Then They Were Gone
| This is the 566th story of Our Life Logs® |
The first time you fall in love is so sacred. Everything is so fresh, so real, and so untold. It can compel you to do almost anything. To find that in real life—to feel so loved by someone—the bliss is often unmatched. That is how I felt. And, in love, I thought I had all the answers, but life raised harder questions.
I was 17. It was the late 2010s. I met him in third period. We bonded over our mutual failed quiz and I asked if he needed some help with studying. We were inseparable from that moment on. If you saw one of us, that meant the other was close by. We started officially dating when I was 18.
Our families were both Hispanic and got along well, which worked out for us. The culture of our homes needed no explaining. He came from a wealthy family and his arrogance could flare from time to time, but I could handle it. He was so sweet to me but always kind of had a jealous side. Still, we brought out the best in each other for years. We balanced each other out.
After finishing high school, we wanted to start our lives together so badly that we both skipped the college experience, joined the workforce, and started a family. We had a baby girl in 2013, and a baby boy a year and a half later. Our children were our pride and joy, and we loved being parents. At 21 with two kids, we decided to get married.
Our children adored their father and I adored watching them grow to love him. He could buy them anything they wanted because his family was well off, and his parents made sure our children had the best. He was a good father, but not so good of a husband. There was no getting through to him and it was his way or the highway.
The bliss of marriage and parenting didn’t last forever. Real life had hit us like a ton of bricks and real issues began. We had gotten married so young and it turned out that I wasn’t enough for him. Infidelity. That’s the word. Once my trust with him had broken, it was never fully mended, but he expected me to forgive him and forget it. He expected to be this loyal wife and doting mother who would let him slip up from time to time and excuse it because we were young. Even his mother told me to keep my mouth shut about the things I knew, just to keep the peace.
Then, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, shit hit the fan. Suddenly, my husband decided that he could just do whatever he wanted. His family always made excuses for his behavior and even enabled it. I caught him lying about money, women—you name it—and we argued about almost everything. One day, I asked him a simple question only to be yelled at like he was some drill sergeant at boot camp. When I got loud back, he got in my face so fast that I barely had time to take a breath. Then he screamed at me, spewing hurtful things. The intimidation was through the roof. I didn’t dare challenge him again. I knew he would hit me.
Because of the pandemic, my husband was laid off from work, and he was no longer able to provide the way he used to. So, I got a full-time job at the first place I could: a smoke shop. They hired me on the spot. But this wasn’t good enough for my husband. He wanted me in an office job, not selling smokes. Still, I prayed he would come around once we got caught up on bills.
Me, at work.
With me working, I had less time to clean the house, so my husband began complaining about that. I realized then that nothing was ever going to be enough for him. I had loved this man for years, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t let the emotional abuse paralyze me with fear a second longer. So, I left.
I took our kids and went to stay at my parents’ house. Honestly, I thought us leaving would force him to get his act together and apologize. Maybe things would get better. But I was wrong.
My husband took my initiative as a direct strike against his manhood and a personal attack on his character. It was as if I had declared war and he was up for the battle. He went to family court and made a statement so vicious and so full of lies about me that they told him to report to Child Protective Services instead. He told them I was a drug-addicted alcoholic who left her children at home all day to go to work. After hearing his alarming accusations, CPS opened a case immediately to make sure the kids were not in danger and being neglected.
While I was trying to dispute these claims, I began struggling at work. As a cashier, many of my other coworkers were quitting out of fear of the exposure required to be a cashier in a pandemic. Many of them were high-risk, so we understood, but it put me in a tough spot. I had to work from 10 AM to 8 PM When my mother was able, she watched my children, but sometimes, I would have to take them to their father out of desperation.
I couldn’t quit even if I wanted to. I was now in the biggest custody case of my life. I needed to work on getting a stable home for my kids to satisfy the courts. My parents barely had enough room for me, let alone me and my two kids. With my ex having well-off parents, I was at risk to lose this battle. My ex and his parents took advantage of my struggles too. They used my busy schedule as evidence that I did not want to spend time with my children. They also told my children horrible lies to confuse them as to why I was gone. Even my aggressive saving was used against me. They claimed that meant I wasn’t using my money to give the kids a better life in the present.
