there will be nothing left of me!
Clunk, clunk, clunk. The sound of footsteps on our covered front porch drew me out of my morose daydream.
Who in the world could that be? I wasn’t expecting anyone!
I got up from our reading time to answer the knock at the door. Two women, dressed in navy blue business suits, stood, erect, unsmiling, at the door. Something about their manner put me on guard. When I opened the door, a wall of heat and humidity forced its way into my cool, air conditioned home.
“May I help you?” I asked.
The taller of the two, a trim brunette said coolly, “We are here to see your husband.” The woman next to her held papers in her hand.
“Just a minute, I’ll get him.” I left them standing on the porch and went to get my husband who was in his office.
My husband greeted his guests placidly and motioned for them to sit at a round table on the front porch. I stood in the hallway inside the house and watched them through the front window. My husband put his head in his hands. He looked visibly shaken as he listened to whatever the visitors had to say. The woman holding the papers pushed them at him and he took them. I rushed Caleb to bed and awaited my husband’s return.
What could they be talking about? He was obviously upset. Why is he shaking his head in disbelief? Something is terribly wrong!
The visitors left. My husband entered the house with the papers in hand.
“What did those women want?” I demanded. He ignored me and went straight to his office. I followed close behind. He slumped into his chair, and put his head in his hands. After a few moments he looked up and shoved the papers at me. The words leapt off the page.
“The United States Government vs. Your Husband (name omitted for privacy)”
The papers in my hand made it clear that the U.S. Government had filed criminal charges against my husband for accepting football tickets from a lobbyist who had worked for the infamous Jack Abramoff, a man convicted of buying favors from Congressional staff members. Evidently, the government was suing my husband because he had not disclosed the tickets as income on our financial forms. John faced criminal charges. He could even go to federal prison.
A train of thoughts raced through my mind. Why hadn’t he declared those tickets? Why hadn’t I known about this? Were there other things he’d done, illegal, things that I didn’t know about? In his own state of shock, my husband couldn’t answer my numerous questions and accusations. I floundered alone in a state of panic and unknowing. I muddled through the rest of the day trying to hold back tears in front of my three children.
Night time settled in. He attempted to explain what had happened. My husband told me not to talk to anyone about this—that he was going to have to hire an attorney. Tears flowed. I couldn’t control myself. All that first night, I cried out to God for help. No answer came. There was no communication, no comfort between me and my husband. I felt betrayed, buried under the pressure of a business failure and a husband who wouldn’t hear or talk to me.
The burden of the U.S. Government was swift and sardonic. Secrets, shame, hiding, fear engulfed my life and my marriage.
Were our phones being tapped?
Would my husband go to jail?
How would we take care of our children?
How would our family and friends react to the news of these criminal charges?
Lawyers, trips to Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and credit card debt piled up. My marriage felt like it was dying. Then, before I had a chance to talk to anyone about what I was going through, USA Today and The New York Times did it for me. They proclaimed to the entire world that my husband was guilty.
He turned inward and I became a low functioning emotional wreck. I thought to myself, this could not be happening to us—I must be living in a nightmare. How can we stand up against the weight of the United States Justice Department?
We moved to a rental on the mainland and looked for work, but no one seemed willing to hire someone under criminal investigation. Anger towards the government and rage towards my husband consumed me. I went to a very dark place. After paying attorneys we had no money for groceries or our household bills. I recall the first of several instances when I’d left the grocery store in tears. Debit or credit card wouldn’t go through. I left, three children in tow, with no food for our family. In my mind, we had become beggars. Several months later we were indeed homeless. Friends graciously offered to take us in.
The one thing I loved and that I could still do was to write. I filled volumes of spiral bound notebooks with daily writings about what had happened—my feelings, prayers and thoughts—and my opinion of the political scandal based on my own work on Capitol Hill and the White House. These journals became a sort of salvation for me. I refused to read all the books people recommended to me on suffering because I did not believe anyone could relate to what I was going through. Through my writing, truth and comfort came to me. There is no clear resolution or magical elucidation to my story. I have not discovered a reason or balance for my suffering. I make a decision daily to not be destroyed by this and my life isn’t over. I will move forward with resolve!
Since this essay was written, life has changed drastically for me. I am no longer married. My four year old Caleb is now 14 and I’m well….I’m getting older and happier.
My journey shows me that in essence the story is not really about what my husband did that hurt me but about my thought choices and actions. I have no regret except the pain my children endured in the ensuing years. My sense of victimization was not helpful and in fact hurt all of us greatly. The good news is that I know now that I was never and will not be a victim. I have choices, starting with thoughts, that lead to proper actions in distressing times. More exciting than that, I have power of thoughts followed by actions that lead me now into much better circumstances.
I used to tell a friend periodically over email, “Still In the Storm”. Those very words, that very thought, prolonged the agony and suffering that no longer needed to exist. So very thankful I’ve learned and grown and I am happy now, no storm, no heartache…only love to carry me forward.