BOY AM I A BITTER COCKTAIL

I never thought I’d become one of those bitter, middle-aged women who sit in a bar belting back whiskey, lamenting over how many times she’s been burned by a man. I’m not quite at the bar part yet, but the rest of it is true. You know that saying, “Love like you’ve never been hurt”? It’s absolutely impossible to do. I’m sorry, but it just is.

I have now officially been single longer than I’ve been in a relationship. I have not had a man sleep in my bed with me for the entire night since…? Jeez, it’s been nine years. To say I’m gun-shy to be in another serious relationship is an understatement.

One of my best friends doesn’t tiptoe around the fact that she thinks I’m a freak because of this. Even though she is literally the last woman I know who has never been married, she is always hooked up with someone. She admits she needs and wants to be involved with a man, although I secretly believe that because she lives in Vermont, the need for having a man help her deal with all the winter crap she has to deal with when owning a house in the boonies confuses her.

Now granted, my last relationship with my son’s father ruined my life: Imagine an 8.7-magnitude earthquake destroying your entire home, and then imagine experiencing the aftershocks for years and years after. Wouldn’t you have a panic attack every time you felt a teeny-tiny quake again, or even the rumblings of a truck go by?

“Come on, singlewritermom,” you say, “lighten up! Don’t let one diseased cow infect the entire herd.”

The problem is now that I’m in my forties and living in the suburbs, guess what kind of men I meet? I meet twenty-somethings who think by being with a cougar they will discover some elusive sexual Holy Grail, or married men who are so bored with their wives sexually, they’re willing to risk losing their beloved family for a romp in the backseat of their SUV during soccer practice.

My ex had major issues with his mother while growing up. I’m a qualified enough professional (after being with him for seven years) to declare that he is, and always will be searching for a “mother figure,” because he was blessed with such a crappy one. Hey, I get it. Your formative years are from 0-6, your mother is usually your primary caregiver; if she’s deficient or absent in any way, nine times out of ten you’re going to wind up with “issues.”

I said to myself: “Self, no more dating men with mother issues. It’s a recipe for disaster.” So what did I do when I did meet an eligible man a few years back? I ignored the red flags, of course. On my first date with Cap’n Crunch, he revealed his mom is a lesbian. Now that in and of itself isn’t a red flag, it was him telling me she had abandoned him when he was a baby, and only came back for him when he was eleven so she could collect money from the county. Enormous red bloody flag? I think so.

All this info while he downed four beers. I remember sitting there thinking, Wow, this is so great. I’m excited to be out on a date with a man who doesn’t appear to be a meth head or a pedophile. He has a job, sons…ah, fuck, he’s got mother issues. And a possible drinking problem. Damn.

I ignored my gut instinct and pursued things with him anyway. My bad. Not only was he sleeping with my son’s elementary school principal at the same time, but he ended up marrying her. She’s older than he is, makes more money than he does, and has a figure that reminds me of my Polish grandmother—soft, round, apple-shaped. Yeah, I’m sure he doesn’t have any mother issues. Ahem.

The point is now I’m jaded. I meet a man, any man, and before he can get two sentences out, I’m thinking to myself, Probably married. If not married, then he’s an alcoholic, unemployed, a player, or all three.

This is bad. This attitude ensures I will be single for the rest of my life, with nothing but cats swarming around my ankles. And my diva Chihuahua who will probably live another twenty years just to torture me. Help!

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ONE METH HOUSE, TWO, THREE METH HOUSES, FOUR

When I first moved in to my mobile home, my next-door neighbor came over and introduced himself. He then tried to sell me two tarnished silver chains and a used car radio. I politely declined; he proceeded to sweep leaves and talk my ear off, until his invalid mother rang a bell to summon him indoors. In the middle of the night I’d hear him sweeping or watering his bushes, while babbling to himself. Great, I thought, I’ve got a raging schizo living next to me. Welcome to the neighborhood

When you start to see more police than pizza delivery cruising through your trailer park on a daily basis, you begin to suspect there might be a problem. But I was a little slow on the uptake. It took me a few years to realize my ex was an addict and he was living right under my nose. “I’m depressed. That’s why I’ve lost sixty pounds and now weigh 140.” “I’m depressed. That’s why I’m sleeping all the time.” “I’m depressed. That’s why I lost my job, stole your credit card, emptied out our son’s piggy bank…”

Schizo neighbor was eventually arrested. Seems he wasn’t schizo at all. He was just a meth head. His niece and nephew moved in. They turned out to be meth heads, too. The niece would play the same four R & B songs over and over all day and well into the night. The nephew fancied himself a beekeeper. He had five hives along the side of the home. That was a big no-no with the management. Angry bees and small children are not a good combo. They were eventually arrested also. Turns out they spent a lot of their time inside cooking. And I don’t mean enchiladas.