My beautiful children.
It was devastating not getting to see my kids except for when they were sleeping, but it was for the greater good. Eventually, we would be able to move out and get a place of our own. Even though it was hard for me to save, I was still able to hire a lawyer. I knew all these accusations would need to be set straight, but I was not prepared for the hard reality I was about to face.
It was April by then. I thought I was doing well, but my busy work schedule had affected my kids. CPS questioned my children, and they were honest. Yes, mommy does work all day, every day. Of course, they’d say so. That’s all they knew. Still, hearing it hurt me, and I asked my boss for some time off to spend with my kids. I knew I needed to be there. It was hard enough for them that their parents were falling apart. They needed me.
My boss agreed to give me some time off, and I was so happy to share the news with my kids. They were equally excited to hear the news. The next day, their father had offered to watch them until I got off work, and since I couldn’t afford a babysitter and my mom was busy, I agreed. The next morning, I told my children to put on the clothes that I laid out for them and to pack some toys for us to play with and that I’d be home by 2 PM. I kissed them goodbye and rushed out the door.
It was such a beautiful, cloudless day. It was going to be perfect for the picnic and park date I had planned for me and the kids. I remember having a smile on my face until I got the call later that morning.
My kids were gone. My ex took them.
My ex had been working to get temporary custody of our kids. This was an easy request for the courts to fulfill when they discovered I was working 70 hours a week. Now I knew why he had agreed to watch them. He had plans to strike. I was served with custody papers while I was at work. I would now have to prove I could provide for my children alone and that they had childcare while I worked besides their father.
To provide I was a fit parent, I had to take a drug screening that cost thousands of dollars. I also needed to provide a plan for my children when I was working that was better than the rock-solid plan his parents paid for. Honestly, I questioned if I should just throw up my hands and give up, but the pain of leaving my kids was almost unbearable. I could never do it. I could not eat, I could not sleep, I could barely talk to other people. All I thought about was how would the kids react when they found out I could not live with them.
The children could now only see me once a week. I was feeling sick over it. I had to lie to the kids and say I needed to work all day and night now because I couldn’t bear to tell them that I did not have custody of them. They would call when they missed me, and it was heartbreaking. My kids were my life. Without them, I had nothing.
For the next six weeks, I jumped through all the court’s hoops and answered all the child protective custody and abuse screening questions. It was degrading, and my kids just wanted to come home and be with me. But I could not take them. Not yet.
When I passed my drug test with flying colors, I was allowed more time with the children. That’s when the tides began to turn in my favor. One by one, I proved the lies that my ex had said about me were untrue. With each dispute, he looked worse and worse. By August, he no longer held favor in the eyes of the court. He could not even answer simple questions about what his children were like and it was obvious that his motives came from a place of vengeance and not love and concern for the kids. In the end, the truth had come to the light.
I was awarded full custody. Their father lost all his rights after losing his cool with the judge and storming out during a court proceeding. The hardest part was the waiting. But it did. I almost lost my mind, but I had come out on the other side. Now that I have my kids with me, I feel like I can do anything. The pandemic opened a tornado in my life, but it was a tornado that probably would have come out on its own anyway.
I am not sure what the future holds, but having my kids again is all the strength I need. We are much better off, and I am so grateful that even though my high school sweetheart broke my heart, he showed me how much I needed to depend on myself. And now I am happy.
Stephanie and her kids.
This is the story of Stephanie Meza
Stephanie is now living with kids in her auntie’s house while she takes a little more time to save up for a place of their own. When Stephanie was 17, she met her high school sweetheart and started a life with him only to discover how toxic and abusive he became over time. When things got ugly, Stephanie decided to walk away from the toxicity that had been brought to the surface. After a long and messy custody battle, she was able to keep her kids in her own custody. She is now thriving. She is working toward a degree in economics. Stephanie spends her time with her children when she is not working. She enjoys taking pictures of them, and they love watching movies together. She knows everything about her kids, and they feel like their mother is their best friend. She is grateful for the tenacity she showed in keeping her kids in her care.
This story first touched our hearts on December 17, 2020
Writer: Melodie Harris | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker
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