At least I had sanity on the other side of my mobile mansion. Until those neighbors moved out. Then along came the family of seven, with their three Chihuahuas and a parrot that could curse in Spanish. One morning, while getting my son ready for school I glanced out my window and saw six members of the SWAT team with masks on, two German Shepherds, and lottsa cops circling around my new neighbors’ doublewide. Their front door had been kicked in, and the children, ranging from ages five to fifteen were lined up outside.

Oh hell, what now? I wondered.

Tip-off #1 for illegal behavior: If you’re living in a mobile home in the first place, it’s suspicious to be driving a brand-new Lexus.

Tip-off #2 for illegal behavior: Especially if you don’t have a job. (See above)

Tip-off #3 for illegal behavior: If you’re making a hundred trips a day, in and out of the complex, in your brand-new Lexus – trips that only last for six minutes at a time – that’s a little suspicious.

Off to prison goes the dealer dad. And then shipped back to Mexico, because apparently he wasn’t a legal citizen in the first place.

That left only one clean home on my “block” – a corner house, two down from me. Surely there had to be ONE home untainted by meth. (I couldn’t include my own, due to its “meth by association,” thanks to my ex.)

Fraility, thy name is meth. (To paraphrase Shakespeare)

It may have been two years later, but back came the SWAT team, the dogs, and the cops to that last house on the corner. This time the search was due to an anonymous tip regarding the son and his entrepreneurial exploits. I brought his two nieces, ages three and five over to my place while the authorities trashed the home looking for anything that might incriminate him.

“The cops are searching our house for drugs!” the five-year-old informed me, in the same excited tone as she might exclaim, “Santa is on our roof!”

“Yes, I know,” I told her, “but you don’t want to mention that when you go to school tomorrow, ok honey?”

Nothing was found that day, but of course, it’s only a matter of time…

TELL ME SOMETHING I DON’T ALREADY KNOW

More often than not, there are times when, after reading an
article in the news on some study done, I want to repeatedly bang my head
against the wall. Like this one, for instance:

“Poverty rates for single moms and dads are much higher than
for married families.”

I don’t have a degree in economics, but I could have
conducted that study right in my own living room. It doesn’t take a rocket
scientist to figure out that two incomes are better than one. And even if you happen
to be saddled with an unemployed deadbeat spouse who’s sitting on the couch all
day in their underwear, they’re still a built-in babysitter, thus saving you
hundreds of dollars in monthly childcare.

Here’s the reality for some people (READER BEWARE DISCLAIMER
— I’m about to make one of my sweeping generalizations here, so proceed with
caution):

Couples who are extremely well-off financially find the idea
of divorce distasteful, because they know their standard of living will go
waaaay down. I’ve heard many a man say, “Why should I divorce her? Then she’ll
get half of everything I’ve worked my ass off for.” So they stay together,
albeit miserable, so their kids can have petting zoos at their birthday parties
and run around in Sketchers.

If you’re already a financially-struggling poor couple (as I
was) you try to make it work for the sake of the children, but usually the
alcohol/drug/verbal and physical abuses tend to put a damper on the
relationship. Or else the convicted felonies do. And if you started out poor as
a couple, as a single parent you’re going to wind up a hellava lot poorer.

You can pretty much kiss child support goodbye. Unless the
ex has a well-paying job, you don’t get much from minimum wages. I see one too
many dads who work under the table because they don’t want to have to pay child
support to the ex. I can understand. If I was a dad, and the mother of my child
had given birth by Immaculate Conception, I too, wouldn’t want to pay child
support. I had sex the old-fashioned way, and sperm from the FATHER was
involved.

Here’s what happened when I became single suddenly with a
one-year-old. My tired, in-shock ass had to go out in the world and find a job.
In order for me to do that, I needed to pay for childcare. I didn’t have family
or friends where I could dump my kid off, so I had to pay out-of-pocket. When I
did finally find a job, it was the kind of job where, for me to make any kind
of decent money, I needed to work nights and weekends. (No, it did not involve
taking off my clothes.)

But there are no sitters who work nights and weekends, so I ended up with the crappiest of
shifts and made zero money. Voluntary child support was zilch. My ex had this
delusional notion that the measly pittance he might throw my way would go
toward, I don’t know — acrylic nails, instead of our son?

Yes, the options for jobs are limited when you only have
specific hours you can work, and even when you do find something flexible, if
you’re not on salary, you don’t get paid when you…have to stay home with your
sick child, or leave early to attend a parent-teacher conference. I’ll go to
work with 107-degree fever if it means not getting paid, but schools get real
touchy when you send your sick child in. “Come on, it’s just a little
meningitis…”

Single parents are still the pariahs of society. It doesn’t
seem to matter how much self-sacrificing we do, if we’re not pulling in a
hundred grand a year, our children couldn’t possibly be living the lives they
deserve, right?

“Imagine the shame they’ll feel over not having the latest technology; not knowing how to play a
musical instrument; never vacationing somewhere tropical!”

My family wonders why I would choose to live the
no-frills lifestyle; why I don’t make the long commute in to the city so I can
make a decent living. What they don’t understand is that would be more hours
away from my son, and since I don’t have that “village” raising him, time spent
together is more important to me than anything money can buy.